Emmylou Harris is one of those artists, like Aretha Franklin or Dolly Parton or Stevie Wonder or Joni Mitchell, whose music has always been in the background of my life.
I didn’t start consciously listening to her stuff, though, until I was in college. I had a ticket to see her in concert and picked up some of her albums, including Profile II: The Best of Emmylou Harris (1984) and “Born to Run,” (by Paul Kennerley) which was originally on Cimarron (1981), immediately became one of my favorite songs.
Well, I was born to run
To get ahead of the rest
And all that I wanted was to be the best
Just to feel free and be someone
I was born to be fast I was born to run
The high note and emphasis on “feel,” and, honestly, just the bounce of the whole thing, are literally mood-altering. As a kid who had been through a thing or two by then but who still had ambition, the lyrics spoke to me.
As a musician, Harris has always been remarkable not just because of her range or her openness to pushing her own boundaries and experimenting with different genres of music (recording songs written by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Willy Nelson, Gillian Welch, and Jimi Hendrix) but also because of her dedication to young composers and emerging musicians like Patty Griffin. She has a nice cover of the Griffin’s “One Big Love,” [from her second album, Flaming Red (1998)] on her 2000 release, Red Dirt Girl, although I prefer the original. Griffin’s debut, “Living with Ghosts,” had just come out in 1996 (around the same time as Tori Amos’s Under the Pink and Patti Rothberg’s Between the 1and the 9—yes, another one of those late 90s albums I bought at the Tower Records on the Upper West Side ).
Harris also contributed to a dizzying array of projects and worked with the likes of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, and The Pretenders.
I had a hard time picking the second song—a third of the songs from Red Dirt Girl, alone, including the title track or “Hour of Gold,” could easily have made the cut. Or it could have been the title track from the phenomenal Wrecking Ball (1995) or a plethora of earlier songs.
I decided ultimately that I wanted to go with something from the Red Dirt Girl because, despite the fact that it’s Harris’ nineteenth studio album, it’s the first of her albums on which the majority of songs, in this case three-quarters of them, are written by her. Of the rest, she co-wrote all but one.
I went with “I Don’t Want to Talk about It Now,” in part because “Red Dirt Girl,” a deeply felt story about a short life full of strife and tragedy in the American South, can be mood-breaking, and “Hour of Gold,” although ethereal and beautiful, is also cruel and not something I’m always up for listening to (which, of course, would break the rules for Twofer Tuesday).
“I Don’t Want to Talk about It Now” is a crie du couer from a mature woman who understands the depths of the terrible situation she’s in and, eyes wide open, chooses (as far as one can be said to choose under the circumstances) to double down:
I can't break this spell
I know the trouble that I'm in
But If I got out of the mouth of hell
I'd walk right back again.
She has clearly tried to find her way clear but in the end gives into the impulses that control; her:
“I don’t want to talk about it now. / I want to go down.”
I find the arrangement really interesting, too. It’s kind of cold and sometimes dissonant, which highlights the woman’s isolation and, ultimately, her resignation.
Trio came out in 1987 when I was still in college. As mentioned, I had just started listening to Harris’ albums before seeing her in concert so her music was already very much on my radar. But I could have been living on a distant planet and still heard about Trio.
There are really only two things to say about the song “Telling Me Lies (Linda Thompson and Betsy Cook)
Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
The harmonies; those absolutely glorious harmonies.
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Thank you, Mary, for this post. "I don't want to talk about it now" resonated with me. This song painted my reality of time where I was in a relationship with someone. Fully invested in all the ways of our plans we bought to the table for our future together. Our lives took a turn became toxic the pain the lies the verbal abuse was my wakeup call. Funny all the possessions money lifestyle didn't matter. I just wanted love a real love I was told I could never have or didn't deserve. The joy inside my tears was when I overcame my weakness for a love that was never truly mine; was in of itself liberating. In a weird sort of way pain never felt so good at that time.... who was I fooling. I'm stronger now.
I have always loved Emmylou. I graduated from college in 1976. I have lots of her vinyl albums from that time, and later acquired CDs, including the Trio ones. (I love Linda and Dolly, too!) Elite Hotel is my favorite Emmylou album cover. Thank you for this positive post on her work!