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Rosanne Cash Runs Down Her Father's 'List'

When Cash was 18, her father (you know him as Johnny) presented her with a gift: a list of 100 essential country songs to help the budding singer-songwriter connect with and better understand the music that came before her. After holding on to it for the past few decades, Roseanne Cash decided to turn that gift into The List, her new album.

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Rosanne Cash Interprets Her Father's Country 'List'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Rosanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny Cash. She's
built a successful career on her own, as a singer, songwriter and in
recent years, author. She's written articles and essays for Rolling
Stone, the New York Times and other publications, and four books,
including a memoir called "Composed," which is now out in paperback.

Rosanne Cash has lived an eventful life. The daughter of Johnny Cash's
first wife, she succeeded as a country songwriter and recorded several
number one hits before leaving Nashville and establishing herself as a
singer-songwriter in the world of indie rock.

She's won a Grammy and two gold records. Her 13-year marriage to singer-
songwriter Rodney Crowell ended in divorce, and she survived brain
surgery in 2007. She's now remarried and is still recording and touring.

Terry spoke to Rosanne Cash in 2009, when she released her album "The
List." When she was 18, her father gave her a list of 100 essential
country songs he felt she needed to know. She came to appreciate the
gift more over time, and the album is her recording of 12 songs from her
father's list. Here's one of them, "Sea of Heartbreak," sung with Bruce
Springsteen.

(Soundbite of song, "Sea of Heartbreak")

Ms. ROSANNE CASH (Musician): (Singing) The lights in the harbor don't
shine for me. I'm like a lost ship adrift on the sea.

Ms. CASH and Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Musician): Sea of heartbreak, lost
love and loneliness, memories of your caress, so divine I wish you were
mine again my dear. I am on this sea of tears, sea of heartbreak...

GROSS: Rosanne Cash, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Ms. CASH: Oh, thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Tell me why you wanted to record this record. We'll get to the
whole list in a second, but of all the songs on the list, why "Sea of
Heartbreak"?

Ms. CASH: Why "Sea of Heartbreak"? It's kind of a perfectly constructed
country song. And it was on the list, so you know that gave me
permission. And it embodies that longing that is in so much of country
music really, really well, and beyond that, it takes a metaphor and
carries it to the very end without breaking that narrative about the
metaphor, without becoming kitschy, which a lot of songs do.

And that's kind of perfect to me. And it's also - it makes it a bit of a
period piece because you don't hear many modern songs that do that. And
there's also some language in it that's not modern, you know, when he
says divine and my dear. These are kind of old-school ways of talking,
and I really enjoy that. So it was like stepping into a period piece. At
the same time, it has the hallmark of every great song, which is that it
transcends time. It has a timeless quality to it, and it feels very
modern.

GROSS: It's amazing. The lyric was written by Hal David, who wrote the
lyrics for so many Burt Bacharach songs. So he's not exactly Mr. Country
Music, Mr. Nashville.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: No. And you know, I myself thought that Don Gibson had written
it because he had the early, definitive version of the song and then
found out that Hal David and Paul Hampton wrote it in New York. It was a
huge surprise.

GROSS: Your father has a good recording of this.

Ms. CASH: He does. You know, I'm not being disloyal, but I have to say I
still prefer the Don Gibson version.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: And you know, my dad recorded his version with Tom Petty and
the Heartbreakers on "Unchained," and he might have been a little too
energized from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, you have Bruce Springsteen singing with you on this one. Is
he a friend?

Ms. CASH: No, I couldn't call him a friend. I've met him a few times
over the years, but it would be presumptuous to say he's a friend.

GROSS: Why'd you ask him to duet on this song?

Ms. CASH: Because he's just a dream date, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: I mean, we knew we wanted to do a duet. So I did my part on
"Sea of Heartbreak." We went God, who is the perfect person to ask to
sing on this song? Who's, like, the embodiment of American romantic male
voice? Well, that would be Bruce Springsteen. So we asked him.

GROSS: And he said yes.

Ms. CASH: He said yes. I thought oh, it was a 50-50 chance Bruce will do
it, then, you know, he knew the song. He got the concept of the list.
He's so steeped in country music anyway and roots music. So it was an
easy thing for him, I think.

GROSS: So let's get the story of the list. Your album is called "The
List," and there's a story behind it. So would you tell the story?

Ms. CASH: Yeah. When I was 18 years old, I went on the road with my dad
after I graduated from high school. And we were riding on the tour bus
one day, kind of rolling through the South, and he mentioned a song. We
started talking about songs, and he mentioned one, and I said I don't
know that one. And he mentioned another. I said I don't know that one
either, Dad, and he became very alarmed that I didn't know what he
considered my own musical genealogy.

And I was very steeped in pop and rock music, and I grew up in Southern
California. So he spent the rest of the afternoon making a list for me,
and at the end of the day, he said this is your education. And across
the top of the page, he wrote 100 essential country songs. The list
might have been better titled 100 essential American songs because it
was very comprehensive.

He covered every critical point in Southern and American music: early
folk songs, protest songs, Delta blues, Southern gospel, early country
music, Appalachian. Everything that fed into modern country music was on
that list. So his overview was really of a musicologist but formed by
his instincts, you know, and just the rhythm in his own blood.

So I realized when he gave me the list at the age of 18 that this was an
important document, and I set about learning these songs. But it took me
I think until now to realize that he was really giving me himself, a
part of his heart and soul.

GROSS: When you say you went about learning those songs, did you get the
sheet music or get the records? How did you learn them?

Ms. CASH: All I had to do was get my dad because he had them all at his
fingertips. You could say, well, how does this one go? And he'd pick up
a guitar and sing it to me, and then some I knew the records. You know,
like I had known Ray Charles' "Take These Chains From My Heart" since
childhood. I had known Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" since childhood.
Others I found the records for.

GROSS: So you finally realized later in life that your father had given
you a piece of himself and a piece of his own kind of genetic makeup
when he gave you this list of 100 songs.

Ms. CASH: That's right.

GROSS: But when he gave you that list, did you immediately think thanks,
Dad? Or was it more like thanks, Dad?

Ms. CASH: Like an 18-year-old would do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. CASH: No, I - you know, if he'd given it to me even a couple years
earlier, I might have said oh, yeah, eye roll, thanks dad, but I wanted
this. I wanted him. You know, my parents were divorced. I was just
socking in this great time with my dad, who was clean and sober. So I
wanted that experience of loving what he loved and learning about his
life. Also, I was just starting to write songs. So this was a template
for me. These are excellent songs. He wrote the list as a songwriter. So
I had that template for great songwriting. It was exciting to me.

GROSS: Now, do you still have that piece of paper that the list was on?

Ms. CASH: I do. I found it again in late 2005, when I was writing the
narratives for - my last record is "Black Cadillac," and I wrote
narratives for the show. And I found the list in 2005, and I thought
well, this will make a nice subject for a narrative for the "Black
Cadillac" show, never thinking anything more than that. And I wrote this
narrative, and it started: When I was 18 years old, my dad gave me this
list. Well, everybody started coming up to me, saying where's that list?
When are you going to record that list? It became funny.

GROSS: So what did you do with the piece of paper now? Is it, like,
framed? Is it preserved? Where do you keep it?

Ms. CASH: I keep it in my files. It's not framed. It's not - you know, I
want to do the right thing with the actual list at some point, but I
don't want to just publish it on the Internet or, you know, give it away
yet, partly because I want to do Volume 2.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: And I don't want anyone else to do Volume 2.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I want to play another song from "The List," and this is a
great song. I love this song that Patsy Cline made famous. It's called
"She's Got You," and of all the songs on the list, why did you want to
do this one?

Ms. CASH: Well, it's a classic country song. Anyone who knows country
music knows this song. Unfortunately, they also know Patsy Cline's
version, which is so iconic that I had some trouble getting past that to
actually record it myself. But you know what's great about this song,
too, is that it's a list. In the song is listed all the things that the
other woman has. So it's a list within the list.

GROSS: Oh, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah, and I guess what do you do to put yourself in the mood to
feel the song? I mean, you're married. You know what I mean? Like,
you're not a teenager anymore. You're married. So maybe that's a
presumptuous question. Maybe I should just drop that because...

Ms. CASH: No, I know what you're saying, but you know, passion is not
reserved for young people. And I think that my sensitivity to music has
actually deepened and expanded as I've gotten older. You add more life
experience. You know, the music gets filtered through all of that, and
that's beautiful.

When I started singing this song, like I said, I had to get Patsy Cline
off my shoulder a bit to even approach the song. I mean, I even told
John in the beginning, I just can't do it. I can't do Patsy. You know,
he said you're not doing Patsy. This is a great song. So once I started
singing it, then it kind of dawned on me oh, this is why this song has
been covered so many times. This is a great song.

GROSS: It is. Let's hear it. So this is my guest, Rosanne Cash, and this
is "She's Got You."

(Soundbite of song, "She's Got You")

Ms. CASH: (Singing) I've got your picture that you gave to me, and it's
signed with love, just like it used to be. The only thing different, the
only thing new, I've got your picture, she's got you. I've got the
records that we used to share, and they still sound the same as when you
were here. The only thing different, the only thing new, I've got the
records, she's got you.

I've got your memory, or has it got me? I really don't know, but I know
it won't let me be. I've got your class ring...

GROSS: That's my guest, Rosanne Cash, singing "She's Got You," a song
made famous by Patsy Cline, a song featured on Rosanne Cash's CD called
"The List," which is songs selected from the list of 100 essential songs
that her father, Johnny Cash, gave to her when she was 18.

When your father gave you that list when you were 18, how deep were you
into country music?

Ms. CASH: Not very. I was, you know, president of my Beatles fan club
when I was 11.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Were you really?

Ms. CASH: Yes, I was indeed.

GROSS: Wait, is this where I ask who your favorite Beatle was?

Ms. CASH: Well, John.

GROSS: Okay, good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: And I - you know, I grew up in Southern California. I was very
well-versed in Southern California pop and rock and Buffalo Springfield
and Neil Young and Elton John and Janis Joplin and then Joni Mitchell,
which is the first time I realized that a woman could be a songwriter.

So I had of course heard what my parents played around the house and
heard the musicians my dad drug home off the road, and my mother
listened to a lot of Ray Charles and Marty Robbins and Patsy Cline, so I
got that in by osmosis as well. But as far as doing a serious immersion
in it like I had done with The Beatles, no, I had not done that.

DAVIES: Rosanne Cash, speaking with Terry Gross in 2009, when Cash's
album "The List" was released. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're listening to Terry's 2009
interview with Rosanne Cash. It was recorded in 2009, when her album
"The List" was released.

GROSS: You've had this list of 100 country music songs that your father
gave you since you were 18. So you've had this since the early '70s.

Ms. CASH: Seventy-three.

GROSS: Why now? Why record them now?

Ms. CASH: That's a very good question. In fact, I resisted it for the
first year that John started talking about it, well, for a lot of
reasons. One, I did have a chip on my shoulder when I was younger. I'm
going to do this my way, nobody's ever going to be able to say that I
traded on my dad's name. It was a large shadow. I wanted out of it, and
I probably - I probably carried the chip longer than was gracious.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: It's okay when you're in your 20s. It's not okay when you're
in your 40's. So it was partly that, my knee-jerk reaction against doing
anything that traded on my dad's name. And then I started realize, this
is my list. He gave this to me. This was personal. This was like if he
was a martial arts master and was passing on a secret to his child. You
know, it belongs to me.

So when I started to feel myself take possession of it psychologically,
then I started thinking about recording the songs. And the other part is
I don't think I could have done this until I lost my parents, until they
died.

GROSS: I was thinking you might feel that way because - is it because
they owned the songs?

Ms. CASH: Well, if they did, they passed them on. But it's also because
you're not - well, I wasn't so interested in legacy until they were
gone. I wasn't so interested in what they left me until they weren't
here to tell me about it.

And you know, at this point, I had a really serious health problem with
myself, a face-off with my own mortality. You start thinking about those
things. What did my parents leave me? What's in my DNA? What am I going
to leave my kids? And these songs are part of my cells, in a way. They
are part of my DNA, and they are what I want to leave my own kids.

GROSS: You mentioned that you had your own brush with mortality, and I
know that you had brain surgery.

Ms. CASH: Right.

GROSS: How long ago was this?

Ms. CASH: It was November 2007.

GROSS: Would you explain what the problem was that necessitated the
surgery?

Ms. CASH: I had a structural abnormality in my brain I may have been
born with - my neurosurgeon wasn't sure. And it just got worse as I got
older until I was becoming debilitated by headaches. So they didn't
really discover what it was until 2007, earlier in 2007, and then he
said, you know, there's no advantage in waiting to fix this. You need to
take care of this. So I had brain surgery, you know, and it's not for
the faint of heart, by the way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What did they have to do?

Ms. CASH: It's called a decompression. So they had to kind of open up my
skull and decompress things.

GROSS: And anytime somebody enters your brain for surgery, it's really,
really risky.

Ms. CASH: Yeah.

GROSS: Were you terrified before the surgery?

Ms. CASH: I prepared myself psychologically. I, you know, I did hypnosis
tapes, and I did just a lot of reflection and talking about it and
getting prepared because I knew how scary it was. And in fact, that's
why my neurosurgeon said to wait, you know, six weeks or something. He
said you need to prepare yourself psychologically. So I got it when he
told me that it was going to be tough, and it was a long recovery.

So you know, I did my work enough beforehand that I walked into the OR
laughing with my anesthesiologist making jokes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: ...and singing "If I Only Had a Brain."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: My morbid sense of humor really got me through this, I have to
say.

GROSS: What about the recovery on the other end? I mean, you're so
steeped in your senses: you know, in writing, which you do a lot of,
both songs and books - you're completing a memoir now - in listening,
which you do a lot of, in singing. So I mean, were your senses altered
in a way that was either interesting or disturbing after the surgery,
during the period of recovery?

Ms. CASH: That's a good question, and nobody has thought to ask me that
question, and the truth is that they were. I had the hearing of a dog
for about two months.

GROSS: Wait, what does that mean?

Ms. CASH: I mean, it was - my hearing was so sensitive that, you know, I
live in Manhattan, I couldn't go outside for a month it was so intense.
But the thing I was afraid of didn't happen, which is my experience of
music, and I had written this letter to Oliver Sacks before I went into
surgery.

I had met him at a party, like, the year before. And so I wrote him, and
I told him my problem, and I said: Do you think that my experience of
music is going to be altered? Will I lose my sensitivity to music or my
ability to play it? And he wrote me back the most beautiful, typewritten
letter that was hand-corrected in ink, and it basically said - he said
my expertise is with the cortex, and your problem is with the
cerebellum. So I can't really help you, but I do have an inkling of how
important this is to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: I loved that. That's the letter I'm going to frame.

DAVIES: Rosanne Cash, speaking with Terry Gross in 2009, when Cash's
album "The List" was released. Her memoir, "Composed," is now out in
paperback. We'll hear more of their conversation in the second half of
the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

We're listening to Terry's 2009 interview with Rosanne Cash. Her memoir
called "Composed" is now out in paperback. Rosanne Cash is known for
singing her own songs. But on her album "The List" she sings 12 songs
from the list of 100 essential country songs that her father Johnny Cash
compiled for her. He made that list in 1973 when she was 18 and on the
road with him.

Before our break, Terry and Rosanne Cash were talking about her recovery
from the brain surgery she had in 2007 for a structural abnormality.

GROSS: You know, you mentioned that before the surgery you had
headaches, like really severe headaches.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I find that one time when I can't enjoy music, when I want
nothing to do with music, is when I have a bad headache.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And when I think of you going through, it was a long period,
right when you had these bad headaches.

Ms. CASH: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you do music? Did you have any room in your head where it
was pleasurable to make or listen to music?

Ms. CASH: That's interesting. I listened to a lot more classical music
in the two years before the surgery because it seemed - it was more
soothing to me and, you know, I could digest it better. But a lot of
times singing, playing music myself, I would move out of the headache.
You know, it would just dissolve. That's an interesting thing about
music, you know, people say it's very healing. It is very healing,
literally.

GROSS: Well, I think we should hear another song...

Ms. CASH: Okay.

GROSS: ...from your new CD, "The List" and I thought this might be a
good spot to hear "500 Miles."

Ms. CASH: Okay.

GROSS: And I have to say, I was telling you this before we started the
interview, if I went through the rest of my life never hearing this song
again, I'd be fine I thought...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...until I heard your version. You know, I think so many of us
know the Peter, Paul and Mary version, which we've heard so many times.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And when I was learning folk guitar and doing a terrible job at
it, this was one of the songs that I learned to massacre, which is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...part of the reason why I could go through the rest of my life
not hearing it again. But you do this like desolate version of it and
you're husband...

Ms. CASH: But the lyrics are.

GROSS: Yeah. The lyrics are desolate. They are desolate, but and your
husband is playing organ behind you.

Ms. CASH: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's this really like eerie, lonely organ. It almost sounds
like it's being played backwards. It's so...

Ms. CASH: Yeah.

GROSS: It is so odd and it's really just a haunting version.

Ms. CASH: Well, we wanted to get it very churchy and we wanted to bring
out all of the loneliness of the lyrics, because the lyrics are really
sad. And I knew Bobby Bare's version better than I new Peter, Paul and
Mary's version. And Bobby Bare's version was much sadder and I think we
even took it a step further.

GROSS: Okay. Well, let's hear it and this is my guest Rosanne Cash
singing "500 Miles." Her husband John Leventhal is playing organ behind
her and he plays a lot of the instruments and did the arranging for the
CD. And it's from the album "The List," which features songs from a list
of 100 essential American songs that her father Johnny Cash gave her
when she was 18. So here's "500 Miles."

(Soundbite of song, "500 Miles")

Ms. CASH: (Singing) If you miss the train I'm on, then you'll know that
I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles, a hundred
miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, 100 miles. You can hear the
whistle blow a hundred miles. Teardrops fell on Mama's note when I read
the things she wrote. She said we miss you, hon, we love you, come on
home. Well I didn't have to pack. I had it all right on my back. Now I'm
500 miles away from home

Lord I'm one. Lord I'm two. Lord I'm three. Oh, Lord I'm four. Lord I'm
500 miles away from home.

GROSS: That's Rosanne Cash from her new CD, "The List," which features
songs from a list of 100 essential that her father Johnny Cash gave her.

You know, before hearing that song, we were talking about the brain
surgery that you had.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I was wondering what you've turned to in recent years to just
kind of give you strength. And just to fill listeners in, it's been a
difficult few years. You lost your mother; you lost your father; you
lost your stepmother, June Carter Cash; there were three years where you
could barely speak and couldn't sing because of polyps on your vocal
cords and then there was the brain surgery that we talked about.

It's been a rough period. And when people go through a rough time, I
mean some people turn to religion, some people turn to drugs or alcohol,
some people have nothing to turn to, some people are lost, some people
find this inner strength. Looking at your father, I mean there's been
times and there were times in your father's life when he turned to drugs
or pills and, but through all his life, I think he had a sense of Jesus
in his life.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Your mother was, I think a pretty devout Catholic.

Ms. CASH: She was.

GROSS: Yeah. So what about you? Like what have you had that has kept you
through all this?

Ms. CASH: Well, I adhere to the religion of art and music and small
children.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: The pronouncements of small children. You know, I'm not the
type to turn to religion in that way. I'm not the type to turn to drugs
and alcohol, but I do have a profound devotion to art and music - and
children. And those three things, as well as the love of my husband, who
is an amazing partner and, you know, if you ever have brain surgery, you
want to call him up to do all of the vetting of the neurosurgeons and
all of that business because he makes a great patient advocate.

GROSS: Good. If I'm ever making album, I'll call him too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: That's cute.

GROSS: So you mentioned, you know, art and music as what you turn to how
that's kind of your religion. So what were some of the things that you
read or listened to or watched during the period of recovery when you
needed that kind of nourishment?

Ms. CASH: Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" was great. I read the
book and I went to see Vanessa Redgrave perform it and that was...

GROSS: Wait. Let me stop you right there. That is a - I love that book.
It was so hard to read it because it's all - it's a journal of the year
she lost her husband.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It is so painful. So what was healing about reading that really
painful book?

Ms. CASH: Well, I loved it. I know a lot of people found it really
difficult and kind of depressing, but I loved her very meticulous
documentation of the little moments of insanity that happen during
grief.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CASH: You know, that thing she said about well, it's three hours
earlier in California. Is he dead in California yet? I had that feeling
and many others that you don't tell people because they will think
you're nuts. And so to see it there on the page, poetically written, it
was really great for me. I love that.

GROSS: What else?

Ms. CASH: What else? Oh, Picasso. Arvo Part, the Estonian musician. I
went to see his show in Paris that just, it rearranged my whole life. It
was so great. It was called "Melancholy" and it was 800 years of
madness, despair and depression in art.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: It was fantastic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: I loved it. I told you I have a morbid sense of humor. But it
was just amazing, you know, because we used to express all of these
things in art, you know, the madness and the despair and the depression;
and now we just medicate it away. But it was all there on the canvas and
I just loved it.

GROSS: Oh wow. And grieving for your parents did you go through a period
feeling like you were grieving for yourself because your brain was being
compromised, your life was in jeopardy, your ability to be who you are
was in jeopardy.

Ms. CASH: Yeah. I was angry at my parents when I had to have brain
surgery, that they weren't still around, because no matter how old you
are you want you parents when you're going through something like that.

GROSS: Absolutely. Yeah.

Ms. CASH: And I, yeah, did I grieve for myself? No. I kind of thought
well, why not me? I have good health insurance. You know, I don't have
to show up to a 9 to 5 job. I, you know, and I didn't have that feeling
of oh, why me? I never had that.

GROSS: You never had the feeling of being resentful or envious of
everybody else who didn't have to go through the brain surgery that you
were about to go through?

Ms. CASH: No. I don't do that. I don't do comparisons because I always
lose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So that's how you feel?

Ms. CASH: Yes. That's exactly how I feel. No, but not that I always lose
is that the process of comparing yourself to someone else you're setting
yourself up to not feel good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: So I don't bother.

DAVIES: Rosanne Cash speaking with Terry Gross in 2009 when Cash's album
"The List" was released. Her memoir "Composed" is now out in paperback.

We'll hear more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2000 interview with Rosanne Cash. It
was recorded when her album "The List" was released.

GROSS: Getting back to the list of songs again, that your father gave
you; did you love the same songs on that list after the surgery that you
loved before? Was there any - did your taste change?

Ms. CASH: I love them more now. I love everything more now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: I know that sounds like a cliche, but I do. But I love these
songs so much and they keep getting deeper and broader and more poetic
and more full of life for me. Every time I hear them, every time I put
on one of the original versions or I get to sing it myself, it's all
new. It's amazing that it took this long for me to realize what was
always there, you know, like T.S. Eliot says, you return home and know
it for the first time, I feel like that. I've returned home and known it
for the first time.

GROSS: I want to another song from your new album and I was thinking of
"Girl from the North Country."

Ms. CASH: Mm.

GROSS: I think you do a beautiful job of this. Bob Dylan wrote it. It
was on his 1969 "Freewheelin'" album - 1962 I mean. What year is it?
More like 62' probably.

Ms. CASH: Oh yeah. It's earlier than 69'.

GROSS: Yeah. I think it's in 62'.

Ms. CASH: Because they did "Nashville Skyline" in 69'. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. In 69' your father recorded it with Dylan on Dylan's
"Nashville Skyline" album. So why did you choose this one for your own?

Ms. CASH: This was John's idea to do the song and I know why it's on the
list because the, you know, my dad made the list in 1973 and he had just
recorded this four years earlier with Bob - so it was still kind of
fresh to him. It's one of the newest songs on the list. And when John
brought up that idea I said oh gosh, I can't do it. It's almost
sacrilegious. I, not only do I have my dad and Bob's recorded version in
my head, I have images of that session in my head. I wasn't at that
session but there is footage of it. And it was just such a watershed
record too, you know, I became the coolest 14-year-old in the world when
my dad recorded this song with Bob Dylan and I said I just can't do
that. It's outside of my own realm.

And John said let's listen to Bob's original version and approach it
that way. And his original version is, it's in the tradition of a
classic folk song that's rooted in Elizabethan music even. And I got to
do that old folk twist of a woman singing about another women, which was
great. I loved that. And once we listened to the original version and I
could approach it like that, I went ah, I get it. Yeah. This is
gorgeous.

(Soundbite of song, "Girl from the North Country")

Ms. CASH: (Singing) If you're traveling in the north country fair, where
the winds hit heavy on the borderline, remember me to the one who lives
there, she once was a true love of mine. If you go when the snowflakes
fall, when the rivers freeze and summer ends, please see if she's
wearing a coat so warm, to keep her from the howling winds...

GROSS: That's Rosanne Cash singing Dylan's "Girl from the North
Country," from her new CD "The List," which is songs from a list of 100
great American songs, essential country songs, that her father, Johnny
Cash, gave her when she was 18 years old.

You know, I think it's really interesting that you're doing this album
of songs by other people because you're best known as a singer-
songwriter. You do your own songs. And this kind of frees you up to just
be the singer and the interpreter and - and also to sing other people's
melodies which I think must be kind of refreshing in its own way.

Ms. CASH: Yeah, it is. It is. It was a little scary at first, because I
didn't ever want to put my voice front and center, you know, I was a
songwriter that was the torch I carried. This is an honorable
profession. This is what I do. I'm a songwriter. My voice just serves
what I'm writing about. So to let all that go, I mean, bring the
sensibilities of it actually to the song choices, but to just be the
interpreter was incredibly liberating and really fun.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting that you've done this album of covers,
John Doe did an album of classic country covers. Loudon Wainwright just
did an album of Charlie Poole songs. So you know - the three of you are
famous as songwriters and within a period of months you're turning to
other people's songs. I just find that so interesting. And all of those
albums I just mentioned are really good.

Ms. CASH: Well, there is a canon of American music that maybe an entire
generation doesn't know that well.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CASH: You know, people who weren't around to hear Patsy Cline's
version of "She's Got You," or a song like "Take These Chains", or never
heard Ray Charles' "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" or Hank
Snow or any of these people. So, I always felt like, you can't imagine
the Scots or the Irish without Celtic music. You can't imagine us, the
Americans, without these songs. They are so important to us. And it
would be a tragedy if they were just, you know, you had to - if they
were just in a museum, if they were just archived somewhere, if they
weren't still being performed.

GROSS: Oh, I really agree with you. When we last spoke, it was 2006
maybe, and this was after you had started singing again after your three
year bout of not being able to sing because of polyps on your vocal
chords.

Ms. CASH: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And in that interview you said that when you had the polyps you
vowed that if you recovered that you would give up all the anxiety that
you had surrounding singing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...and just kind of enjoy singing and enjoy, you know, the
talents that you had. So, did that work out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORSS: Have you been able to just - as you've release this album of you
singing other people's songs, have you been able to just enjoy singing
without the attendant anxieties?

Ms. CASH: I'm laughing because I did say that, didn't I?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Mm-hmm, you did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: I'm glad you reminded me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're welcome.

Ms. CASH: Yeah, I did give up a lot of the anxiety. I'm not a person who
will ever entirely give up anxiety, I mean it kind of fuels my -
everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: But I did stop the criticism. That's what I stopped, the self
criticism. You know, if I miss a note, if I can't sustain it as long as
I want, you know, if my diaphragm gives away or something, I'd just go
well, that's okay, that's all right, you know, human being here. But I
enjoy it a lot more. I do. What - I did keep that part of the promise to
myself is that I got it back and I enjoy it a lot more.

DAVIES: Rosanne Cash speaking with Terry Gross in 2009, when Cash's
album "The List" was released.

We'll here more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's interview with Rosanne Cash recorded
in 2009 when her album "The List" was released.

GROSS: Your father lived his life on stage, your mother didn't. Where do
you fit in, in terms of comfort level on stage and in terms of like
having a public component of your life?

Ms. CASH: That's something that I still struggle with. My daughter just
made her first record. She's 27 years old and she has not asked me for
any advice, she's wanted to do this on her own. It's history repeating
itself. But she did call and say, Mom, how do I have a successful career
as a musician without having a public life? And it kind of broke my
heart because that was the exact question I asked at her age. And I
said, I don't know because, you know, songs are not complete until
they're heard, you know, you can't just do this for your living room.

Part of doing it is putting it out there. And, of course, being a
performer, that's a whole other thing. But I still do struggle with that
and I guess that I'm more comfortable - you know how Malcolm Gladwell
had that 10,000 hour rule, like if you do something 10,000 hours, you
become an expert at it? I feel like maybe I'm close to 10,000 hours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: So, I'm a bit more comfortable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: But you're right. My mother was very, very private and my dad
lived out his best self on stage. So, I have both of those examples, you
know, don't tell anybody anything, keep to yourself and take everything
to the stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Wow, that's really confusing, isn't it?

Ms. CASH: It is. So, I've had to work it out for myself. And what I do
is both. I have a great private life. I don't, you know, divulge
everything. I find that incredibly distasteful. And I love performing.

GROSS: I'm glad you found that comfort zone for yourself, that you've
found...

Ms. CASH: I have.

GROSS: ...where the line is. I want to close with another track from
"The List." But since I've chosen everything so far, I thought I'd be
generous and let you choose one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: Do you want something sad and slow and ballady(ph) or
something a little more up?

GROSS: I'm letting you choose.

Ms. CASH: Okay. "Motherless Children." This song is one of the oldest
songs on "The List." And it was amazing how many people had done it.
Everyone from Billie Holiday to the Louvin Brothers to Eric Clapton.
There are many different versions, many, many, many verses, too. So,
John and I had to sort through them and kind of make it more linear, you
know, just pull four verses that would work together. And John had just
lost his mother a couple of weeks before we recorded this. So, I think
we were both feeling that sense of loss and being motherless. And I can
really hear it in John's guitar-playing in this track.

GROSS: Rosanne Cash, it's just been wonderful to talk with you again.
Thank you so much.

Ms. CASH: It's my pleasure, Terry. Thank you for having me.

DAVIES: Rosanne Cash speaking with Terry Gross in 2009 when the album
"The List" was released. Rosanne Cash's memoir "Composed," is now out in
paperback.

You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair. And
you can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org, where you can
also hear our 1997 interview with Rosanne's father Johnny Cash.

Here's Rosanne Cash singing "Motherless Children" from her CD "The
List."

(Soundbite of song, "Motherless Children")

Ms. CASH: (Singing) Motherless children have a hard time when the mother
is gone. Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is gone.
Motherless children have a hard time, there's all that weepin' and all
that cryin'. Motherless children have a hard time when the mother is
gone. Father will do the best he can when the mother is gone. Father
will do the best he can when the mother is gone. Father will do the best
he can, but there's so many things he just don't understand. Motherless
children have a hard time when the mother is gone.

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
139742437

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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