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Composed: A Memoir


Composed: A Memoir Cover

ISBN13: 9780670021963
ISBN10: 0670021962
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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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.

It had a pool and a big yard, and the room I shared with my sisters had Alice in Wonderland murals on the wall behind the twin beds. We lived on the corner, with a school crossing in front of our house. Every morning and afternoon a crossing guard showed up in her car and waited for the school bus. As it arrived, she got out, slipped her plastic orange neon vest over her clothes, picked up her little stop sign, and positioned herself at the crosswalk to guide the children across the street. This was the most fascinating ritual in the world to me, and the first few times I saw her I ran out to speak to her. She was very kind to me, but after several days, when my mother saw me actually get into the crossing guard's car to talk to her, she forbade me to pay her any more visits. At age four, seriously disappointed and with great longing, I stationed myself in the picture window at the front of the house twice a day to observe her and the children from afar. Part of the romance for me was the older children, for I badly wanted to go to school.

Sensing my frustration, my mother eventually enrolled me in a nursery school down the street for two or three days a week. Although I enjoyed it, I discovered that it didn't provide enough to satisfy my curiosity. I would ask my mother to read me every sign, every paper, every milk carton and package I saw. I insisted she tell me every word and what it meant, nearly driving her crazy in the process, and then I tried to memorize their spellings and meanings. On learning that Europe was a place across the ocean, I asked her if "European" was a real word. She made a joke about going to the bathroom along the lines of "You're peeing" and refused to say whether it was a real word which made me furious with her. She didn't take my intense need to learn about language seriously, and I was desperate for someone who understood my hunger. My dad would have understood, but he was gone much of the time, and during his recent visits home he had become strange, dark, and intensely distracted. Although I'm not sure why, I didn't go to kindergarten; bored senseless, I began to create imaginary friends, all of whom were adults. Much later in life, a genial psychiatrist to whom I had confided this fact pointed out how unusual it was for a child to have adult imaginary friends, but it still seems perfectly natural to me. I felt safe with them, and they taught me a great deal. I still think of them fondly and I have a deep superstition about speaking their names aloud. They were my own personal crossing guards.

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estreetpoet, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by estreetpoet)
This is not your typical gossipy, tell-all celebrity memoir. Yes, of course you will find stories about famous people here - including of course Rosanne Cash's father - but they are stories about human beings, not celebrities and they are written with tremendous compassion. More than anything, this is a book about how Rosanne Cash became a writer and a musician, and it is beautifully written. Don't read it because of who the author is related to. Read it because of who she is and how she can tell a story.
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Suze R, August 15, 2010 (view all comments by Suze R)
I read this book while listening to some of Rosanne's recent music.Her writing is poetry,as is her songwriting.I lost my father during September also,so her writing about her father's passing and her song When September Comes really touch me.Her story of how her fear of snakes came to be is great for anyone who has had that particular fear growing up.She combines humor about her life while at the same time sharing some of the most painful moments of her life with you.I highly recommend this book whether you have listened to her music or not. After reading this you WILL want to listen to her music.
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Product Details

Cash, Rosanne
Viking Adult
Fagen, Donald
Composers & Musicians - General
Personal Memoirs
Singers -- United States.
Cash, Rosanne
Composers & Musicians
Biography-Composers and Musicians
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
b/w photo frontispiece
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Country » Biographies
Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Country » General
Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Country and Bluegrass
Biography » Composers and Musicians
Biography » Entertainment and Performing Arts
Biography » General
Biography » Women

Composed: A Memoir Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 176 pages Viking Books - English 9780670021963 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This work is a rare treat, as Cash, firstborn to country music legend Johnny Cash, is not only a hereditary celebrity musician, having made scores of albums and #1 singles, but a terrific writer in her own right. Indeed, her memoir is an intensely reflective, carefully hewn chronicle of her coming-into-her-own as a writer. Born in 1955 to Johnny Cash's little-known first wife, Vivian, just at the breakthrough of her father's music career with the hit 'Cry, Cry, Cry,' Cash describes herself as a 'pudgy, withdrawn girl' already aware that she was 'a counterfeit with a strange, hidden life.' That included an anxious mother, three younger sisters, and a father who was frequently absent and erratic, due to his abuse at the time of amphetamines and barbiturates. From growing up in Southern California to visits to her father's house in Hendersonville, Tenn., Cash idolized her father and rarely questioned his authority, such as sending her off to work at CBS Records in London at age 20. At Vanderbilt University, she studied with Walter Sullivan; toyed with Method acting in L.A.; then recorded four demos in Munich, Germany, for Ariola Records, away from the scrutiny of comparison with her father. Cash depicts pensively her early delight in analogue recording and honing her writing craft. Despite an inordinate preponderance of funeral eulogies and some odd structuring toward the end, Cash's memoir sheds clear light on her talent and drive. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review A Day" by , "Rosanne Cash is a brilliant singer and songwriter who at 55 has come back to the top of her game after brain surgery and a knee-buckling series of family tragedies....She's also a talented writer who's published a book of short stories and taught classes in the creative process, skills that serve her well in Composed, an episodic memoir that breaks her life down into impressionistic stories. The book does follow Cash's life in a fairly straight line and is surely more of a narrative than Bob Dylan's Chronicles; there are many times when she's more interested in sharing a story or catching a mood than getting everything down for the record." (Read the entire Oregonian review)
"Review" by , "Beautifully written meditations on love, death, family and redemption from the celebrated songwriter....An excellent memoir that ends on an encouraging note:'More to come.'"
"Review" by , "The most compelling parts of this episodic memoir describe Cash's musical heritage...and her development as a singer and songwriter....[A] moving testament to the resiliency of the human, and creative, spirit."
"Review" by , "Fans of Rosanne and Johnny Cash will find this essential, as she offers insight into their lives, the importance of family, and the music industry. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "Wise, honest and utterly engaging...Rosanne Cash isn't just a writer and performer of songs, she's a writer, period...[a] beautiful and stirring book."
"Review" by , "A pointillistic memoir about growing up with and without her father, and about how she slid out from under his shadow to become a gifted artist in her own right"
"Synopsis" by , In this candid memoir, an acclaimed singer and songwriter writes about her upbringing in Southern California as the child of country legend Johnny Cash, and of her relationships with her mother and her famous stepmother, June Carter Cash.
"Synopsis" by ,
A witty, revealing, sharply written work of memoir and criticism by the cofounder of Steely Dan

Musician and songwriter Donald Fagen presents a group of vivid set pieces in his entertaining debut as an author, from portraits of the cultural figures and currents that shaped him as a youth to an account of his college days and of life on the road.

Fagen begins by introducing the “eminent hipsters” that spoke to him as he was growing up in a bland New Jersey suburb in the early 1960s, among them Jean Shepherd, whose manic nightly broadcasts out of WOR-Radio “enthralled a generation of alienated young people”; Henry Mancini, whose swank, noirish soundtracks left their mark on him; and Mort Fega, the laid-back, knowledgeable all-night jazz man at WEVD who was like “the cool uncle you always wished you had.” He writes of how, coming of age during the paranoid Cold War era, one of his primary doors of escape became reading science fiction, and of his invigorating trips into New York City to hear jazz. “Class of 69” recounts Fagens colorful, mind-expanding years at Bard College, the progressive school north of New York City, where he first met his future musical partner Walter Becker. “With the Dukes of September” offers a cranky, hilarious account of the ups and downs of a recent cross-country tour Fagen made with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, performing a program of old R&B and soul tunes as well as some of their own hits.

Acclaimed for the elaborate arrangements and jazz harmonies of his songs, Fagen proves himself a sophisticated writer with a very distinctive voice in this engaging book.

"Synopsis" by ,
A candid and moving memoir from the critically acclaimed singer and songwriter

For thirty years as a musician, Rosanne Cash has enjoyed both critical and commercial success, releasing a series of albums that are as notable for their lyrical intelligence as for their musical excellence.

Now, in her memoir, Cash writes compellingly about her upbringing in Southern California as the child of country legend Johnny Cash, and of her relationships with her mother and her famous stepmother, June Carter Cash. In her account of her development as an artist she shares memories of a hilarious stint as a twenty-year-old working for Columbia Records in London, recording her own first album on a German label, working her way to success, her marriage to Rodney Crowell, a union that made them Nashville's premier couple, her relationship with the country music establishment, taking a new direction in her music and leaving Nashville to move to New York. As well as motherhood, dealing with the deaths of her parents, in part through music, the process of songwriting, and the fulfillment she has found with her current husband and musical collaborator, John Leventhal.

Cash has written an unconventional and compelling memoir that, in the tradition of M. F. K. Fisher's The Gastronomical Me and Frank Conroy's Stop-Time, is a series of linked pieces that combine to form a luminous and brilliant whole.

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