Little, Brown and Company has bought world rights to "In Search of Johnny Cash," an exploration of the singer's life by former L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn that is promised to go beyond previous works. The publisher calls it "a definitive, intimate, no-holds-barred biography of the “Man in Black.” Hilburn's proposal says the book will make the case that Cash, recognized as a country icon, "was also one of the dozen or so seminal artists in the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll."
Of the many great rock pioneers in the 1950s, Cash was the only one who approached his music as more than hits for the jukebox. He wanted his music to inspire and uplift people. In that goal, he was the crucial link between Woody Guthrie’s music of social idealism and commentary in the 1930s and 1940s and Bob Dylan’s music of revolution in the 1960s and beyond.
Foreshadowing the stance of such landmark bands as the Beatles and U2, Cash recognized that he could use his music and fame to impact social attitudes, whether it was decrying the treatment of Native Americans or offering hope to others downtrodden by society. Not incidentally, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were huge Cash fans. U2 not only wrote a song for Cash, but went into the studio with him to record it.
Hilburn has been traveling in the south for research. His last book was "Corn Flakes with John Lennon And Other Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life."
Photo of Cash and, behind him, Hilburn at Folsom Prison.