Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity

Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity

Leigh H. Edwards
Distribution: World
Publication date: 02/25/2009
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-22061-5
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Throughout his career, Johnny Cash has been depicted—and has depicted himself—as a walking contradiction: social protestor and establishment patriot, drugged wildman and devout Christian crusader, rebel outlaw hillbilly thug and elder statesman. Leigh H. Edwards explores the allure of this paradoxical image and its cultural significance. She argues that Cash embodies irresolvable contradictions of American identity that reflect foundational issues in the American experience, such as the tensions between freedom and patriotism, individual rights and nationalism, the sacred and the profane. She illustrates how this model of ambivalence is a vital paradigm for American popular music, and for American identity in general. Making use of sources such as Cash's autobiographies, lyrics, music, liner notes, and interviews, Edwards pays equal attention to depictions of Cash by others, such as Vivian Cash's publication of his letters to her, documentaries and music journalism about him, Walk the Line, and fan club materials found in the archives at the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, to create a full portrait of Cash and his significance as a cultural icon.

Author Bio

Leigh H. Edwards is Associate Professor of English at Florida State University. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.


“Leigh Edwards authoritatively illustrates the many hues that made up the far from monochromatic personality of the Man in Black. She engages passionately with Johnny Cash’s complexities and never allows her affection for the performer to plough under the conflicting impulses that generated the singer’s sometimes baffling but always commanding body of music. ”
 — Dave Sanjek, University of Salford

“The Man in Black embodied many of the contradictions that dot the American landscape. In this bold new study, Leigh Edwards explains how time, place, talent, and manhood made his legend.”
 — Toby Miller, author of Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention

“Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity is a tour de force of scholarship, analysis, and insight into the myth and meaning of The Man in Black. Given the relative paucity of academic investigation of Cash, the label 'definitive' carries a heavy burden. However, Leigh Edwards’ book will stand as the go-to source for understanding Cash’s transformation from popular singer to popular culture icon well into the foreseeable future. Displaying deft research skills, Edwards weaves numerous sources into a lucid account of Cash’s many roles, pulled together in an eminently readable account that will delight the singer’s millions of fans, as well as the growing scholarship on country music and its significance in American popular culture.”
 — Bob Batchelor, Editor of Literary Cash: Unauthorized Writings Inspired by the Legendary Johnny Cash

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Cash as Contradiction
1. "What Is Truth?" Authenticity and Persona
2. "A Boy Named Sue": American Manhood
3. Gender and "The Beast in Me": Ramblers and Rockabillies
4. Race and Identity Politics
5. Man in Black: Class and National Mythologies
6. The Gospel Road: Cash as Saint and Sinner
Conclusion: "God's Gonna Cut You Down": Cultural Legacies
Works Cited

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