In 1967, the great Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez published “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a work a lot of literary historians still consider his most masterful within an output, it should also be noted, not otherwise devoid of masterpieces. The thing is soaking wet with metaphor.
From its main protagonist, José Arcadio Buendía, creating the city of Macondo (hey there, Colombia!), to the countless uses of yellow and gold colors (what’s up, wealth!), all the way to a mirror-filled, glass city (how you doin’, predetermined fate!), it essentially adds up to one, big meditation on how Latin America was set up to fail.
It’s a weird book for a father to give his child. Sure, it has its share of magic, whimsical undertones, but that thing is absolutely loaded with heavy ideas, heavy interpretations of how redundant society can be. Plus, due to its weighted use of symbolism, there’s really no telling how any single person might internalize all that’s written, especially if that person is only beginning to get her feet wet when it comes to consuming literature. But then again, maybe the dad wanted to send a message. Maybe the dad was never particularly concerned with whatever “weird” meant, in the first place.
Or, at least in this case, maybe the dad was Johnny Cash.
“He told me once that if I didn’t read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ that I could not be his daughter,” Rosanne Cash, now all grown up, explained in a recent phone interview before breaking into a boisterous, gasping laugh.
So, how did she respond?
“Well,” she related between chuckles with a hint of faux sternness, “I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’”
And she hasn’t looked back. With a lifelong affinity for the written word, Cash, who is coming to town as part of the 2014 Frederick Reads celebration (this year’s theme is The Music of Language) with a series of appearances and book signings on April 1 — only after performing at the Weinberg Center for the Arts with her husband, producer John Leventhal, on March 31 — has been known for displaying poetic prowess time and again.
How so? Well, before publishing “Composed: A Memoir” in 2010 and landing a spot on the New York Times best-seller list, she also penned three books, 1997’s “Bodies of Water,” 2001’s “Songs Without Rhyme: Prose By Celebrated Songwriters” and a 2006 kids’ book, “Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale.” Her work has appeared in between the pages of almost every major print media outlet the country has, from Rolling Stone to New York Magazine to the New York Times, to Newsweek, and all the way to The Oxford American, even. All told, she’s about as comfortable with a pen as she is with a guitar.
This continues to surprise her in the present day. Growing up with a father almost always on the road, trying to get a career in country music off the ground, and a mother deemed apathetic at best when it came to reading, the Grammy-winning songwriter acknowledged how much she had to work just to find her life’s second passion.
“My dad was a great reader himself, and that was a place we connected when I was older,” Cash reflected. “But he wasn’t there enough to read to me, and my mother really did not care about books. I was the kid who asked to be dropped at the library on Saturdays.
“He liked novels about the Old West,” she added, referring to her famous father. “But he also loved great literature … and he loved ancient text — he read Josephus.”
As for her dad’s day job … well, it’s safe to say the 58-year-old has made the original Man In Black proud. Her most recent musical effort, “The River & The Thread,” released in January on Blue Note, has achieved wide acclaim from fans and critics alike.
Written mostly with her husband, it’s a sonic road trip through the best of Southern roots music, drawing from gospel, country, bluegrass and soul textures with as much self-reverence as self-doubt. Its haunting intonations and next-level introspection has led many taste-makers to label it her best in years (if not ever), and that’s probably because it actually is. In fact, the record is something on which she plans to lean heavily during her performance at the Weinberg.
“John is like a band in himself,” Cash explained. “They won’t be exactly as the record in a duo performance, obviously, but there can be several subtle interpretations of a song. I love finding those subtleties in an acoustic performance. … Sometimes the lyrics come more to the front and center.”
It would make sense if the 13-time Grammy nominee might prefer to have words stand tall above all else onstage — the singer has been using letters with the precision of a heart-surgeon for almost four decades now. It’s a passion that fits in well both with her persona as an author, as well as her persona as a musical artist. And fortunately for readers and listeners both, she plans on bringing the best of each side to Frederick.
“I’ve done several literary events like this since my book came out in 2010, and I really enjoy them a lot,” Cash noted when asked about the Frederick Reads program. “I enjoy being with a community of writers and serious readers, and then, of course, the theme was perfect for me. So, you know, I was thrilled to do it. With the cuts in music and art in schools, and with the closing of libraries and the devaluing of in-depth reading, with technology with a kind of surface-attention, it’s hugely important to me. These events are a bomb. They’re also encouraging, to see that people still really care about these things.
“It’s just my nature to be kind of obsessed with words,” the singer continued, sounding as though she was thinking aloud. “And I think some people just have that innate love of language. I love the English language, I love how Shakespeare puts a phrase together, I love how words feel in your mouth, I love the rhythm of words. I think that’s one reason I’m a songwriter — because words naturally have melody, so you attach them to an obvious melody.
“And,” she added without a hint of irony aimed at what she was about to say: “It’s just doubly satisfying.”