Johnny Cash: The Life|Robert Hilburn


I don’t typically read nonfiction. I think I maybe have ten on my bookshelves and a majority of them are by people like Tina Fey, Aziz Ansari, and Neil Patrick Harris. Nonfiction just isn’t really my thing. Lately I’ve been listening to audiobooks at bedtime, but I found that fiction keeps me awake longer because I accidentally get invested in the story. I thought that listening to nonfiction would help with that. No action or adventure, no cliffhangers, no epic twist I HAVE to stay awake to follow. A boring old biography would be the perfect choice, right? I sure picked the wrong book for that.

I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cash for my entire life. I was raised listening to his music and collected his vinyl records throughout my teenage years. I didn’t know much about him at all, though. When I saw this biography offered as an audiobook through my library, I jumped on it. Every night before bed, I turned it on and set the timer to automatically turn it off after a half hour. More often than not, I was still awake at the end of that thirty minutes and had to set the timer again.

My four star rating is not based on my love for Johnny Cash, but on the book as a whole. This biography unexpectedly sucked me right into the story and made it difficult NOT to pay attention (which is great unless you’re trying to fall asleep). It took four weeks to finish The Life and I’m pretty sure I got less sleep than usual. I just couldn’t help but listen to every word.

Many biographies sugarcoat events or pass right over the things that may cast someone in a negative light. Robert Hilburn included everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, the embarrassing. Everything is here in detail. I knew Johnny Cash wasn’t a perfect person, but at one point I remember thinking “Wow, he was a jerk.” Hilburn isn’t interested in making Cash look good, he’s all about sharing the truth.

I learned so much about J.R. Cash from his childhood to his army days, his romance with his first wife to their nasty divorce, his very first days at Sun Records to the final days of his life, and every single song in between. This book explores the rise and fall of one of the greatest country music artists to ever touch a microphone.

I really enjoyed hearing about Cash’s relationships with other famous artists like Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Horton. I also really enjoyed learning the background stories of my favorite songs (and all the others, too). I appreciated the brutal honesty about Cash’s addiction and infidelity, as well.

Hilburn took 71 years worth of information and arranged it so perfectly that the reader is able to walk the line though Johnny’s life with him. I became so immersed in the story that, though I knew it was coming, when Cash passed away, I woke my husband up because I was sobbing as if it had just happened.

If you have any sort of interest in country music or the life of Johnny Cash beyond what’s shown in Walk the Line, check this one out. It’s definitely meant for a specific audience, but it is so worth the read if you dig the man in black.

And just for fun, here are my favorite Cash songs in no particular order:

Hey Porter

Folsom Prison Blues

Cocaine Blues

God’s Gonna Cut You Down

Get Rhythm


I Walk the Line

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