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August 10, 2010

Roseanne Cash: Songs have always been a compass for me

Posted: 02:36 PM ET

I didn't intend to write a memoir. I started writing essays for various publications - the New York Times, the Oxford-American, Rolling Stone, even Martha Stewart Living magazine.  At one point my friend and former editor of my book of short stories, 'Bodies of Water', said 'I think you have a memoir in you'.  I said, 'I'm not old enough!'  He laughed and told me to think about writing more than one volume.

That was more than a decade ago. Perhaps I AM old enough now.  My memoir, 'Composed' is finished and on bookshelves.  I was never interested in 'settling scores' or dishing dirt, or airing private grievances.  There is something undignified and truly appalling about that kind of memoir, at least in my mind. My book is about my upbringing, my coming of age, and my life as a songwriter. I wrote about my life by writing about songs, and the journeys I took to find those songs, write them, sing them, and perform them.  The songs have always been a compass for me. And more is to come. More is always to come.

The following is an excerpt from Rosanne Cash’s memoir, ‘Composed’.

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1955, a month before my dad’s first record, “Cry, Cry, Cry,” was released on Sun Records.  My mother had only two dresses that fit her in late pregnancy, she told me, and in her final month, during the most summerlike of the sultry late spring days in East Memphis, she would sit on the steps of the front porch and eat an entire washbasin of cherry tomatoes. It was her one craving.  On the afternoon of May 24, my mother went to her regular appointment with her obstetrician, who examined her and told her to go straight to the hospital. “This baby is going to be born today,” he said. I was born after only four hours of labor, at eight o’clock that evening.  My mother later told me that the loneliest feeling she had ever felt was when she was wheeled through the double doors of the hospital maternity ward to give birth and looked back to see my dad standing forlornly in the waiting room. He paced and smoked for the next four hours while she labored alone and chewed on a wet washcloth when the pains overtook her; she always spoke with great resentment about the fact that she was given a damp washcloth to suck and then left alone in a hospital room.  She was awake for the entire four hours of labor and given nothing for pain, and then put to sleep for the actual birth. It all sounded like a mean-spirited, medieval exercise in physical endurance and emotional isolation. Her accounts of it were so cinematic and full of emotion that I grew up terrified of the prospect of childbirth.  I had very few fantasies about having children or being a mother, because I could not get past the specter of childbirth, which seemed almost a horrible end in itself, with something only vague and indefinable on the other side of it. The fact that I eventually did bear four children, delivered both “naturally” and with pain medication, never really lessened my fear.

When my mother went back for her six-week checkup after my birth, the doctor informed her that she was pregnant again.  My sister Kathy was born ten months and twenty-three days after me.  Kathy was a fragile child who had mysterious illnesses and the worst versions of every childhood disease, and I have always felt guilty that I may have taken all the nutrients out of my mother’s body when I inhabited her womb, just before Kathy’s arrival there.

Two years after Kathy’s birth, my sister Cindy was born, and soon after that we moved from Memphis to Southern California. My sister Tara was born shortly after we settled in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley. My mother’s fourth pregnancy and delivery were difficult for her. She carried Tara for ten months and endured a hard sixteen-hour labor. After the birth of her fourth daughter, my mother, in tears, informed my father that she was finished with childbearing, even though she had initially said she wanted six children. My father agreed, although he harbored a secret desire for a son, which he finally got when I was fifteen and he was married to June, not my mother.

My parents bought Johnny Carson’s house on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino.  My most vivid memory of the three years we lived there was of the day a film crew showed up in our living room to tape a show called Here’s Hollywood. My mother was extremely nervous, and we children were made to dress up in poufy dresses, white ankle socks, and black patent leather shoes, with our hair pulled tightly back into bows. We had to sit absolutely still and silent on the sofa next to my parents while the camera was trained on us and the interviewer spoke to them. Then we were sent outside while Mom and Dad were interviewed alone. The whole experience was profoundly unsettling to me. It may have been the first time that I registered – at age five – how it felt to be truly angry. I didn’t like how my mother changed for the camera, showing only a social veneer that didn’t represent her true self at all, and I didn’t like it that my dad had even allowed them in our house. I recognized the falsity, and silently rebelled against the intrusion. Thus began a lifelong wariness of journalists.

But I loved the house.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Composed by Rosanne Cash.  Copyright © 2010 by Rosanne Cash

Filed under: LKL Web Exclusive


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Jim Carroll   August 10th, 2010 3:56 pm ET

Keep them honest! Get out of the box! Go to internetfreepress!


Joe G. (Illinois)   August 10th, 2010 5:23 pm ET

Why not write a song about a woman who brings a change of clothes, a spare pillow and a bag full of hair care products to a bus stop in the pitch of cold darkness. Melancholy for the old days her mama had told her about when men still had class to pick up a woman in distress.

Just kidding!

Although totally inappropriate it would also far too outdated.


Jessie from Auckland, NZ   August 10th, 2010 8:00 pm ET

Just love Roseanne Cash and her Dad and she is just 2 months older than me. Great year to be born in 1955, lol. Have read her Mum and Dad's memoirs and would most certainly like to read Roseanne's memoirs.

God bless her and her family.
Keeping the memories alive!


Diane Castle   August 10th, 2010 9:08 pm ET

Great CW entertainer. Loved her family...


Miller   August 11th, 2010 4:03 pm ET

Roseanne Cash is great as was her father; and from all that I've read, her mother was a class act. Will definitely read her book.


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