Rosanne Cash Surrenders to Grief
--and Love

In an exclusive video meditation, plus an interview and music, the singer-songwriter shares her journey through grief and faith.

Continued from page 1

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 Iraq who lost her 10-year-old child to a stray bomb. That's very different, and I am humbled by the difference.

 

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?

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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.

 How do you describe yourself spiritually or religiously?  

 

I'm not uncomfortable with "religious." Some people are uncomfortable with what my idea of "religious" is. I'm already getting letters and biblical tracts from people telling me how to become a Christian and how to keep myself from going to hell. And I want to say, how can I go to a place that only exists in your mind?

 

But I consider myself religious in the best sense of the word. I like being in a state of surrendering my will to something greater than myself, whether that's in writing or when I go to Buddhist meditation, or when I go to Episcopal church, which I do both of, actually. I pray every single day, and meditate every single day. So my spiritual life is as important to me as my creative life. At some points, the two merge. Not always, but at some points, they do. Actually, they're very similar. They might even be the same thing, I'm not sure yet.

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