I Walked the Line: My Life With Johnny
Vivian Liberto was married to Johnny Cash for the first dozen years of his musical career, but it is his side of their epistolary courtship — Cash in Germany doing his hitch in the Air Force, Liberto in San Antonio, waiting for most of three years — that makes up the bulk of this sad little book.
Surely, when Vivian and Johnny spoke of her writing her side of the story just months before his death, this is not what he had in mind, for nobody — short, perhaps, of a romantic poet — deserves to have their love letters aired in public. Reading Johnny’s lonely letters today seems an invasion all around, and reveals comparatively little of value.
It cannot be a surprise to find that he fought the bottle some in Germany, and wished his beloved to remain chaste in his absence. It may be a small shock to discover their Catholic-Protestant marriage was, in the 1950s, considered mixed, and that he was given a book advising against such things (an odd precursor to the brief moment when white supremacists thought Cash’s tanned Italian wife to be African-American). And doubtless Liberto means publication of these letters to argue that Johnny loved her best and most deeply; that had the evil June Carter not stolen her man, he might not have descended into pills and such.
To which end it is difficult to assess her charge that Johnny Cash and Merle Kilgore wrote “Ring Of Fire” about June’s private parts while drinking, pilling, and fishing, and that Johnny gave June the publishing because she needed the money. None of which jibes with the known facts about the song. (There was no money until Johnny recorded it.)
And, really, we needn’t know that Rosanne Cash’s name is a contraction of her father’s pet name for Vivian’s breasts.
Vivian Liberto Cash married Richard Distin in 1968, two months before Cash and June Carter wed, and stayed married to Distin until her death in 2005. That she chose to use her first husband’s name on the cover of this book seems more a reflection of her desperate heart than a marketing decision.