Women you should know about: Emmylou Harris.
Last night I was reading my book, replying to emails and listening to Emmylou Harris’s new album on NPR music. It took less than one song, because the first song was that compelling, for me to stop everything I was doing and read what NPR had written about her. The first sentence is her saying how difficult songwriting is, still, for her. They manage to make it all the way to the second paragraph before they mention Gram Parsons, whose connection with Harris in the ’70s is often credited (even by Harris herself) as the reason any of us know who she is. And that’s fine, but we all know Grievous Angel would have been only half the album it is without Harris. And, frankly, she probably would have met the right people or caught the right ear at some point with a voice like hers. Hell, Parsons wasn’t even the first to discover her — his fellow/former Flying Burrito Brothers band member Chris Hillman actually has that honor and in turn recommended her to Parsons to help fill out his vocals.
At any rate, what reading this made me flash on was a throwaway line in Keith Richard’s book Life, where he expounds on his relationship with Parsons before and during the recording of Exile on Main Street. He says something along the lines of, “this was before Gram met Emmylou and well before there was anything going on between them, but there would be.” And something about the way he wrote it, the context it was in, makes it feel like Emmylou Harris owes her career to Gram Parsons wanting to have sex with her.
Here’s the problem I have with that: I couldn’t tell you the name of one person Neil Young has had sex with. And, critically speaking, that is who Harris is on par with, both in terms of the quality & quantity of her output and the level of respect she deserves. And yet all we do is talk about her relationship to Gram Parsons. No one feels the need to write about CSNY every time they do a think piece on Neil Young. I’m sure some of the romance comes from envoking the untimely and mysterious death of Parsons, but Harris has been recording since the late ’60s and has a rich backstory of her own. And she had enough gumption to make sure her career carried on when he was gone. So can’t we start talking about Emmylou Harris on her own yet?
The song above is Emmylou Harris’s “Together Again” performed on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977.