MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Rosanne Cash, Time Traveller

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Rosanne Cash (Photo:

Rosanne Cash surprised me right from the start, by calling her father Johnny Cash “a mystic,” and revealing herself as one too. As much as any person I’ve interviewed, she leaned in close. She was ready to meet me on the adventure a real conversation can be — one full of revelation and beauty.

Language and music, in that order, were the early mediums of her spiritual sensibility. She describes herself growing up as something of a geek. She remains perpetually and intellectually restless. It took her awhile to find her own voice, indeed to imagine that a life of making and performing music could be desirable. She’d grown up experiencing the performer’s life — incarnate in her famous, beloved father — as hard on those one loves. As she found her own voice, she found her own delight in joining her energy to an audience. In that exchange, she also discovered all the elements of religion that she desired: truth, beauty, mystery, creativity, and a sense of the divine.

We’ve put the word “time travel” in the title of the show we’ve created from my magical hour with Rosanne Cash. It’s a phrase that comes up again and again — especially when we talk about the music that emerged from her grief a few years ago when she lost her father, her mother, and her stepmother June Carter Cash within a span of 18 months. From this period, the Black Cadillac album emerged with gorgeous songs and poetry about love before life and beyond life. Past, present, and future are often linked in the songs she writes, though they often begin, as she describes it, with a single phrase or image.

There are echoes of Einstein here. Our ordinary sense of past, present, and future as distinct compartments moving forward like an arrow, he said, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” As it turns out, Rosanne Cash has long been aware of these echoes too, signing up for physics classes when her children were young, constantly in conversation with scientists now. She talks about songs in some of the same ways scientists talk about mathematics — as discoveries, waiting to be caught, as much as inventions. For Rosanne Cash, songs are embedded in the fabric of the universe; this image alone is a gift from my time with her.

I am left with a sense of a woman who has seen a lot of life and turned that into wisdom. She is raising five children, lost her voice for several years, and underwent brain surgery four years ago. She continues to work with these raw materials of experience and wrest purpose and joy from them.

Several people have told us that watching the video of this conversation moved them to tears. One emotional moment for her — better experienced on the video than by audio alone — comes when she tells me about performing at Folsom Prison in March of last year. There, her father created one of his most famous performances and an iconic album. While touring the prison, Rosanne Cash met a prisoner who served at San Quentin Prison when her father also played there in 1969, and was now spending the rest of his life in Folsom. Her eyes fill with tears as she describes her dialogue with these men about freedom, outer and inner, and the confusing human struggle to gain the latter, whatever our lives have brought.

There were clearly other stories here to be mined. But Rosanne Cash’s openness, and her music, unlock stories of our own. We end our conversation with music, with her song titled “The World Unseen.” It somewhat magically brings together the elements of Rosanne Cash’s life and all of our lives — of poetry and mystery, of loss and love, of time travel. Here are the song’s opening verses:

I’m the sparrow on the roof
I’m the list of everyone I have to lose
I’m the rainbow in the dirt
I am who I was and how much I can hurt

So I will look for you 
In stories of the kings— 
Westward leading, still proceeding 
To the world unseen

~ Krista Tippett

Click Here To Listen To The Interview

Written by MattAndJojang

November 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Interesting to find one of my favorite Christmas carols tucked into that quoted song.

    I’ve loved Rosanne Cash since her first album. I’ve not kept up with her of late – I didn’t know about her struggles with physical illness, for example. But from the beginning, there was “something” about her music that appealed deeply. I especially love her work with Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris. I’m looking forward to listening to the interview.


    November 5, 2012 at 3:15 am

  2. Unlike you, Linda, I’ve never listened to Rosanne Cash’s songs before reading this article and listening to the interview. But after listening to the interview I can say that I’ve grown to love her. Not only for her beautiful songs (which, by the way, she sang during the interview), but for also sharing the intimate details of her life and that of her famous father, Johnny Cash.

    It was a revelation to me that both Rosanne and Johnny are deeply spiritual persons. In fact, Rosanne calls her father a mystic.

    The deeply spiritual mood of the interview really inspired me. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it as much as I did.

    ~ Matt


    November 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

  3. When you delve into the history, Matt, you will find Johnny’s roots are in gospel music. He was always considered an enigma, although he was a truly simple man. My grandfather had a lot of respect for him. He was very intelligent, and their conversations were anything but mundane.


    November 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing, Red.

    I became familiar with Johnny Cash through the movie “Walk the Line.” Of course, as expected, he was portrayed in simplistic terms. His intelligence and multifaceted personality are not at all portrayed in the film. I guess, because doing so will not appeal to the audience of the movie. (At least, that’s probably what the producers of the film thought).

    It’s just a pity that most portrayals in media of famous people, like Johnny Cash, don’t really do justice to who they really are. That’s why I’m really glad I listened to this interview. I have come to know and appreciate Johnny Cash and her daughter, Rosanne, in a way that I could never have…

    ~ Matt


    November 6, 2012 at 7:50 am

  5. This is a beautiful piece. I’ll listen to the interview later. I didn’t know that Rosanne was such a seeker, but I’m not surprised. I love how she finishes her wonderful song The Western Wall:

    It’s a crumbling pile of broken stones
    it ain’t much but it might be home
    if I ever loved a place at all
    it’s the Western Wall

    I don’t know if God was ever a man
    But if She was, I think I understand
    Why He found a place to break his fall
    near the Western Wall


    November 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm

  6. I’m glad you liked it, Bill.

    Having listened to some of her songs (from the interview), there’s something about her songs which, at the very least, shows that she’s a profound person with a deep sense of spirituality. It’s not surprising that you were not surprised to find out she was a spiritual seeker.

    Personally, I think, there’s a relationship between deep spirituality and great art. No wonder some of the mystics were also great artists. For instance, St. John of the Cross, who is considered as one of the greatest mystics of Christianity (and one of my favorites, too), is a also considered one of the greatest poets of Spain.

    From the few songs I’ve heard in the interview, my favorite is “God Is In The Roses.” Being homebound and suffering from chronic illness for the past 10 years, I’ve found comfort in these verses:

    We’re falling like the velvet petals
    We’re bleeding and we’re torn
    But God is in the roses and the thorns

    ~ Matt


    November 8, 2012 at 8:54 am

  7. I just finished listening to the interview. I liked it so much that I listened to most of it a second time. Wonderful. Thanks so much for making me aware of this. I didn’t know Rosanne’s waters run so deep. Beautiful.


    November 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm

  8. You’re welcome, Bill.

    Liked it, too, that I listened to it for 3 or 4 times! 🙂



    November 11, 2012 at 8:43 am

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