Johnny Cash

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About Johnny Cash

There were lots of Johnny Cashes: mama’s boy, rabble-rouser, Bible-thumping hymn singer, and middle-fingered outlaw. When he was born to struggling cotton farmers in Arkansas in 1932, country was still considered—and outright called—“hillbilly music”; by the time he died in 2003, the influence he’d had in shaping both the rebellion of rock ’n’ roll and the preservationist spirit of modern country was undeniable. You could hear in Cash what you wanted to hear. But his music contained so much—and yet was so casually singular—that it made room for all. Part of Cash’s paradox is that he was at once a definitive country artist and a persistent challenger to ideas of what country is and could be. Never quite faithful to Nashville but never separatist either, his music seemed to exist on a parallel track, equally informed by the candor of folk and the stability of gospel, by the deference of tradition and the rugged bluntness of outlaw culture. By the time he’d refashioned himself as the Man in Black, with 1968’s and 1969’s twin prison albums At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin, he’d already generated a lifetime’s worth of work. Out of a fallow ’70s and ’80s came the American series, which cast him as a mythic, almost deathless figure, a quiet fireside presence fortified by years of unspeakable weight. He often lived in chaos—substance abuse, run-ins with the law, a suicide attempt, and capitulations to God. But in his voice was a steadiness. Not sentiment—he would never—but resolve.

Kingsland, Arkansas, United States of America
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