Book 21: Composed: a memoir by Rosanne Cash, isbn 9780670021963, 245 pages, Viking, $26.95
Premise: (from the inside cover flap): "Composed is the story of an artist finding her voice -- both figuratlively and literally -- in the context of her family legacy, of the commercial imperatives of the music business, and of a desire to preserve some measure of privacy in a life that has been too often subjected to public scrutiny." This is Rosanne Cash's story, in her own words, from being the eldest child of Johnny Cash through being a step-daughter, sister, wife, mother, singer, and songwriter.
My Rating: 5 stars
My Thoughts: Anyone expecting a seething tell-all memoir with the gritty details about Rosanne's parents' divorce, or her divorce from Rodney Crowell, or the health battles of her parents and step-parents, is going to be sorely disappointed in this book. And anyone expecting that kind of memoir doesn't really know anything about Rosanne Cash. Rosanne is gracious to a fault and despite how much time she spends on Twitter she is a very private person. She's spent her whole life (as this book attests) walking that fine line between being a public performer and having a private life. More famous people could follow her lead, and I personally would be happier for it.
What is wonderful about this book is how intensely personal it is without being intensely detailed. I was able to feel Rosanne's pain in all of the above-mentioned life moments; I was able to feel her pride in her children; I was able to feel her confusion about her life-path when things got rocky ... and yet I was able to feel all of this without being privy to every detail of what led to the divorces or what was involved in the childbirth. Rosanne even manages to communicate what it was like being a New Yorker on September 11, 2001, including how most New Yorkers just don't talk about it anymore.
We get plenty of detail about the creation of all of Rosanne's albums, but even there, when she talks about difficulties with the record label or with different producers -- she never lays blame at anyone's feet and never casts herself as completely blameless. She is as gracious to the people she's disagreed with over the years as she is to her friends. I can't imagine her airing dirty laundry ever. The harshest she ever gets in this book is talking about how she argued with the producer on her first album over whether she should record a "guaranteed hit" song. I think the most personal she gets regarding her family is allowing us to read the full text of the Eulogies she delivered for her step-mother and father and mother. I have to be honest that I had to blink away tears reading them. They made me think of all the things I didn't say to my own parents before they passed, and all the things I didn't say about them in the memorials we gave them. (Rosanne talks about the struggles with losing her voice due to illness; I lost my facility for words in the wake of my parents' passings and wish I could have been as eloquent as Rosanne was.)
What we don't get in personal detail is more than made up for in creative detail. Throughout the book, we see how real-life events influence her writing and her willingness to also record songs written by others. We see the influence her father has had on her creative side, as well as the influence of first husband Rodney Crowell, current husband John Leventhal, her daughters and son. She talks about "postcards from the future," songs that become somewhat prescient after they're written.
I feel like this review is rambling, so it's probably time to end it. I'm giving the book 5 stars because I admire the way Rosanne Cash manages to bare her soul without digging dirt, the way she takes the intensely personal and makes it universal, and the way she takes the universal and tinges it with the personal. Even if you don't read a lot of memoirs, I have to recommend this one.