I learned a bit about Rosanne Cash in her memoir, Composed (Viking) which goes on sale today. The first-born child of country music legend Johnny Cash is a singer with a respectable career that spans decades and her story is curiously involving.
Starting off with aspects of her youth in southern California, struggling with an absent celebrity dad, snakes, and brush fires, Cash promises more than she delivers, touching on events without conclusion. Tales of Catholic school, growing up in California, and visiting her dad in Tennessee after her parents divorced are well written in key spots. She skimps on deeper thoughts, seeming to hold back when things get interesting. Filling in blanks with name-dropping and recounting her privileged globetrotting while suggesting a torment she never explains, Cash drifts in and out of her pursuits, from attending Vanderbilt University to traveling throughout Europe and writing songs. Without chapter titles, an index or table of contents, Composed feels more like an accounting to some unseen authority than a biographical narrative and at times it is tedious; like listening to a parent rattle off a list of acquaintances who’ve died. Gradually, Cash finds her way. By the last third, she writes about becoming self-made, facing what she describes as living on false premises for 30 years, making better records, raising children, hearing the first passenger jet streak low over Greenwich Village from her daughter’s school and watching the Twin Towers burn, and grieving for her father, who remains an enigma to her even after his death, her stepmother, June Carter Cash, whom she deeply admires, and her mother, whom she says “gave just the right amount of nurturing, not too much to suffocate or too little to starve”.
Though she mentions without elaboration “dark nights of the soul” and a teen-aged trip to Mexico after ditching school in that same passage, Cash, who survived brain surgery, Walk the Line (which she apparently hates), and motherhood and marriage, relaxes toward the end, making this light, easygoing book rewarding for those interested in her music, writing, and Johnny Cash. Speaking of her work, expectations and legacy, she notes: “It took me a long time to grow into an ambition for what I had already committed myself to doing, but I knew I would be good at it if I put my mind to it. So I put my mind to it.” Composed is more strained than composed, but when Rosanne Cash expresses herself, she offers a counterpoint to her father’s iconic line, “I’m Johnny Cash” that has more to say than simply “I’m not”.