"Of the great rock pioneers in the 1950s, Cash was the only one who approached his music as more than hits for the jukebox," says Hilburn. "He wanted his music to inspire and lift people. In that goal he was the crucial link between Woody Guthrie's music of social idealism and commentary in the 1930s and the 1940s and Bob Dylan's music of revolution in the 1960s and beyond.
"Despite his enormous popularity, I think he was a more important and influential artist and a more complex, often troubled person than even his biggest fans realized."
Hilburn says he plans to treat Cash, who died in 2003, with a critical eye and historical scholarship that he deserves as one of the major socio-cultural figures in America during the 20th century. "His life was often a struggle between his artistry and his addiction -- and ultimately each contributed to the other."
The writer aims to show the challenges and demands of artistry and "how an artist has to keep fighting for his vision -- against record company and/or public disinterest at times -- if he or she is to achieve something truly lasting."
Hilburn points out that Cash recognized that he could use his music and fame to "impact social attitudes, whether it was decrying the treatment of Native Americans or offering hope to others downtrodden by society."
Hilburn's biography on Johnny, 'In Search of Johnny Cash,' will be published by Little, Brown and Co. It is his second book; the first was 'Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock 'n' Roll Life.' Hilburn left the LA Times five years ago, after serving as the paper's pop music critic for 36 years. No date has been announced for the release of his Johnny Cash biography.