Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash
by John Carter Cash
Not to sound too fucking snotty or know-it-all (too late!), but I didn’t really care for the Walk the Line film, I felt it only focused in on a tiny portion of Johnny and June Carter Cash’s long life together and gave it way too much of a Hollywood-happy ending sheen. Guess what — John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June, and now a successful record producer in his own right) felt the same way. And he’s out to set the record straight on at least half of the story. Now, his Anchored in Love surely isn’t the definitive portrait of June Carter Cash’s life — she wrote a few books of her own that went some ways towards telling her side of the story and Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone goes a long way towards giving June and the Carter family the fine-tooth comb history that the first family of country deserves — but it you want an honest portrayal of June that reclaims her from both Hollywood hagiography and Nashville’s posthumous whitewash (where she’s recast as this backwoods Pieta), this IS the book.
See, the true measure of love, in this case a son’s love, is when you love somebody for who and what they really are, without the need for illusions or deceptions. John Carter Cash does his mother a great service by telling his truth about her life. And she’s finally shown to be not just Reese Witherspoon, or Johnny Cash’s saving angel, but a real, live human being with her own beauty and her own flaws. And I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no whiff of vindictiveness, settling scores or sensationalism in these pages. John Carter’s love shines through for every facet, every part of his mother, and he tells their story fully, warts and all. There’s some harrowing stuff in here. The religion trip in this book might get to be a bit much for more secular readers, but I rationalize it this way – if I went through half of what that family went through, I’d probably be 9000 times as over-the-top as Carter Cash is.
Never the most musically or vocally gifted of the Carter clan, little June Carter made herself into the most boisterous and laugh-out-loud funny of the extended family that gathered around Mother Maybelle when the original Carter trio splintered. Quick with an aw-shucks joke or a joyous dance, these qualities in later life caught the eye of both a young Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. I think we all know what came next. But what happened afterward? Well, it wasn’t a Hollywood ending to be sure, it was more like what happens with any other family, there are good times and bad times, but everything gets amplified x100 when drugs are involved and your father and mother are twin faces on the Mount Rushmore of country music. Putting her own career on hold to join the seemingly endless Johnny Cash roadshow, supporting him through thick and thin through the wilderness years of the ’70s and ’80s until a snot-nosed punk named Rick Rubin brought Cash roaring back into the popular consciousness – June Carter was there for it all.
Artists are a complicated sort, and June Carter was definitely an artist, a trailblazer in country music for women (and men, she wrote “Ring of Fire,” for fuck’s sake). To that end, it’s inevitable that there’s some dark stuff in here. Turns out Johnny Cash’s addiction didn’t neatly end when Joaquin Phoenix came staggering out of the cave in Walk the Line. Addiction’s a hard fucking thing, and it constantly flared up over the years, engulfing those closest to the Man in Black — his daughters, his sons, and even, towards the end of her life, the woman who’d tried so very hard to get him to kick and never gave up on him, June herself. Now that was a shocker. John Carter comes clean about his own addictions, finding his way again in family, faith and music. Ah, music! The best part of the book comes toward the end when Carter Cash talks about setting up the sessions for and producing June’s final album — though ailing in health and heavily “medicated,” she rallied herself and showed that there was a third way after burning out and fading away.
The picture section struck me most because I had forgotten how absolutely gorgeous she was and it was cool to see vintage shots of her and her Carter siblings playing with an easy familial affinity that we never see in popular music anymore. A touching and appropriate goodbye.
Thomas Nelson Press: www.thomasnelson.com