Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rosanne Cash on Country Music, with a cameo from Dr. Henry Louis Gates

Photo: Courtesy of Erika Goldring (PBS)

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Sunday, September 8. All times are Eastern. 


Top pick  


Country Music: Live At The Ryman, A Concert Celebrating The Film By Ken Burns (PBS, 8 p.m): The latest from national treasure Ken Burns, Country Music, doesn’t arrive until next week. Except—surprise!—it kind of starts tonight.

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Live At The Ryman features a bill stacked with great performers, including Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Brenda Lee, and others. Oh, yes, and Rosanne Cash. Cash—who, like many of the other performers, also appears in Burns’ documentary—spoke with The A.V. Club at the 2019 Summer Television Critics Association press tour, touching on the experience of filming the concert, how one defines country music, and what it’s like to be recruited to do Finding Your Roots while you’re in the middle of an interview with The A.V. Club.


The A.V. Club: Why was it important to you to participate in this concert, and in the film?

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Roseanne Cash: Well, they asked me, for one, and I loved this film so much and have so much respect for everyone involved that I couldn’t have imagined saying no to that. And also, it was me and my friends, you know? [We were] singing “I Still Miss Someone,” which is important in the film, to close the show, except for the group close. So it was an honor.

AVC: The film sees a lot of people attempt to define what country music is, precisely. How would you define it?

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RC: You mean, beyond “three chords and the truth”? Because that’s it.

AVC: If that’s it, then that’s it.

RC: Listen, pop music tends to be—not always—but tends to be a lot about hookups and breakups, right? The subject matter of country music is so much broader. It’s about travel, family, home, loss, poverty, resilience, the land itself, as well as hookups and breakups. It’s a reflection of who we are and who we’ve been as Americans, our own history—the Civil War, the New Deal, the Dust Bowl—and of what’s going on now. That is what has always impressed me about country music. You could make as a list of 200 songs about mothers, or 400 about death. You can’t really do that with pop music. It’s deep. These are deep, deep things about our humanity.

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AVC: Do you think there’s a song that best encapsulates all that country music can do?

RC: One song? Well, I mean the classic answer would be “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” because it’s about death, and loss. It’s so cinematic. It unfolds like either a Walker Evans photograph or a black-and-white film. Like Citizen Kane or something. That’s a weird metaphor. But other than that song, there are many. I don’t think I could pick one beyond that.

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AVC: What’s your experience watching live music performed on television, as a viewer? What does that feel like for you?

RC: Sometimes it’s thrilling, and sometimes you just fall asleep. With the former, it’s stuff like the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom or the Muscle Shoals documentary. Absolutely loved those things. This particular concert, I can’t imagine that the spirit of it won’t be conveyed across the screen because it was so magnificent. I’ve done dozens of those multi-artist shows, right? Most of them are just fraught with tension. There’s no narrative to them, and the artists don’t really gel, you know? I’ve done so many.

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[Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. walks by, and Cash’s face lights up. She sticks out her hand.]

RC: Hello, sir! How are you?

Henry Louis Gates: Hello, good to see you.

RC: I’m Roseanne Cash.

HLG: Oh, I know! I would do anything to trace your family tree [for Finding Your Roots].

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RC: You won’t have to do anything, because I would love to do it.

HLG: Hey, that’s what I’m talking about! I’m a happy man. I grew up in West Virginia, with WWVA.

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RC: WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia.

HLG: [Sings “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”] I was standing by my window, on one cold and cloudy day / When I saw that hearse come rolling, for to carry my mother away.

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RC: Yes, yes.

HLG: I have a playlist with 50 versions of that song. Black, white. Always makes me cry. [To The A.V. Club.] You put that this is happening in your interview: Roseanne Cash is coming on the show. Thank you!

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[Cash and Gates say their goodbyes and Gates walks away.]

RC: Well, that happened. What did I say, about “Will The Circle”? It’s the one.

AVC: Yeah, that was something else.

RC: Anyway, usually those multi-artist shows, they lack cohesion, and they’re not very well-staged. This one had such a spirit of community. There was something heightened about it. I think we were all in service of something bigger. An idea. Instead of it being about our own egos—because nobody really did their own songs. It was really, really special. I wept at the end of it. It was gorgeous.

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AVC: What, in your opinion, is the best TV show or film ever made about music?

RC: Well, can I leave my family out of it?

AVC: Of course.

RC: Then honestly, I have to say this one. It has more breadth and depth than just about any music documentary I’ve ever seen. The respect that the whole thing is framed in—there is not a moment of condescension. And narrative is one that ties everybody and everything together, from Appalachian music to Bob Wills to Bakersfield to Rockabilly, to early folk music… They’ve documented a part of American history that I think hadn’t been documented as a whole. And to me, a piece of history that is hugely important. There’ve been others I loved—the ones I mentioned. And I like Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe does a great soundtrack.

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Regular coverage

The Affair (Showtime, 9 p.m.)
Succession (HBO, 9 p.m)
Preacher (AMC, 10:05 p.m.)
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO, 10 p.m)
On Becoming A God In Central Florida (Showtime, 10 p.m)

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Wild card

Power (Starz, 8 p.m.): Tonight’s episode of Power is called “Forgot About Dre.”

If that’s not enough to make this a wild-card pick, what is?

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.