Rosanne Cash’s memoir, Composed, is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read. It is a heartfelt and beautiful book that details a young woman, unsure of herself, growing up in public. And in private. It is the story of a daughter and a mother, a singer and a songwriter. But most of all, it is the story of a seeker.
Through the early Southern Cal to Tennessee adventures, to her early songwriting days in London, Munich, Nashville and eventually New York City, Cash presents a complete picture of her journey — physically, spiritually and musically. Her relationships with her mother, her father, stepmother June Carter Cash, husband Rodney Crowell and later John Leventhal, and those of her children are all thoughtfully examined. Her eulogies for June and her father are simply beautiful. Her relationship with her dad, and maybe more importantly, his legacy, is at the center of the book, and it’s a complicated one, but Cash never shies away from acknowledging it and scrutinizing the conflicting feelings she held for her father.
The book — and Cash — eventually come full-circle, winding up with her 2009 album The List, the album seeded many years ago in 1974, when her dad challenged her to learn the roots of her chosen craft. That album would not have been as good as it is without the lifetime it took her to get there: “ I had done an exhausting dance with (Dad’s) legacy for my entire life.” In my opinion, it paid off with one of Cash’s most satisfying albums.
Towards the end of the book, Cash sums up: “We all need art and music like we need blood and oxygen. The more exploitative, numbing and assaulting popular culture becomes, the more we need the truth of a beautifully phrased song, dredged from a real person’s depth of experience, delivered in an honest voice; the more we need the simplicity of paint on canvas, or the arc of a lonely body in the air, or the photographer’s unflinching eye.”
Although music is the constant underpinning, this is not a tell-all music memoir. This book helps tell Rosanne Cash’s journey —and it’ s much more about the journey than the destination — the how’s and why’s of how you get to a particular place. If you’re willing to take the ride, it’s a wonderful read.
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