Rosanne Cash Surrenders to Grief
In an exclusive video meditation, plus an interview and music, the singer-songwriter shares her journey through grief and faith.
BY: Interview by Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Watch a a video meditation recorded for Beliefnet by Rosanne Cash.
Music from "Black Cadillac": "God Is in the Roses" "The World Unseen"
Rosanne Cash has been a singer-songwriter for 25 years, but her latest album, "Black Cadillac," might be her most intense and personal to date. The record mines the grief that Cash experienced after she lost three parents in two years--her mother, Vivian Liberto Cash Distin, and her father and stepmother, Johnny and June Carter Cash. "Each song is about a different place on the map of loss," she told Beliefnet during an interview in which she talked about her songwriting, her spiritual path, and how love survives death.
Do you see this album as a love letter or a farewell to your parents?
No--it's not a tribute record, it's not a farewell, it's not a goodbye note. It's about what I discovered in the mourning process about my relationship to them, which I believe continues, about re-negotiating the terms of those relationships, because they're not over, although I'm the only one talking. And about the emptiness, the silence that comes when you're the only one talking. It's about an attempt to connect and find what survives death—the ancestral thread, and love.
You've said that for an adult child to lose her elderly parents is not a tragedy.
I just know that there is a line. Death is not reserved for the privileged few. We're all headed in that direction, so that if you experience a loss that's in the natural order of events, if you lose an elderly parent to illness, there's a blessing in that. It could be the reverse, which is a tragedy, for a parent to lose a child. It could be to accident, to violence, which is a tragedy. But to lose an elderly parent to illness, you can't call it a tragedy.
Is sorrow easier, then, than tragedy?
I don't know, because I can only talk about my own experience. I don't have a textbook of perfect loss in my head, and perfect grief, and what that should look like. I know that mine has been profound and life-changing. At the same time, I'm not a mother in
You speak about these songs as if there was an inevitability to them; they sort of found you. Was there any time when you tried to hide from them?
No—some days, I was desperate to take what I was feeling to songwriting because I'm a very structured person to begin with. So to bring a sense of structure, and a rhyme scheme, and discipline, and a melody to these really overwhelming feelings was really useful to me. It also sharpened my skill as a writer because I knew I had to be careful not to topple over into self-indulgence, cheap sentiment. There were times that I thought, am I just doing it for myself? Is this a record I'm just going to make for my living room? But even then, that was fleeting because I knew I wanted to put it out there. By definition, songs have to be shared. There has to be a listener for it to be a song.
How did you avoid the sentimentality that is so common in pop songs about death?
I'm kind of good at that anyway because I don't like songs that are really self-indulgent, or where the writer makes herself a victim, or that play on an audience's exposed emotions. I don't like that, I think it's cheap. So my sense of that just got really sharpened because my feelings were so huge that I had to be more careful not to just devolve into self-pity. Self-pity would have been the worst.
As a mourner as well as a songwriter?
No, I think as a mourner it's perfectly fine to feel sorry for yourself sometimes, but as a songwriter, it's a little bit icky.
You describe songs as "postcards from the future." Where do you think they come from?
|"Postcards from the future"|
I think that when you're in that creative zone, you're tapping into the collective unconscious, and that there's a field there. I think that's the unified field, that creative vast unconsciousness full of beauty and love. And when you're in the zone, as a writer, as a painter, as a cook--any creative endeavor--you can draw on it. Sometimes I feel like the songs are already out there, and that I only get to write the ones that my skills have developed enough to be able to channel. So I want to be a better songwriter because I want to catch better songs.
It's not that way with all of them. Some of them are just you, you've worked hard enough, you know how to do this, you can just pound something out, you can really polish it up. Some of them are infused with the radiance of truth, and those are the ones that I think come from that unified field, from God, from what I think of as God. That doesn't mean I'm extra special, by the way. That means everyone has access to it.