Rosanne Cash On The Importance Of Living Out Loud Cash's latest album, She Remembers Everything, cuts a path through gun violence, sexism and the relentless march of time. "There's no point in hedging my bets about what I write about anymore."
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Rosanne Cash On The Importance Of Living Out Loud

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Rosanne Cash On The Importance Of Living Out Loud

Rosanne Cash On The Importance Of Living Out Loud

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash has been performing since she was 18, singing backup on tour with her father, Johnny. She had her first No. 1 country hit in her mid-20s and in the decades since, has created a rich Americana catalog that explores love, loss, family and place. Her latest album, "She Remembers Everything," is a collection of personal songs all written or co-written by Cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE REMEMBERS EVERYTHING")

ROSANNE CASH: (Singing) Who knows who she used to be before it all went dark? Was she like a streak of fire, a painted glass, a beating heart?

ELLIOTT: Rosanne Cash joins us now from NPR's New York bureau. Welcome.

CASH: Thank you, Debbie. Glad to be here.

ELLIOTT: We're listening to the title track, "She Remembers Everything," which we should note is one of NPR Music's Top 100 Songs of the year. Is this a reckoning of sorts?

CASH: That's probably a good way to put it. I see that the hourglass is more empty than full for me, and there's no point in hedging my bets about what I write about anymore.

ELLIOTT: "She Remembers Everything" can be taken, I think, maybe as a promise or a threat.

CASH: That's what I thought. It's a come-on, but it's also a threat. It's a warning (laughter).

ELLIOTT: It also seems particularly relevant in the #MeToo era, as do some other songs on this record. Did that influence you as you put together this album?

CASH: Most of the songs were written before the #MeToo movement started. That doesn't mean they're not prescient. And as the mother of four daughters, these issues are foremost in my concern. And, you know, I have my own stories, and most women I know do. And I just felt like I have more to say and less time to say it. And I was ready to really live out loud through these songs.

ELLIOTT: Some of them struck me as sort of, like, these really grown-up love songs. The one that I find to be most beautiful is "Crossing To Jerusalem." Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CROSSING TO JERUSALEM")

CASH: (Singing) This is our great migration, our mountain and our stone. Turning ourselves inside-out to find we're already home. This is our deal with the sinners and saints, the law and up above. We'll be crossing to Jerusalem with nothing but our love.

ELLIOTT: You wrote this with your husband and music partner, John Leventhal. That must've been bittersweet.

CASH: Very bittersweet. I wrote the lyrics, and he wrote the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CROSSING TO JERUSALEM")

CASH: (Singing) Birthdays and the babies, bourbon and the tears.

You know, we've been married 23 years. And at some point in mid-life in a long-term relationship, you realize that it's inevitable that one of you is going to leave the other. It's just unspeakably sad.

I start thinking about the objects in our life - the artifacts, the guitar, the glass of bourbon he has at the end of the day - and I just started throwing them into this song. But realizing that when you leave, you know, there's only one thing you take with you - is the love you gave and received.

ELLIOTT: You've come a long way from the "Seven Year Ache" when you listen to these songs, you know?

CASH: Well, yeah, this is a very grown-up version of those love songs of, you know, hookup and breakup that I was writing in my 20s.

ELLIOTT: There is one song here that takes us outside of your life. It's still - it's an issue that's important to you. It's just a chilling song about a boy who was killed by gun violence. The song is called "Eight Gods Of Harlem."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 GODS OF HARLEM")

CASH: (Singing) Rain falls on the paramedics, but they do not go inside.

I was coming off the subway, and this Hispanic woman was walking up the steps. She seemed very heavy-hearted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 GODS OF HARLEM")

CASH: (Singing) Mother in her universe feels nothing but the pain.

She was talking to herself. And I don't speak Spanish, but I thought she said, ocho dios - eight gods.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 GODS OF HARLEM")

CASH: (Singing) So we pray to the God.

And I couldn't get that out of my mind. Why would she say that, ocho dios? And then I read about another shooting - a boy in Harlem. So I wrote the first verse to "8 Gods Of Harlem."

ELLIOTT: You've been an advocate for gun control for 20 years now. What first engaged you with that issue?

CASH: I just saw it as an extension of mothering. If there is a lock on an aspirin bottle, then we should protect kids from guns. It was a no-brainer. And then Columbine happened, and I said to my then-17-year-old daughter - in shock, I said, how did these kids get the guns? She turned to me like I was crazy and said, Mom, I could get a gun easier than I can buy cigarettes.

ELLIOTT: Oh, wow.

CASH: And that was like a cold bucket of water in the face. I got involved right then.

ELLIOTT: You know, you have encouraged other country music artists to step up and sort of take on the NRA. How is that going?

CASH: (Laughter) Not well. Although recently, I have seen more people speak out. I think there's a lot of fear. You've seen the attacks online and in print and in person to people who do speak out, and it can be very vicious, and it can be frightening. And I see it happen to journalists a lot, as well. Of course, you know that.

ELLIOTT: Right.

CASH: And there's fear of alienating your fan base. And, you know, truthfully, too, one of my daughters was held up at gunpoint, and that motivates me every day.

ELLIOTT: You know, there's a wisdom to this album. I feel like you're sort of letting me in on what you've learned as an artist, as a wife, as a daughter, as a mother, especially the song "Everyone But Me." So let's listen to that a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYONE BUT ME")

CASH: (Singing) We run a similar course on a track laid with broken glass. So tie your shoes real tight. It goes by real fast. Mother and Father, now that you're gone, it's not nearly long enough. Still, it seems too long.

You know, Debbie, I had written these lyrics in my notebook and just kept them for myself. And I didn't think it could be a song. I thought it was too raw to be a song. And then John and I were recording in the studio one day, and we hit a wall. And he said, what else you got, kid (laughter)?

And, you know, I felt like when I lost my parents that I didn't really lose them yet, for better and for worse. You spend a long time extricating yourself from trauma. And there's both love and rage. And it's not just me. It's - that's a universal feeling, I think.

ELLIOTT: When you think about - in the context of your daughters, what kind of a world do you want to hand off to them? And what kind of a world do you think they are coming of age in?

CASH: I - you know, I grew up during the women's movement and the Civil Rights movement. And I thought there was so much hope that everybody was going to end up on a level playing field. I thought progress was - went in one direction. Turns out it does not go in one direction, and it requires a lot more dedication than I realized - than most of us realized.

I have hope for my daughters and my son, you know, who's 19 years old. But sadly, I don't know if the things I hope for for them are going to be things that I see.

ELLIOTT: That's sad.

CASH: Yeah, it is sad. But, you know, there's another song on the record where I say, we owe everything to this rainbow of suffering. (Laughter) And I think we do. It's beautiful, but it's painful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTICLE AND WAVE")

CASH: (Singing) Light is particle and wave, reflections of this place, refractions of our grace. It reveals what we won't dare. And it's slow, so I can hold you near.

ELLIOTT: Rosanne Cash. Her album is "She Remembers Everything." Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

CASH: Thank you, Debbie. It was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSANNE CASH SONG, "PARTICLE AND WAVE")

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