Poet and longtime Northwest Arkansas representer Tony Tost is writing a short book on Johnny Cash's first "American Recordings" album for Continuum's 33 1/3 series
The series, which has 65 titles out, is a collection of books on individual albums of all genres. Beyond the organizing theme, the format is wide open. Writes have done everything from long interviews to fan fiction. As you'd guess, at least among the five or six I've read, they're pretty wildly hit or miss.
Check out Tony's proposal below. Here's betting his'll be a hit.
When Johnny Cash signed to Rick Rubin’s record label in 1993, he was a country music legend who, like his fellow Highwaymen Willie, Waylon and Kris, remained a fondly regarded yet completely marginalized Nashville figure, unheard on the radio and unseen on the charts. Upon his death ten years later, Cash was an unavoidable presence in American culture, a national prototype along the lines of a Mark Twain, a Benjamin Franklin, or (in our own moment) a Barack Obama, a man whose invented self-myth coincides with, and also becomes, a seductive myth about America itself.
The entirety of Cash’s odyssey from oldies act to folk hero pivots on his first American Recordings album, a document of almost unbearable solitude and directness. It is a singular record, an instance in which a musical giant has been granted a kind of midnight reprieve, a single chance to regain and renew his legend. In this book, Tony Tost shows the ways in which American Recordings is the crossroads where cultural, spiritual and mythic archetypes come together in the figure of The Man in Black. In this way, Cash can be understood along the lines of a novelist, in possession one great character (the mythic version of himself) and one great theme (a reckoning between God and America, as made palpable in this self).
Ultimately, this is a guidebook to myth and mystery, a means of apprehending the stark beauty of Cash’s greatest record, the sound of a man alone and fighting for his soul, one song at a time.