Because of COVID, too many years have passed since I last attended a live concert. So I recently threw caution to the wind and decided to see the same artist twice, within four days, in two different cities.

For once, no, it wasn’t Bruce Springsteen.

It was a true American treasure, as far as I’m concerned. Actually, an Americana treasure. It was Rosanne Cash.

***

Yes, I know I’ve always said that I generally prefer male vocalists and that in my version of hell I’d be forced to listen to Joni Mitchell and eat couscous all day. But even oldsters like me can evolve.

“Seven Year Ache”

Rosanne Cash is a fairly late discovery of mine. I’d known of her only from her 1981 hit single “Seven Year Ache.” That song earned the coveted Paula Bocciardi 5-star rating, but I didn’t follow her career because I was primarily a mainstream rock and roller. My adrenaline pumped to Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, and of course Springsteen.

I was also a rabid fan of “folk rock” – Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel.

But pure country music was completely unappealing to me. When we were young my father would turn on the scratchy AM country station every time we climbed into the family car. And it embarrassed me. I thought it to be musically simplistic and lyrically vapid. To prove my point I would always reference “Drop Kick Me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life).”

Man, I missed out on a lot.

***

The CD that changed everything for me was Rosanne Cash’s The List. It was a collection of songs inspired by an impromptu music history lesson delivered by her father, Johnny Cash, more than 35 years earlier. Johnny had taken Rosanne on the road with him the day after she’d graduated from high school, and on the tour bus he’d handed her a list, written on yellow legal paper, of what he considered to be the 100 essential country songs. The tour lasted 2-1/2 years, and during that time she soaked up everything she could about the evolution of country music while learning how to play guitar from musicians like Mother Maybelle Carter and Carl Perkins.

The List includes some songs I already knew like “Sea of Heartbreak” (a duet with Bruce Springsteen!) and “Girl From the North Country,” the Bob Dylan tune on which Johnny Cash had collaborated so beautifully on vocals. But the one that hooked me was “500 Miles,” a folk song I’d sung since childhood while strumming awkwardly on the guitar. As a teenager I’d wept to the Johnny Rivers version on Johnny Rivers Rocks the Folk. Songs about loss and farewells always tugged at me, even at a young age. But Rosanne’s rendition was the best I’d ever heard. It was plaintive and resonant and just about broke my heart. It also won the coveted Paula Bocciardi 5-star rating.

“500 Miles”

***

The first of my two Rosanne Cash shows this year was at the San Francisco Jazz Center. It’s a modern auditorium, filled with deep grays and purples, swiveling seats, and lots of space. Space between rows, acres of air above our heads. Rosanne doesn’t sing jazz, but she’s had a deep affiliation with the Center over the years, and every so often she spends time there as an artist in residence. As usual she was accompanied by her guitarist husband John Leventhal, who also adds his lovely soft harmonies. We sat in the balcony, where the sound was pristine but not loud enough for my taste, and where we could see her, but not closely enough for my taste.

Miner Auditorium, SF Jazz

Much of her set was taken from The List and included, to my joy, “500 Miles” and “Sea of Heartbreak.” She reminded us that Springsteen had sung the latter as a duet with her. “Is he here tonight?” she quipped.

I wondered about the makeup of the audience that night. I believe that most of the people were likely subscribers to SFJazz (I’m not) and possibly somewhat unfamiliar with Rosanne’s music. The applause was polite and intellectual.

I would have a far different concert experience just three days later.

***

Rosanne Cash (tallest child) with her siblings and parents, Vivian (Liberto) and Johnny Cash

Rosanne Cash was born in Memphis in 1955 (a stellar year!) but grew up in southern California. Her mother – Johnny Cash’s first wife – was Vivian Liberto, a beautiful woman of European (including half Italian) descent. Or so Rosanne thought, until she learned – during an episode of the PBS show Finding Your Roots aired just last year – that Vivian’s maternal great-great-grandmother had been an enslaved Black woman. The KKK had harassed Johnny in the 1960s because they believed his wife to be Black, and although Cash wouldn’t have cared if she were, he didn’t know the truth at the time and had gone so far as to publicly deny the rumors in order to save his career.

After the tour with her dad in the early 1970s, Rosanne worked in London for a while at CBS Records, where Johnny had gotten her a job as an assistant in the artist relations department. After returning to the States she enrolled briefly at Vanderbilt as an English/drama major, but she soon dropped out. All she wanted was to be a songwriter, in the mold of her muses Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt. She shifted her life to L.A., asked country singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell to produce a few of her own songs for her, and eventually, with the help of her dad, was offered a recording contract with Columbia Records in Nashville.

Rosanne cut her first Columbia album, Right or Wrong, in 1979 at the age of 23 and a year or so later broke through strongly with Seven Year Ache, which reached number 1 on the country charts and yielded three number 1 singles. By then she’d married Crowell and had a baby, and the family moved to Nashville.

As the years went by, Rosanne continued to make albums, some of which were successful, and they generated a few hits. But she was increasingly disappointed with the music biz. She was bothered by the “pressure to be a certain way, to toe a certain line, to start a fan club (which I refused to do), to participate in big, splashy events, and to act as if the country music scene were a religion to which I belonged.” She resented the “narrow aesthetic” and the “established hierarchy” and “wanted to be in the trenches, where the inspiration was.” After making an introspective record called Interiors that was essentially abandoned by Nashville Columbia, Rosanne asked for a transfer to the label’s New York division. “You belong in New York,” her dad told her. Management was all too happy to let her go, and she headed for the Big Apple in 1991. By then her marriage to Rodney Crowell was falling apart.

Rosanne asked John Leventhal to produce her next album The Wheel. The album’s themes were fire, water, wind, and moon; she was in a “New Age mind-set” then because of her pain over the divorce, its effect on her children, the move, etc. The Wheel wasn’t a commercial success, and Rosanne resigned herself to the fact that her work would never be accepted on Top 40 radio. She asked to be released from her Columbia contract. It wasn’t about the label at all, she says. It was about her needing to figure out how her songwriting could meld her life experiences with the musical history and connections that had been a part of her since birth.

***

Her new path carried her in the right direction, and the ensuing years finally brought about her greatest artistic and personal triumphs (and one huge challenge). Rosanne married John Leventhal in 1995. Her voice and songwriting became richer and richer. After her father, mother, and stepmother passed away, she released Black Cadillac in 2006. The album deals primarily with loss; the black Cadillac was the car that drove her dad away after he died.

“Black Cadillac”

“The House on the Lake” is about missing her father’s Tennessee home – the wood and nails and “the smell of heavy rain.” It’s all about the complexity of grief: the surreal sadness, bitterness, confusion, and loneliness, and then the oddest flicker of hope. She searches for her family through her pain, and her musical past percolates through her memories:

you must be somewhere in the stars
’cause from a distance comes the sound of your guitar
and I will look for you in Memphis and the miles between

The record earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and found its way to the Billboard Top 10.

But the very next year threw her a curveball – really, a fastball aimed directly at her head. She found herself facing major brain surgery: a “decompression craniectomy and laminectomy for Chiari 1 and syringomyelia,” to be precise. She’d had terrible headaches and neck spasms for 12 years, then began getting fevers and infections along with fatigue. The surgery involved sawing open a credit-card-sized piece of the back of her head, cutting through the lining of her brain, breaking her top vertebra, freeing her trapped cerebellum, and releasing a bunch of spinal fluid. She had a much-worse-than-childbirth (as she described it) headache for months afterwards and had to re-learn things as simple as walking up a stair. Her hearing became so acute that any stimulation involving noise upset her; in fact, music with lyrics was too complex and unbearable. And she sometimes scrambled her words.

In the end, though, the surgery was a success.

***

The List was released in 2009. Although Rosanne considers herself a songwriter first and foremost, she felt that The List had to be recorded because the songs “were so clearly a part of Dad’s musical genealogy, and therefore my own. . . . [I]t was a record I wanted to make for my children as much as for myself or the honor of my ancestors.” It was awarded Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association.

But some of her best work was yet to come. Believing that she had to get back to songwriting after doing a full album of covers, she released an original album in January 2014 on Blue Note Records called The River & the Thread. She described the album as “a mini-travelogue of the South, and of the soul,” and it was inspired by trips she took with her husband through the heart of Dixie. The original focus of the trips was a project to restore her father’s boyhood Arkansas home, but she and John also visited William Faulkner’s house, the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Tallahatchie Bridge, Robert Johnson’s grave, and sundry other musical landmarks.

Johnny Cash’s childhood home on the Cotton Highway,
Dyess, Arkansas

The album is an atmospheric masterwork. Like Faulkner, she captures the swampy, beautiful, humid, molasses-dark gumbo of the American South. It’s about magnolias, mahogany, and whisky, about sludge and secrets. She sings of hard truths. Her voice is like loam, deep and rich.

The songs cover a lot of history: the Civil War, her father’s impoverished New Deal childhood in the Arkansas Delta, Rosanne’s own return to Memphis after a pilgrimage to Europe. They’re about finding her roots and discovering that although her life had taken her in many directions, the South would always run through her. “Music can unlock a frozen memory that melts into the seeds of our creativity,” she says.

a feather’s not a bird
the rain is not the sea
a stone is not a mountain
but a river runs through me
“A Feather’s Not a Bird”

The River & the Thread was the Number One album that year on Americana radio. In early 2015, Rosanne won Grammy awards for Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance. It turned out to be a good year for her: she also was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

***

I love Americana music. Maybe I don’t need the constant blasts of youthful rock and roll adrenaline any more. Or maybe my musical tastes just got broader. For me, it’s all about good songwriting. It’s not about novelty tunes like “Drop Kick Me Jesus.” It’s about artists like Woody Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot, Lucinda Williams, Joe Henry, and Dolly Parton. Or Wilco, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, the Marshall Tucker Band, Steve Earle, Whiskeytown, Townes Van Zandt, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, and the Avett Brothers.

So, what exactly is Americana? According to americanamusic.org, it is “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”

With this diverse mix of ingredients, Americana can’t help but be a recipe for bridging cultures.

***

According to Rolling Stone, in 2015 Rosanne played a show in Mississippi at Dockery Farms, a sharecropping plantation known for being one of the birthplaces of the blues. At the afterparty, one of the musicians – an 88-year-old local harmonica player – told her, “When I was behind the mule in the cotton fields back in the Fifties, we had a radio on the porch and whenever your daddy [Johnny Cash] came on the radio we all ran out of the fields to gather around and listen.” Rosanne remembers that she started crying, thinking about the unseen connection. “This man has been playing the blues harp his whole life and I owe what I’m doing to him and, yet, I’m getting all the attention,” she says. “It just struck me so profoundly how much we need to honor him and his tradition.”

In 2021, Rosanne received the Edward MacDowell Medal, awarded since 1960 to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to American culture. She was the first female composer to receive this prestigious honor.

Rosanne Cash has officially become an ambassador for the history of American music.

***

Cash has recorded 15 albums, and her most recent, She Remembers Everything, was released in 2018. Rolling Stone called it a “masterclass.” It’s really about the passage of time – our battles, losses, victories, pain, struggles, loves, ghosts, and memories both beautiful and haunting. Life’s train whistle, once staccato and cheery, has stretched into a longer, more reflective sigh. Because of the album’s wisdom and maturity, she says that she couldn’t have written it 10 years earlier. Her voice is strong and unapologetic.

The title song is dark. It honors women who live with suppressed trauma (“outside this waking dream, she remembers everything”).

“I read once that every time an old woman dies, a library disappears,” she often says.

But much of the album is about strong relationships and the ties that bind, often despite wounds and struggles. A nervous, eerily beautiful guitar line runs through “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” co-written with Lera Lynn and the great T Bone Burnett:

weren’t we like a pair of thieves
with tumbled locks and broken codes
you cannot take that from me
my small reprieves, your heart of gold
weren’t we like a battlefield
locked inside a holy war
your love and my due diligence
the only thing worth fighting for

I’m an idealist, though, so my favorite tune on the album, “Not Many Miles To Go” (yes, a Bocciardi 5-star), is an upbeat semi-rocker that confirms the ultimate promise she and John have made to each other:

thank you for the things you said
for not joining me out on the ledge . . .
thank you for the diamond ring
the baby boy and world on a string
the field guide to honor
and a thousand acts of love

I don’t miss living so much faster
I’ll take care of your Telecaster
you might miss the way I keep the beat
time keeps slipping through the curtain
from this point on there’s nothing certain
except there’s not many miles to go
and just one promise left to keep

When I listen to this song I am always reminded of the love I have for my family and friends – especially the ones who have talked me off ledges – and my fierce loyalty and unspoken promise never to leave. I hope you know who you are.

“Not Many Miles To Go”

***

A few days after seeing Rosanne at SFJazz, we drove 50 miles north to Napa, where she would be performing at the Uptown. The Uptown is a historic art-deco venue built in 1937 that is leagues more intimate than the Miner Auditorium at SFJazz. It holds about 863 people and the distance from the last row to the musicians is only 98 feet. Our seats were very close to the stage; Julie and I were mesmerized by Rosanne’s lanky fingers on the guitar.

This was a much rowdier crowd. Rosanne took an informal poll of raised hands and discovered that for most of us, it was our first live music event since pre-pandemic days. Everyone was energetic and anticipatory. There were shouts of encouragement and lots of requests. This was clearly her kind of audience: boisterous, appreciative, devoted.

And the show was stellar from beginning to end. Rosanne changed up her setlist, much to my delight. She chose songs from every period of her career, starting off with “Modern Blue” (a favorite of mine from The River & the Thread) and reaching back to “Seven Year Ache,” a song I’d never heard her play live before.

“Modern Blue”

She was loose and funny. At one point her husband John said something apparently sentimental about their many years together, but I couldn’t understand what the heck he was trying to say. She validated my confusion. “John,” she said to him right on stage, “I have no idea what that means, but we can parse it out later.”

She also added an amusing story to her “Is he here?” quip about Springsteen. She said that at one of her shows Bruce really was in the audience. At her request he ran up on stage to join her on “Sea of Heartbreak,” at which point she noticed with amusement that the jeans-and-leather-jacket rocker was actually wearing “Dad khakis.” 

And one last tidbit: “How many of you saw the new Beatles documentary Get Back?” she asked. I was in the middle of watching it at the time – a compilation of footage from the band’s 1969 recording sessions. “Well, do you remember the photographer on the roof? He’s a friend of mine and is here tonight.” Much shouting and applause. Jeez, I thought, that guy must be 100 years old. Rosanne seems to know everyone.

***

Before the Uptown show, Julie had set out from our hotel to get a cheeseburger. Because I have a nervous stomach, I typically don’t eat before social events. I debated whether I should go with her, just to get some air and exercise, but my laziness won out.

Not long afterwards, Julie sent me a text. She was at the restaurant waiting for her take-out. “Oh, and one other little thing,” she wrote. She’d been walking down some empty side streets and saw a mound of red hair walking towards her, carrying some shopping bags. No, it couldn’t be, she thought. But it was. There was no mistaking the hair. It was Rosanne Cash.

Rosanne seemed distracted, probably thinking about her setlist for that night. She and Julie exchanged a few pleasantries.

I was, of course, jealously furious.

***

Rosanne still lives with her family in New York and remains dedicated to honoring the American songbook and the legacy of her famous family. She will never be tied to the dictates of any one place or any one style.

Rosanne Cash and husband John Leventhal

Over the years, she’s talked about how she feels about country music, noting that it used to be about hard truths, loss, and family but is now more focused on “sexual heat,” becoming “shiny and rich and rather shallow” as pop music continues to seep in.

“We all need art and music like we need blood and oxygen,” she says. “The more exploitative, numbing, and assaulting popular culture becomes, the more we need the truth of a beautifully phrased song, dredged from a real person’s depth of experience, delivered in an honest voice.”

As Rosanne’s friend, songwriter John Stewart, once told her, “We are all just radios, hoping to pick up each other’s signals.” Her signal, strong and true, has reached me.

***

NOTE: Many of Rosanne’s quotes in this post came from one of my most cherished books, her autobiography Composed. The New York Times called it “one of the best accounts of an American life you’ll likely ever read.”

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

February 13, 1974 [age 18]:

“[College] registration was so traumatic for me this year. I ended up with no less than THREE English classes and no more than ZERO law enforcement [my major] classes. I am going to end up an English major yet! It was terrible. I got there at 5:15 and I didn’t even get my registration number until 9:30. All those hours out in the icy cold were so miserable that at times I felt like crying, and my feet were frozen so badly that they hurt. Anyway, my classes: The first is Critical Writing—Drama, a course required for English minors. I hate the class. The professor is exceedingly arrogant and puts down student writing as though we were all a bunch of incompetent imbeciles. He gave only C’s on the first paper we turned in! I dread every paper we have to write, for fear of placing my amateurish writing under his scrutinizing nose. My second class I would have to rank as Number One. It is my upper-division Shakespeare class. The reading load is heavy – we read a play a week – and there is a quiz after every play, but I enjoy it and have learned a lot. The quizzes are essay questions, so we have to be able to grasp the deeper meaning of the play, the diction, the characters, the importance of certain scenes. Such is real education. The professor is wonderfully enthusiastic, bubbly with a good sense of humor, and the time flies in that period. I finally understand Shakespeare very well now, and I can read his plays smoothly and easily and actually ENJOY them. I don’t know what to think of my third class: Speech—Contemporary Dialogue. It has been a total waste of time so far. All we have done is watch a taped dialogue of two obscure students named Rocky and Charlotte, concerning their marriage. It’s been painfully dull. My next class is English 1B. It’s kind of boring, but I haven’t gotten lower than an ‘A’ on the essays, which take me only 20 minutes to write. The contrast between this class and Drama is astounding. We’re now reading ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Macbeth’ – Shakespeare is coming out of my ears! Finally I have my Geology class, which I LOVE. Professor Anderson is young, dryly humorous, and looks like Richard Chamberlain. I adore him. He squints to see the clock, just like I do. His lectures are so interesting that I barely mind the length of the class. Field trips are coming up, too. We’re not memorizing rocks or anything like that, but concentrating on the interactions between air, land, and water – you know, typical ecology-oriented stuff.”

February 16, 1974 [age 18]:

“I’m home by myself this weekend and [my friend] Jeanne and I decided to get drunk. So, after work we set off to buy booze at [our friend] Vivian Blades’ 7-11 in Milpitas. Once home we set everything up and even took pictures. I wore Mom’s cool lumberjack shirt. Well, Jeanne launched into a long story about Eric and Larry while meantime I drank continuously. Then IT hit. Oooh, boy. Altogether I had half a liter of Miller and then half a fifth of wine, too fast. I have never felt so ill in my life. In one second, Jeanne started to spin crazily, and I couldn’t see. It was like being on the operating table and going under. I ran downstairs and heaved two or three times and stayed in the bathroom about half an hour until I could be able to stand up to stagger upstairs and go to bed. I will NEVER do that AGAIN!” 

April 10, 1974 [age 18]:

“At 11:00 today, [my friend] Jeanne and I headed off to San Francisco, Jeanne behind the wheel. Once there, we headed for a gas station, one where you get a free car wash, and that was one of the best things all day! We were so snug and safe in the little car and this funny-looking canvas thing sort of crawled over the car and Jeanne started laughing and saying, ‘What is THAT?’ and then we both broke into screaming hysterics. Off to the Ferry Building to take a ride into Sausalito. We ate our picnic lunch down by the ocean and watched the rough waves. After a cone at Baskin & Robbins and a stop at the Wherehouse [record store] to fruitlessly look for ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Part 2,’ we left for Golden Gate Park. We inquired about horseback riding, but the place was booked up. So we went to the Planetarium show, which was something about the future of the earth, but I don’t really remember — I was dozing off periodically because I was groggy from the Ornade [antihistamine] I had taken in the morning. Next we rode the cable car up and down, hanging onto the poles for excitement. It was neat. The driver looked like a Frenchman, with his black curls and moustache, beret, and print shirt and vest, and once we stalled and they had to pour sand on the tracks. There was a man on the corner screaming about sin and salvation and telling the world to repent. But I guess the weirdest part was walking by a little park and seeing a sign that said ‘Park closed’ but inside we caught sight of two men wearing tuxedoes, one in black and one in white, playing croquet! That was like a dream.”

April 16, 1974 [age 18]:

“Our night was interrupted by horrible vandals who threw boulders and bottles at our house and broke the front window, our screen, and the school car’s windshield. The police came. Ted was a witness but there are virtually no leads. Dad thinks someone was mad at him for something he might have done at school. [My father was our high school’s principal.] I was really shaken up. The parents are totally paranoid now about leaving me alone when they go off to the lake, and rightly so, I suppose. Therefore they have given me six million orders for this weekend: I shall not be out late, I shall sleep in their room [which was away from the front windows], the shotgun will be loaded and kept in the closet, I can listen to records in the living room only with the lights off, etc.”

April 20, 1974 [age 18]:

“Friday I skipped my Drama class to study ‘Othello,’ took the quiz, told why I thought Othello was a tragic hero, and noted that, if the discussion afterwards was indicative of the ‘correct’ response, I failed miserably. I cut Speech also – that ridiculous class – and played two sets of tennis with [my friend] Jeanne, emerging the victor. I came home, listened to Bob Dylan who was hopelessly stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again, and drove down to Jeanne’s for dinner. It was so immense that I must list the food: white rice, homemade biscuits, fresh string beans, fried chicken, mustard greens, squash fritters, strawberry shortcake, and Ovaltine.”

April 21, 1974 [age 18]: [get out your violins again; I’d just learned that my best friend Jeanne would soon be moving back East]

“I wonder, wonder how I will fare when I am left behind. For two years now I have been led by this refreshing friend. I can foresee this eternal grief closing suddenly in upon me in June. I can see me torturing myself listening to ‘Sounds of Silence’ or other songs reminiscent of those two years – ‘Maggie Mae,’ ‘Mandolin Wind,’ ‘Song Sung Blue,’ ‘Scarborough Fair,’ ‘Whiter Shade of Pale,’ ‘To Sir With Love,’ ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ I can see my tears and my flashing daydreams of things past. I can feel the deep, immense, unforgettable ache for something dead and gone. And what is to become of me? How can I start all over again? How can I possibly forget, wipe clean from my mind, all the glorious, youthful exultance I have known for just a moment? No answers, none at all but a dark feeling of this impending crisis of wracked emotions. Time, with its terrible tricks . . . .”

April 23, 1974 [age 18]:

“I want to tell about last Sunday morning. I answered the doorbell and there stood [a young man who lived down the street]. He has a crush on me and he had done this before – visited when he knew I was alone, hoping, I believe to be let in, shuffling around on the front porch. So I grew suspicious. He had two one-dollar bills in his hand, and asked if I had dropped them. I said no and he stammered out some desperate attempts at conversation and I sent him away. Reluctantly he left. Then that night I found out that he had suddenly joined the army. Looking back, he had only wanted to talk to me of his impending big step. I am a horrible person and will feel guilty about this until the day I die.”

April 24, 1974 [age 18]:

“Yesterday I drove to Jeanne’s and we were going to play tennis but the air turned gray, and after our simultaneous exclamations at the snow on the hills and her immediate suggestion to go up to it, we did. I actually drove Mt. Hamilton Road, scared to death but loving every inch of it. Then we romped around in the wonderfully clean snow, pretended we were Admiral Perry and his companion up at the North Pole, planted the ‘American flag’ (a broken branch), and got very cold and wet. I left with an aching head because Jeanne’s last snowball had hit me in the face and I recoiled and bashed my skull against a boulder. After seeing my wet clothes, Mom remarked that if I make it until age 21 alive, she will breathe a loud sigh of relief.”

May 24, 1974 [age 18]:

“If there had been a way for me to savor every day, every moment of this last week with [my good friend] Jeanne [before she moved back East], I would surely have done it. But the seconds have flown, and those sweet days of UC Santa Cruz visits and playing tennis and bumming through San Francisco and seeing Billy Jack twice and drinking tequila will fade, as all our life’s moments fade, slowly into our memory. I dropped her off at the airport today and had a speech prepared but didn’t say anything at all. Today all my fatigue caught up with me unmercilessly [sic]. My eyes were totally bloodshot, my stomach was upset, my head hurt, and I felt downright sick. I haven’t had any sleep to speak of for a week; also, I think my nerves, or my heart, or whatever, is (are) strained from all my sadness. And why did we have a lack of a real goodbye? That is preying on me. I am almost ashamed. If only I could go back in time. She was such a sun in my life – if only I can push aside the clouds somehow, I will make it through.”

May 26, 1974 [age 18]:

“I believe that I am surviving Jeanne’s farewell quite well. Perhaps I have been preparing myself for it all along. Of course, now I have finals and the end of school to occupy my mind, but in a week and a half or so, it will all be over, and I will once again be thrown helplessly into the world of long work hours, hot sweltering days, some sort of guilt-ridden hassle over family vacation, sunbathing, numerous lonely weekends, a diet, two weddings, and basic boredom. I have an intolerable urge to take the train ’cross-country, see all that land appear and fade away before my eyes. Thomas Wolfe loved the train – I could sit in it and write for three days straight. But who has $278?”

May 27, 1974 [age 18]:

“I saw ‘American Graffiti’ for the third time last night, along with ‘Pete ‘n Tillie,’ some mediocre comedy with Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Dad treated; I drove the whole family, squeezed uncomfortably in my little car. I love ‘American Graffiti,’ love its music and its characters and its overwhelming nostalgia. But nobody in the family liked it! How is that possible?”

5 thoughts on “An honest voice

  1. Great piece, Paula. I have tickets (for the third time–she bowed out the first two time because of Covid–for next February in Palm Desert. I love her music and appreciate the insight your article has given. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy for you that you have those tickets, Roland! She’s going to be at SFJazz in March again, and you know I’ll be there! So you and I will probably be seeing essentially the same show. We’ll have to compare notes!

      Like

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