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One On 1: Rosanne Cash Adds Legacy To Her Own List

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Rosanne Cash arrived in New York City with a well known family name and history which has played a complicated yet pivotal role in her music. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One On 1" report.

Perhaps because her family name is royalty in country music, people are often surprised that Rosanne Cash is a New Yorker. She's lived here for almost 20 years but has been a New Yorker in spirit longer than that.

"I knew it from the time I was 10 or 12 years old. It just took me that long to get my body here, you know to get my first apartment," Cash says. "You know how some people say, "Oh we always thought she was weird but we realized she was just a New Yorker" that's me, that's my story."

Rosanne Cash is a Grammy Award winner, and she long ago shed the moniker of simply being "Johnny Cash's daughter." Her connections to the city are both personal and professional. She and her husband/producer, John Leventhal, are raising a family here.

Cash has written a column for the New York Times website. And she frequently performs at the Rubin Museum of Art, creating shows with themes connected to the exhibits, at the urging of the museum's director of development.

"He walked me around. They were still building it, it was fantastic and he said 'Look, you can be our resident female buddha,' and I said 'Uh, is there health insurance? You know, what does that mean?'" says Cash.

For more than 30 years, Cash has thought of herself primarily as a writer. Her talent as a singer/songwriter first gained national prominence in 1981 with the number one hit "Seven Year Ache."

"There is always that moment that comes when of knowing it's going to work, or it's not going to work. And sometimes it's so exciting that I have to get up and leave it for a while, just to let that buzz sink in that its going to work," Cash says.

The origin of her latest album, "The List", stems from a day in 1973 on tour with her father, Johnny Cash. She was 18, and informed him that she didn't know several of his favorite songs.

"He spent the rest of the afternoon making a list on a yellow legal pad, I could still see him doing it, very pensive, thinking very thoughtfully about each song, and on the top he wrote 'One Hundred Essential Country Songs' and at the end he gave me the list and he said this is your education," Cash says.

Thirty-five years later, songs like "Motherless Child," "Sea of Heartbreak" and "I'm Movin' On" are finally feeling her embrace.

"If my dad had been a martial arts master, this would be the secret he passed on to his child. If he had been a robber baron, this would be the empire he'd give me. This is what he gave me," Cash says.

Rosanne Cash is now 54, and the timing of "The List" is hardly coincidental.

"It took me a long time to realize that I could stop separating myself from my family, that I had, you know, I've put in 35 years, I've done, I have a kind of large body of work, I don't need to keep going 'Oh, yes but I'm my own person.' I don't need to do that anymore," Cash says.

There is so much to discuss with Rosanne Cash -- her music, her writing. But her family is a hard topic to avoid.

The family history, including the dissolution of her parents' marriage and her father's relationship with June Carter was the subject of the movie "Walk the Line."

Cash was quoted as saying that watching it was like "root canal without the anaesthetic."

When she meets someone new, Rosanne Cash understands that the slate isn't clean and that there might be preconceived notions about her family.

"That's the problem. It sometimes gets in the way. You and I are having a conversation. And your dad tells you something and you repeat it and my dad tells me something and I repeat it but you know who my dad is. So that takes him out of that realm, immediately. But he's just my dad too," Cash says.


Juggling work and family can be stressful for any New York mother, let alone when the gig is the Clinton inaugural ball in 1993.

"The producers were coming out of their mind that I had actually cancelled at the last minute, but my child had pneumonia, I'm sitting next to her at the hospital, what am I supposed to do?" Cash recalls. "So Clinton made this speech, 'Oh Rosanne Cash was supposed to be here, she couldn't be here because she's being a good mom.' So he made me look like a hero."

Of course, sometimes, the kids can help your career.

"Summer jobs, make them answer the mail. Yeah work study, take your daughter to work day. She would get so incensed if someone would criticize me or you know say something and she'd write back these various letters. I'd say 'Don't write back,'" Cash says.

That same daughter, Chelsea Crowell, has released her own first album. When she started recording, she asked her mother a question.

"She got that moment of like, 'I don't know if I want to have a public life.' And I had that moment. And she said, 'How do I do this? How can I be a successful musician without having a public life?' I said 'I don't know, you're asking the wrong person,'" Cash says.

The wrong person because Cash herself had asked the same question when her song "Seven Year Ache" became a big hit.

"I withdrew, I hid. Because I was 24 years old, I didn't want to have a public life. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to you," Cash says.

Cash married musician Rodney Crowell, had three kids and continued to put out albums. But she resisted being categorized.

"I never thought that country music was a religion, that you had to abide by these rules and iconography," Cash says. "I was always pushing against that a little bit, and it didn't endear me to the community very much."

By the early 1990s, her marriage was over, and so too her relationship with Nashville. She and the kids landed in New York, and eventually met her future husband, musician John Leventhal.

"He knew virtually every arcane country song, this is a native New Yorker by the way, that I knew. I was stunned," Cash says.

In 2006, after the deaths of her mother, father and stepmother, Cash released "Black Cadillac," an album which earned a Grammy nomination.

But Cash contends that even her most personal songs are not "pages from a diary" or "therapy," and eventually become the property of her audience.

"Some guy comes up to me at a concert. There is a song on that record called 'House on a Lake,' which is the most specific documentary detailed song. He comes up to me and goes 'everybody's got their house on the lake.' I thought 'Right, it's still universal,'" Cash says.

Cash has dealt with her own health issues. In the late 90s, a polyp on her vocal cords forced her to stop singing for two years. So she focused on her writing. Then in 2007, she was diagnosed with chiari malformation, a rare but benign condition in the brain.

"I'm kind of a stoic type, so I just plowed through headaches for years going 'Oh its fine, I'm just stressed, whatever,'" Cash says.

Cash says that brain surgery has given her a different outlook.

"I am serious, but I'm also having more fun and I don't give a damn what people think," Cash says. "After the brain surgery, it's like my friend says you become aware that you have more to say and less time to say it."

Cash has been given enough time to record "The List," a group of songs given to her by her father almost 40 years ago, and to have some perspective on her family's past and future.

"You know how you don't get interested in where you came from and who your ancestors were until you're somewhere around 40 years old, that you don't really care," Cash says. "Until then, it's all about what's new and you're the end of the story. Well I'm not the end of the story, I'm the middle of the story and my family."

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