Rosanne Cash and the Many Meanings of Love

One of the most gifted singer-songwriters of our time talks love, science and the deep space between men and women

Rosanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny Cash, is not a country and western singer in the tradition of her famous father. She's American music's theoretical physicist of love. (Deborah Feingold)
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Or til September, her metaphor for death. There is something both enigmatic and transcendent in the verse she wrote for her father in that duet that demonstrates a master of the fusion of music and emotion:

I plan to crawl outside these walls, close my eyes and see
and fall into the heart and arms of those who wait for me
I cannot move a mountain now, I can no longer run
I cannot be who I was then, in a way, I never was.

The café she chose for lunch, in the West Village, is the very epicenter of New York’s literary haute Bohemia. It’s set among rows of elegantly genteel brownstones whose original gaslight lampposts still flicker at night. The realm of Edith Wharton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary McCarthy, Djuna Barnes. Which is appropriate since Rosanne is not just a songwriter but an accomplished writer of prose, author of a much praised short story collection and a memoir, Composed, a beautifully restrained, gracefully written document.

I wanted to talk to her about songwriting. In her memoir, she mentioned a songwriting mentor named John Stewart. “He wrote this song I recorded, ‘Runaway Train,’” she tells me now. “I didn’t know him when I got the song. We liked it, but there was no bridge. So we asked him if he would write the bridge. He was well known as a songwriter, he had written ‘Daydream Believer’”—everybody’s guilty pleasure Monkees song—“and he wrote ‘Gold,’ that duet with Stevie Nicks. And he was known as a deep songwriter. So asking him to add a bridge seemed a bit forward. But he did. So then it became a big hit and I still hadn’t met him and he came to Nashville and...”

I interrupt her to ask her more about that bridge. The song is racing along at a runaway train pace in the first two verses, as the lovers express alarm at how out-of-control their feelings are becoming.

Things are accelerating with exhilarating momentum and then the bridge jams the brakes on, melodically and emotionally.

“That bridge,” I ask Cash, “it goes, ‘I’ve been here before, and now it’s with you’?”

“Yeah?” she says warily.

“I wondered about that.”

“Really?” she says. “It seems grafted on?”


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