Rick Rubin on taking communion with Johnny Cash and not rushing creativity

NPR, December 10, 2023


Rachel Martin: Your book, The Creative Act, reads as sort of a spiritual text. Do you have a spiritual architecture to your own life?

Rick Rubin: I will say I’m a seeker. So I read across the board, different practices. I’m looking at a bunch of books in front of me now. If you could see the books, you’d really laugh.

Martin: Tell me what they are!

Rubin: OK, so there’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, which is a Jon Kabat-Zinn book on meditation. Below that is I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Below that is Awakening the Third Eye. There’s a book called 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. There’s a book called Entering the Tao.

Martin: Alright, you’ve made your point. [laughs] You’re a reader, and a seeker. Those are all of a piece, for sure. I mean, a seeker is a thing that’s sort of, not to push back on you, but it’s an easy answer. Lots of people are seekers. Do you believe in God?

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You do?

Rick Rubin, 2006. Wiki Commons.

Rubin: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. I have a knowingness that there is a power greater than us that seems to animate everything. That’s how I would describe it. However this system works, this world that we’re in, this universe that we’re in, however it works, I don’t think it’s accidental.

I feel like there’s some creative energy behind it. We have help. When we’re making something beautiful, we have help. We’re not working alone.

Martin: I read that when you were producing Johnny Cash, near the end of his life, with his last albums, that you took communion with him. That was something that was important to him and you were enthusiastic about it.

Rubin: From the time he got sick, we did it every day. I said, “I’ve never done communion.” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful practice. Let’s do it together.” And then we did it together in person the first time. And then I said, “Well, while you’re sick, should we just continue doing it every day?” And he’s like, “Great, let’s do it.”

So we started doing it every day. And then when we weren’t together, I would call him every day and he would say the words, and I would close my eyes. I didn’t have the wafer physically with me, but I visualized the whole thing. I listened to the words and I experienced it with him every day. And then, when he passed, I could still hear him doing it. And I continued doing it for another six months.

Martin: Wow. I think that would change a person. To do that. Because it’s not like saying a prayer with someone. I mean, it is a highly mystical Christian ritual whereby you imagine the wafer you’re eating is actually the body of Jesus Christ and the grape juice or the wine is the blood.

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You’re not a Christian.

Rubin: No.

Matin: What effect did that have on you, sharing that with him?

Rubin: I’m a believer. And I got to share it with him, and he was a believer. And this was his way of believing. So I got to experience his way of believing with him. And it was beautiful and I truly believe it enriched my life. It’s not calculable how powerful it felt.


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