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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  September 2, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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>> good evening from los angeles. tonight a kfs with grammy winning singer and song writer rosanne cash. a road trip she took with her husband through the south. it also deals with her life as an artist, wife, mother, and of course her heritage, particularly her relationship with her father, johnny cash, and as the stepdaughter of one of country music's legendary dynasties. rosanne cash, coming up right now. ♪
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ >> rosanne cash is one of this country's finest singers and song writers who has never been afraid to deal with personal strugg struggles. she now has a new cd out, her first album in eight years now titled the river and the thread.
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we will look at a cut from the cd. she is performing here with her husband and collaborator on this album. ♪ we kept the house ♪ we kept the polish ♪ we took the tickets and the reels of tape to remember who we are ♪ ♪ a mile or two from memphis ♪ and i have lost the way ♪ the highways ♪ there's nothing left to say ♪ ♪ a mile or two from memphis ♪ and i finally made it home >> you and john got a thing going on here. in life, love, work. he's producing your projects. collaborating with you. how do you make all of that work
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when you spend that much time together? >> we do spend more time together than any other couple i know. but this record was a real collaboration. somebody said to me this is the sound of a marriage, this record. and that really moved me. it was a total collaboration. we really like each other. we spend a lot of time together and we get along pretty good. most of the time. >> marriage ain't easy. like i know. i'm going to say that now before my mamma calls me and says what are you talking about? >> you read it in a book. >> i read somewhere in preparation for our conversation where you said that if you never make another album, if you never make another album, you're okay with that. you're content with that because you made this one. that's a strong endorsement for a project.
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why do you feel so strongly about this one? >> that statement will probably come back to bite me in the butt when i come back and make another record but i feel like 30 years of song writing has led to these songs. that, you know, i wrote them in a couple months plus 30 years, you know what i mean? it's like you work hard to reach a level that you're clearly at the top of your game and i felt that we were both at the top of our game in making this record and song writing. it's the most old fashioned thing i could do. i made a concept album. there's a single narrative that goes through this album. they are all songs about the south. you know? the deep, dark, mystical beautiful, strange south. >> i want to talk about that. what i heard you say when you said if i never make another album. >> yeah. >> i'm content with this.
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that was an if, number one. we hope and pray and expect that you will give us more good stuff in the year to come. i don't want to put words in your mouth. but some sense of solitude and serenity about having done something that if you didn't do anything else, you could live with this as your magnum opus. >> i could. i think it defines me, this record. and you know, i had thought that it was the end of something. the end of a trilogy of albums from black cadillac. >> you talked about that, too. >> yeah. but in a way i feel it's the beginning of something. a knew way of writing.
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i do feel complete with it. i'm not saying it nearly as well as you just said it, tavis. what you said. >> you're the song writer. trust me, nothing i have ever said has become a lyric. don't short yourself. >> i'm taking notes. >> since you went there i'll follow you in. the last three projects, to my mind, as a fan and listener, have been about your life, your legacy, your world and all the things, all the tentacles that come off of that. how did this trilogy including the river and the thread come to be? why did you -- how did you get yourself in that space? >> black cadillac, if we're calling it a trilogy, being the first one, was also a concept record. it was about loss, mourning, kind of a map of grief. that doesn't mean that it was
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depressing but it delved deeply into that. and the list was about gaining something. claiming the legacy. the list my father gave me of 100 songs. this one expands much further, i think. i was born in memphis but raised in california. i have lived in new york for 23 years. i thought the south was just a footnote in who i was. but going back and seeing how deep that connection is to the people and the geography, not to mention that every roots musician owes something to the delta and to appalachia. it was powerful to go back and connect with all of them. >> i listened to this song in that way as a sort of, my word, not yours, but a sort of tribute to the delta, in fact. >> yes. tribute? >> too strong a word, maybe. >> maybe. because it does, you know, there
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is some mystery. emmitt is even in one song, not directly. in that way it is not necessarily a tribute to the greatness and beauty of the south but the complexity of the south. the violence is there as well as the beauty in the music. >> because that is so expansive, this legacy of the south, because it is so expansive, how do you treat that artistically on a project? >> right. well, now this is where shawn comes in. he wrote all the music and i wrote all the lyrics. his -- he is so well versed in southern music that blues and appalachia and gospel and country pop and all of that he has at his fingertips.
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i feel that we nodded to all of the forms without mimicking them. i think that's the true statement to not tear them apart. >> i love the fact that you included all of that including the gospel theme. >> in a way. there is a song in there called tell heaven but neither john nor i are traditionally religious so we wanted to write a gospel song that agnostics would love. >> go figure. >> go figure. all inclusive. >> nothing wrong with that. include everyone. it's really about that common longing that we all have for something to take the burden for a couple of hours. >> for those who will wish that i had asked this question, let me ask now, why the title the river and the thread? >> both metaphor and real, the mississippi river, obviously, the part of the world we're
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talking about. and the thread, because i have a friend in florence, alabama, and i was going down to see her at the same time we were making these trips to the delta and writing these songs and she taught me to sew. and she makes these beautiful garments. >> this is her work here? >> yes. as she was threading my needle, she said you have to love the thread. and i got tears in my eyes. it just moved me so much. she wasn't speaking in metaphors. but i heard it that way. the thread of your past and family and geography. >> you have to love the thread. >> yes. >> that is powerful. i don't speak in lyrics. your friend does. do you love the thread of your friend? have you come to love the
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thread? how did you come to love the thread? >> that is a big question. >> i have got time. this is pbs. >> that is a big question. i do love the thread. i think when you're young, you're so invested in pushing away, finding out who you are apart from your past and your family and your geography. and in middle age, i want to know what all of that is, even the parts that seem foreign or uncomfortable to me. i want to know what it all is. if i don't know what it is, my children won't know. i am a new yorker 2323 years. my son is a fifth generation new yorker on john's side. yet two generations back we were cotton farmers. that's important for him to know. >> what is the embrace of that
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thread, how do you think and hope that that will impact their lives? >> i don't know that they can take it in fully now because they're young. but by my age, i hope they know that they are connected to these generations in back of them and that my grandmother who picked cotton, no electricity, raised seven kids, that she did all of that so that they could have the life that they have, these privileged lives. i want them to know that. i want them to be connected to the music. the music is like religion to me. i want them to know about roots music. this is part of being american to me. >> it seems to me that there are three types of people where this notion of thread is concerned, legacy. we all have a thread and a legacy. some of us know that. people that have done the
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research to know what their roots are. number two, those of us who don't know that and haven't taken the time to dig into those roots. number three, the group that you're in, that everybody reads and knows about your roots and your legacy and your thread. not long ago, robert hillburn was on the program. he wrote a "new york times" best selling book about your dad. how have you processed how you feel about this at your age now that your thread is a thread that we can all see whether you want us to see it or know it, it's all there. people write about it, make miniseries about it. >> that's something, you know? they all have their version of the thread, you know, the movie and the books and everything is a version. kind of through a prism sometimes of what they want to see in other people.
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my version is real to me. part of my map of my soul. and i know how it feels to me. i let other people have their versions. >> another great phrase. you should write that down. map of my soul. you're killing me with one liners. writing lyrics even as you sit here. is the way that you have mapped out your soul, is it taking you -- taking you to where you want it to take you? is this like unfolding the way you thought it might at this point? we get to be a certain age we got a little something in the rear view mirror and we can start to assess whether or not that map is taking us in the direction we want to go in. >> i don't want to get too grand and too, you know, naval gazing about this. sometimes i feel like i'm living
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backwards. >> benjamin buttons? >> i'm happier than i was at 25. i'm doing better work. i feel younger than i did. i think, to get it down to brass tacks, i love being a wife and a mother and a song writer and a musician. i feel like the luckiest person in the world to have those things. >> if the map of our soul takes us where we want to go, the hope and prayer is that we all get bett better. we all want to get better. i am a better talk show host than i was years ago so you want to get better. what let's you know that you are getting better at your craft? for people who are fans of yours, they have always liked you. >> that's an interesting concept.
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i have a friend who said there is no artistic progress. there are only phases and stages of an artists life. i argue and say no, i really believe in progress. i know i have gotten better. >> stop. i'm pulled in now. so unpack the rational for your friend's argument? what is it based on? there are stages and phases but not real growth. >> i think he is looking at somebody who starts out representational and at the end of his life he is painting jazz dancers. they are all equally valuable and they just may appeal to different audiences. but, there is no progress. but, you know, if you -- would you feel like you were making progress? i think you probably did. he keeps opening more and more. this is a subject that really fascinates me. >> what is your counter argument
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to your friend's notion? >> my counter argument is that your work ethic develops. that it strengthens. if you keep showing up for work, that the discipline and your skill set gets honed so that you can really allow your instincts and inspiration to come through and it will fall into a skill set that you didn't have when you were 25. that, to me, is progress. and just experience ray charles said, you know, you're a better singer at 50 than you are at 25 because your life shows up in your voice at 50. the whole life a long life. i feel that way about song writing. >> i was just about to ask you, move to ray charles to answer the question before i got there. >> he is brilliant. >> i was about to ask whether or not you're getting better, whether this progress is borne of just continuing to write more and perfect your craft or whether it's born of living more
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life and you have already answered the question. >> you can't separate them. i think it's both. >> impossible question, i have asked of other artists. >> that is some research. >> i did not ask rosanne this question, what makes a great song for you. i have asked that of great song writers. what makes a great song for you. >> there is something that is n something that is not quantifiable. you can't put your finger on it in the same way you can stand in front of a great painting and say look how she used blue there and that line is perfect but there is something that moves you that makes it great. chris christoferson says a great
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song is three cords and the truth. >> great line. you can't argue with christoferson. i have never heard that. >> i will stick with that one. >> that will work. you have said a couple times how much you love being a mother. i take that and respect that. how has being a mother impacted your work. kids don't want to deal with your ego. they want the real you 24/7. i think getting used to the real you showing up 24/7. >> is that hard for an artist to do? everywhere you go people are throwing roses at your feet and
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they can't get enough of you? how do you give your ego-less self to your kids? >> that's the part that is so powerful. but also just the beauty and the love of children how it opens your heart and once your heart is open you don't keep this part closed up it's open to everything. all kinds of inspiration. just on a practical level i have learned how to write in spurts wherever i am, you know? if i was busy with them and they wanted the pen i was using, kind of can go in and out. >> tell me what makes you so happy and content, the word you used earlier, with the lyrical content of this project? >> john pushed me to write more third person narrative than i
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was used to writing. i was used to writing from a pretty personal point of view. he said, you know, for this record, these characters and this geography you write more third person narrative. so i was a little daunted by it at first and felt a little self-conscious about creating fully formed characters or trying to in a song. once i got into it, i was so excited and thrilled to do that. one song is about grant edison. >> yeah. >> and marshall was my dad's original bass player. so that song is their song. and then another song, a civil war ballad that i wrote with my ex-husband, the three of us.
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>> that sounds like fun. >> it's a civil war ballad based on my own ancestors. >> this is a personal question but given the way you have written your muse nick the past and what you just said i know i can ask this question of you and you know i'm not being disrespectful. i laughed when you said it but there are so many people that can't be in the same state much less the same city or the same room with an exand the three of you are working on a project together. what is the trick to making the relationships last even when they take a different form. >> when rodney and i split there was certainly lly issues. he is the father of some of my children. i thought, i don't want to make this more difficult for my kids. i'm going to work on this and have a friendship with him so
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that my kids can feel at ease with him and enjoy it. we took a few years to like become friends again. but i also figured you love someone once there's a reason you loved them, you know? you can stay in touch with that. >> the transition, the transformation that you had to make from writing in first person to third person, you did it remarkably well. does that mean that you will stay in third person? does that mean that all the stuff that we have heard from you about what you are going through is a thing of the past now? >> i don't know. you know, tavis, if i knew what was going to happen, i don't know what would happen with my life. i think with song writing you don't quite know what's going to happen, you know? it's like writing a novel. like driving a car at night. you only see as far as the headlights go? song writing is that way as
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well. >> everything you say is quotable. >> no, i stole that one. >> that's a good one. you got a bunch of hits and a bunch of great records and there's a new one out. it's called "the river and the thread" by rosanne cash. there is a thread that runs through it and it's a project that if you -- yo don't get a lot of these where you can put it on where track one through track 11 flows and makes sense and just sticks. you done good. are you touring anywhere? >> i have a teenager at home so i keep it manageable. >> good to have you back. >> thank you. >> that's our show tonight. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> hey, tavis, congratulations
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on getting your star in the walk of fame. you're a star. >> congratulations on getting your star on the hollywood walk of fame. >> tavis, congratulations. you're finally getting your star on the walk of fame in hollywood. i have been telling people for years that you deserve it. >> congratulations on getting your star on the hollywood walk of fame. good job. >> for more identification nfor today's show, visit tavissmiley. >> next, professor of economics and brian culbertson. that's next. we'll see you then. ♪
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. daniel mansergh:
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