Way, way back in 1994, one of my literary heroes, Barry Hannah, wrote a terrific profile of Johnny Cash for SPIN magazine. I recently assigned it for a nonfiction writing class I was teaching at Columbia University. I hadn’t remembered the ending, but I was surprised to be reminded that Hannah was no fool when it came to understanding our popular culture. Although the term ‘selfie’ wouldn’t come along until 2002, when everyone went crazy for the art form, Hannah could feel the pulse. Here’s the final passage in which he rejoices over Cash:“And God, don’t we need him today, in the age of pretty faces and rhyming sound bites that the generic sump hole of Nashville has become. The age when Christie Brinkley, suffering from a wrist injury after a helicopter crash on a snow-covered mountainside, takes time to hold her own camera out and take a picture of herself, which she provides to People magazine, in case we missed the agony.
Johnny Cash is looking better than ever.”