In her new album, "The River & The Thread" (Blue Note Records), Rosanne Cash explores the landscape of the Southern U.S., and the landscape of memory. Her songs are inspired by the lives lived by her father, singer Johnny Cash, and his family growing up in a cottage built under a New Deal program at Dyess, Arkansas.
The small five-room building has recently been restored by a team form Arkansas Statue University, as part of the Historic Dyess Colony initiative. Correspondent Anthony Mason accompanied Rosanne Cash on a visit to her father's boyhood home, and in this web-exclusive, extended interview transcript, they talk about her father's origins, and her own.
WEB EXTRA: Sample streaming audio of tracks from Rosanne Cash's "The River & the Thread" (Blue Note Records) by clicking on the audio embed below. You can also explore the album on Spotify (registration required), iTunes and Amazon.
ANTHONY MASON: So, how many rooms are there, actually, in the house?
ROSANNE CASH: Five rooms. And the potential bathroom.
MASON: This never really quite came [with] running water or anything like that?
CASH: No, the plumbing was never hooked up.
MASON: How old was your father when he moved here?
CASH: Three years old, in 1935.
MASON: And what exactly was this at that time?
CASH: This area was nothing. It was just empty land. And it was during the New Deal. FDR , the WPA created this colony here of 500 cottages. And they each got land and seed. The Cash family applied and out of, you know, 1,500, couple thousand families, they got a cottage. They came from Kingsland, Arkansas. My dad said when they moved in that his first memory is coming to the house and seeing five cans of paint in the front room, in this room, and this freshly-painted new home. Made quite an imprint! (laughs)
MASON: Yeah. It was a big deal.
CASH: Huge deal. They were so poor. They would not have made it without this.
MASON: And then what came with the house in terms of land?
CASH: I was told that they got 20 acres originally. And then they realized that it was not enough for them to get a good crop and pay back the government for what they got, the house and land. So they got 40 eventually.
MASON: When was the first time that you [saw this place]?
CASH: I was 12 years old. It was empty and we walked around the house looking in the windows. And I sensed this not quite longing in my dad. But a kind of sadness. And the 12-year-old didn't really assimilate what that was about. I always knew we had this connection to where he grew up, and to this particular house. And he was intensely proud of that, that he worked the soil and he came from, you know, a hard-working family.
But there was also a sense of loss, you know, tremendous loss, 'cause he lost his brother here. He was his best friend and his hero. He said something in a letter to my mom when his family sold the house, he said, "Every rock means something to me." And it did, you know?
MASON: It must have been huge, to pick your whole family up and move them to this new town.
CASH: But they were so excited. I mean, this was salvation. (laughs) This was going to save them. The fact that they were chosen, that they could get this house and land. And all of these 500 families who came here, you know, and built something out of nothing and made a community. And, you know, they survived. They survived.