Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

"Pocket Cash" by Jim Marshall (Chronicle Books)

Has there ever been a significant musical figure whose entire life could be so easily read in photographs as Johnny Cash? From the famous picture of the young Arkansas sharecropper boy to the handsome young Sun Records star, to the gaunt, seemingly anorexic pill-popper of the early 60’s, to the defiant face on the “Folsom Prison” LP cover, to the infamous “middle finger” shot, to the man so obviously in love with June Carter, to the hulking figure dressed all in black, to the creased, weary face of the old man who did the American Recordings series, our immediate reaction upon hearing the name “Johnny Cash” is as much a visual one as a musical one.

Not all of the iconic photographs of Johnny Cash mentioned in the above paragraph were taken by photographer Jim Marshall, but many of them were. Those that were snapped by Marshall, however, can be found here in this new book. Marshall was essentially the “official Johnny Cash photographer” during the period was at his peak of popularity and influence. “Pocket Cash” is a small, yet memorable collection of many of Marshall’s pictures of Johnny Cash, along with a few photos (with and without Cash) of his friends and members of his real and musical families. Marshall had a gift for being in the right place at the right time, but it wasn’t simply a matter of luck. He had a talent for knowing exactly when Cash’s face and physical stance were supremely photo-ready. Moreover, he had the skill to choose the correct angles, the best backdrops, the right settings to snap his pictures.

There are many photos of the Folsom Prison concert here, as well as behind-the-scenes shots from the set of Cash’s t.v. variety show, candid pictures of home life, live performance shots, and glimpses into the recording studio. Most are in black-and-white, which to me seems the most appropriate medium with which to capture Cash’s worn visage and monochromatic wardrobe, though there is a small color section as well. There are also three brief texts. The intro, by son John Carter Cash, helps place Marshall and his pictures in a context. The one-page reminiscences by Kris Kristofferson and Billy Bob Thornton are not really necessary, yet they’re interesting to read nonetheless.

Johnny Cash is such a seminal figure in American music history, and Jim Marshall such an important chronicler of the Cash saga, that it’s easy to recommend this slim volume to anyone who wants to know as much about the life and real-life legend of Johnny Cash as possible, even without the presence of words.

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