Emmylou Harris has a retrospective album out, The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches & Highways. Ron Rosenbaum writes:
If you can get past the first killer song on that album - a duet with her legendary soulmate Gram Parsons on "Love Hurts" - then you have to face the all-time lethal lost-love song, the one she co-wrote about Gram Parsons' death, "Boulder to Birmingham." Then you've got to deal with the insidiously plaintive "Making Believe" and Townes Van Zandt's mysterioso melancholy classic "Pancho and Lefty," about the treachery that destroys friendship.Rosenbaum's piece, however, is broader than this, because it's also about black holes:
That's just the first four songs - and if you get through them without being a total emotional wreck, I envy you. I congratulate you on your cold-bloodedness. You are immune to emotion.
I'd asked her something that I'd once asked Bob Dylan, about whether she thought certain keys or chords corresponded to certain emotions...Seems to be the case:
She didn't personally, she said, but she told me the story of a guy in one of her bands, Roy Huskey Jr., a bass player who told her that he had synesthesia: He saw musical notes as colors. And she remembered that he'd always say that, alone of all the notes, B flat was "very, very, very black," really, really dark.
"The funny thing is," she then told me, "I was reading the paper a while ago, and I came upon a report that black holes are now reported to emit sounds. And that the sound emitted is... B flat!"
One particularly monstrous black hole has probably been humming B-flat for billions of years, but at a pitch no human could hear, let alone sing, astronomers said Tuesday.Ron Rosenbaum comments:
Who can resist the image of the vast reaches of interstellar space filled with lonely, heartbroken black holes humming their mournful B flats to each other across the endless vistas of the cosmos?He then returns to Emmylou and the Nanci Griffith song she and Willie Nelson sing as a duet - 'Gulf Coast Highway':
Simple, but there's something cosmic about its simplicity, the way Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience are simple and cosmic at the same time.Wonderful article (for which, thanks David G in NYC). Read it all.
I started to tell her: "I heard a story that you were driving along and this Nanci Griffith song... came on the car radio and—"
"I almost had to pull off to the side of the road and started to cry. Yes!" she said.
Do you know "Gulf Coast Highway"? It all has to do with bluebonnets. They apparently grow on only one stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast Highway, and they only bloom briefly in the spring. It's a song about a mother and father who worked all their lives in obscurity, but lived in "the only place on earth bluebonnets grow," and about the way they loved their life and - memorably - about the way they described their death:
And when he dies, he says, he'll catch some blackbird's wing
And we will fly away to heaven come some sweet bluebonnet spring.
It's hard to explain why this song gets to you, but Emmylou says it has something to do with courage. The courage of people who keep their love together till death do them part. The kind of enduring love some of our parents had, the kind that's so rare now. Certainly rare in her songs, which are mostly about fire and ashes and loss.
Update at 2.30 PM: From reader JK:
The really interesting thing was the stuff about B flat. It's the key of some of Schubert's most sublime music. I showed your post to my daughter who's both a lover of theoretical physics... and one of only 3 out of 1400 known family descendants who can sing in tune. She was in a superb choir at her school which won the national youth Choir of the Year contest this year at the Lowry. Anyway, she says almost all the best Klezmer music is in b flat (she has a book of Klezmer music written for the clarinet in B flat). We checked my book of Jewish folklore, which shows that the traditional cantillation tune for both the Torah and Haftorah is in B flat.
She exclaimed, "Oh, cool!" when she read the post. What more can you ask for?