Thursday, January 7, 2010

Emmylou Harris "I Didn't Know It Was You"

"Don't tell me what you're against; I'm far more interested in what you are for."

So says the love of my life, the woman whose turn of a phrase has more than once turned my wayward vessel from crashing on the crags of negativity. Like water, human nature seems to seek out the lowest level possible, and I'm as guilty as anyone else of sinking to the bottom.

Most negative statements are offered up as sly strategies to protect ourselves, our property, and our possessions.

There aren't too many holy wars that have been waged in the name of positivity, that's for sure. And now that the world is online, those wars rage on in virtual perpetuity. Sometimes I feel like I'm watching the Crusades all over again, and I have to say Onward Christian Soldiers is not high on my playlist. Of course, I wish I'd written it; I could use the royalties. (I'm kidding, y'all.)

One of the joys of my life has been playing with the wonderful Emmylou Harris.  Summer 2009, I sent a few songs to her.   One was an Á capella piece I'd written with Cindy Morgan, titled "My Ransom", and the other was something I'd written with Merrill Farnsworth, titled "Savior's Kiss", a melancholy song about human brokeness.

My letter simply asked, "Would you be interested in being part of a recording which focuses on the Love of God?"

Like me, Emmy was tired of the vitriol spewed by so many people of faith, in the wake of Barrack Obama's election. Watching the campaign by satellite TV on our tour bus, we recoiled at the religious posturing, and I hung my head often, at the ridiculous things asserted by people of my faith.

Emmylou is not particularly religious. But when the language of faith is loving and poetic, and when Jesus is allowed to stand without the props of exclusivity, not as a dashboard statuette, but as an open-armed lover of souls, one need not be religious to find Him appealing.

"Yes", she said.

And so I began a labor of love, which is still in progress, unraveling before my eyes like an orange peel, in one beautiful piece, spiraling heavenward.

Emmylou joined drummer Bryan Owings, bassist Chris Donohue, guitarist Pat Bergeson, myself, and engineer Todd Robbins at a small Franklin studio called "The Workshop" where we casually played through her song "I Didn't Know It Was You". The song is one of her finest pieces, right up there with "The Pearl" and "Red Dirt Girl", and I'm so pleased that she brought it to this project. It didn't take long to find the magic, and I know that everyone enjoyed playing to her guitar strumming and that beautiful voice. After some harmonies and an additional guitar part, the track will be ready to mix.

I like my life.

Besides the Emmylou track, I've produced a song on the fabulous duo The Civil Wars called "From This Valley". I'm in the process of inviting this artist and that, and trying to mix it up a bit, and the response has been beautifully positive from people of varied spiritual and social backgrounds, from Buddhist to Jewish, hillbilly to hipster.

This project has been the spark for writing this blog.  Perhaps I'll just write about life, whether music has anything to do with it or not.  

Who am I kidding?  Music is always with us.  Just listen.


  1. I'd like to learn more about some of your close friends and how they've influenced you - specifically a remarkable guy named Rob Grant -
    who seems to have turned around so many lives...

  2. Rob Grant.. where do I begin? Is there room in cyber-space to talk about my dear friend Rob? Probably not. But it's nice to know that he's reading my blog... check Rob's unique style out at

  3. i've been so behind on facebook lately...glad to finally get to your post (and blog)....and definitely need to hear this record when it's finished!

  4. Thanks Marlei! This is beginning to get exciting...

  5. Hi Phil,

    i saw your blog on going to the CT shore and wanted to share this...

    When i was very young, Grandma came to live with us. She had terminal cancer. But i didn't have a clue about that... i just thought she was sick and had to stay in bed all day... which turned out to be week after week.

    Then one night i had a strange but beautiful dream. Usually, i don't dream in color or care or pay attention to too many details. But this was different.

    i dreamt i was with my Grandma and my folks and we were at Highland Light (now Cape Cod Light)... one of the oldest lighthouses on the Cape... although we had been there before, it was always during the day with big clouds and sunshine... In this dream, we arrived at night. It was beautiful. The lighthouse, which is perched on the edge of a major cliff down to the sea, was set against a clear and intense star-studded night sky. The moon was full.

    Then, i saw something moving way out in the universe... a kind of comet or something... but nobody else saw it as they were too busy looking out into the ocean and marveling at the moon being so big and bright...

    As i watched, these very small stars seemed to be forming a line. It was pretty hard to make them out. But i knew they were moving into some kind of formation.

    Slowly but surely, the group of stars began to form a line and were weaving back and forth gradually coming closer to the earth. As they grew closer, i realized that it was a passenger train from maybe the 1860s or so... made at first of only stars and clouds...

    Then i noticed that it had become a real train from that period, floating down out of the night sky. i could then make out that it was mostly full of people, all dressed in vintage clothing from that period, and brightly lit inside, and everyone on board having a great and joyful party. There was a lot of laughing and happiness... i could see folks making toasts and telling jokes.

    The train pulled up along side the edge of the cliff, still floating gracefully, with waves crashing on the beach 300 feet below. A finely dressed conductor got down the steps and yelled "all aboard!!!"...

    i had never seen my Grandma dressed so beautifully... in clothing she must've worn when she was young. A long, dark green Victorian dress with a very subtle paisley swirl pattern and a white lace top. She wore a large wide-brimmed Victorian hat from her early days. It had a large yellow ribbon wrapped around it with a big bow with a few fresh flowers... If the people on the train were dressed to the nines, my Grandmother was dressed to the tens.

    She turned now, away from the train and gave each of us a long and special hug and told us very gently and softly that she had to go away.

    The conductor looked like a very nice and kind man and he held out his white-gloved hand to help Grandma on board. He looked around to see if there was anyone else in our group or nearby who had been waiting for the train. No one, except Grandma.

    She then took his hand and they ascended up the steps to the doorway leading in. She turned back and smiled to us. Then she said something to the conductor that i couldn't make out, waved sweetly to us all, and boarded, my eyes following her into the waiting party. It looked like she knew most of the people. Some people hugged her and everyone looked happy to see her as if they were mostly long lost friends...

    Then the conductor went inside and closed the door quietly behind him. A moment later, the train started to move away slowly and before we knew it, it was gliding back and forth up into the clouds which had now formed, however wispy... we watched it make its way back out into the universe... out into eternity.

    i woke up the next morning to learn that Grandma had passed away gently in her sleep during the night.


  6. Years later, when i first heard Cat Stevens, it was Peace Train... and i could feel Grandma listening.

    Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
    Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

    Now I've been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
    And I believe it could be, something good has begun

    Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
    Cause its getting nearer, it soon will be with you

    Now come and join the living, its not so far from you
    And its getting nearer, soon it will all be true

    Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
    Why must we go on hating, why cant we live in bliss

    Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
    Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

  7. ps

    i can't wait to hear My Ransom, Savior's Kiss
    and Emmy's I Didn't Know It Was You - which i have a feeling are wonderful. It was actually through a recent post on Emmy's site that got me here.

    all my best wishes
    russ richter

  8. Russ... thanks! Actually, it was the Rhode Island shore... but I guess it's all connected!

  9. Great write up Phil, and cannot wait to hear the music. You truly are a man of God, not at all like others claim to be. I always watch what people do, not what they say.

    Yours in music and photography!


  10. Thanks Phil... duh. My senior moment there i guess! i knew it was Rhode Island and for some reason typed CT! My dumb. i loved your story by the way... some years back i lived in Saunderstown, RI for a bit. We used to go to Galilee/Jerusalem - near Point Judith - to buy fish right from the boats... and quahogging in the cove by Crescent Beach in Mattapoissett (MA) where my grandparents on both sides had summer places... Living here now in the very northern Appalachians of Vermont is great, but i truly miss the ocean and the old days...

  11. Phil, such a great post! I love the kindness and thoughtfulness in your words! You are doing great things for a GREAT God! Blessings!

  12. Thanks, Robin. I'm trying.


Your comments are welcome, and I will try answer any questions, if possible. Thanks for reading! pkm