Rosanne Cash: Living Between the Notes On Stage

(Photo by Robin Little/Redferns)

Singer-songwriter, musician, and author Rosanne Cash has toured off and on for 40 years, enduring the fatigue induced by the 22 hours between shows on planes, in hotels, and vans. As she writes for The Atlantic, while she doesn’t miss the tour’s grinding toll on the body and the spirit, she does miss the deep connection she gets from performing for an audience.

But in that parking garage, the veil lifted: How I was spending my time was how I was spending my life. I no longer wanted to find myself in an airport parking garage at midnight, exhausted and depressed, on the way to a hotel that looked exactly like the one I had just left. I had reached the point that when I got home and someone asked where I had been the week before, I couldn’t remember. It was starting to scare me.

The past three years have been more intense, since my last child went away to college and I’ve been touring a lot more, but the reward—the connection with the audience—had outweighed the daily drill. They needed something from me, and giving it to them gave something back to me. I loved them. They knew it. I could bring songs to life in a way that connected them to their own feelings. I reveled in standing next to John or in the middle of the band. Downstage, under the lights, every single night I thought about how extraordinarily lucky I was. I sang to the back corners, I searched out pockets of need and joy and went to those places, I let the audience guide me, I played with their energy. I got inside the songs and found deeper layers and different meanings; I lived in between the notes.

But.

I’m not 25. The other 22 hours were brutal and rest evaded me. Sleep became the holy grail, grabbed in three-hour chunks. It was the first subject of every day, as the band and I met in the lobby, waiting for the car to the airport: “How much sleep did you get?” If someone got nine hours on a day off, I was inordinately jealous.

I’ve seen so many transcendent performances. Years ago, I saw Lou Reed perform Magic and Loss, in sequence, at Radio City and was so moved that the concert sparked a hundred ideas for my own songwriting. I saw Bruce Springsteen at the Meadowlands and felt untethered to the Earth, in some realm of pure joy. I saw Lucinda Williams in a Christmas show at the Bowery Ballroom and was moved by her purity and singular poetry in a completely new way, even though we’ve been friends for 30 years.

On the stage, I’ve sung myself into a euphoric riddle of freedom and community that rhymed and had a backbeat.

That’s irreplaceable.

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