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In her introduction to her memoir Cash writes, “I dream of songs. I dream they fall down through centuries, from my distant ancestors, and come to me”. In many ways this memoir unfolds like a dream—seamlessly transitioning from one memory to the next like the best authors of our time—and you will fall into this book as easily as one of her albums.

If you’re expecting a tell all – a confessional from Johnny Cash’s daughter – don’t bother with this memoir. If you’re expecting the sadness or the whole, raw truth in the likes of Joan Didion or Elizabeth McCracken, this memoir may not be for you. However, if you love Johnny Cash, if you love Rosanne’s music and want a good story, Composed: A Memoir is lyrical and insightful and full of beautiful memories.

Cash knew, at a young age, that she “was a writer”, and that writing “would save her”. When she asked a deliveryman (carrying cakes, pies, tarts, and breads) how he brought his truck home at night and resisted the urge to eat its contents, he said “Well, if you’re around it all day, you want to get away from it when you go home,” and followed it with “Does your daddy sit around and sing all day when he comes off the road?” Rosanne’s answer: Well, no. But she recognizes now (and even then) that “it’s not just the singing you bring home,” that it’s “the constant measuring of ideas and words if you’re a songwriter, and the daily handling of your instrument if you are a musician, and the humming and scratching and pushing and testing of the voice, the revealing in the melodies if you are a singer.”

cover art

Composed: A Memoir

Rosanne Cash

(Penguin; US: Aug 2010)

Cash’s lyricism plays on the page as if she’s on stage with guitar in hand. You can hear the music as you read.

What’s surprising are the relationships in the book. Cash and her father. Cash and her mother. Cash and the Carters. Her memories are vivid and rendered with a certainty that this is not the family we may have presupposed; not the people of the 2005 movie Walk the Line. For example, after her apartment was robbed in her early 20s, everything taken from her, her father sent her “a new piece of jewelry every week…a pair of pearl earrings would be accompanied by a note saying ‘My love is more precious than pearl earrings.’”

This memoir, Cash has said, started as a series of essays. She put the pieces together, and surprising (even to her), she had a story to tell. This story is not the story of a drug addicted absentee father and the lonely journey of his daughter. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Johnny was integral in her formation as both a young woman finding her way in the world and as a father. Why would we question that? Because a movie said that was the truth? The truth, if you want it, is in the pages of this book: a coming of age story in the very best sense.

Vocal polyps prompted its writing, she admits. She couldn’t sing; thus, another outlet was found. Brain surgery gave her a sense of her life being “more than half over”, and because of that we have this honest, yet restrained account of the daughter one the most beloved and influential musicians of the 20th century.

Cash admits, “Documenting one’s life in the midst of living is a strange pursuit.” She always “wanted to live as beginner, and writing a memoir in some ways defies that notion”. Yet Cash doesn’t consider this a finished story. It’s “ongoing” and “there’s more to come…more is always to come.”

This memoir feels like a testimony: to music, motherhood, love, and the resilience of an artist. Reading it is like a dream. The kind you wake from and remember and scribble on a piece of paper so as never to forget.

Jaime Karnes earned her BA at the University of Kansas, her MFA from Rutgers-Newark, and she teaches fiction writing at Gotham Writers' Workshop. She also teaches English and Literature at Rutgers University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Storyglossia, Willard & Maple, TransLit, Etude Magazine, and HTMLGIANT. She lives and writes in Manhattan. She can be reached at cellardoorcopy (at)

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