What it’s like to inherit the Cash family legend

by Lisa Kirchner

If anyone had reason to sing the blues in the last ten years, it would be Rosanne Cash. She lost her mother, her step-mother, her father, and survived a brain tumor. Thing is, she also lost her voice. For the two and a half years she couldn’t sing, Cash took to writing essays. “I always wanted to be a writer,” she told the crowd gathered to hear her read last night. 

Cash was introducing her new book at Barnes & Noble’s “Upstairs at the Square,” an event that pairs musicians and authors–like Nick Hornby and Josh Rouse, or Blake Nelson and Care Bears on Fire. Rosanne handled both acts with aplomb. Though not her first book, Composed is her first memoir. “I didn’t write it to set any records straight,” she said. Faced with her own mortality thanks to brain surgery, she said the book arose almost by “accident.”

Fully aware of the rigors of stardom, Cash also grew up among musical genius. Thus she was reluctant to join the fray. After reading a section from the book about growing up with “Patsy” and “Tammy,” the Grammy award-winning singer with 11 number one songs talked about doubting her vocal abilities. She said that since her tumor she’d vowed to eradicate that self-critical voice within. About a minute later, after playing a beautiful melody on her guitar she said, “my husband says I can’t play bar chords and apparently that’s true.” She’d done something similar earlier when talking about learning to play guitar from her aunt, Helen Carter. She played the “Carter scratch” for us “not nearly as well” as her aunt. Then you realize, Holy Christ, she’s talking about the freaking Carter family. On top of being a Cash. That is a whole lotta legacy to deal with. She’d finally learned to see this all as a gift, and one she had to own. Not compete with. Not run away from. But own.

Her fearlessness in presenting this side of herself makes this a book I can’t wait to dive into. Apparently there’s even a story in there about being at a hardware store with her father, pushing the cart. Can you imagine happening on Johnny and Rosanne Cash schlepping tools? How can you not love the can-do, DIY attitude?

Toward the end of the night Cash was joined by her husband, John Leventhal. After singing a song from her album “The List” with him she told the crowd, “Bruce Springsteen sings that one on the record.” Loved that when it comes to sardonic commentary she does more than just take it. She dishes it out, too. Follow her on Twitter, you’ll see.



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