Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Q: Cervantes said that those who “sing scare away their woes.”
Cash: The religion I have is music. Even the times I have headaches, when I’m singing, I can’t feel them. My dad used to say that, too, especially near the end of his life. He would be in pain—a lot of pain—and he said the only time when he didn’t feel pain was when he performed and sang.
Q: Talk about your connection to your dad.
Cash: My dad and I had a real meeting of the minds. We loved to talk about music, politics, and art. He loved children. The thing I missed most about my dad when he died was that this person who really gets who I am at the core was gone.
My dad had more compassion than me. He was nonjudgmental. He didn’t care where you stood politically. He just took you as a person on face value. He could love all stripes, and that’s why all stripes claim him. He didn’t judge.
Q: This way of engaging with the world is difficult to achieve.
Cash: Yes. For example, my dad went to the Nixon White House and refused to sing “Welfare Cadillac” (instead performing the anti-war songs “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “Man in Black”). He protested the Vietnam War, but he went to perform for the troops with bombs dropping all around him. He had that kind of genius: a true artist’s capacity for holding two opposing thoughts at once while being large enough to encompass all realities.
Being in Vietnam changed him fundamentally. He was devastated when we went into Iraq.
Q: He was very ill at this point.
Cash: He was so fragile. We invaded Iraq in March, and he died in September. And because his health was so fragile, he couldn’t take the controversy of making a public statement against the war. He knew that people were rabid. They attacked me mercilessly after I did the press conference with Musicians United to Win Without War. He knew that he couldn’t tolerate that.
In the two weeks leading up to the invasion, my father was in the hospital. He was very sick. The doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He went to sleep not knowing if we had invaded Iraq. It was the last thought on his mind. When he woke up, I was sitting by his side. He looked at me and reached over to pull the television over to him. He was looking at me like, “Did it happen?” I said, “Dad, it happened.” He went, “No! No!” Can you imagine? This is the first thing he thought of when he woke up from a weeklong coma.
Q: What concerns you today about our politics?
Cash: The thing that scares me most is the shift from serving the people to exercising power and with it, this attendant narcissism. Sarah Palin is a great example of someone that just stirs the pot for the sake of the attention. No vision, no critical thinking, no backup to her statements. Just to incite little riots everywhere and capitalize upon it financially. To me, she is a microcosm of the ultimate cynicism in American politics. As John Adams said, all democracies will eventually self-destruct. We seem to be doing it very quickly.
This is but a small excerpt from the Rosanne Cash interview in the October issue. To read the full article, and the entire October issue, and to subscribe to The Progressive for just $14.97 (a 75% discount!), simply click here.