Michael Streissguth worked on two books about her father (Johnny Cash: The Biography and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison). While writing those books, he got to know Johnny’s daughter Rosanne, and this new biography of the only singing Cash offspring is the result.
Streissguth says he was a Rosanne fan before he owned an album by her legendary dad. Roseanne struck out, early on, to be an innovator, not an imitator. Inheriting her father’s penchant for composition, she became a well-known singer-songwriter with some hits, if not astronomical, to her credit, a little off to the side. Johnny tried to draw her in. He would ask her to perform a number onstage with him, and she wouldn’t. When she occasionally did, it forced her to acknowledge his power as a performer, his dominance of the stage. Still she shied away from his limelight, seeing the flaws that his adoring fans did not.
Then he gave her The List, 100 songs about which he said, “These you need to know.” This became the basis for Rosanne’s first “cover album,” and the subject, more or less, of this book. Focusing on her production of the songs on The List and following her as she tours, Always Been There is a face-time journey with Cash, her friends and family.
In personal interviews Rosanne with Streissguth, comes across as honest and hard to fool. She’s been the daughter of a living idol of country music and the stepdaughter
of a whole family – The Carters – whose names are written in folk heaven in a
trail of stars. Her parents’ divorce was a matter of lurid public gossip, and
her father’s absence when she was a kid and needed him is not a forgettable or
easily forgivable part of their shared history; when people speak of him with adulation, she’s there to take him down a peg, at times. She rejects the notion that he could or should have inspired the downtrodden, as though that could or should be a kind of religion, when he was so sick and haunted by addiction. Yet she can admit that Johnny’s List has “authority” because it came from him, and opine “It sounds like a cliché a little bit, or hokey, but I actually feel close to my dad making [The List]. I do…he would be so happy that I was doing it.”
Rosanne has embraced and abandoned the country, folk and blues genres and found her own unique way of telling a story. Her style is raw and emotive. She doesn’t want to do things by other people’s books: “There’s a formula in Nashville about how you should make records, how you should relate to your audience, how much you should tour…and I just don’t buy it!” On tour in Europe, she gives her all, even when she’s gigging with a band she’s never met before, in small venues to tough audiences. She knows she could make more money if she toured more but wants to find a balance with the things happening in her private life, the demands of songwriting, the rigors of recording. And, months after Streissguth had begun planning this book, she had critical, life-threatening brain surgery.
Rosanne claims she became an adult at age six, as her mother slowly crumbled from trying to cope with a drunk and drug-addicted husband who grew more distant every month. Young Rosanne had to make some serious lemonade out of the bushel of lemons that were her early portion. She’s done it. Her talent blazes with color where that of her father was dark and foreboding. She has made herself go it on her own, and she is succeeding. The List will fascinate her fans and her father’s admirers and add a great deal to the Cash lexicon and legend. And one suspects she is right…
that Johnny is happy that she is working on The List.