Composed: A Memoir

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Overview

"One of the best accounts of an American life you'll likely ever read." -Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

As moving, disarming, and elusive as one of her classic songs, Composed is Rosanne Cash's testament to the power of art, tradition, and love to transform a life. For more than three decades she has been one of the most compelling figures in popular music, having moved gracefully from Nashville stardom to critical recognition as a singer-songwriter and author of essays and short...

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Composed: A Memoir

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Overview

"One of the best accounts of an American life you'll likely ever read." -Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

As moving, disarming, and elusive as one of her classic songs, Composed is Rosanne Cash's testament to the power of art, tradition, and love to transform a life. For more than three decades she has been one of the most compelling figures in popular music, having moved gracefully from Nashville stardom to critical recognition as a singer-songwriter and author of essays and short stories. Her remarkable body of work has often been noted for its emotional acuity, its rich and resonant imagery, and its unsparing honesty. Those qualities have enabled her to establish a unique intimacy with her audiences, and it is those qualities that inform her long-awaited memoir.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
As the eldest daughter of legend Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash could expect some special attention in music circles; but over the past thirty years, this talented singer has done far more than traipse respectfully in her father's footsteps. Versatile, eclectic, and outspoken, she made headlines in 1991 when she left the Nashville country music scene and moved to New York, signaling an important transition in her career. This refreshingly unconventional memoir enacts the changes in Rosanne's life by presenting episodes in linked vignettes. An artful addition to a talented songwriter and singer's repertoire.
Dwight Garner
Composed is a pointillistic memoir about growing up with and without her father, and about how she slid out from under his shadow to become a gifted artist in her own right…Ms. Cash is smart, likable and arrives with stories to tell.
—The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
…wise, honest and utterly engaging…Rosanne Cash isn't just a writer and performer of songs, she's a writer, period…[a] beautiful and stirring book, of which one thing can be said for sure: Dad would have been proud of it, and her.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This work is a rare treat, as Cash, firstborn to country music legend Johnny Cash, is not only a hereditary celebrity musician, having made scores of albums and #1 singles, but a terrific writer in her own right. Indeed, her memoir is an intensely reflective, carefully hewn chronicle of her coming-into-her-own as a writer. Born in 1955 to Johnny Cash's littleknown first wife, Vivian, just at the breakthrough of her father's music career with the hit "Cry, Cry, Cry," Cash describes herself as a "pudgy, withdrawn girl" already aware that she was "a counterfeit with a strange, hidden life." That included an anxious mother, three younger sisters, and a father who was frequently absent and erratic, due to his abuse at the time of amphetamines and barbiturates. From growing up in Southern California to visits to her father's house in Hendersonville, Tenn., Cash idolized her father and rarely questioned his authority, such as sending her off to work at CBS Records in London at age 20. At Vanderbilt University, she studied with Walter Sullivan; toyed with Method acting in L.A.; then recorded four demos in Munich, Germany, for Ariola Records, away from the scrutiny of comparison with her father. Cash depicts pensively her early delight in analogue recording and honing her writing craft. Despite an inordinate preponderance of funeral eulogies and some odd structuring toward the end, Cash's memoir sheds clear light on her talent and drive. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Beautifully written meditations on love, death, family and redemption from the celebrated songwriter. As the title alludes, this is very much a "portrait of the artist" memoir, in which the author shows not the slightest interest in dishing dirt or settling scores. A country hitmaker who has received considerable critical acclaim, Cash is also a previously published author of the short-story collection Bodies of Water (1996). Yet for some she will always be foremost the daughter of Johnny Cash. Here she leaves no question that the father she knew was quite different than the legend portrayed in the 2005 film, Walk the Line, which she calls "an egregious oversimplification of our family's private pain, writ large and Hollywood-style." By contrast, intimate vignettes writ small fill this account, which illuminates her close, complicated relationships with both her mother and her father-whom she remembers as "strange, dark, and intensely distracted" when she was the young daughter of a dissolving marriage, yet a pillar of support and inspiration through the majority of her life. The tension at the center of both her career and her memoir is her realization that "I wanted success, certainly, but I wanted it without the merciless exposure of a public life." Unflinchingly honest and incisive on matters she chooses to address, Cash provides little detail about her marriage to and divorce from country artist Rodney Crowell, whose collaboration with her proved pivotal in the careers of both. A generosity of spirit informs her portraits of friends from decades past, fellow musicians, husband and collaborator John Leventhal and the children who have enriched the life of their mother. Despite the spate of recent deaths she has mourned, and the traumas of brain surgery, miscarriage and a mysterious loss of voice that she recounts in these pages, warmth and humor characterize the resilience of the author's spirit. An excellent memoir that ends on an encouraging note: "More to come."Agent: Merrilee Heifetz/Writers House
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143119395
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/26/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 259,186
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Rosanne Cash

ROSANNE CASH has recorded fourteen albums charting twenty-one Top 40 country singles, 11 of which made it to # 1, and two gold records. She has received ten Grammy nominations—winning in 1985—and was nominated this year for “Sea of Heartbreak,” a duet with Bruce Springsteen on her current CD, The List. Cash achieved the highest chart position of her career with the debut of The List. The album, which Vanity Fair called “superb,” debuted in the Top 5 on the Country Chart, and entered The Billboard 200 at No. 22. Cash is the author of Bodies of Water and the children’s book Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale. Her essays and fiction have been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and New York magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and children.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1955, a month before my dad's first record, "Cry, Cry, Cry," was released on Sun Records. My mother had only two dresses that fit her in late pregnancy, she told me, and in her final month, during the most summerlike of the sultry late spring days in East Memphis, she would sit on the steps of the front porch and eat an entire washbasin of cherry tomatoes. It was her one craving. On the afternoon of May 24, my mother went to her regular appointment with her obstetrician, who examined her and told her to go straight to the hospital. "This baby is going to be born today," he said. I was born after only four hours of labor, at eight o'clock that evening. My mother later told me that the loneliest feeling she had ever felt was when she was wheeled through the double doors of the hospital maternity ward to give birth and looked back to see my dad standing forlornly in the waiting room. He paced and smoked for the next four hours while she labored alone and chewed on a wet washcloth when the pains overtook her; she always spoke with great resentment about the fact that she was given a damp washcloth to suck and then left alone in a hospital room. She was awake for the entire four hours of labor and given nothing for pain, and then put to sleep for the actual birth. It all sounded like a mean-spirited, medieval exercise in physical endurance and emotional isolation. Her accounts of it were so cinematic and full of emotion that I grew up terrified of the prospect of childbirth. I had very few fantasies about having children or being a mother, because I could not get past the specter of childbirth, which seemed almost a horrible end in itself, with something only vague and indefinable on the other side of it. The fact that I eventually did bear four children, delivered both "naturally" and with pain medication, never really lessened my fear.

When my mother went back for her six-week checkup after my birth, the doctor informed her that she was pregnant again. My sister Kathy was born ten months and twenty-three days after me. Kathy was a fragile child who had mysterious illnesses and the worst versions of every childhood disease, and I have always felt guilty that I may have taken all the nutrients out of my mother's body when I inhabited her womb, just before Kathy's arrival there.

Two years after Kathy's birth, my sister Cindy was born, and soon after that we moved from Memphis to Southern California. My sister Tara was born shortly after we settled in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley. My mother's fourth pregnancy and delivery were difficult for her. She carried Tara for ten months and endured a hard sixteen-hour labor. After the birth of her fourth daughter, my mother, in tears, informed my father that she was finished with childbearing, even though she had initially said she wanted six children. My father agreed, although he harbored a secret desire for a son, which he finally got when I was fifteen and he was married to June, not my mother.

My parents bought Johnny Carson's house on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino. My most vivid memory of the three years we lived there was of the day a film crew showed up in our living room to tape a show called Here's Hollywood. My mother was extremely nervous, and we children were made to dress up in poufy dresses, white ankle socks, and black patent leather shoes, with our hair pulled tightly back into bows. We had to sit absolutely still and silent on the sofa next to my parents while the camera was trained on us and the interviewer spoke to them. Then we were sent outside while Mom and Dad were interviewed alone. The whole experience was profoundly unsettling to me. It may have been the first time that I registered—at age five—how it felt to be truly angry. I didn't like how my mother changed for the camera, showing only a social veneer that didn't represent her true self at all, and I didn't like it that my dad had even allowed them in our house. I recognized the falsity, and silently rebelled against the intrusion. Thus began a lifelong wariness of journalists.

But I loved the house.

It had a pool and a big yard, and the room I shared with my sisters had Alice in Wonderland murals on the wall behind the twin beds. We lived on the corner, with a school crossing in front of our house. Every morning and afternoon a crossing guard showed up in her car and waited for the school bus. As it arrived, she got out, slipped her plastic orange neon vest over her clothes, picked up her little stop sign, and positioned herself at the crosswalk to guide the children across the street. This was the most fascinating ritual in the world to me, and the first few times I saw her I ran out to speak to her. She was very kind to me, but after several days, when my mother saw me actually get into the crossing guard's car to talk to her, she forbade me to pay her any more visits. At age four, seriously disappointed and with great longing, I stationed myself in the picture window at the front of the house twice a day to observe her and the children from afar. Part of the romance for me was the older children, for I badly wanted to go to school.

Sensing my frustration, my mother eventually enrolled me in a nursery school down the street for two or three days a week. Although I enjoyed it, I discovered that it didn't provide enough to satisfy my curiosity. I would ask my mother to read me every sign, every paper, every milk carton and package I saw. I insisted she tell me every word and what it meant, nearly driving her crazy in the process, and then I tried to memorize their spellings and meanings. On learning that Europe was a place across the ocean, I asked her if "European" was a real word. She made a joke about going to the bathroom along the lines of "You're peeing" and refused to say whether it was a real word which made me furious with her. She didn't take my intense need to learn about language seriously, and I was desperate for someone who understood my hunger. My dad would have understood, but he was gone much of the time, and during his recent visits home he had become strange, dark, and intensely distracted. Although I'm not sure why, I didn't go to kindergarten; bored senseless, I began to create imaginary friends, all of whom were adults. Much later in life, a genial psychiatrist to whom I had confided this fact pointed out how unusual it was for a child to have adult imaginary friends, but it still seems perfectly natural to me. I felt safe with them, and they taught me a great deal. I still think of them fondly and I have a deep superstition about speaking their names aloud. They were my own personal crossing guards.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Recommended for those interested in music industry and family history.

    Overall, I liked the book. She is a very gifted & perceptive writer. Parts of book on recording and the music industry I did not understand. The parts about her upbringing and interaction with her father (Johnny Cash) and Step-Mom (Roseanne Carter Cash) were very good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    wonderful

    ....very descriptive....her use of words n imagery are pure magic :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

    Good supplemental read. You probably should read something a

    Good supplemental read. You probably should read something about her Dads career first (?) Maybe a understanding of the music business (?)
    She doesn't dwell deeply on herself, but doesn't shy away from putting it all out there either.
    If you're a fan of her music, a fan of her Dads music, maybe trying to put the pieces together of a famous family and dealing with stardom - this helps.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2012

    I enjoyed this book.

    I've read one of her father's memoirs and was eager to read hers. I'm glad I did.

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