Johnny Cash: Very like St Paul

Ian Sansom in the London Review of Books:

In his thorough and entertaining authorised biography of Cash, Steve Turner establishes a suitably saintly tone on the first page. ‘It was doubtful,’ he writes of his subject, ‘whether he had a bodily organ that hadn’t been operated on, an area of skin that hadn’t been gashed, or a significant bone that hadn’t been cracked.’ This sounds like an entry from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and Turner – the author also of Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song and a biography of Cliff Richard – can’t be unaware of the implied contrast with the Paschal lamb of Exodus 12.46 and the fulfilment of the Scripture in the Gospel of John, chapter 19 (‘Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs . . . For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken’). As with the saints of old, Cash’s afflictions and repulses – his brokenness of body and of spirit – are seen as spiritual tests and trials, and he is venerated for his sufferings. ‘As Cash’s eyes and legs grew weaker, his faith appeared to grow stronger,’ Turner writes of Cash’s last illness. ‘In his final years, as Cash was gradually stripped of everything – his sight, his mobility, his strength, his looks and, at the end, his wife – he became more confident than ever in the object of his faith.’ Tried and tested, Cash comes forth as gold.

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