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Cash goes back home

By Dan MacIntosh, May 2014

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"Not just the fact that every roots musician owes something to the Delta and Appalachia, but that I personally owe something to the Delta and Appalachia. It's formed who I am as a musician and songwriter, for one thing. Of course, as well as growing up in Southern California. But that connection to my ancestry. I'm a New Yorker for 23 years, but two generations back my family were cotton farmers in Arkansas. I mean, that kind of blows my mind. Not only was it important for me to integrate it into how I thought about myself, but I thought it was hugely important for my kids to know."

Coincidently (or maybe not), Cash's stepsister Carlene Carter just put out an album of Carter Family songs that explore her roots; in this case, these are primarily musical roots. Cash believes such explorations are perfectly natural at her age.

"I don't know that it's that unusual for women our age to start doing this…well…for anyone our age to start doing this," she notes. "These are not things that you care about in your 20s and 30s. In midlife, you're looking at your own mortality now and thinking, ‘Well, what makes up who I am? Where did I come from? What did my parents leave me? How am I still working that out in my life? What will it mean for my children? These questions become hugely important. They're not important when you're young. So it makes sense that she (Carter) has done that. I totally get that."

These explorations of her roots have taught Cash some valuable lessons. "I don't have to spend any more energy shutting that part out," she says. "I didn't like very much going to the South for a long time. I felt suffocated. It just felt too insular. But then I started to embrace what was insular, like in the song ‘World of Strange Design,' looking out to the rest of the world from that prism with that insular feeling of being the South. And there's a lot of art in that and craziness and wonderful strangeness."

"And the sort of hard rock simplicity of ‘The Sunken Land.' To really get, like I said, that two generations back they were cotton farmers. My dad, too. I mean, he picked cotton until he was 18 years old. It's nothing that I need to go, ‘Well, that's not part of me. I live in New York City, and I'm part of this group of writers.' But it enriches me. I don't know that I would use the word ‘heal' because I wasn't that broken, but it really enriches me in a way that I'm so grateful for." - Dan MacIntosh

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