cover image Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black

Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black

Alan Light. Smithsonian, $40 (224p) ISBN 978-1-58834-639-1

Working with the Cash family, Light (The Holy or the Broken) has gathered hundreds of never-before-seen photographs, lyric sheets, posters, and other artifacts from the Johnny Cash archives to produce this stunning and lavishly illustrated biography of the Man in Black. Light begins with Cash’s early life: his birth in poverty in Arkansas; the death of his 15-year-old brother Jack in a table saw accident; and his first marriage, at age 22 to Vivian Liberto. From there, Light charts Cash’s rise to fame, including his early years at Sun Studios in Memphis, his marriage to June Carter Cash, his studio and TV career, and his drug and alcohol abuse. Light reveals Cash’s deep commitment to social justice, noting that the song “Man in Black” and the black clothes Cash wore were a protest against the dire treatment of, in Cash’s words, “the ones who are held back.” Light also writes about the musician’s deep Christian beliefs and his novel about Paul the Apostle, The Man in White, through which Cash revealed his own struggle with faith. The volume’s images stand out: in a spread, Light reproduces Cash’s handwritten notes on his family history, including a reference to the fact that he was born on Buffalo Bill’s birthday; Cash’s irrepressible laugh is captured in a 1962 photo of him with two fishing buddies. Light’s rich collection of photos and narrative bring Cash to life. (Oct.)