Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Composed - Roseanne Cash's memoir

Reading Roseanne Cash's memoir, Composed, made me aware of how different her writing style is from that of a novelist or a historian. Roseanne is a songwriter, and I loved how each chapter was so composed. In each she started by pulling an image or an anecdote, a memory or a metaphor from her life, and then building on it throughout the chapter, fleshing it out, analyzing it in the context of other events, epiphanies, and relationships, and then neatly closing the chapter by looping the original thread back into the narrative and tying off the knot. She is a skilled writer, but this particular style is not one I've encountered other than in poetry and so I attribute it to a life spent writing songs.

Overall, it was a wonderful book, providing an interesting perspective of one of my favorite contemporary singers. I was pleased to find out that she considered Emmylou Harris, my all-time favorite contemporary singer (she's my Austen when it comes to music), as her model when she was still learning her craft. I learned a fair amount about the music making industry reading the book, and I respected how she told the story of her relationship with her parents and how it shaped her, both by acknowledging their and her own shortcomings but also embracing their and her own gifts and talents, musical and otherwise.

While it was necessary to provide the backstory of her early years (childhood, teenage rebellion, singledom), the book really came alive for me when she wrote about caring for her father in his last days, her 9/11 story, and her brain surgery. I think some of the best writing in the book is contained in the eulogies she wrote for her stepmother, June Carter Cash, and her father, Johnny Cash. The one for June moved me especially, and again, it had a tight, composed structure to it...like a song.

I've always liked Roseanne Cash's music. When my son gave me this memoir for my birthday in November, I was a little apprehensive about reading it. I remembered what happened after I read Peter Ackryod's bio of Charles Dickens. The personality of the man who emerged from the bio was so distasteful to me that I haven't read a Dickens novel since. Sometimes you can know too much about a favorite artist. I'm happy to say that reading this memoir has only made me more appreciative of the artist whose songs I enjoy so much. She's not a saint--she's very human and very aware of her liabilities, but her memoir, the song of her life, was a pleasure to read.


  1. Roseanne Cash is a gem! Ever hear her version of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country?" Fabulous. It was one of the songs her father listed as a song she should know and cherish. It's such a beautiful song with a haunting melody.

    I have not yet read this book, but hope to. I find her work and her story - especially the chapters of her life about her relationship with her father and the ailment that kept her silent for months - to be absolutely fascinating.

    Listen and read - Roseanne is worth it.

    David W. Berner

  2. David - thanks for stopping by. I agree that "Girl from the North Country" on The List album is wonderful, though it's not my favorite on that exceptionally good CD. My current favorite is "Take These Chains from My Heart," although I listen to "Long Black Veil" more because my daughter loves that song and controls our music when we drive together and The List is always the CD she chooses.

  3. Thanks for this, another one for my list, she has such a lovely voice. Johnny Cash used to visit the nearby village of Falkland quite often as the Cash family lived there before going to the US.
    I know exactly what you mean about Dickens, it put me right off him.

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  5. Katrina - in Composed, Roseanne talks about visiting Falkland after her father's death, and meeting a shop owner who spent time with him when he visited and did the TV show there. It's near the end of the book, but was interesting and moving.

  6. This sounds great. I've enjoyed following Roseanne Cash on Twitter and learning a little more about her. I used to listen to her music when I was younger, but otherwise, I don't know much. I'm glad the book is so good.