Ring of Firewater

New book reveals Johnny Cash's highs and lows

We were wincing through a disc by a newish singer/songwriter recently, and decided that a singer/songwriter has only two real job requirements: 1) sing; 2) write songs. This songbird had the warbling part down, and ´nuff said. Now consider Johnny Cash, singer/songwriter nonpareil. The Man in Black sang like a Baptist preacher with throat cancer, but who cares? Warbling songbirds of the world take note: The crucial part of "singer/songwriter" is "songwriter."

One of Cash's best-known songs provided the title and impetus for a recent Hollywood blockbuster, and also for the new book I Walked the Line: My Life With Johnny. Co-written by Ann Sharpsteen and Cash's first wife, the late Vivian Liberto Distin, the tome is based on letters Johnny and Vivian exchanged pre-marriage -- before Cash lapsed into alcohol and drug addiction. According to Sharpsteen, it bars no holds in its examination of the "true" Cash: "The letters really reveal the real man, unclouded by drugs. It's like reading someone's diary."

Mon., Sept. 10, 7 p.m.
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