Rosanne Cash On The Importance Of Living Out Loud
Rosanne Cash has been performing since she was 18. She had her first No. 1 country hit in her mid-20s, and in the decades since, has created a rich Americana catalog that explores love, loss, family, and place.
Her latest album, She Remembers Everything, is a collection of personal songs all written or co-written by Cash. She spoke about it with NPR's Debbie Elliott; hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
That's probably a good way to put it. I see that the hourglass is more empty than full for me, and there's no point in hedging my bets about what I write about anymore.
"She remembers everything" could be taken, I think, as a promise or as a threat.
That's what I thought. It's a come-on, but it's also a threat. It's a warning. [laughs]
It also seems particularly relevant in the #MeToo era, as do some other songs on this record. Did that influence you?
Most of the songs were written before the #MeToo movement started. That doesn't mean they're not prescient — as the mother of four daughters, these issues are foremost in my concern. And, you know, I have my own stories, and most women I know do. I just felt like, I have more to say and less time to say it, and I was really ready to live out loud to these songs.
Some of them struck me as these really grown-up love songs. The one that I find to be most beautiful is "Crossing to Jerusalem," which you wrote with your husband and music partner, John Leventhal. That must have been bittersweet, as it deals with death.
Very bittersweet. I wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. You know, we've been married 23 years, and at some point in midlife and in a long-term relationship, you realize that it's inevitable that one of you is going to leave the other. It's just unspeakably sad. I start thinking about the objects in our life, the artifacts, the guitar, the glass of bourbon he has at the end of the day, and I started throwing them into the song — but realizing that when you leave there's only one thing you take with you, the love you gave and received.
You've come a long way from songs like "Seven Year Ache."
Well, yeah. This is a very grown-up version of those love songs of hookup and breakup that I was writing in my 20s.
There is one song here that takes us outside of your life and to an issue that's important to you. It's just a chilling song about a boy killed by gun violence, called "8 Gods of Harlem."
I was coming off the subway, and this Hispanic woman was walking up the steps. She seemed very heavy-hearted. She was talking to herself, and she said "ocho dios" — eight gods. And I couldn't get that out of my mind; why would she say that? And then I read about another shooting in Harlem — so I wrote the first verse of "8 Gods of Harlem."
You've been an advocate for gun control for 20 years. What first engaged you with that issue?
I just saw it as an extension of mothering. If there was a lock on an aspirin bottle, then we should protect kids from guns. It was a no-brainer.
Then Columbine happened, and I said to my then-17-year-old daughter, in shock, I said, "How did these kids get the guns?" She turned to me like I was crazy and said, "Mom, I could get a gun easier than I can buy cigarettes." And that was like a cold bucket of water in the face. I got involved right then.
You have encouraged other country music artists to step up and take on the NRA. How is that going?
Um, not well — although recently, I have seen more people speak out. There's a lot of fear. You've seen the attacks online and in print and in person to people who do speak out, and it can be very vicious and frightening. I see it happen to journalists a lot as well; of course, you know that. There's fear of alienating your fanbase. Truthfully, too, one of my daughters was held up at gunpoint, and that motivates me every day.
There's a wisdom to this album. I feel like you're letting me in on what you've learned as an artist, as a wife, as a daughter, as a mother — especially the song "Everyone But Me."
You know, Debbie, I had written these lyrics in my notebook and just kept them for myself, and didn't think it could be a song — I thought it was too raw to be a song. And then John and I were recording in the studio one day, and we hit a wall, and he said, "What else you got, kid?"
I felt like when I lost my parents, I didn't really lose them yet — for better and for worse. You spend a long time extricating yourself from trauma, and there's both and love and rage, and it's not just me. That's a universal feeling, I think.
When you think about life in the context of your daughters, what kind of world do you want to hand off to them? And what kind of world do you think they're coming of age in?
I grew up in the women's movement and the civil rights movement, and I thought there was so much hope that everybody was gonna end up on a level playing field. I thought progress went in one direction. Turns out it does not go in one direction, and it requires a lot more dedication than I realized — than most of us realized. I have hope for my daughters and my son, who's 19 years old. But sadly, I don't know if the things I hope for them are going to be things that I see.
Yeah, it is sad. But you know, there's another song on the record where I say, "We owe everything to this rainbow of suffering." And I think we do. It's beautiful, but it's painful.
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