`Rules for Changing the World'

By Alterman, Eric | The Nation, March 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

`Rules for Changing the World'


Alterman, Eric, The Nation


This was intended to be a sweet little prewar column about an artist I admire, Rosanne Cash. Still sexy after all these years, she just released her first commercial CD in nearly a decade after having remarried, had a fourth kid, signed with a different record company and lost and regained her voice after nearly three years of silence.

I said yes to writing about Rosanne when the Capitol publicist called about Rules of Travel because (a) I've always wanted to meet her, (b) she was kind enough to blurb my Springsteen book and I've never had the chance to thank her, and (c) hello, she's Johnny Cash's daughter, though it's not easy to see the connection musically. Johnny is gruff, to the point and occasionally prophetic; Rosanne is smooth and subtle. Johnny is inspiring; Rosanne, comforting, even warming. I was hoping to learn something about where these differences derive.

Over cappuccinos in a Chelsea bakery, I asked Rosanne about trying to relaunch her career at age 47 in an industry that cares more about the lint in Britney's bellybutton than the adult ambivalence to which she gives voice. "When I first moved to Nashville," she recalled, "the first record exec I met said, `Well now, we just have to make this girl fuckable.'" Rosanne resisted, and it paid off. "I guess I was naive, but I thought I was this tough little songwriter, pseudorock chick, less kittenish than Chrissie Hynde-ish. And this has worked to my advantage as I've gotten older." Indeed, Rosanne is the first musician I've met who doesn't complain about her record company. "They get everything about me," she says.

What's it like to be the "Daughter in Black"? Rosanne has been sensitive about this issue for most of her career, but now with dad singing on the new album, it seemed OK to ask about their relationship and how it felt for him to always be on the road. "Dad belongs to the world. He doesn't just belong to his family. A huge part of his impact is defined by his absence, and it arranges your DNA," she says. "I really want to stress that I am not bitter about this--whose life would I have traded it for?" And the pressure? After all, did she have to go into the family business? "Because I am a woman, I do not have to hold myself up against my dad. My father is a truly great artist, and a revolutionary artist, and he is going to look back at the arc of his life with that joy or pain. I won't, either because I wasn't willing to make the sacrifices, or I never had it in me in the first place."

Well, that's about it for the nice, innocuous column I wanted to write. What with an unnecessary, unprovoked war on the way, that column became impossible halfway through my interview. Returning from the ladies' room, Rosanne informs me that she's to appear at a press conference the following day to support an effort spearheaded by David Byrne and Russell Simmons called "Musicians United to Win Without War." She also signed a full-page protest in the New York Times, together with Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, along with a bunch of hip-hop and world music artists.

This kinda pisses me off. …

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