Music Americana, folk music from America
Right after I started high school there was the Cuban Missile Crisis, so I wasn’t sure if the world was going to last much longer. It was 13 very intense and scary days and then suddenly it was over and I found myself in the more mundane issues of being a teenager. I wanted to act, I was in school plays, and I read Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee plays. The more bizarre, the better. I didn’t have an outlet for music at the time. I had hated piano lessons. I listened to the usual dishes of teenagers like Frankie Avalon or Bobby Rydell, but the explosion of folk music changed everything. My older brother owned a record player and played old school country and bluegrass. Nothing has done anything for me except Johnny Cash’s first record, Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! Then suddenly there was Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie. I loved Dick Cerri’s Music Americana radio show, American Folk Music. Every night he would play the new folk artists that I was only just starting to notice and I would sit on the floor of my little bedroom doing my homework, listening in awe.
Pierre, Paul and Marie
Finally I got a guitar, a small Kay 1160 Deco Note that my grandfather bought me for $ 30 from a pawnshop. This guitar is now in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He had a big, thick neck like a baseball bat, but somehow I managed to learn chords from the books. I listened to records, learned songs and accompanied myself. This is how I started to sing. Peter, Paul and Mary were a very strange thing to land in the Top 40. Mary Travers – who is extremely underrated – had a low and androgynous voice. I realized you don’t need to have a high soprano. There was a local folk duo of two boys, one in my class and the other a little older. When Peter, Paul and Mary became popular, the duo put on a concert and wanted me to be their Peter and Paul’s Mary. I was so excited when we worked on these songs and performed them at the school ball. I never heard of “Peter and Paul” again. I hope it was because suddenly I became the center of attention.
My main ambition was always to act, but I only lasted three semesters studying Drama at the University of North Carolina. Music did something to me that drama never did because I didn’t have the talent to get into that area. I realized I wasn’t very good, so instead I went to New York and tried to be Joan Baez.
She is the reason I chose the guitar and I think I speak for a lot of other girls my age. She is an iconic artist who changed the music and the heart of America by giving voice to the civil rights movement, and her continued support for any struggle for democracy represents the best of what America stands for.
I got to sing with many of my heroes, but once Mary Chapin-Carpenter and I had to sing in front of Joan. It was the first time I was nervous since leading my own group after my grandmother died, but she was incredibly gracious. A few years ago Jackson Browne and I sang with her at a fundraiser in San Jose. We were considered compatriots on the scene, but I still had a goddess complex about Joan.
My father was studying to be a veterinarian when World War II broke out, and my whole family respected and loved animals. So it became part of my DNA. I had my first dog Duchess in 1951, when I was four years old. When my father was shot in Korea and we didn’t know if he was alive or dead [Walter Harris, a decorated Marine Corps pilot, was declared missing in action, and spent 16 months as a prisoner of war], she was a real comfort.
When my mom took me to see a woman advertising Boston Terriers, for some reason I didn’t relate to any of these purebred puppies. So she said, “Well I have this other dog…” I just fell in love with this little tailless cocker spaniel / Mexican spitz crossbreed. The Duchess died when I was 17 but this little dog started my love for mutts [mongrels]. To the rescue [Bonaparte’s Dog Retreat Rescue] that I started in my backyard after my dog Bonaparte died, most of them are wonderful combinations of different breeds. Basically in America we are all mutts, a mixture of peoples who moved and mingled. I think that’s what God wanted.
Defenders and 12 angry men
There wasn’t a lot of television when I was a teenager. I think there were four channels, but there were a few shows that I watched with my parents. One was The Naked City, a series about the New York City Police Department, which read, “There are eight million stories in the naked city. That was one of them… ”It was great, but even more fantastic was The Defenders. It starred a wonderful actor named EG Marshall as a defense attorney who would handle these complex cases that were never black and white. The show really got you thinking about justice and the human condition and why people did what they did.
EG Marshall was also in my favorite movie, 12 Angry Men, an audience drama with a similar theme. It was a play [by Reginald Rose] and you can say; it was all done in one piece and each character was remarkably well written. If it’s on TV now, I’ll watch it anyway because it’s pretty awesome.
I fell in love with the Beatles with everyone, shortly after the assassination of JFK. In America it was like the end of innocence, a terrible and horrible thing. There was darkness, a cloud over everyone. So when the Beatles came in with their awesome hairstyles and happy music it was like the clouds parted, the sun came out and it was good to be happy and feel innocence again. .
I didn’t want my parents to know I liked The Beatles because I was 18 and they thought I was beyond that teenage stuff. I remember buying a Beatles magazine and hiding it. Steve Earle has a wonderful theory that The Beatles’ music got deeper and darker because the seriousness of Bob Dylan’s lyrics made them think, “We’re not teenagers anymore. I’m sure the drugs have something to do with it.
A few years ago I was playing in Dallas and visited the museum in the building where Kennedy was shot. It was like a Greek tragedy, this young president with this beautiful wife and young children and the feeling of optimism for the future… It hit me again and I just cried.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers Ramble In Music City: The Lost Concert (live à Nashville, 1990) sort le 3 septembre sur Nonesuch