Rosanne Cash Comes Full Circle

Rosanne Cash has fielded thousands of questions about her father. More appropriately, she has fielded the same four or five questions thousands of times. Everyone wants to know what influence the Man in Black had on her music, on her writing, on her life. So it throws her for a loop when someone cuts across the grain and asks her about the influence of the women in her life

“Wow,” she said during a phone interview, after a brief pause. “That’s such a good question, and I’m not sure anyone’s asked it before.

“They both influenced me, but indirectly,” she continued. “Because my mom (Vivian) was not a writer, and June only really dabbled in it. But my mom was very disciplined and very organized, and that has helped me tremendously. I’m a very messy writer. One thing I’m working on now is contained in four journals, and I’m always getting confused and forgetting where I wrote something. But my mom’s influence has helped me work out systems that work for me.

“June had her own madness that she was able to tap into that was really instructive as well, but in a very different way. From June, I learned how to follow my instincts, and maybe to second guess myself less.”

The influence that the two women and legendary father Johnny Cash had on her life came to an emotional head during the production of her album “Black Cadillac.” It was during the writing and recording process for that album that Vivian, June and Johnny all died within a year of one another. It was an emotionally crippling time, and “Black Cadillac” stands now as a reflection of that pain.

“I really hesitate to go to that place to say that it was therapeutic,” she said. “Because that kind of raises music and art to a place of psychological narcissism. But it was cathartic, and it helped me organize my thoughts. You don’t really know what you’re feeling until you write about it.

“I found that I had more faith than I thought I did. Not religious faith, but some kind of faith that love survives everything. It was good to make some little bit of art out of grief. I’m certainly not the first person to suffer loss, so it was a message that seemed to connect with a lot of people.”

Since then, Cash has experienced commercial and critical success with her album “The List,” a collection of covers pulled from a list that her father had put together. At its debut, “The List” stood as Cash’s best-received album to date, which was enough to give her pause, considering there was nothing particularly original about it.

That changed, however, with the release of Cash’s most recent album “The River and the Thread.”

The name comes from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, which has served as so much inspiration for songwriters and poets over the years, and from the sewing circle that Cash started three years ago.

“It’s six women, and we meet twice a month,” she said. “It’s more about the process than about completing products. Some of us — myself included — have not finished anything in three years.”

The album garnered her three Grammy Awards and a level of success she had not seen before.

“Affirmation is a good word for it,” she said. “It was a relief. I was disconcerted that ‘The List’ was so successful. So to write ‘The River and the Thread’ was satisfying. And to re-center yourself and get back to what you do best, and to get recognized for it, was an amazing feeling.”

article originally ran in Cityview November 4, 2015