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A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tearsby Antonino D'Ambrosio
Johnny Cash's 1964 concept album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian is certainly one of the finest (and most underrated) records of his career. D'Ambrosio's book A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears, while well-researched and mostly fascinating, is perhaps somewhat mistitled. Though Cash's album, devoted to the vicious and unfair treatment of indigenous peoples, is the pivot upon which the narrative depends, a majority of the book is spent relating the not-unrelated tales of Peter La Farge (a folksinger who wrote five of the album's eight songs), the native rights and civil rights movements, and the reemergence of the folk scene (Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan, etc.). Little room (or, maybe, room not ample enough) is devoted to Cash and his truly singular album. While Bitter Tears was met with a combination of disregard and reproach, the album did meet with some success, eventually climbing to number two on the country charts and 47th overall. There is much to like in D'Ambrosio's book, and it is evident that he is fond of the subject and excited to have been able to write about it. For any well-read music lover, Cash fan, or folk devotee, many of the facts and faces will be familiar. Woven together, the story of converging movements is intriguing, and D'Ambrosio's portrait of an era is vivid and well-constructed. A Heartbeat and a Guitar is not, however, so much a biography of Johnny Cash as it is a memoir of a chapter in American history rife with great change and upheaval.
Synopses & Reviews
A Heartbeat and a Guitar tells of the collaboration of two distinct yet connected musicians—iconoclast Johnny Cash and pioneering folk artist Peter La Farge—and the album they created, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It also tells of the unique personal, political, and cultural struggles that informed this album, one that has influenced the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
D’Ambrosio has interviewed dozens of Cash’s and La Farge’s friends, family, and collaborators, including surviving members of his band, his producers, and Pete Seeger and Kris Kristofferson, creating a dramatic picture of both an era of radical protest and the making of one of the most controversial and enduring works of political pop art of the 1960s.
In this work, D'Ambrosio reveals the untold story of the making of one of the most controversial and enduring works of political pop art of the 1960s: Johnny Cash's most controversial album, "Bitter Tears."
The untold story of the making of Johnny Cash’s most controversial album, Bitter Tears
About the Author
Antonino D'Ambrosio is the author ofLet Fury Have the Hour: The Punk Politics of Joe Strummer; the film version directed by D'Ambrosio will be released in 2010. His most recent film is No Free Lunch, starring comedian Lewis Black. His writing appears in The Progressive, The Believer, The Nation, among many others. D’Ambrosio is the founder/executive director of La Lutta NMC. D’Ambrosio is currently the artist-in-residence at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, NM where he launched the multimedia film project La Terra Promessa.
Table of Contents
A heartbeat : The clouds fall — All passes : only art endures — All causes may here find a place — A guitar : The whippoorwill cries, the fox whimpers — Broken hearts, bent journeys — All God's children ain't free — Grabbing the air for something to hold on to — After : When the world's on fire.
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Arts and Entertainment » Music » General