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In a biography that clocks in just shy of 700 pages, Hilburn, who was a Los Angeles Times music critic for more than 30 years, brings us the Man in Black as a man in full.
He opts for straight chronological, going from Cash’s youth in Arkansas to his stint as an Air Force radio operator to his first paid gig, at a Ford dealership, on the back of a flatbed, playing “Hey, Porter” and “Cry, Cry, Cry,” over and over. He chronicles Cash’s superstar years (more than 6 million records sold in 1969), his three decades of fading sales and relevance, and his resurgent American Recordings albums with producer Rick Rubin.
Mark Romanek, director of the transcendent “Hurt” video, made late in Cash’s life, said he didn’t want “to prettify the whole thing.” He showed Cash as he was. Hilburn goes the same route, to good effect: Cash took a lot of amphetamines, he told stories that weren’t true, he trashed hotel rooms and made awful movies. He fell for “women who were off-limits,” and, early on, hurt his family.
But Cash also took stands — on behalf of Native Americans, on behalf of inmates, on behalf of the working poor.
He made brave music, he made beautiful music and he showed a generosity that could awe. Later on, he