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Michael Stewart Foley

Feb 2, 2022

Citizen Cash

The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash

Basic Books 2021

Johnny Cash famously declared himself to be “The Man in Black”. He sang that he dressed in a “somber tone” for “the poor and the beaten down, livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town” and for “the prisoner who is long paid for his crime, but is there because he's a victim of the times”. He famously performed for inmates of Folsom, San Quintin, and a number of other less well-known prisons. Cash publicly supported Native American activists and invited prominent African American guests on his prime-time television show. Yet, he initially supported Richard Nixon, shared the stage with the arch-conservative preacher Billy Graham, and recorded songs that glorified the South’s Lost Cause mythology. How do we make sense of these seemingly contradictory political acts and messages? In Citizen Cash: The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash (Basic Books, 2021), Michael Stewart Foley argues that Cash embodied a “politics of empathy” in which the singer always supported the underdog. This book makes the case that Johnny Cash deserves to be remember as an important figure who used his music for political purposes.

Michael Stewart Foley is the author of Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War, winner of the Scott Bills Memorial Prize from the Peace History Society, Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s, and Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables for the 33 1/3 book series. He is a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture and served as a consultant for the television series Mad Men. Foley has taught in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. This native New Englander is currently a professor of American Civilization at the Université Grenoble Alpes.

Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.

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Michael Vann

Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.

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