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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Composed: A Memoir

Acclaimed songwriter and recording star Rosanne Cash, is a reluctant celebrity at best. She never wanted a public life, always preferring to maintain her privacy rather than to share the details of her life via the numerous lowbrow celebrity-worship outlets so common today. Over the years, her fans have come to understand that choice, and to respect it. Those same fans now will be pleasantly surprised at the depth to which Cash willingly shares the details of her life in Composed: A Memoir.


Rosanne Cash’s father, of course, is none other than Johnny Cash, a man for whom the word “legend” is insufficient to describe his place in music history. Cash grew up in her father’s shadow, sensing early on that her achievements would be forever judged in comparison to his - a pressure-filled, no-win situation she wanted to avoid. She witnessed the performer lifestyle first hand and knew it to be harder work, and much less glamorous, than outsiders could ever imagine. She was certain she wanted no part of it. And, because she had always been good with words, even to believing that some day she would make her living as an author, Cash decided that songwriting offered her the best chance to work in the “family business” and still maintain the privacy she desired.

Rosanne Cash’s life has always been about music and journeys. As she puts it, “I have learned more from songs than I ever did from any teacher in school. They are interwoven and have flowed through the most important relationships in my life – with my parents, my husband, and my children…For me music has always involved journeys, both literal and metaphoric.” In Composed: A Memoir, she shares some of those journeys with her readers.

Cash, the oldest of her father’s children, starts at the beginning, recalling what it was like to grow up in Southern California at a time her father’s road habits were destroying his marriage and her mother’s health. She discusses her attempts to distance herself from her father’s style of music, including the London sojourn during which she served as a gofer at a London record label for several months (a job arranged by her father). She beautifully recounts her journey toward becoming a recording star and successful songwriter, and how proud her father was of her success. Along the way, she revisits her marriage to Rodney Crowell, a marriage that filled her home with daughters, and describes her relationship with John Leventhal, the man to whom she has been married for the past fifteen years, the father of her only son.

Beyond a doubt, first and foremost, Rosanne Cash is a writer. Her prose is at its best when she describes the devastating series of deaths she and her family endured beginning in early 2003 and the unusual brain surgery she herself suffered in late 2007. On May 15, 2003, June Carter Cash died and John followed her on September 12. Just six weeks later, her stepsister Rosie would die of carbon monoxide poisoning, and in May 2005 she would lose her mother, Vivian, to lung cancer. Cash spoke at the funerals of her parents and June Carter Cash; Composed includes each of their eulogies.

Indeed, Rosanne Cash is good at words. I suspect her father would be very proud of his daughter’s story.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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