Monthly Archives: November 2009

Music is Memory

“I’ve got your memory

Or has it got me?”

I am sixteen. I am the last child at home now. I live with my father who drives a lot for work: days, sometimes nights, on the road to Houston, Harlingen, Three Rivers.

But I have a car too, a sky blue Oldsmobile passed down from my Great Aunt. It is fall, football weather in Texas. The leaves are dry, the air is crisp, and all I want to do is drive…

This week on the Web I’m enraptured by Rosanne Cash’s acoustic live set on KCRW. She has a new release out called “The List”. It’s a collection of covers of classic American country songs. The ‘List’ refers to an actual list of 100 essential country songs that her dad, Johnny Cash, compiled for her when she was eighteen. She said he was worried that she lacked a “deep understanding of country music” (her words) so he wrote up a list, handed it to her and said, “This is your education.”

John Leventhal, her husband, produced and arranged the music, which ranges from Appalachian spirituals to folk to southern blues. It’s a patchwork quilt of roots music and it is gorgeous, evocative and true.

Mrs. Cash talks of legacy, and how could you not when your Dad was The Man in Black? When she sings “She’s Got You” (written by Hank Cochran, made famous by Patsy Cline), her voice is restrained and honest. On the KCRW set, it’s just her, her husband and two guitars. The spare set-up is ideal for such classics as “Girl From the North Country” (Bob Dylan), “Motherless Children” (traditional spiritual) and “Sea of Heartbreak” (a Don Gibson hit).

On the album, however, the arrangements are fleshed out and she duets with luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy and two of my absolute favs: Neko Case and Rufus Wainwright. I’ve ordered a copy through Borders and can’t wait to hear it but fear I’m being spoiled by her straightforward acoustic performance on KCRW.

And one other blemish on Rosanne’s otherwise brilliant performance is that her duet with Neko Case is available only on iTunes IF you purchase the entire album. My Borders’ copy – which costs more I’ve now found out – won’t contain that gem. What a pity…

I am eleven. I spend most of my free time with my next-door neighbor and best friend, Deana. It is the late seventies – the Urban Cowboy heyday – and Deana’s mom loves country music. She drives a gold Mercury Cougar hard-top coupe, and on the radio we hear not only the lush, pop-ified country of Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle and the Gatlin Brothers but classic voices like Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.

I’m always tagging along with Deana: to the movies, her cousin’s house and her Dad’s annual company picnic. He worked for the railroad and the picnics were always straight-up Texan affairs with barbeque and a live band that played country and polka.

The songs stay with me. It’s not just nostalgia, not just a longing for a better, younger time in my life. These are my roots. The back roads I drove, the barbeque, the polka steps, the country classics I know without even knowing…

This is my legacy.