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This article was published 13/8/2010 (4333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Rosanne Cash
Viking, 253 pages, $33.50
"DOCUMENTING one's life in the midst of living it is a strange pursuit," Rosanne Cash admits in this unconventional memoir.
Eschewing the standard autobiographical form, the 55-year-old American musician and writer concentrates on telling moments and recurring themes, gathering them into a loose but often lovely whole.
Composed "is not a chronological fact-check of my life," writes Cash, and in keeping with her reticent public persona, it's not a celebrity tell-all.
If you're looking for dirt on her marriage to Rodney Crowell or scandalous secrets about her famous father, iconic American singer Johnny Cash, you'll be disappointed.
Cash grew up as a misfit California girl. She writes matter-of-factly about her parents in the early years of her dad's success, her mother, Vivian Cash, nervously subsisting on coffee and Winston cigarettes, Johnny constantly on tour and struggling with amphetamine and barbiturate addiction.
Rosanne was 12 and traumatized when her parents divorced. Later, learning from her own romantic relationships, she understood that they couldn't make each other happy.
They had a "a classic youngsters' marriage," Cash writes, "one in which each party is blind to his or her own character flaws and can see them only in the reflection of the spouse."
Cash is known mostly as a Grammy-winning songwriter -- she has released 14 albums -- but she's also written short stories and essays. Much of Composed is a writerly, roundabout look at Cash's journey to becoming herself.
Cash didn't grow up imagining herself as a wife and mother. "Having come of age in the '60s, I thought there was something regressive, and repressive, about the whole idea," she says.
But somehow Cash found herself stepmother to Crowell's daughter and mother to three girls and a boy, and she writes glowingly about her children as the central facts of her life.
Likewise, Cash didn't always see herself as a singer. Having travelled on the tour bus with her dad, she saw performing as a hard, unglamorous slog.
She also had to navigate a testy relationship to the Nashville establishment, ultimately claiming New York, where she lives now with her second husband, John Levanthal, as her natural home.
And, of course, over all these wanderings falls the shadow of her famous father. Cash concedes that there will always be people in her audiences who "try to look through me to see my dad."
But unlike many children of the rich and famous, she seems to have a constructive relationship with her father and his work.
She has built on his legacy while finding her own distinctive voice. (Her most recent album, The List, offers her own interpretations of what Johnny felt to be 12 essential American songs.)
The start of Composed sometimes seems tentative, but Cash builds to a strong, moving finish, writing feelingly about the deaths of her parents and stepmother, June Carter Cash, and of her own brush with pain and mortality. (Cash had brain surgery in 2007 for a rare genetic condition.)
Not everything in Composed is this vivid, but in contrast to the tired clichés of so many celeb memoirs, Cash's writing feels honest and exploratory.
Winnipeg journalist Alison Gillmor has made it through a few bad breakups with the help of Rosanne Cash's Seven Year Ache.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.