[12 October 2009]
I’ve always believed that the best songwriters have a bit of a shaman in them. They journey into dangerous emotional and spiritual terrain, engage with the darkest aspects of the human condition, and return with hard truths, insight, wisdom, and of course, sometimes more questions. True masters of the power of song are able to negotiate their shamanic gifts and write songs which resonate with listeners at the deepest, most personal level.
Rosanne Cash fits that description well; she is a deeply soulful and gracefully powerful artist. In her life’s journey, she has encountered the kinds of struggles that everyday folks deal with (divorce, substance abuse, unforeseeable medical issues), as well as struggles unique to being the child of Johnny Cash, a veritable legend. The work she has crafted out of these experiences is thoughtful, heartbreaking, fierce, and truthful.
In my opinion, Cash’s sonically inviting and emotionally cathartic 2006 release Black Cadillac is a good place to start for newcomers to her work. From there, it’s easy to navigate back to previous albums and find lots of other great work.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to that song?
The first song I fell in love with is my dad’s “Hey Porter”... it felt like a train moving through everything. It felt so urgent and powerful, and the images were so crystal clear. I have the identical relationship today with that song, and the same love for it, as when I was a child.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
I think Joe Henry is seriously overlooked as far as commercial recognition. He is one of the finest songwriters I’ve ever known, a true poet, a deep artist and a soulful human being. Of course he has his following, but if audience size was in exact proportion to talent, he would be playing stadiums. Of course there are hundreds of others who are so gifted and who are completely under the radar—June Tabor, Miss Kenichi, Brittany Stallings (I wish to God she would make a RECORD), Greg Tannen, Guy Clark, Joe Ely and on and on…
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
The artist Maira Kalman is very important to me. The way she absorbs information and the observations that follow, her paintings and choice of subjects and her beautifully rambling essays—all of it speaks to me of the deepest art. I feel towards her as I do toward Picasso and Matisse, but Maira is a modern woman and I feel her influence and inspiration in a more immediate way.
Another genre of music? I feel passionate about Celtic music. It can bring me to tears and feel so liberating and like ‘home’.
Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
Songwriting has defined me as a human being. Right after wife and mother, I am a songwriter. It is a noble profession and I am just grateful that I have enough facility that I have been able to make a life’s work out of it.
Name one contemporary song which encourages you about the current state of songwriting/pop music.
Elvis Costello’s “All This Useless Beauty”.
Unsurprisingly, Rosanne Cash has a strong bond with her prodigious ancestry (another shade of the shaman). Her latest album, The List, features tracks culled from a list of songs her father created for her years ago, ostensibly to help expand her musical horizons beyond the rock and pop she was exploring as a Southern California kid. It is a fitting spirit-offering to a father who was literally larger than life, and a connection with a spiritual continuum which Cash has every right to claim and proclaim.
Visit rosannecash.com for streaming music, tour information, videos, and more.