Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 83
Sun. April 21, 2013
A few years ago I had the honor of meeting Emmylou Harris. I remember she was radiating this confident yet warm and alluring glow. There’s nothing more attractive than a woman who knows exactly who she is and what she wants. And she had it. What impressed me was how soft spoken, sweet and intelligent Harris was. I was working at a bookstore in Pasadena when I met her. Emmylou was on her way to the hospital for her niece’s birth and she wanted to pick up a stuffed animal and some reading for the waiting room. Emmylou wasn’t looking for a romance or some light reading, Harris wanted a physics book so I took her to the science section. Beside’s confidence there’s nothing sexier than an intelligent woman. Harris was oozing with intelligence. I asked her about the song she contributed with Conor Oberst and she told me that she usually just get’s a phone call and goes down and record’s her vocal. “Just like that?” I asked, “Yes, Adrian, just like that.”
I remember shaking Emmylou Harris’ hand, after ringing up and wrapping her gift and saying something about how much I love her singing voice. She blushed and said something about me making her day. [Editors note: Wow, I forgot about that. She said that I made her day. Maybe she thought I was flirting with her but in reality I was more in awe of being in the presence of Emmylou Harris.] I do recall a former friend from New Orleans, a playwright and director, who was never impressed with anything, yes it he was that pompous and brilliant. My friend did tell me the only time in his life he was ever in awe of anyone was when he saw Emmylou sing in concert. I remember when he told me, his eyes went to that moment he saw Harris on stage. Emmylou and her voice have that affect on people. We’re not the only ones. Just ask Beth Orton.
Even before Orton met Harris, Beth felt the aura of Emmylou’s vocal inspiration when she explained, “Things that have really influenced me are like the song Emmylou Harris did called “Till I Gain Control Again.” It’s just one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. The effect it has on me is kind of subliminal.” Beth Orton finally experienced the honor of singing with Emmylou on 2002’s Daybreaker’s “God Song.” Orton talked to Barnes and Noble.com on how she finally shared the microphone with Emmylou Harris when she said, “Oh, my god. Well, basically, she was on one of the first tours I did of America, a Lilith Fair tour. On the first day, I’d been there five minutes and was just sitting on the steps of my trailer, and she just came up to talk. She knew my record, Trailer Park, and she loved it. She knew all these details about it that meant she must’ve really listened to it. I was just so flattered. I watched her sing every day and was just amazed by her. I’d like to be like her when I grow up. She’s incredible and so beautiful. She’s got a good soul. Anyway, on the last day of the tour, I gave her this necklace — we were singing this song at the end of the night and I put it in her hand. I went to see her sing all these years later, this year, and I went to see her before she went on. She didn’t know I was coming or anything — and she was wearing my necklace! And as an afterthought before I left my house, I grabbed a CD of “God Song” and because she was wearing the necklace, I took it as an omen and I played it for her and asked her if she’d sing on it. And she said, yes. So that’s how that happened.”
When trying to decipher the meaning of “God’s Song” I think back to something Beth told M-TV when she said, “When you live your songs and your songs live you, it’s hard not to feel like your life is just a step on the way to becoming your art. I don’t know that I’ve had bad luck in love, I think I’ve experienced some brilliant love, I just think that I have high expectations.” Could “God Song” be Orton’s lament of guilt for ending her love affair with former paramour Ryan Adams? I also hear, “God Song” as an old fashioned Country and Western ballad flavor with a more agnostic feel, something Jenny Lewis would go on to perfect on “Born Secular” on 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat. Whatever the intention, this brief little southern-esque ditty clutches your heart strings when you hear Orton and Harris singing in harmony.
All in all, “God Song” will be remembered as Beth Orton’s harmonizing with Emmylou Harris. “Yeah. Like I said, you start with an idea and just move away from it completely. And it’s gone really Nashville, and that’s a way that I’d never thought about. I didn’t plan it, but it just kept happening.” Growing up in Norfolk, England Beth Orton never believed that she would get to sing with Emmylou Harris on record. Orton told Entertainment Weekly how it felt like when she heard the results, “I wasn’t there when she sang her part on ”God Song” because she was on tour for ”O Brother, Where Art Thou?” But when I got it, I just ran around the room screaming and jumping up and down because I was so happy. It was electrifying.”
It may be amazing meeting Emmylou, but Beth Orton can testify singing a song on record with Harris must be mega electrifying. You can experience the fruits of Orton and Harris’ vocal exploration on this day of the Sabbath. I invite you to reflect and pray on this…the poignant beauty of Beth Orton’s “God Song”