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POP MUSIC : Interior Dialogue : Rosanne Cash’s raw ‘Interiors’ album has listeners asking if it’s a chronicle of her 12-year marriage to songwriter Rodney Crowell

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A re you and Rodney OK?

That’s the question Rosanne Cash’s mother called to ask after hearing her daughter’s latest album “Interiors,” a chronicle of pain and depression that has the raw, intimate quality of a personal journal.

The album comes complete with several numbers spookily descriptive of grown-up marital woes. And Cash’s husband of more than a decade, fellow Nashville singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, was presumed to be a pivotal character in this unflinchingly downbeat material.

“She’s very concerned,” Cash says, sounding slightly bemused by the maternal worry. “She took it all very seriously, very literally. My dad, on the other hand, (did not) . . . well, because he’s an artist, I guess. But both my parents called me up to tell me how much they love this record. That’s never happened before.”

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Cash’s mom, Vivian Liberto, wasn’t the only one wondering about the singer, whose father is country music legend Johnny Cash.

Reviewers and rank-and-file fans, too, were given to speculate about the autobiographical quotient of the acclaimed album. Inquiring minds want to know just how troubled Cash’s marriage might really be.

“Yeah, I know, it’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it?” she says, sounding weary of the attention. The album, she emphasizes, is “really about me , and this relationship that I have is a wonderful mirror. And I don’t know that people would speculate so much if this were Rodney’s record. I think that they would just give him the credibility of his being an artist. But maybe they would--who knows?”

Though not a big seller, Cash’s album was recently voted one of the 10 best albums of 1990 in the Village Voice’s national critics’ poll. She is drawing attention to the album with an acoustic tour (documented in a new home video, “Interiors Live”) that hits the Wadsworth Theater on Thursday, to be followed by a full band tour in the summer.

Fans who come to the concert and hear her discuss these songs may feel they get mixed messages about their “confessional” quality. Cash is quick to nix the notion that “Interiors” is simply her personal diary set to music. At the same time, she won’t deny its essential truth as a document of her inner life.

This may seem contradictory at first, but she’s wary of listeners searching within its grooves for details of her personal travails, not so much because she’s a private person--though she assuredly is, in most ways--but because at that point the album becomes a voyeuristic spectator experience and not an interactive one.

“It’s like we get to go into this space where things hurt and where there’s deep feeling, and then come out, and hopefully some healing has taken place. It does for me. I hope it does for them. But I guess some people don’t want this stuff triggered in themselves,” she suggests, “and so they have to reduce it to my soap opera so they don’t have to feel it.”

L ove seems like a fancy theory

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Fame a substitute for friends

Those who love me can’t get near me

Those who don’t are moving in . . .

--from Rosanne Cash’s “I Want a Cure”

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There’s such a sense of transparency to “Interiors"--even in those numbers about being shut off or in denial--that you might wonder aloud if Cash is one of those introspective writers who reveals things about her relationships in song that would be too vulnerable to ever bring up in a one-on-one conversation.

Posed with this possibility, Cash breaks into peals of the heartiest laughter and, in the course of cracking up, lets loose some choice turns of phrase.

“No. (Expletive) no, I can say anything in a two-way conversation,” she asserts. “That’s one of the problems of my life. Talk to my husband! His chief complaint about me is that I’m too (expletive) articulate!”

Her willful articulation and strong-minded expression may turn out to be a liability as a hit-maker.

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In the last decade, Cash hit the top of the country singles charts 11 times, four of those alone from her last album, 1987’s “King’s Record Shop.” But the depressing, resolutely uncommercial “Interiors” has been a flop as far as country radio is concerned, producing no hit singles to date. Which was not unexpected.

“Country radio has resisted it, really. I guess it’s not what they want to hear. . . . I really don’t care, to tell you the truth. I knew that was the risk I was taking when I did it, and I was very comfortable taking that step.”

In view of the rave reviews, her record company, Columbia, has tried to build interest in the album on the pop-rock side.

In fact, Cash never thought of herself as a “country artist,” even when she was enjoying the fruits of a string of country hits. That market was quick to embrace her from the beginning, given her legendary lineage, her Nashville base and the fact that her soft-rock material fit in with the country format’s crossover leanings despite its lack of twang.

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But she’s rarely played the part of the traditional country diva and has consistently risked alienating conservative types--whether spiking her hair for a punky look on one album cover, sprucing up her concerts with obscure Elvis Costello songs, or raising the specter of Eastern philosophy and feminism in her sometimes cocky, challenging interviews.

Still, her songs--including No. 1 hits like John Hiatt’s “This Is the Way We Make a Broken Heart” and Johnny Cash’s old “Tennessee Flattop Box"--were in the pocket for country radio. Until now.

Despite the indifferent radio reaction to this newfound bluntness, Cash has no immediate intention to make another variety-packed, feel-good album like “King’s Record Shop” just to regain the favor of the country contingent that may have been estranged by this step into, as she puts it, “a long, dark tunnel.”

“I don’t think that I could ever make a record like ‘King’s Record Shop’ again. It’s kind of, I don’t know, innocent. No, I don’t know that I could make a really balanced record again.”

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So what’s next? Even more harrowing stuff? “Beneath the Valley of Interiors”?

“Or a whole album of covers of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Brown Sugar,’ perhaps? I’m kinda tired of being sensitive right now,” she says, chuckling. “I’m ready to buy myself a plaid shirt and do something else. But spiritually, anyway, yes--maybe as personal as ‘Interiors,’ but a little more positive.”

Cash believes there’s a double standard in the way a man can write a whining my-baby-left-me standard and have its misery written off as cleverness, while women writers who deal in any way with personal suffering come under a far more severe scrutiny.

“I did this round-table interview with Exene Cervenka and Sheila E. for a magazine recently, and the consensus was that women artists--and women in general--are pretty much defined in terms of their relationships to men by the media. A woman out on her own seems somewhat adrift to the public consciousness. You have to anchor her to a man to make her valid or real. I’m struggling to not buy into that.”

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And seen not only in relation to men, perhaps, but as a Victim.

“Ohhhhh, God, nothing annoys me more than that,” she groans. “No, I’m definitely not a victim. My work is not from a victim consciousness either. You know what? These songs talk about all of that stuff, but in not one of them does it say, ‘And you need to fix me.’

“In the dynamics of relationship, we always want to blame and project it out from ourselves. It’s so much easier than taking responsibility for our own stuff. But in this album, I think I pretty much claimed it all. I don’t remember once saying what a (jerk) he was,” she says, laughing, referring to Crowell.

The attention these claims focus on her still make Cash uncomfortable, brazen as she is about making them. Having said early in her career that she had no desire to be in the public eye, Cash hasn’t found it any more of an inebriant since.

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“Hell, no. I don’t know why it would be intoxicating. The things I value are real connection with real people and truth between people. You talk about projection--I mean, the whole essence of fame is that somebody projects their (stuff) on you, good or bad, and you’re supposed to carry that for ‘em. And I don’t see any fun in that. I don’t see anything healthy about it at all.”

Might she find this album a breakthrough in terms of listeners’ being able to get a better understanding of her?

“But see, I don’t necessarily want them to get a better understanding of me,” she protests. “I have no investment in people knowing who I am and all of that ego (stuff). It’s just my work. They assume they know something more about me--and they probably do, because it’s very personal--but it’s still my work. The intent is not that I want to share my innermost self with millions. That’s so unreal to me.”

And yet there’s a real sense in which that happens, if only as a byproduct.

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A sigh. “Yeah, I know. It’s ironic, I guess.”

She doesn’t sound very happy about the irony. There could be a song in that.


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