soundtracking: Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash and Richard DuguayFebruary 11, 2011
“Ball of Fire!”
“I think you mean Ring of Fire. Dear.” This was Missus B., never my favourite teacher. Later that year of Grade 3, I would beckon her over and stage whisper that I thought she had forgotten to wipe the hair dye off the back of her neck because there was a brown mark back there. (“That is a birth mark!”) My bad.
But where was I? Starting somewhere around the 1963 song Ring of Fire, which I boisterously offered as my favourite song when poor, hideously birth-marked Missus B. was probably trying to solicit nursery rhymes, I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cash. When his daughter, Rosanne Cash, started to record, I cautiously sampled. And I liked. I’ve just finished her recent memoir, Composed, and I loved it for its heart and humour, for some passages so beautiful I had to stop and just savour, for the honest and adoring depiction of her divorced parents and her step-mother June Carter Cash and for the intimate but not confessional commentary on life inside a musical family.
A particular favourite was this: An early section begins with her recollection that of all the delivery trucks that made their way up to their California home, the Helms Bakery Truck was her favourite. She writes of asking the driver if he gets to take the truck home (yes) and then how he can stop himself from eating everything in the truck. He replies that whatever you do all day, you want to get away from it at night, and then asks whether her father comes home from tour and sings all day and all night?
“I pondered for a moment. ‘Well, no.’
It was the answer he expected, and so I gave it, but what I was thinking then, and what I understand more clearly now, is that it’s not just the singing you bring home with you. It’s the constant measuring of ideas and words if you are a songwriter, and the daily handling of your instrument if you are a musician and the humming and scratching and pushing and testing of the voice, the reveling in the melodies if you are a singer. More than that, it is the effort to straddle two worlds, and the struggle to make the transition from the creative realms to those of daily life and back with grace. My father did all those, as a habit of being. He provided a template for me, of how to live with integrity as an artist day to day.”
How beautiful is that?
So this month’s music is on the theme of singer-songwriters and their parents. The first is Motherless Children from The List, Rosanne Cash’s recording of selections from a list of essential songs that her father gave her early in her singing career. The second is Ghost of You from my musician brother Richard Duguay, whom I recently had a the great pleasure of seeing perform in New York. The last is a Rosanne and Johnny Cash duet of September When It comes. Enjoy.