Johnny & Rosanne Cash (credit: TakeBackCountry.com)
WNYC-FM seems to have a knack for producing some of the more innovative programming in the NPR universe. Studio360, featuring Kurt Andersen, provides thoughtful explorations of the arts and culture. This week, the show (Parents –hear it) took as its subject the freighted, complex relationships between artisitic parents and their children. Andersen focuses on Rosanne Cash and her father Johnny Cash and it is a deeply touching portrait of two strong figures who clashed in earlier years and eventually came to feel great love and devotion to each other.
Rosanne Cash said many moving things in this interview, but one of the ones that impressed me most was her characterization of Johnny’s dark years, when drugs and drink brought him to the verge of death. She said (this is a paraphrase): “My father had demons and they almost killed him. But the mark of his greatness as a human being and father is that he never inflicted his demons on others. He never took anything out on anyone. His problems were his own and you never felt that he tried to make them yours.” Andersen adds a comment: “”This is the mark of great character as well.” Indeed.
In the show, Rosanne surprisingly says: “I learned much more from my own children than I ever learned from my parents.” She also talks about the skills and virtues she’s learned in being a parent: notably infinite patience and self-sacrifice. I don’t know whether I’m reading into her comments, but when she talks about understanding the importance of giving up the pencil she’s writing with to her child and not feeling annoyed at the prospect it makes one believe that her parents might’ve been distant and self-centered and not provided all the love and attention she needed when she was younger.
Rosanne does acknowledge tensions in her relationship with her father. The story of their reconciliation is also moving: Johnny asked her to sing I Still Love Someone (hear it) at his Carnegie Hall appearance in 1967. She refused because she was angry with him about something. He asked her again the next night and again she refused. Then she says as Johnny shrugged and turned away from her, she saw in the frame of his back something she’d seen during his performances. Something came over her and she called him back and said: “Yes, dad I’ll do it.” That night, their performance together moved her and made her realize that her dad in performance worked out the deepest and most troubling issues in his life. And here on stage he was making room to include her in this. This event turned over a new leaf in their relationship and led to the deep and powerful relationship they maintained till the end of his life (and beyond to judge what she says here about her ongoing relationship with her father even after death).
We all know of Johnny Cash’s greatness as a musician and performer. But some of us didn’t know as much about his greatness as a human being and father. This show confirms that. The show also explores the relationships of Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Bob Marley and their respective offspring.
Hear Rosanne perform September When It Comes in studio. This song was her last musical collaboration with her father. It appears on Rules of Travel.
For more on Parents, see the Studio360 site.
WARNING: This mp3 blog exists to spread the wonder and genius that is traditional music. It does NOT exist to enhance your private mp3 collection. So by all means come, listen, enjoy, then follow the links to buy the music. If you come, listen, download, then leave—you’re violating the spirit behind this blog and doing nothing to support the artists featured here. And if you link to my mp3 file at your own site, then you’re stealing my bandwidth and being pretty uncool. So please don’t do it.