Read an excerpt from LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash.
Hometown: Memphis, TN
What’s on Her plate: Recording her new album, The River and The Thread, out January 2014. Also, the release of LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash, an illustrated biography of her father featuring interviews with Rosanne, out August 13
My father was very complex. He was not this singular, idealistic notion that people have of him. He wasn’t just right or left. He wasn’t just bad or good. He was a man of paradoxes. He was a very, very kind man who had no warlike spirit in him. He chose love at every turn.
Dad and I were rolling through the South on his tour bus. I had just decided to be a songwriter and he mentioned a song—Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train,” I think. I said, “I don’t know that one.” He became alarmed: “You need to know these songs.” He spent the afternoon making a list of the 100 essential country songs. I had the good sense to save the list. Now, it’s locked away somewhere safe. [Ed note: She’s not ready to share it. We tried.]
Recording my new album, I’m learning you can go home again. All my songs relate to the South, even though I call New York home. One track, “A Feather Is Not a Bird,” is a mini-travelogue. I start in Alabama and end in Arkansas. The album is full of bittersweet Southern qualities: the resonance, beauty, and longing of the region.
My friend Natalie Chanin, who owns Alabama Chanin, is a goddess to me. Her clothing line has an American grown and handmade mission. The dyes and cotton are American grown. The clothes are stitched in Florence, Alabama. I love her. I love her studio. I love Florence.
The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Project is a historic renovation of Dad’s Arkansas homestead. Going there was like time travel. I laid on the floor where his bed had been. Imagining him as a little boy in that house was heartbreaking and sweet.
My five children always alert me to great new music. When visiting my daughters who live in Nashville, we’ll go listen to acts at 3rd and Lindsley. When in town I also stop at Manuel’s, the ne plus ultra of custom old-school stage clothes.
There is no place on Earth like the Delta. When you look at the music and the writers that came out of there—Howlin’ Wolf, Aretha Franklin, my dad—you ask: What happened? It’s a mystery. A beautiful mystery.
LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash the 192-page tome (published by sister title Life) features interviews with Rosanne. $29.95; Buy it.