Liner Notes for Wildwood Flower written by Rosanne Cash
This record, "Wildwood Flower", is the musical summation of an extraordinary life. I first heard it on May 10, 2003. My dad played it for me on a boom box while we took a short break from our vigil at June's bedside during her last illness. Halfway through the record, I realized that I was listening to more than a collection of songs, I was hearing an autobiography, nearly cinematic in nature, and completely comprehensive in the scope of June's unique life. By the time we got to "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone", I was wiping away tears, and chilled to the bone. I knew that it was her farewell and her mission statement, and that her soul, on some level that was greater than everyday conciousness, had directed its creation. The pain of imminent loss was like a mist surrounding my dad and me while we listened, and the poignancy of hearing a musical and cultural past that is now a part of history was, and is, so deeply moving. But the most important and central element of this record is June herself; her grace, her wacky humor, her Appalachian roots and her quiet understanding and pride in her permanent place in the lexicon of American music, her roles as wife and mother, her elegance and insight, her hidden sorrow and private joy, and her timelessness. This record, like June herself, is both a contemporary treasure and an historical artifact. The songs are carefully and exquisitely laid out. She chose what I consider to be probably the seven best A.P. Carter songs out of the entire Carter
Family catalog: "Keep On The Sunny Side," "Storms are on The Ocean," "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea," "Church in the Wildwood/Lonesome Valley," "Cannonball Blues," "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," "Anchored in Love," and, of course, "Wildwood Flower."
From her bright young girlhood (which we get a glimpse of in a snippet from a radio show from 1944) to this new compilation, she must have sung these songs literally thousands of times. They have lost none of their potency; rather, they have attained a near-mystical power by the passage of time. June sounds as committed to them here, as an elder, as she did when she was growing up and singing them out on the road with her mother and sisters. Added to this foundation of classics is her own idiosyncratic songwriting: "Alcatraz," with its dark humor and changing tempos; "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea," which she wrote with her sisters and mother (a rare event); "Big Yellow Peaches," with the crazy intro about Lee Marvin; (a quintessential June story); and "The Road to Kaintuck," a little aural film and history lesson with a great, moody melody, and my personal favorite since I was about ten years old. Finally, she goes out on a limb with "Temptation", the only non-Carter song on the record, and delivers a wild performance with the soberness of a true comedienne. I've heard her sing it a dozen times, and it makes me laugh every time. The songs themselves are underpinned with family: her son, my brother John Carter Cash, lovingly and meticulously produced this album, and many family members participate as singers and musicians, my dad foremost among them. It is stating the obvious that for June, family and music were inextricably linked, and in fact, the source of much of the resonant and lasting power of her work was rooted not only in family collaboration, but in a lifelong and unique perspective that came from being a part of a group bound by blood and musicality. She was completely original. The unusual combination of experiences which formed her: her simple mountain upbringing cloaked in the transcendent songs which became a template for an entire industry, her constant travel and subsequent worldliness, her absolute fearlessness on stage, and her innate kindness, humor and refined taste, will never happen again. The world that created June Carter Cash no longer exists.
As she lay in her hospital bed, unaware of her surroundings, Dad, John Carter and I told June over and over that she had made a brilliant record, one for the ages, and that she would always be remembered for it. I hope she heard us. I hope she knew. She died on May 15, 2003.
Following is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral:
Many years ago, I was sitting with June in the living room at home and the phone rang. She picked it up and started talking to someone, and after several minutes I wandered off to another room, as it seemed she was deep in conversation. I came back 10 or 15 minutes later and she was still completely engrossed. I was sitting in the kitchen when she finally hung up, a good 20 minutes later. She had a big smile on her face, and she said, "I just had the NICEST conversation," and she started telling me about this other woman's life, her children, that she had just lost her father, where she lived, and on and on… I said, "Well, June, who was it?" and she said, "Why, honey, it was a wrong number."
That was June. In her eyes, there were two kinds of people in the world: those she knew and loved, and those she didn't know and loved. She looked for the best in everyone; it was a way of life for her. If you pointed out that a particular person was perhaps not totally deserving of her love, and might in fact be somewhat of a lout, she would say, "Well, honey, we just have to lift him up." She was forever lifting people up. It took me a long time to understand that what she did when she lifted you up was to mirror the very best parts of you back to yourself. She was like a spiritual detective: she saw into all your dark corners and deep recesses, saw your potential and your possible future, and the gifts you didn't even know you possessed, and she 'lifted them up' for you to see. She did it for all of us, daily, continuously.
But her great mission and passion were lifting up my dad. If being a wife were a corporation, June would have been the CEO. It was her most treasured role. She began every day by saying, "What can I do for YOU, John?" Her love filled up every room he was in, lightened every path he walked, and her devotion created a sacred, exhilarating place for them to live out their married life. My daddy has lost his dearest companion, his musical counterpart, his soul mate and best friend.
The relationship between stepmother and children is by definition complicated, but June eliminated the confusion by banning the words 'step-child' and 'step-mother' from her vocabulary, and from ours. When she married my father in 1968, she brought with her two daughters, Carlene and Rosie. My dad brought with him four daughters: Kathy, Cindy, Tara and me. Together they had a son, John Carter. But she always said, "I have seven children." She was unequivocal about it. I know, in the real-time of the heart, that that is a difficult trick to pull off, but she was unwavering. She held it as an ideal, and it was a matter of great honor to her.
When I was a young girl at a difficult time, confused and depressed, with no idea of how my life could unfold, she held a picture for me of my adult self; a vision of joy and power and elegance that I could grow into. She did not give birth to me, but she helped me give birth to my future. Recently, a friend was talking to her about the historical significance of the Carter Family, and her remarkable place in the lexicon of American music. He asked her what she thought her legacy would be. She said softly, "Oh, I was just a mother."
June gave us so many gifts, some directly, some by example. She was so kind, so charming, and so funny. She made up crazy words that somehow everyone understood. She carried songs in her body the way other people carry red blood cells--she had thousands of them at her immediate disposal; she could recall to the last detail every word and note, and she shared them spontaneously. She loved a particular shade of blue so much that she named it after herself: "June-blue". She loved flowers and always had them around her. In fact, I don't ever recall seeing her in a room without flowers: not a dressing room, a hotel room, certainly not her home. It seemed as if flowers sprouted wherever she walked. John Carter suggested that the last line of her obituary read: "In lieu of donations, send flowers". We put it in. We thought she would get a kick out of that.
She treasured her friends and fawned over them. She made a great, silly girlfriend who would advise you about men and take you shopping and do comparison tastings of cheesecake. She made a lovely surrogate mother to all the sundry musicians who came to her with their craziness and heartaches. She called them her babies. She loved family and home fiercely. She inspired decades of unwavering loyalty in Peggy and her staff. She never sulked, was never rude, and went out of her way to make you feel at home. She had tremendous dignity and grace. I never heard her use coarse language, or even raise her voice. She treated the cashier at the supermarket with the same friendly respect that she treated the President of the United States.
I have many, many cherished images of her. I can see her cooing to her beloved hummingbirds on the terrace at Cinnamon Hill in Jamaica, and those hummingbirds would come, unbelievably, and hang suspended a few inches in front of her face to listen to her sing to them. I can see her laying flat on her back on the floor and laughing as she let her little granddaughters brush her hair out all around her head. I can see her come into the room with her hands held out, a ring on every finger, and say to the girls, "Pick one!" I can see her dancing with her leg out sideways and her fist thrust forward, or cradling her autoharp, or working in her gardens. But the memory I hold most dear is of her, two summers ago on her birthday in Virginia. Dad had orchestrated a reunion and called it 'Grandchildren's Week.' The whole week was in honor of June. Every day the grandchildren read tributes to her, and we played songs for her and did crazy things to amuse her. One day, she sent all of us children and grandchildren out on canoes with her Virginia relations steering us down the Holston River. It was a gorgeous, magical day. Some of the more urban members of the family had never even been in a canoe. We drifted for a couple of hours and as we rounded the last bend in the river to the place where we would dock, there was June, standing on the shore in the little clearing between the trees. She had gone ahead in a car to surprise us and welcome us at the end of the journey. She was wearing one of her big flowered hats and a long white skirt, and she was waving her scarf and calling, 'Helloooo!' I have never seen her so happy.