A personal reminiscence, one of a veritable “cottage industry” of essays for magazines written during a two and a-half year absence from recording due to vocal polyps, led to her newly published memoir Composed, Rosanne Cash told an audience at the historic Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills Monday night.
The essay, about family and country music and entitled The Ties That Bind, was chosen for inclusion in the anthology Best Music Writing 2000. More importantly, it was recognized by Cash’s book editor as “the beginning of a memoir.”
The memoir–perhaps the first of many, said Cash—took 10 years to complete.
Reading from her introduction to Composed, Cash noted that she has devoted her entire life to “rhythm and words,” and had always wanted to be a prose writer and songwriter.
Any kind of writing, she said, was the “most honorable profession”—though she did not want to be a performer at first. Her mother, obviously affected by her own experience with her husband, “never liked the idea” of her daughter following suit.
“I don’t feel I was pushing away from my parents differently than anybody else,” the independent-minded Cash said, “but the difference here is mine cast an enormous shadow—and I had to push hard!”
But Johnny Cash was always understanding, kind and gracious, she said, though Composed certainly centers on the unique pressures she faced as the daughter of an American hero. The book also deals with other trials, notably including Rosanne Cash’s brain surgery in 2007 and slow but sure recovery.
“I was afraid to lose music more than [having] the fear of death,” she said at the Saban. Sure enough, “for the first six months I could barely tolerate sound and listened only to classical music,” she related; in fact, she couldn’t even read during that time.
But clearly, the Manhattan resident is back all the way. She’s appeared in eight cities in the last two weeks on her Composed book tour, during which she has done 20 press and radio interviews, five TV shows, three photo sessions and nine readings.
And she’s still promoting her acclaimed album from last year, The List, which included songs from a 100 Essential Country Songs list that her father made up for her when she was 18 as a country music educational tool. Asked what songs she would include in a list she might someday create for her own children, she noted that her daughter had actually asked for one.
The country classic “The Long Black Veil,” which her father recorded, and Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” which he also recorded, would be among those songs carrying over from his list to hers, she said.
“I grew up in Southern California, so I ‘d have Neil Young, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,’” she said, also listing The Beatles’ “No Reply” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” She revealed, too, that at some point she would record a second volume of The List.
Cash was also asked to name her favorite original song.
“’Favorite’ is almost a pejorative word,” she said, then singled out “The World Unseen,” from her intensely personal 2006 album Black Cadillac.
She ended with a response to an audience question regarding her thoughts on music from the standpoint of an artist in today’s challenging music business climate.
“I love what I do,” Cash said, simply. “It’s still as exciting to me as it was when I was 16 years old.”
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[The National Highway Transportation Safety Association advises that law enforcement is cracking down on drunk driving over the Labor Day weekend. Plan ahead and have a designated sober driver, take a taxi, or utilize public transportation.]