Rosanne Cash, a Grammy-winning singer with 11 number-one songs to her credit, is the daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash and a mother of five. In 1998 she lost her voice for two years and, when she got it back, turned around and released Rules of Travel to rave reviews.
A renowned songwriter, her prose – short stories, a children’s book, magazine articles – is just as impressive. She’s smart, friendly and outspoken.
As a member of Musicians United to Win Without War, Cash, 47, has been one of the most eloquent and consistent artists for peace. She’s a woman of substance, who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
I’ve been a Rosanne Cash fan for so long that I have all her albums – we’re talking vinyl! Recently I reconnected with her through Rules of Travel – her first recording in 10 years – as well as her public role as an activist.
Although others had also lost track of Cash in the last decade, it doesn’t bother her. “I seemed to spend my life trying to exceed people’s expectations,” she said in our phone interview.
She laughed but she’s serious. Another interviewer had just said to her: “I think you’re one of the best American songwriters … but when I mention your name to people they say, ‘Oh yeah, wasn’t she that country star in the ’80s who’s related to Johnny Cash? What ever happened to her?’”
But, she explained, “I try not to [think about it] because if I did, that’s all I would be doing, is trying to overcome that, instead of being my authentic self.”
Cash wrote all but three of the songs (several with her husband and producer John Leventhal) on Rules of Travel and included on it are duets with Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle and Teddy Thompson – and for the first time, Johnny Cash.
“September When It Comes,” which is the father-daughter duet, is the most moving song on the CD. It’s about mortality but also “about living with what’s unresolved in your heart.” It’s personal and yet universal.
“It’s partly a mirror, that people can bring their own lives to it, hopefully,” Cash said. “I mean, isn’t that the function of all art really?”
“44 Stories” is “a woman’s song,” which Cash started writing three years ago. “In this world, the women of our generation, we’ve kind of knocked down the obstacles in front of us and grown up together in a certain way … and somebody should hear our stories, you know? Somebody should take the time to sit in rapt attention and listen to every year of our lives, listen to all the stories, because there’s a lot of meaning there.”
Cash does have plenty of great stories to tell – including about the flood of hate mail she received for speaking out against the war in Iraq. Unlike some, though, she didn’t back down.
When I mentioned that the Dixie Chicks had begun to go on the offensive against their attackers, Cash said, “Well, it’s about time! I thought they were going to just fold under this backlash. I was going, ‘C’mon, girls.’” Her father, she has said, opposed the war “more passionately than just about anyone I know.”
On her website April 10 Cash outlined the reasons she remains opposed to the war: because “it won’t be long before the corporations … will start dividing up the oil fields,” and that “our grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren will be cleaning up the mess we have created” and, finally, because “we will suffer major repercussions here at home, having inflamed the entire Middle East with our ‘doctrine of pre-emption.’”
To those who would try to silence dissent, she wrote: “I am a patriot, I am a liberal, I am a peacenik and a mother and wife, an activist, a writer and singer, and a world citizen. The reason I am not afraid to say I am all these things, is because I am also an American.”
Cash is touring the country this summer. For a full schedule, go to her website, www.rosannecash.com.
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