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October 5, 2011

GESENHUES: Thank you, Rosanne Cash

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Last week, I was lucky enough to hear Rosanne Cash sing “Seven Year Ache” live on stage with just a microphone and her guitar.

It was a Kentucky Author Forum event; she was there to be interviewed by Nick Spitzer, producer and host of public radio’s “American Routes,” about her 2010 memoir, “Composed.”

I was already excited about the interview. What a treat to hear someone talk about their creative process and then get to listen to the fruits of that process from just 11 rows back.

She sang two other songs during the interview. One song her father recorded with Bob Dylan, another she had written after her father died. It all happened in the Kentucky Center for the Arts Bombard Theater, an intimate venue with no bad seats.

It was a magical event, her songs interspersed between stories of growing up with Johnny Cash and her own life as a writer and musician.

Rosanne has a gentle way of talking and telling stories. From where I sat, her beauty was immediately obvious. She has a way about her; it’s the way that people who know themselves really well have.

It’s not arrogance or overt confidence, but more of a comfort in the space they occupy. She is someone who has had the good sense — and fortune — to cultivate a life around her ability to share the best parts of herself. (And isn’t that the ultimate job of any artist?)

She talked about her dad as a mystic. About being a mom who now has kids of her own writing and recording music. She shared a piece of wisdom given to her by Linda Ronstadt that I wrote down afterward and pinned to the corkboard above my monitor. (My version isn’t verbatim, but the overall sentiment was the necessity of practicing your craft so that you can grow to trust your artistic intuition.)

Rosanne wrote and recorded “Seven Year Ache” when she was 23 years old. Anyone older than 23 understands what a feat this is.

I’m sure some may try to dismiss the levity of her accomplishments because of her DNA and social circles. It’s not like we’re all hanging around Grammy-winning artists who can share hands-on experiences of what it takes to make it in the music industry.

But, creating art is more than just who your dad is or who frequents your dinner table. These things may help your art find bigger audiences, but the actual creation is still in the hands and head of the artist.

Rosanne shared a great story about being young and doing everything she could to rebel against her dad. He had asked her to sing with him on stage days before a concert and she had refused. He asked her again and again and she continued to decline.

And then, upon his final request, she said, “no,” only to see him walking away. She explained how that image of him with his back to her changed her mind and she agreed to join him on stage.

She tells the story much better than I could ever write it. (Kentucky Education Television will most likely host the video of her interview on their website at http://www.ket.org/arts/authorforum.htm; I highly recommend hearing her tell it).  

What I liked about the story — beyond the father-daughter complexities that are inherent when a daughter is trying to find her own place in time — was what she learned from joining him on stage. It was in that moment, singing with her father, that she understood how performing was his way of working things out.

Just putting that on paper gives me chills. It reminds me of John Mellencamp’s song with the lyrics, “Save some time to dream, cause your dream could save us all.” That as personal and as private as the creation process is, the act of sharing that creative process is as healing for the performer (writer, artist, sculptor, chef) as it is for the audience.

I wonder sometimes about what I put out in the world in these columns and other writings I share. Am I exploiting myself with my columns? Or worse, the people connected to me who are part of my stories?  

Writing is most definitely my way of working things out. Not that I am in any way comparing myself to Johnny Cash or Rosanne; although, I do believe Johnny and I may have shared the same pompadour hairdo at different times in our lives.

But, Rosanne’s generous act of sharing a memory with her father reinforced what I’ve always believed about creativity — that it is a divine gift and meant to be shared. That what you have a passion for is your purpose.

And for this, Rosanne Cash, I thank you.

— Amy Gesenhues is a freelance writer and syndicated columnist for CNHI. You can read her daily commentaries at www.AmyWroteIt.com or email her at amy@amywroteit.com.

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