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September 29, 2010
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v2.1 Reference

Nine Choices

Johnny Cash and American Culture

For much of his career, Johnny Cash opened his shows with the tagline, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." This introduction seemed unnecessary, since everyone in the audience knew who he was—the famous musical artist whose career spanned almost five decades, whose troubled life on and off the stage received wide publicity, and whose cragged face seemed to express a depth and intensity not found in any other artist, living or dead.

For Cash, as for many celebrities, renown was the product of both hard work and luck. Often a visionary and always a tireless performer, he was subject to a whirlwind of social, economic, and cultural countercurrents. Nine Choices explores the tension between Cash's desire for mainstream success, his personal struggles with alcohol and drugs, and an ever-changing cultural landscape that often circumscribed his options.

Drawing on interviews, archival research, and textual analysis, Jonathan Silverman focuses on Cash's personal and artistic choices as a way of understanding his life, his impact on American culture, and the ways in which that culture in turn shaped him. Cash made decisions about where he would live, what he would play, who would produce his albums, whether he would support the Vietnam War, and even if he would flip his famous "bird"—the iconic image of Cash giving the finger which is now plastered on posters and T-shirts everywhere—in the context of cultural forces both visible and opaque. He made other decisions in consultation with a variety of people, many of whom were chiefly concerned with the reaction of his audiences.

Less a conventional biography than a study of the making of an identity, Nine Choices explores how Johnny Cash sought to define who he was, how he was perceived, and what he signified through a series of self-conscious actions. The result, Silverman shows, was a life that was often tumultuous but never uninteresting.

About the Author

Jonathan Silverman is assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and coauthor of The World Is a Text: Writing Reading and Thinking about Culture and Its Contexts.Visit the Fan Page for this book on Facebook:


"Focusing on what Johnny Cash means to Americans, rather than recounting a straightforward biography or offering traditional music criticism, this book makes the argument that Cash simultaneously embodies the existential search for authen-ticity at the heart of 1950 s American culture and the postmodern self-consciousness about performing the self that characterized late twentieth-century culture."—Barbara Ching, author of Wrong's What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture

"Silverman draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources to explore nine aspects (the "nine choices" of the title) of Cash's life that have bearing on American culture."—Choice

"Delves deeply into the life of the singer, but also helps shape our understanding of his identity and his unremitting goal to maintain his authenticity."—San Antonio Express-News

"Silverman's work is a welcome addition to a growing subfield in studies of Cash, as well as the broader fields of country music and American culture. . . . Nine Choices rejects the notion that popular figures are simply containers of meaning in favor of a presumption that they interact meaningfully, if at times enigmatically, with their environment."—Music Library Association , Notes

"Citing sources from the film High Fidelity to Joan Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Silverman eloquently posits that Cash's decisions reflect not just his own savvy marketing skills but also the American zeitgeist itself."—San Antonio Current
University of Massachusetts Press

9781558498273 : nine-choices-silverman
Paperback / softback
288 Pages
$27.95 USD

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