January 13, 2014


What Roseanne Cash & Bill Clinton Said About Abortion in Country Music

Getty Images, 2
Getty Images, 2

There aren't many who can show up to a concert and demand an audience with the singer during an intermission, but it's fair to say former President Bill Clinton is one of those people. And when Clinton summons you to chat with him mid-show, you know he's not interested in talking about the weather.

As it turns out, he's looking to chat about abortion in a '60s chart-topping hit.

At least that's the incredible story country star Rosanne Cash recently shared with Rolling Stone. According to Johnny Cash's daughter, Clinton wanted to chat about why he's sure Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe"—a famously ambiguous country song about a girl who takes her own life after throwing a mysterious object off a bridge—is about abortion and shame in the South.    

Cash said that after she covered the 1967 No. 1 hit during a rainforest benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, the former president "summoned" her to discuss the song's implications. "During the intermission, [President Clinton] summoned me so that he could talk about that song, and what was thrown off the bridge, and how that song was the quintessential expression of the shame of the South," Cash told Rolling Stone. "[It was] a baby… It had been an abortion, a miscarriage, and they threw it off the bridge."

Cash said she was surprised the world leader had an interpretation of the 46-year-old song in the first place. "It was stunning that he had put so much thought into this song and what it meant to Southern people," Cash said of the Arkansas native. "And it clarified my thoughts about it. It took the leader of the free world to explain the song to me. Well, the ex-leader of the free world. I was thinking, 'This guy's mind is not full of other stuff? He’s had time to think about this song?'"

If you're unfamiliar with the controversial, wonderful song, listen to Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" below.