Rosanne Cash on rereleasing her album 'The Wheel'
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WHEEL")
ROSANNE CASH: (Singing) And the wheel goes round and round.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And that, of course, is Rosanne Cash. She has remastered her masterful album, "The Wheel," after 30 years, during which the wheel of life has kept churning for Rosanne and, I guess, for us all. Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter joins us now from New York. Rosanne, thanks so much for being with us.
CASH: Hi, Scott. Such a pleasure to speak with you again.
SIMON: Yeah, well, the pleasure is all ours. Thank you. What made you want to bring out "The Wheel" again and remaster it after 30 years?
CASH: After 30 years, right - went by in a flash. Well, I was on Sony, and they owned my master recording of this album, but I had a clause in my contract that said the master would revert to me after 30 years. And so it was coming back, and I thought, what does it mean? What do I do with this album? And I actually didn't expect the symbolism it would mean to me and the kind of power it felt and how moving it was to own this recording again and to know that's where my relationship with my husband, John, began, both professional and personal, and the time of my life it was. And I thought, well, what should I do with it now that I own it? And we decided to form our own record label and re-release it.
SIMON: Well, I want to follow up on all of that, but let me ask first, what was it like to hear your voice again after three decades?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WHEEL")
CASH: (Singing) ...Is good enough for me.
I have to say, I had to get past that first critical moment that lasted a few weeks of, oh, I could have sung that better. Oh, man, my voice has dropped, you know, by four notes now, and, oh, I sound a little self-conscious. And why didn't I do this, and why I didn't do that? And, you know, and get past it and go, OK, it's an accurate reflection of that time in my life.
SIMON: And bring us back, please, to that time in your life, because I gather, from a beautiful essay that you've written, it did not begin propitiously. You were in what we would now call a dark space.
CASH: I was in a dark space. You know, I'll try to sum this up. I had made this album called "Interiors." I still lived in Nashville. And the album was very dark, very acoustic. I was on the verge of a breakup with my then-husband, Rodney Crowell. And the record label said to me straight out, we can't do anything with this record. And I said, it's going to get worse. You should let me go. And they said, we'll miss you. And they transferred me to the New York division of Columbia Records then. And I ended up getting a divorce, meeting John, having a powerful experience that you may know, which is to recognize someone you've never met before. And I moved to New York in '91. I asked him if he wanted to produce a record for me. And by the end of making that record, we were a couple.
SIMON: (Laughter) And you've been together for 30 years. I guess it doesn't get any better than that.
CASH: You know, it takes a long time to create a fairytale. It was hard in the beginning, but the passage of time makes things feel more urgent. And it's made me realize that time is the most precious thing.
SIMON: Let me ask you about "Roses In The Fire."
CASH: Oh, interesting that you would pick that one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSES IN THE FIRE")
CASH: (Singing) Another woman's on the telephone. Pick it up, tell her you're home. I see your face turn into broken glass, talking slow, thinking fast. I throw your roses in the fire. No one could say I didn't try.
I was so angry. That's probably the angriest song I've ever written. You know, it's like you go through everything going through a breakup. That song was to my first husband, Rodney. I don't think he would mind me saying that. And I did throw his roses in the fire. That started in a real place.
SIMON: Yeah. Can I get you to talk about John Leventhal because it occurred to me, hearing this album all over again - one of my favorites in the world, I must say...
CASH: Wow, thank you.
SIMON: I'm getting weepy. It's a love album, isn't it?
CASH: It is. I hear myself falling in love. I hear him falling in love by his arrangements and what he was playing. I mean, I was a little bit like a kite in a hurricane when I met him, and he was...
CASH: ...A very practical, grounded artist. And the first years were hard, you know? This - we worked hard to get to this level of sweetness.
SIMON: Is there a song on this album that you - with the advantage of current hindsight - let me put it this way - that kind of signals what I'll call your transformation as a performer?
CASH: Well, the song that I wrote that was, I think, the most personal that I wrote the lyrics and John wrote the music to, so it was one of the very first songs we wrote together - it's called "The Truth About You," and just no matter what happens, seeing the truth of another person standing before you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TRUTH ABOUT YOU")
CASH: (Singing) When the wind blows out across the water and we stand here in this light, all our secrets fall like raindrops between us, and I know the truth tonight. Know the truth about you, babe.
SIMON: You've worked on seven records, including the Grammy Award-winning "The River & The Thread." Can you tell us about your working relationship? Is it part and parcel of your personal relationship? Does it stand apart? What is it?
CASH: All the above. We can definitely bring personal stuff into the studio, you know? He says, I don't want you to sing that note, and I think he doesn't love me.
SIMON: That's usually the subtle way that they have of signaling it.
CASH: Well, yeah. I mean, I think we're much better about just working in service of what we're doing. But you know what happened during the pandemic? He just came down in the studio and, after years of thinking about it, made his own album. And he has a lifetime of beautiful music that he had vaulted. And this record called "Rumble Strip" - I mean, it's not going to get played on Top-40 radio, but I think music lovers will be very happy.
SIMON: You're still changing.
CASH: I hope so. Are you?
SIMON: Yeah, I hope so. Absolutely. Rosanne, I'm just moved to ask you this. What counts in life, what matters?
CASH: Oh, boy - art, music, children, staying in the moment, optimism, which I feel is the primary role of a parent - to not steal a child's future by being pessimistic. Kindness counts. Also doing your work - I have this thing I wrote in my old datebook I actually saw yesterday which said what you do will be insignificant, but it's essential that you do it. And it was Gandhi, I believe. And the same way it is significant, right? We put it out into the world and let it go.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE PARTNERS")
CASH: (Singing) Ain't nothing is left to chance, so I change partners in this new dance.
SIMON: Rosanne Cash - the 30th anniversary reissue of her album "The Wheel" is out now. Rosanne, great to be back with you. Thanks so much.
CASH: Thank you, Scott.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE PARTNERS")
CASH: (Singing) I'll change partners. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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