Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Even more Johnny Cash reading
The book begins with an account of the first meeting between Cash and his first wife following the death of June Carter in 2003. At the meeting Vivian talked about her desire to write about her years with Johnny, with both recognising that the time had come for a full disclosure of the story of their marriage. Set up in this way, reader's appetities are whetted for what revelations might follow! Vivian Cash lays the blame for the breakup of her marriage to Johnny almost entirely on Johnny's drug habit, which increased with Johnny's increasing fame and ever more onerous touring committments. Addiction to uppers and downers ensured that the Johnny she had known and married all but disappeared and an aggresive and distant Johnny who she saw less and less of and who she barely recognised became the norm. Predictibly, the other villain who looms large in her account is June Carter, who Vivian accuses of relentlessly pursuing Johnny until he was her - indeed she recalls one instance of meeting June Carter backstage and being informed by her in no uncertain terms: 'Vivian, he will be mine' (p. 298). Later Vivian was almost airbrushed entirely out of Johnny's life. Carter appears almost predatory in Vivian's narrative, a very far cry from the saintly images of her portrayed in other narratives., indeed it bizarre to see both women claiming that God wanted them to be with Johnny, and both praying to the same God at the same time to that effect!
While there's much of the kind of invenctive here that one would expect from Johnny's ex-wife, there also an authenticity in this narrative that is often absent from Johnny own autobiographies. One suspects that Vivian Cash's version of events is much closer to the reality than many of those spun by Cash and June Carter. And of course, 'I Walk the Line' was written with Vivian Cash in mind, not June Carter!
For me then Tost's book flags up the unsatisfactory way in Cash's religious convictions tend to be dealt with in much of the writing on him. The real reason for this is, it seems, a poor understanding of Cash's religious context, the evangelicalism of the American South. But there was also always a tension in Cash religious pronouncements, certainly Cash was not a straight-forward religious believer, and the way he expressed those views in the public domain evolved over his lifetime. There's still room for a more nuanced and contextualised treatment of Cash the Christian . . .