From that moment I changed the way I approached songwriting, I changed how I sang, I changed my work ethic, and I changed my life.
The strong desire to become a better songwriter dovetailed perfectly with my budding friendship with John Stewart, who had written “Runaway Train” for King’s Record Shop. John encouraged me to expand the subject matter in my songs, as well as my choice of language, and my mind. I played new songs for him and if he thought it was too “perfect,” which was anathema to him, he would say, over and over, “but where’s the MADNESS, Rose?” I started looking for the madness. I sought out Marge Rivingston in New York to work on my voice and I started training, as if I were a runner, in both technique and stamina. Oddly, it turned out that Marge also worked with Linda, which I didn’t know when I sought her out. I started paying attention to everything, both in the studio and out. If I found myself drifting off into daydreams—an old, entrenched habit—I pulled myself awake and back into the present moment. I opened my eyes and focused. Instead of toying with ideas, I examined them, and I tested the authenticity of my instincts musically. I stretched my attention span consciously. I read books on writing by Natalie Goldberg and Carolyn Heilbrun and began to self-edit and refine more, and went deeper into every process involved with writing and musicianship. I realized I had earlier been working only within my known range—never pushing far outside the comfort zone to take any real risks. I had written songs almost exclusively about romance and all the attending little dramas of loss and lust. It was legitimate, certainly, but only one small mode of transportation over a vast landscape of experience that might be fodder for whole new categories of songs. I started painting, so I could learn about the absence of words and sound, and why I needed them, and what I actually wanted to say with them. I took painting lessons from Sharon Orr, who had a series of classes at a studio called Art and Soul.
I remained completely humbled by the dream, and it stayed with me through every waking hour of finishing King’s Record Shop. We were so far into the process that it was too late to add songs or change the ones that were there, but I vowed the next record would reflect my new commitment. Rodney was at the top of his game as a record producer, but I had come to feel curiously like a neophyte in the studio after the dream. Everything seemed new, frightening, and tremendously exciting. I had awakened from the morphine sleep of success into the life of an artist.
The cover of the King’s album won a Grammy for best art direction. It was a photo of the actual King’s Record Shop in Louisville, Kentucky, hand tinted by Hank DeVito. I had seen the image at Hank’s house and begged him to retake the photograph with me standing in the doorway for my cover. He declined, as the hand tinting had been laborious, but he did agree to take my photo in a doorway and then digitally insert me into the original shot of King’s Record Shop. I didn’t actually visit the real store until the record was released, when we held a press conference there. Sadly, King’s Record Shop has gone the way of most mom-and-pop record stores and no longer exists.
I ended up having four number one singles off King’s, a first for a woman in the industry. Although it was my sixth album, I felt like a beginner, and I was relieved and grateful for the chance to start over, to go deeper into sound and texture, language and poetry, and the direction of my own instincts.
Just as I was beginning to record King’s, I had read an interview with her in which she said that in committing to artistic growth, you had to “refine your skills to support your instincts.”
This made such a deep impression on me that I clipped the article to save it.
A short time after that, I dreamed I was at a party, sitting on a sofa with Linda and an elderly man who was between us. His name, I somehow knew, was Art. He and Linda were talking animatedly, deeply engrossed in their conversation. I tried to enter the discussion and made a comment to the old man. He turned his head slowly from Linda to me and looked me up and down with obvious disdain and an undisguised lack of interest. *“We don’t respect dilettantes,” * he spat out, and turned back to Linda.
I felt utterly humiliated and woke from this dream shaken to the core. I had been growing uneasy in my role in the Nashville community and the music business as a whole. I thought of myself primarily as a songwriter, but I had written only three songs on King’s. I was famous and successful, but it felt hollow, and the falsehoods were piling up.
With more success had come more pressure to be a certain way, to toe a certain line, to start a fan club (which I refused to do), to participate in big, splashy events, and to act as if the country music scene were a religion to which I belonged. I resisted the push to conform, to buy into a certain narrow aesthetic, and to become part of the established hierarchy.
I didn’t want a lofty perch; I wanted to be in the trenches, where the inspiration was. My unease led me to that dream. Carl Jung said that a person might have five “big” dreams in her life—dreams that provoke a shift in consciousness—and this was my first.
Perhaps the light in the sky is not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.
I will spend the rest of my life standing under the stars to feel her happiness, and her love. And on those nights which are dark, devoid of available light, I have only to look to the ground to see her presence, in the roses and hibiscus, the hedges and the vines, the flowering plants and everything green and blossoming that grows in the earth, that she loved and touched and made to grow, just like my sisters, just like me.
She let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she defined herself as a mother, that it was her great passion and her proudest accomplishment, and we will never be allowed to forget that, because her passing is permanently linked to the moment she became a mother. It is written in stone now. It is written in our hearts, as well. I feel humbled by the distinction and the honor that my mother’s soul was born into heaven on the day I was born into the world. And I also know she’s saying, “I did my job, baby. Fifty years is long enough. Time for me to rest, now.”