Rosanne Cash, editor,
Songs Without Rhyme
(Hyperion, 2001)

In her introduction to this book of short prose pieces -- mainly fiction -- by songwriters, Rosanne Cash recalls being congratulated on being "a real writer" after the publication of her first book of short stories.

This points up society's lack of appreciation and respect for the songwriter. Perhaps we are so overrun with songs -- forming a soundtrack to our lives -- that we tend to dismiss the work involved. The starving poets of centuries past are revered for a few remaining stanzas but a prolific songsmith is taken for granted even though his or her songs may touch many more hearts and minds.

Rosanne tries to alter our perception of the songwriters by inviting them to provide short stories, often connected to a song, for this book. Like all such books -- even by established short story writers -- it is a bit variable.

Her father, Johnny Cash, provides a science fiction tale "Holografik Danser" that, if read without looking at the notes, we would dismiss as derivative and hackneyed, not to mention xenophobic. On closer inspection we find out that it was written in 1953 and so possibly pre-dates some we would see it as derived from. I will not reveal the story for fear of spoiling the suspense.

Like with any such book, a reviewer is stymied. Should I list each story and give it marks out of 10 or take a selection and give the gist of the tale? I will do neither because my marking would be subjective and secondly because all readers like to unravel the stories themselves. But I will reveal my -- subjective -- favourite. Rodney Crowell, in his story "I Walk the Line Revisited," reveals a very good eye for detail and provides a beautiful slice of social history and autobiography. His story is alive, poetic, moving and incredible in places.

Rosanne Cash's "bells, ink, sand and roses" is a haunting tale that may take a few readings in order to get its full beauty.

As with every collection there are tales that did not engage me but may be riveting for you. This book is worth investigating if you like short stories or if you are a fan of any of the writers and would like to sample a different aspect of their craft.

The writers included are David Byrne, Johnny Cash, Marc Cohn, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell, Joe Henry, Steven Page, Jules Shear, Jane Siberry, John Stewart, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III and Rosanne Cash.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001



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