Emmylou on Stumble into Grace

"Here I Am" (Emmylou Harris)

I'm not a particularly religious person. But I thought, "What must God be feeling when people just completely ignore Him?" It's as though this is about unrequited love on the part of God: "I'm right here. I'm everything you need. Why won't you heed me?" Julie Miller had been reading this book that contained the phrase, "You are from the dirt of the earth, the kiss of my mouth," so we put that in there. I wanted to put her on this as my co-writer, but she would have none of it. She did bear witness to it. I still didn't have it finished when we were setting up in the studio. I went, "Well, what am I trying to say?" And I just went, "Well, here I am."

"I Will Dream" (Emmylou Harris/Kate & Anna McGarrigle) I had the melody and chorus of this when I was working on the Red Dirt Girl album. But I couldn't come up with the verses. I took it up to Anna and Kate McGarrigle, and that's when I decided to write it as though I was writing about another character. This woman thinks, "No matter what you do, I'm still going to get you in the end." Kate came up with the first line, "In my imagination," and I said, "That's it! That's the perfect way to start it."

"Little Bird" (Emmylou Harris/Kate & Anna McGarrigle) I had this Peruvian melody that a friend had sent me, which I loved. It was the most joyful and fantastic thing that I'd heard in at least a year. But it had no words. So Anna and Kate came down to Nashville, and this was our first project. We ended up going to something that sounded folk, archetypal-each verse taking a little device, the little bird, the light, the wagon made of gold. "Little Bird" became the first song we recorded. That's Kate playing the accordion.

"Time in Babylon" (Emmylou Harris/Jill Cunniff)

I'm not that comfortable writing social commentary. Jill and I started this back in the Red Dirt Girl era, and back then it was almost a funny song. The ensuing several years of reality TV and war in Iraq and all of that changed the song when we returned to it for this album. I don't know where it all came from. It was just all of these images. I did know that I wanted to return to that "Little Boy Blue," nursery-rhyme stuff, on the choruses. The story of the Pied Piper always horrified me as a child, the idea of children being led underground. I thought, "What's the most horrifying thing that can happen?" And that's when it shifted to, "If you won't do it for yourself, will you please do it for your children?" But I wanted it to be hopeful, and that's why at the end I say, "It's not too late." You have to have faith, because it's up to us to change things.
Jill is completely fearless about writing. She came up with those beautiful chord changes in the chorus, a melody that was so out-there for me. She totally understood contrasting that almost one-chord melody for the verses with the unusual one in the chorus. She takes me places musically that are completely alien to me, and that helps push me in a really good way.

"Can You Hear Me Now" (Emmylou Harris/Malcolm Burn)

This is the darkest song I've ever written. And it's one that came out very quickly, one of those 2am songs. I do experience a certain amount of melancholy. I think it goes with the territory of being human. I don't believe people who say they are happy all the time. That's not my experience. So this is the dark side of the coin.

"Strong Hand (For June)" (Emmylou Harris)

My manager told me about June Carter Cash's death, so I called up Rosanne and talked to her about John. I wrote the song that night and recorded it the next day. It came in such a way that I have to believe that June had a hand in it, that she was hovering. I'm just very honored that I happened to be the vessel for it, the conduit.
It just so happened that Linda Ronstadt was in the next town doing a record. I said, "Listen, if you feel like it, could you try some harmonies?" Of course, she did it in, like, one take. That song was a gift. I always say there's one song on every record that's a gift. This is the one.

"Jupiter Rising" (Emmylou Harris/Paul Kennerly)

This was one of the ideas I had when I started writing songs for this record last spring. I was going through all my little work tapes and found, "Why don't you call me? You never answer. Jupiter's rising. And the moon is in Cancer." I didn't know what it meant, but it just sounded so good. I went over the Paul's and played it for him. He said, "All right. Let's write it." He came up with the bridge. I came home, worked on it a little more and voila!

"O Evangeline" (Emmylou Harris)

That's the "chiseled" song. You take a hammer and a block of granite and work, work, work. It's very carefully crafted. It started out being about me. But then I got this idea about Evangeline, whom we all think died for love and died young after her long travails. But the real Evangeline actually ended up being an old woman. We're obsessed with this idea, "Live hard, love hard, die young, and leave a beautiful memory." But it's really a lot harder to grow old.
In the middle of writing it, Mimi Farina died, and I thought about her so much. Here's someone who had this wonderful love affair with Richard Farina, and he was killed in this motorcycle accident on her 21st birthday. But then she went on to do a lifetime of good work with her Bread & Roses organization. I always thought of her as this really lovely being. I wanted to honor her as someone who had lived out her life and continued. I also wanted to leave the song open to interpretation. I think it can be seen as a lot of things. This woman is both heroic and tragic, because everyone's life is ambiguous, really.

"Plaisir D'Amour" (traditional) I learned the song from a Joan Baez record, but her version didn't have the instrumental bridge. The McGarrigles knew this translation of it. We recorded "Plaisir D'Amour" literally sitting on the floor at Malcolm's house.

"Lost Unto This World" (Emmylou Harris) You can't be in this world without becoming aware of the horrors that are going on every day, all over the globe. I read a letter in The New York Times that was commenting on a story about the Lost Boys of Sudan, which is a wonderful story about survival and very hopeful. The writer said that it was an uplifting story, yet at the end said, "But I wonder about the Lost Girls." I'd been reading this book about America's relationship to international genocide. And it made me think about the slaughter of women, in particular. There's another thing that's been haunting me for years and that is the Kitty Genovese story. This was a girl who was stalked and stabbed over a half-hour period in 1964 while dozens of people heard her screams and watched and didn't even pick up the phone to call the police. That event horrified me. I always thought I wanted to write about it, but it didn't happen until these pieces came together, and I thought about female genocide.
Initially, it sounded very "folkie." Malcolm Burn had invited Daniel Lanois to the studio. Dan asked, "What is this song about?" So Malcolm showed him the words. When I came in he said, "To put it bluntly, I don't think the melody is strong enough. I have a couple of ideas." And he played it as a waltz. If you look back at my 30-odd years of recording, I've never done an album without a waltz. So I said, "OK."
I was a little jarred by the juxtaposition between the beauty of the melody with words like "rape" and "murder." But Dan said there's a tradition of that sort of thing, like with Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side." So ultimately, this arrangement seeped into my consciousness. We added Jane Siberry's voice later.

"Cup of Kindness" (Emmylou Harris)

This song was originally written and recorded for Red Dirt Girl, but that version just didn't seem to fit that album. So we re-recorded it. I wanted a sound that would evoke beauty and joy and innocence. I'd heard a recording of the Fiji islanders harmonizing and thought it was so beautiful. Kate and Anna McGarrigle understand all of that, so they came up with these voicings. The sound is very otherworldly. I did have somebody specific in mind when I wrote it. But that shall remain between me and myself. Besides, after the fact, I began to think of the song being about me. Or anybody. We keep thinking that epiphany and enlightenment or God is going to come to us in a burning bush or a bolt of lightning. When, really, isn't it just our day-to-day getting up and trying to be comfortable with one another? I do believe that real spirituality has to come from interactions between people. Otherwise, it would be real easy.

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