January 30, 2011
Written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal
In her memoir Composed, Rosanne Cash describes a handful of prophetic songs that she has written as being “Postcards From the Future”, describing life events in detail before they happen. The most haunting example of this is “September When it Comes.”
She had written the lyrics in the nineties, scribbled quickly on a piece of paper while she was on the Long Island Expressway. At the time, her father Johnny was suffering through a health crisis. The lyrics describe her preparing for the impending death of her father, the time of reckoning described as September, a beautiful metaphor for the autumn years of life.
Her husband, John Leventhal, discovered the lyrics and wrote the music to go along with it. He suggested that it would be a perfect duet for her to do with her father. She struggled with the idea for months, before finally calling her father up to ask him to sing on the record. After a few moments thought, he responded, “I’ll have to read the lyrics first.”
She flew down to Nashville and delivered them in person. He quickly agreed to sing on the song about his own impending mortality. Though he was in poor health and struggled during the recording session, he insisted on completing three takes. As he sang the lyrics, Rosanne cried quietly on the other side of the recording glass.
“September When it Comes” was released in the spring of 2003, the centerpiece of Rules of Travel, Rosanne’s first studio album in eight years. A few months later, the song’s prophecy came to fruition. Johnny Cash died in the early morning hours of September 12, 2003.
The eerie accuracy of the timing aside, the song is a quiet masterpiece in its own right. It captures the pain of losing a parent to a crippling illness, but also the peace that comes with the knowledge that they have a reached a place that they can rest, and fall into the loving arms of those who wait for them.
More so than any of the work that Johnny Cash recorded in his final year or that Rosanne Cash has recorded since his death, “September When it Comes” is the most beautiful swan song for both Johnny’s musical career and this father-daughter relationship.