In her newest book, Composed: A Memoir, country music singer Rosanne Cash discusses the trajectory of her life as an artist.
You've written a book of short stories (Bodies of Water), a children's book, numerous essays, as well as songs. How did this memoir come about now?
I've been working on it for a decade on and off—it's not an urgent need that just arose. I didn't think of it myself. I wrote this essay for Joe, a magazine Starbucks used to put out—I lost my voice for a while, for two years—my editor read it and said you really should write a memoir, and he sold the idea to Viking. I think of it the way M.F.K. Fisher wrote about food—that's my template for this book.
You write openly about your dad in this memoir, so I feel I can ask you: how have you dealt with the “anxiety of influence” visà-vis your father, Johnny Cash, and forged your own way as an artist?
I dealt slowly and sometimes ungraciously. I tried to stay awake and aware. I keep my head down and I work hard. I have always been more interested in getting better at what I do. I set boundaries for people—I don't let them use me to get at my dad, to get their project about my dad going. You write that you never really rebelled against your father and your family. Does this surprise you now that you have your own kids? I rebelled in some ways—I moved across the ocean. [She worked at CBS Records in London at age 20.] I was independent. But I rebelled in high school: I did crazy things—drugs, going to Mexico, crazy boyfriends. That's volume two, honey, volume two! You write in this memoir largely about your evolution as a writer. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and not a country music star? I never wanted to be a country music star. I wanted to be a writer from nine years old—then I wanted to be a songwriter from age 18. I really thought that's what my life would be: be in a room by myself and make songs that other people wanted to sing.
You write pointedly about the transition from analogue to digital. How did it affect you?
I'm glad you ask, because that's such a male concern—but recording analogue was a very visceral art for me, really sculptural. I miss it—it was a very tough transition for me. I miss the kinesthetic quality; the sound has suffered. There is a dimensional quality that is gone. The digital sound is very narrow, methodically narrow, very compressed.
Do you ever perform with family?
It's funny, I just performed with my daughter Chelsea Crowell on an NPR special on Mother's Day, and we performed together for the first time one of her songs, “You Can Do Better Than Her.” She is a gifted songwriter and is writing an opera. My kids aren't hungry to learn about their family's legacy; they are hungry to lead their own lives, just as I was. But when she gets to my age she'll want to ask questions.