By Jim Simpson
Rosanne Cash made a stop at Agnes Scott College in the midst of a whirlwind book tour behind her already critically acclaimed memoir, Composed. (The book entered the New York Times Best Seller list at #20, eight days after publication.)
Prior appearances in New York and Philadelphia took the form of onstage moderated interviews sprinkled with informal solo acoustic performances or duets with Cash’s husband, Grammy-winning producer/musician John Leventhal.
The Agnes Scott event was a bit different, with Cash speaking from a podium and reading selections from her book, and then moving upstage to perform numbers on a custom Martin D-41 acoustic guitar donated by the Yuengling Brewery, with the instrument later offered up for auction, proceeds of which will go to support the Decatur Book Festival’s literacy efforts.
Cash opened with an excerpt from the book’s introduction, then talked about the craft of songwriting; meeting and collaborating with her first husband, Rodney Crowell; and, of course, her iconic father, Johnny Cash. One sublime moment occurred when she recalled a seventh-grade writing assignment about her original metaphor that sparked her writing muse: “A lonely road is a bodyguard,” at which point the stage lights winked off and on inexplicably causing Cash to pause. She repeated the phrase and the lights faltered again, prompting her to look up, “Is there someone there?”
Her musical performance included “September When It Comes,” a sparse, stunning and beautiful reflection on mortality that Rosanne penned with her husband. The song was recorded as a duet with her father, appearing on her Rules of Travel album. She hesitated before the next song, Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” because she’d forgotten her capo, and then asked Daren Wang (Decatur Book Fest co-founder) to get it from her purse backstage. It provided some comic relief and exemplified the honesty and down-to-earth nature of Cash, which is also reflected in her book. She said the Dylan song was one of the first she’d ever learned. Rounding out the performance segment was “Seven Year Ache” from her 1981 album of the same name, one of her #1 Billboard Country albums.
Finally, the floor was opened to a flurry of intelligent and thoughtful questions. When asked about the worst aspects of touring, Cash laughed and said she usually tires of hanging around so many men: musicians, roadies, drivers, sound and lighting techs — all men. “I get tired of hearing about nothing but ‘gear.’ ” When asked if she has collaborated with any female musicians, Cash stopped cold, “Well . . . no. I’m shocked. I emailed Patty Griffith once about writing a song together, but we’ve never gotten around to it.”
Cash stuck around while nearly the entire audience of hundreds queued up for her to sign copies of Composed. A notorious Twitterer (@rosannecash), she later labeled Decatur as “bohemian.”