A short meeting with American music star Rosanne Cash - wow!
It’s not everyday you get to meet a musical legend.
Wednesday night it was my turn as I got to chat briefly with country (mostly) star Rosanne Cash. It was only a minute, but I quickly got a sense of her intelligence and wit.
I asked her how long she’s been on her tour, and she promptly replied, “About 30 years.”
Cash was in southern Ontario for a concert at Hamilton Place (my first time there and I loved the intimate setting). The reason I was there, along with a bunch of travel types, is because there was an event prior to the show sponsored by Travel South USA, a U.S. organization that represents tourism in southern states, and by Brand USA, the group that’s pushing the first-ever U.S. government attempt at nation-wide marketing to potential tourists from overseas.
Until recently, U.S. tourism efforts were provided by states or regions or cities. But President Obama, sensing an opportunity to boost the American economy, opted to form a group that’s pushing the U.S. as a whole.
With that in mind they decided they needed a theme song. I’ll let Cash’s remarks from last night’s reception tell the rest of the story, as there’s no point in my getting in the way.
“I was contacted by (advertising/marketing agency) J. Walter Thompson and they told me the first-ever tourism campaign in U.S. history was going on. I was like, ‘The first time in history? Really? We’re just doing this?’”
Cash said she was told she could submit a song, so she and husband John Leventhal came up with Land of Dreams.
“We had to write and submit the song and I was a little worried. We (the U.S.) don’t exactly have a reputation for the most shy and retiring nation and I didn’t want something chest-thumping or red, white and blue.”
Rather than overt patriotism, Cash said she wanted “a modern This Land is Your Land.”
“For the government I knew it had to accessible right away,” she said of the song. “I didn’t want an American Express commercial or something glossy or jingoistic.”
Cash explained that she’s lived in New York for 20 years.
“It’s a small island off the coast of America,” she said with a laugh.
“I got the word that I was going to sing it and then I really wanted to do the video. Then I got the word I could do that, too.”
The song and video are a paean to America that some folks feel could pass for a Canadian multiculturalism commercial. Cash starts the video singing with a band of musicians from all walks of life on what looks like the shores of the East River in New York. There are African-American musicians in New Orleans, cowboys on the range, folks drawing strange diagrams on a beach and an Asian-American couple dancing in Central Park., along the requisite – and beautiful – shots of majestic mountains and sleepy green bayous and colourful South Asian festivals and convertibles sliding through South Beach and deep red canyons of the west. All the while the Land of Dreams tune flows along gently, with kind words about the U.S. but no chest thumping.
The song sounds country but there are instruments from all over the world mixed in, giving it a full, rich and world-wide sound.
“So play your song to make them real, There’s a place for all we feel, And it’s closer than it seems, Come and find your land of dreams.”
I’m biased as I grew up in the U.S., but I find the video incredibly moving. It’s not just me, as the production has received great reviews from all over. Almost too great, Cash said with a smile.
“I’m kind of jealous cuz this is getting much more attention than my records,” she said. “But the images of America make me very proud.”
Cash said she’s been busy and that last night was the first chance she’s had to talk about the process with tourism folks.
“I really was concerned about this,” she said. “It wasn’t just a gig.”
The tourism folks were kind enough to give the media a copy of Cash’s latest CD, called The List. It’s a fabulous record, made up of songs her dad, Johnny Cash, had once written down for her on a legal pad as important country songs she should know about.
Cash was born in Tennesseee but grew up in southern California and now lives in New York. She’s seen a lot of the U.S. and experienced a lot of the U.S., and you can hear it in the music. She’s also been through a lot; having suffered through a rare brain condition and other medical issues. She was once married to country music star Rodney Crowell (author of the fabulous Til I Gain Control Again, covered by Blue Rodeo on their Five Days in July CD).
The List features duets with four stars of music: Bruce Springsteen, Rufus Wainwright, Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco – a personal favourite of mine. She covers such tunes as Miss the Mississippi and You, Heartaches by the Number, 500 Miles, Girl from the North Country (a Bob Dylan tune) and Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.
Great music from a great artist.