Classic Country Singles: Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash, “September When it Comes”

September When it Comes
Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash
2003

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.

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Classic Country Singles: Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash, “September When it Comes”

  1. Haunting, yet Beautiful.

    Probably one of the greatest songs and duets of all time.

  2. ChadNo Gravatar

    I’m so happy to read your thoughts. This is one of my favorite Rosanne songs (and that’s saying something). I’ve actually never seen the video, though. Thanks for digging this one out and posting it.

  3. It was really interesting to read the story behind this song in Rosanne’s memoir. It’s great that Johnny Cash was able to give us this one last memorable performance in the final years of his life. It’s such a beautiful song, with a haunting arrangement.

  4. I find myself feeling very unusual about this song. Until about a year ago, I admired it from a distance; it was “eerie” as you say, but in a “Huh, wouldja look at that?” kind of way. I was first and foremost a Johnny Cash fan, and took it in that context.

    Then I began following Rosanne Cash on Twitter and she graciously replied to me frequently. It really personalized my perception of her. I realize I’m still just another of her thousands of Twitter followers and even larger number of fans, but to me she’s just as much an online pal as the various people I’ve “met” online with Crohn’s from around the world. I read Composed (she was even kind enough to read and tweet a response to my review of it) and found that the online relationship really colored my reading of her memoirs.

    Back to “September When It Comes.” It’s no longer a song about and with Johnny Cash to me, but rather an inspired work of tremendous emotional poignancy crafted by someone that means something to me (not in a creepy, steal-her-recycling way). It hits me now in a way quite a lot like that awful, helpless feeling I get at funerals knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to assuage the pain of my friends or family.

    It also reminds me how much I admire songwriters, who are willing and able to explore such deeply personal experiences and then put them on display for the entire world, knowing we will interpret, adopt, criticize, even ridicule, malign and ignore them. Most people I know don’t even want their Facebook profile public. Even if they could be roused to this level of introspection, they’d blanch at the notion of exhibiting their work for everyone else.

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  6. I was sitting right here in this same spot in my office when I first heard this song. It was one of those rare songs that completely stopped me with that first listen too. Not to take anything away from Rosanne’s great performance, but I have a sharp memory of hearing Johnny Cash’s voice vibrate through my speakers as he sang ‘I plan to crawl outside these walls…’ I also remember it being just weeks after his death that I bought the Rules of Travel album. Masterpiece indeed.

  7. This song still gets me even after the many, many times that I’ve heard it. It’s certainly a masterpiece. The part that most moves me is when Johnny sings:

    “I cannot move a mountain now;
    I can no longer run.
    I cannot be who I was then:
    In a way, I never was.”

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