Rosanne Cash: The singer/songwriter with the famous father hits a high note all her own

Rosanne Cash

The singer/songwriter with the famous father hits a high note all her own.

By Tricia Despres

There is a mystery behind the eyes of Rosanne Cash…a certain aura that surrounds the woman with the famous father and the chart topping hits and the industry awards lining her shelves. Yet, one only needs to look as far as the lyrics of her songs to reveal all that we might ever need to know about the singer/songwriter.

“There is a line in ‘Money Road’ that says ‘what you seek is seeking you’,” she tells LIVING WELL Magazine from the New York apartment she shares with husband John Leventhal and her son Jake. “The line is adapted from a poem, so I can’t take complete credit for it. But I have really found it to be true. What you seek in a passionate way will often come to meet you.”


Indeed, with 15 albums and four books behind her, there’s no doubt that Cash has found much success in a career that has spanned over 30 years. Yet, her latest album, The River & The Thread, seems to have taken the 58-year-old performer to a new level. In what is now her highest charting album of her career, The River & The Thread features 11 pieces of poetry disguised as songs that seamlessly weave together musical genres and lifelong influences. The album has already made it to the top spot on the Folk Albums chart and number two on the Top Country Albums chart.

“Life has been taking off in a whole new way lately,” says Cash, whose 2009 album The List was named Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association and nominated for two GRAMMY® Awards. “I don’t know if it’s my optimism and what they call in Buddhism as The Beginner’s Mind, but everything feels new to me right now.”

Of course, that wasn’t always the case.


“I guess I developed a better work ethic sometime during my 30s,” says Cash, whose 1980 album Right or Wrong helped to introduce her unique style to the country music industry. “Before then, it was like I just dabbled in everything. I wasn’t as serious I guess. I had to develop an understanding of how to work. These days, I don’t beat myself up because my work system is different from others, which is what I used to do. My desk is not neat and I don’t sit at my table and write from nine in the morning to five at night like Charles Darwin but hey, I get it done.”

And yes, she is getting it done like never before. Through the years, Cash has recorded 15 albums, including 1981’s Seven Year Ache and 1987’s King’s Record Shop, which were both certified gold. She has charted 21 Top 40 country singles, 11 of which climbed to number one. She has received 12 GRAMMY nominations, deservedly winning in 1985. And yes, she has also published four books, including her 2010 bestselling memoir Composed. And thanks to the recent acclaim of The River & The Thread, Cash finds herself in a virtual career revival.


So, does success feel different at the age of 58?

“Oh absolutely. Success scared me at 30. I always felt that life could be taken away and that I could never live up to what people wanted from me and that I was a fake and I didn’t deserve success. I just constantly felt that everything was going to fall apart or that success was going to seduce me into some sort of destruction. I was also an introvert in my younger years and ultimately I needed to teach myself how to be an extrovert in the necessary circumstances as a performer. There were times when I felt like I was being judged as a performer.  Now I see it as a beautiful energy exchange between myself and my fans. I’ve grown up.”

Cash also says being a parent has allowed her to see nearly everything about life differently. “You love them so much and you want to set up a good example for them,” she says. “You show up for them and in turn, you show up for yourself. It’s selfish if you don’t.”

And while she may be a celebrity in an increasing celebrity-centric world, Cash remains busy being a rather down to earth woman doing down to earth things. “Let’s see…today I went to physical therapy, met a friend for lunch, picked up a prescription at the pharmacy for my husband and unloaded 75 emails from my inbox,” she says. “It sounds pretty normal if you ask me.”

Yet, she says things can get a bit hectic when touring a new album, which she plans to do throughout 2014. “I’m out every year and it feels really good right now because I absolutely love playing the new songs,” she says. “I love watching the crowds really respond to the new material. But I hate leaving my son. It’s a constant balance of what I need to do out on the road and showing up to parent teacher meetings, ‘ya know? Thank God for iChat.”

Her voice lowers a bit when asked of what her famous dad would have felt about her newfound success. “He loved me as any parent loves their child and he wanted the best for me, but I would hate to put thoughts in his mouth from beyond the grave,” she says. Cash explains that family indeed remains her emotional center, both at home and in the studio. In fact, Cash wrote the album’s 11 original songs with her longtime collaborator (and husband) John Leventhal, who also served as producer, arranger, and guitarist.

“I don’t know if (working on the album) changed the way I look at him, but what I knew about him all along became crystal clear,” says Cash, who also had the chance to collaborate with ex-husband Randy Crowell on The River & The Thread. “We have been working hard towards this collaboration for a long time. Working together is a great gift because we genuinely like being together. Even if we are fighting and we get up on that stage to play music together, everything goes away when I hear him play something. It reveals his essence. When he is up there giving the best part of himself, it just melts you.”


This personal and professional bliss also seems to illuminate Cash like never before in terms of an outward appearance that keeps her looking far younger than 58. “You are going to hate me for saying this, but I really don’t exercise. I live in New York City, so I walk a lot. Plus, when I’m performing, I tend to dance around a lot. And heck, playing guitar is like having a bunch of weights pulling on you. But yes, I feel good about myself. I have been blessed with good skin definitely. My great grandmother on my mother’s side lived to be 100 years old, and she had skin like a baby till the very end. I just feel so great and so grateful––I guess gratitude is good for the skin.”

Gratitude also played an important part in Cash’s recovery from brain surgery back in 2007 for a condition called Chiari malformation type 1, which Cash says caused her cerebellum to virtually crush her brain stem. “I swear, I think a lot of people think I look good now because for so many years I was in chronic pain and that was my look. The steroids and the pain drugs made me swell so badly. I was misdiagnosed for 10 years and it got to the point where I could barely stand up straight. The brain surgery was a brutal surgery that I didn’t prepare myself enough for both physically and emotionally. It gave me a good hard look at my own mortality and what’s important and what I want to do on this planet. My friend said it best: ‘You have more to say and less time to say it.’ That statement riveted me for a long time.”

And rest assured, Cash says she has much more to say.

“I am more content than I have ever been, and any lack of contentment I have is just a desire to do better work,” she says. “That’s the best kind of discontent. I have new ambitions and I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of me. I made a concept album. I mean, how out of a fashion is that? But yes, I have a lot more to say.”