The common phrase "we're all in this together" gets used even more as people around the globe do their duty by staying home or working necessary yet risky jobs during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
Not to trivialize matters, but a slogan about how everyone's facing life's storms together could be the basis for one heck of a country, folk or rock song. That is, if the team of John Paul White, a Music Row songwriter turned member of the Civil Wars, and his fellow Grammy award-winner Rosanne Cash had not wrote "We're All in This Together Now" in 2019 without an inkling of how 2020 would play out.
Cash and White became fast friends years ago, but any plans to write a song together seemed undoable for two artists with busy tour schedules. Once they did join forces as special guests on "It Ain't Over Yet," a song off Rodney Crowell's 2017 album Close Ties (New West Records), the connection between like-minded creatives made a long-distance co-write between Cash's New York City residence and White's Florence, Alabama home seem like a natural next step.
"She wrote most of the lyrics and sent it to me basically in poem style and said, 'What do you think?'," White says of the new song's origins. "I thought it was brilliant, as I do just about anything that she creates. It really resonated with me, so I set it to music and did minimal editing. I moved some stuff around and changed a line or two to make the phrasing fit better. It's mostly directly from her brain. That's how it worked because she was able to do it on her own time, sat it in my lap and then when I had the capacity, the time and also when it just felt right, I sat down with a guitar and it filled out pretty fast."
The song, written and later recorded remotely, sat unheard until Single Lock Records, a label White co-founded with Will Trapp and the Alabama Shakes' Ben Tanner, wanted to offer fans something comforting.
"It was last year, and we live in turbulent times," White says of the song's origins. "It was about the moment we were in and have been for a while. We at Single Rock were having a socially distanced meeting about what we have that's released or hasn't been released that feels apropos for this moment. It just hit me like a ton of bricks that we hadn't put this song out into the world because it didn't work for my record and it didn't work for her record. We're both big proponents on not forcing something into the world when it's not its time. It wasn't that there was a lack of love for the song. We just felt like its moment hadn't arrived yet."
It's eerie to consider how well a song written in 2019 suits the times now, yet according to Cash, songwriting works that way sometimes.
"I've often found that that's the case," she says. "You write something in advance of when it happens or when it's pertinent. I always say it's like a postcard from the future."
Besides, Cash finds that many of the pertinent lessons to be learned now amplify our pre-existing connections to each other and to planet Earth.
"What one person does effects another, and there's a ripple effect around the planet," Cash says. "If we ever disbelieved that, we certainly see it now. It'd be preferable not to find that out in a way that makes people sick and die, but it's an illustration of how deeply connected we are with other human beings."
Another jarring coincidence came when the song synched up so well with photos of workers providing necessary services. Some of these came from White's fans, while others address some of March and April's most heart-wrenching headlines.
"When I sing that line 'I love you like a brother,' it shows an officer in Louisiana, Officer Bates, who died a few weeks ago from the virus," Cash adds.
White feels that a typical country music co-write or all-star team-up now would avoid some of the harsh truths that Cash happened to tell in advance-- truths that impact an untold number of listeners and have claimed the lives of many, including his fellow Americana singer-songwriter John Prine.
"I don't think we could've written it as well if we'd been sitting in the middle of it," he explains. "It would've felt too on the nose to say certain things, and we would've shied away from certain emotions because we're inundated with it right now."
Proceeds from the song will help out of work musicians and other creative types in New York City, Muscle Shoals, Nashville and beyond through Music City-based non-profit Music Health Alliance and Record Academy-affiliated charity MusiCares.