Rosanne Cash Talks New Memoir, Relationship with Father

Deborah Feingold

Rosanne Cash

As a resident of New York for the last two decades, Rosanne Cash readily admits that she's no longer up on the latest music coming out of Nashville.

But thanks to her 11-year-old son, Cash says she's kept up with the likes of Green Day, the Black Eyed Peas and Maino.

"He has this great song called 'All of the Above' and it's really catchy," she says about the Brooklyn hip-hop artist's 2009 single with T-Pain. "I read the lyrics and teared up, they're so beautiful."

Cash, of course, knows a thing or two about writing moving lyrics herself. Now the acclaimed singer-songwriter has applied her love of words to her long-awaited memoir, "Composed" (Viking), which currently resides on the New York Times best-seller list.

In her book, Cash writes about growing up the eldest daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, getting her start as a successful recording artist herself, raising a family and coping with the death of her father in 2003 and her mother Vivian Liberto in 2005.

In an interview with Billboard, she talks about her relationship with her father and reflects on her transition from a country hitmaker to a more introspective singer-songwriter.

Billboard: In your book, you recall the time that you sang onstage with your dad during his last performance at Carnegie Hall in 1994: "Under the lights, in the safety of a few thousand people who loved us like crazy just then, I got something from my dad that I'd been trying since I was about six years old. Oddly, I don't think we had ever been so close." What did you mean?

Rosanne Cash: My dad worked out a lot of his stuff in the spotlight. He took his pain and his problems to the stage. It was his forum for unraveling his psyche and working out the boulders that were there -- the pain, and the regret. And he took me to that moment with him that night. He was like many men of his generation in that he didn't talk about feelings very much. Even though he was a great artist, in private moments he didn't open up about his feelings. He was a tough guy with huge soul. That was the way he kind of got his feelings out in those moments, and it was very beautiful. And after that, of course, we got a lot closer in the last decade of his life.

How much did his legend affect your own creative growth as an artist?

I tried to avoid it in the early years, because I couldn't figure out who I was in the glare of that; it was just too enormous. I don't think it's that different for any young person, particularly one that enters the same field as their parent. You have to separate to find out who you are. It so happened that my dad cast a very large shadow. I probably pushed away longer than was necessary or gracious. But fortunately, he completely understood that.

When you recount recording "Right or Wrong," your first album for Columbia, you observe that "the art and process of making records remained substantially that way until the advent of digital recording, when the language completely changed and the learning curve became very steep for me." Can you elaborate?

Pro Tools. [laughs] Once Pro Tools came in, I was lost. It was a very hands-on experience for me when we were making vinyl records and even up through the early years of making CDs, it wasn't that different. With "Interiors," I recorded on an analog board but by that time even if you were recorded analog, you were mixing digitally. So from that point, it really lost me. I really miss it. I don't know how to work Nuendo, which is the new platform. I'm just not that good with computers. I can work Garageband, but that's about it.

After you enjoyed success as a country hitmaker in the '80's, you became more indentified as a singer/songwriter after the release of "Interiors" in 1990. How did that change your interaction with fans?

Yeah, I lost a lot of them after "King's Record Shop." They didn't go with me to "Interiors." Some of them did, and I still meet those people at concerts or ones who say, " I love "King's Record Shop" and I loved "10 Song Demo." But there were some who were only interested in the country singles on the charts. But I found my authentic audience and I think that that's all a performer could hope to do.

What do you mean by an "authentic audience"?

The ones who really get me. Like, I talked in my book about the 6%. The ones who get it, they're my 6%. I love them. Somebody asked me on this book tour the other day, "How does it feel to be in our memories?" I nearly wept. I said it's a great honor.

Pick up the Sept. 11 issue of Billboard magazine to read more from Billboard's interview with Rosanne Cash.