Rosanne Cash: Can California girl write country songs?

It's been a busy autumn for Rosanne Cash , who has completed a residency at the Country Music Hall of Fame, was inducted in to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and is curating shows at Carnegie Hall.

And she's continuing to perform concerts, including a Riverside Live! concert Saturday at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center .

"Yes it's a lot, but I can't complain about having work, or the attention I'm getting," Cash said by phone Monday from her home in New York City.

But she does have one complaint: "I have to say songwriting has been difficult lately," she said. "Although I was working on one this morning."

That's important because, as Cash, 60, has said over and over again, she always wanted to be a songwriter first. Even at the height of her Nashville success in the 1980s with her first No. 1 hit, "Seven Year Ache,"Cash said, she never felt pressure to conform or to perform certain songs in certain styles.


"I never bought into that," she said. "I was a songwriter and a songwriter had to follow her own instincts."

Her Nashville run continued for several years, with a list of hits that included "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me," "Never Be You," "The Way We Make a Broken Heart,"and "Runaway Train."But she soon shifted her focus to introspective writing with the albums "Interiors" and "The Wheel," which took her off country music radio, but gained her new respect as a fearless artist.

More recently Cash has recorded "Black Cadillac,"reflecting on the deaths of family members, including her famous father; "The List,"featuring songs her father told her were essential to learn; and "The River & the Thread,"a musical journey through the South. "The River & the Thread" won three Grammy Awards.

Cash has also written a critically praised autobiography, "Composed,"and her prose writing regularly appears in national and regional magazines.

Despite your ties to country music, you've said you never felt like a country girl.

Well, I grew up in California, from ages 3 to 18. That was the biggest footprint. I lived in Nashville, but I also lived in London and Munich. I've lived in New York now for 25 years. I have lived in the South the shortest time. What was interesting in doing "The River and the Thread" was seeing how deeply connected I was to the South.

In a recent interview, you said all the dead people have disappeared from country music.

In traditional country music, there are so many songs about loss and death. The roots are still there, although I don't hear it on modern country radio. Now it's all hookups and breakups. But it has not disappeared. You can still find it.


Have you had any time for prose writing lately?

I just had something in United Airlines magazine, about the area where my dad grew up in Arkansas, and in Atlanta magazine, the Oxford American. I've been writing pieces connected to "The River & the Thread." Sometimes I feel like the record "The River & Thread" wasn't finished.

How do songwriting and prose writing complement each other?

I like working in long form. It comes from the same place, but it's a different skill set. But you're still looking for melody in prose, an arc. I do love both.

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