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Bookends—Michael Streissguth

Focus on Michael Streissguth

Michael Streissguth

Michael Streissguth ’88, who has written widely about Johnny Cash and other country music legends, has now published Johnny Cash:The Biography, published by Da Capo Press. A review last fall in the New York Times Book Review by no less than historian Douglas Brinkley noted: “What makes this so valuable a biography is that Streissguth, an associate professor of English at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, debunks the myths that have long enveloped Cash, in large part owing to two autobiographies [written by others].”

Publishers Weekly said “Streissguth writes with elegance, even when citing conflicting information and details that taint Cash’s image. His treatment of Cash’s relationship with wife June Carter Cash, who preceded her husband’s 2003 death by five months, is particularly revealing. The author also weaves his own observations and reviews of the man’s work into the text and sustains interest throughout—even though readers already know how this story ends—making this an exemplary music bio for fans of the man, the music, or the genre.”

Streissguth Book Cover

Streissguth’s one and only face-to-face encounter with Cash came at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in the mid-eighties. Streissguth and another IUP student, Kathy Bluemling, made the trip to Johnstown. Ironically, Streissguth doesn’t remember much about meeting Cash or getting his autograph. What he does retain is the vision of Cash’s tenderly holding in his own hands the palms of an elderly man and saying, with the deepest respect, “Those are workingman’s hands.”

“For me, that moment embodies Cash’s interest in the common man,” Streissguth said. “That interest was so much a part of his artistry.”

Streissguth majored in both History and Journalism at IUP. History professors Neil Lehman and Wilma King Hunter encouraged his writing about music and music history. Professor Irwin Marcus, he said, “taught me a lot about historical inquiry. What I learned from him was very important in molding by approach to writing.”

Among the Journalism faculty members, Streissguth found what he called “sticklers for good writing.” His first published piece was an interview in the Penn with B.B. King when King appeared on campus. Working at WIUP gave him more chances, he said, “to explore a love of music.”

At Le Moyne, Streissguth is director of the Communication Department. Last fall, he taught the nation’s first class on Johnny Cash.