NEW YORK (Billboard) - Rosanne Cash has worn many hats through the years — country music star, acclaimed singer-songwriter, mother of five and firstborn child of the legendary Johnny Cash.
Now, with her long-awaited memoir “Composed,” Cash is a best-selling author as well.
For the week ended August 14, “Composed” debuted at No. 20 on the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction. Cash, who’s been on a book tour to promote the tome, says it’s been an invigorating experience to go out on the road as an author.
“I even had a woman come up and say, ‘I’ve never heard of you before, I’ve never heard your music; I just read the excerpt from the book and somebody’s review and bought the book and loved it,’” Cash says. “And I thought, ‘Ah, success!’”
The publication of “Composed” comes after the deaths of her father in 2003 and her mother, Vivian Liberto, in 2005, which also informed her 2006 album, “Black Cadillac.” After surviving a health scare that required brain surgery, Cash went on to record “The List,” her 2009 album of covers of classic songs that her father had urged her to learn.
In the coming weeks, Cash will be playing scattered concert dates amid a handful of additional book signings. She also says she’s been writing songs with Billy Bragg and Joe Henry for an album that the trio hopes to begin recording in late fall.
In an interview with Billboard, Cash talked about her book and what it’s been like watching daughter Chelsea Crowell launch her own recording career.
Billboard: Why did you feel compelled to write a memoir now?
Rosanne Cash: I didn’t feel compelled to write it now. I felt compelled to finish it now. I’ve been working on it for a decade. I had brain surgery in 2007 and spent the next year thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. You get a good hard look at your mortality and it makes things seem more urgent. I wanted to finish the book and I wanted to make “The List.” And so I’ve done both.
Billboard: Would it have been easier or more difficult to finish the book while your parents were still around?
Cash: It’s kind of a bittersweet thing because I wish so much that they were here to see me do this. And yet I couldn’t have written it if they were still here. I don’t think I could’ve had the objectivity of who they were in my life until they’d been gone a while.
Billboard: Any plans to do another book?
Cash: Totally. It’s a 250-page book and I’m 55 years old. I definitely have volume two in me.
Billboard: In “Composed,” you discuss the tragic themes that resonate in many traditional country songs and then observe that “modern country music speaks less of such desperate loss, and has become shiny and rich and rather shallow as a result.” What did you mean by that?
Cash: There’s a whole genre that’s kind of hook-oriented and rather bombastic, and the lyrics are always secondary. That’s not just with country, that’s with a lot of pop music. I like a good catchy song as much as anybody else, but I’m a lyrics girl. I want to know what the song says, what it means, if it’s got a center to it that holds.
Billboard: How would you assess the current state of country music?
Cash: I can’t. People always ask me that question, and I am the last person you should ask. I’ve lived in New York City for 20 years; there’s no country radio station here. I’m a cultural Luddite as far as that. I’ve never seen “American Idol.” I hadn’t heard Taylor Swift until late last year.
Billboard: Your daughter, Chelsea Crowell, released her debut album last year. As you watch her make her way through the business, what have been the most striking differences you’ve noticed from the way things were when you started?
Cash: These kids are mostly sovereign. She makes her records at her friend’s studio, she sells them herself on her website. She’s not in the clutches of a major label, for better or worse. She doesn’t have access to those marketing dollars, but she can do whatever she wants, and she’s also able to keep it on a scale that she’s comfortable with. She doesn’t want a ton of fame. She’s very conflicted about that whole thing, so she’s moving slowly.
Also, there’s less misogyny in the business than when I was coming up. Maybe not misogyny, but sexism.
Billboard: How did that manifest itself when you came up?
Cash: The first marketing meeting I had about maybe my first or second record, they said in front of me that the image they wanted to create of me was one that was — and I quote — “f—-able.”
Cash: I swear to God. This was said to my face. In the building, at a meeting, to my face. I don’t think that would ever happen today. Or at least, it wouldn’t be spoken aloud. (Laughs)
Billboard: How did you feel when your daughter told you that she wanted to pursue a career in music?
Cash: I felt incredibly proud and almost a sense of relief, like somebody’s carrying on the family business. She’s such a great songwriter. I felt oddly like, “Oh, my God, I don’t have to work so hard.” But also I felt worried about her because it’s not an easy life.
Billboard: You’re a compulsive Twitter user. When did that start?
Cash: Maybe December or something like that.
Billboard: Only since December? You have thousands of tweets.
Cash: I know, I’m kind of embarrassed by it.
Billboard: How did you first learn about Twitter?
Cash: I think Kurt Andersen. He’s a writer and hosts this great (public radio) show, “Studio 360.” He mentioned something about it and I thought, “Oh, wow.” And then I found out that my record label was doing my tweets, that they were using my Twitter name (@RosanneCash). And I said, “I want to do this myself,” and just took it over.
Billboard: What do you like about it?
Cash: It’s a great way to disperse manic energy, and I have a lot of it. Even more than that, I’ve met some great people on Twitter; I mean some real friends.
Billboard: Do you ever feel the need to rein yourself in?
Cash: Oh, believe me, I do. I don’t give away private stuff. It’s just fun. I don’t bare my soul on Twitter.
Billboard: How do you feel about the ability for artists to have that direct connection with fans?
Cash: You have to know how to set boundaries. It can get weird and even dangerous. As long as you know to have a thick skin and firm boundaries, I think it’s great.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters