Name That Tune

Following on from last night’s Country wig-out, comes this little beauty from First Aid Kit.

For a lot of people in the UK – myself included – my first encounter with First Aid Kit came as I sat jealously watching the live-ish coverage of the Sunday afternoon shenanigans from Glastonbury in 2013.

If memory serves, the BBC had just finished showing Kenny Rogers’ Legends slot on the Pyramid Stage, and then, with no word of an introduction, the camera faded to the view over the Park Stage area, before pulling back to reveal sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. A bit like this. Well, a lot like this actually. In fact, exactly like this:

Like so many others, judging by the comments under clip, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I’d never heard anything so beautiful; shortly afterwards my phone started buzzing as I got text after text from similarly smitten friends asking if I’d seen them.

So here then is the bar set high, not just in terms of gorgeous Swedish folk music, but in terms of the amount of famous people (four! count ’em!) to get a name-check in the song (for that’s why we’re here, remember?)

For those who don’t know who those named are, the titular Emmylou is Emmylou Harris, one of the most influential female country artists of all time. I had always thought that she and the Gram from the song – Gram Parsons, that is, formerly of The Byrds and alt-country forefathers The Flying Burrito Brothers – had been lovers, but on researching this post I find that may not actually be the case. Instead, it seems that their relationships may be one of the great unrequited love stories in music history.

The two recorded together, most famously their version of Everly Brothers classic “Love Hurts”:

Their chemistry was undeniable , but Parsons was married and Emmylou was a respectable Southern girl. Then Parsons filed for divorce, but not, it seems, as I had thought, to be with Emmylou. Instead, he had his eye on Margaret Fisher, a high-school sweetheart of his with whom he had rekindled a relationship. Emmylou, however, seemed to be blissfully unaware of this.

Parsons was due to head out on tour with Emmylou and the band in September 1973, but before he did so he headed out to the Joshua Tree National Park (or Monument as it was then known) with Fisher, personal assistant Michael Martin, and Dale McElroy, Martin’s girlfriend.

Two days later, he was found dead in his bedroom, killed by an unintentional overdose of morphine and alcohol. He was just 26. I say it was unintentional as the autopsy revelealed that Parsons had consumed enough morphine to kill three regular users, and so with a new leaf starting in his life it seems unlikely that his death was intentional. More likely is that he had overestimated his tolerance considering his experience with opiates. In the 2004 documentary “Fallen Angel” Keith Richards, perhaps a little unsympathetically, said that Parsons understood the danger of combining opiates and alcohol, and should have known better. But then I guess it’s easy to be dismissive when you’ve done as many drugs as Keef has.

Anyway, I say that Emmylou was unaware of his taking up with Fisher because in an interview after his death she said: “A couple of weeks before, I’d finally accepted the fact that I was in love with him. But, you know, why even tell him? I was going to see him in a few weeks. I had all the time in the world . . . I was savouring the moment. I didn’t want to say it to him over the phone. I wanted to say it to him in person. But I never got the chance.”

If only, eh?

To cheerier matters. Or maybe not. The other two name-checkees in the song are John and June, who of course are Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and I imagine you don’t need me to fill in quite so many blanks with them.

They first met in 1955 backstage at the Grand Ole Oprey and were married in 1968. The couple continued to work and tour together for 35 years – in fact June co-wrote Cash’s biggest hit “Ring of Fire” with Merle Kilgore (“Ring of Fire” is one of those songs which is so synonymous with one particular artiste that many assume Cash himself had some hand in writing it, but no).

In March 2003, Cash released the now legendary cover version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and the video that accompanied it is also the stuff of legend,  featuring images from Cash’s life interspersed with footage of – well, let’s just say he doesn’t look well – Cash performing the track as best he can.

Similarities can, of course, be drawn with the recent passing of Bowie, and his video for “Lazarus” (although as someone far wiser than I commented on Twitter “We were so pleased to have him back, we didn’t realise he was saying goodbye”). But with Johnny, well this was undeniably his farewell, and we knew it.

For what it’s worth, the promo was named the best video of the year by the Grammy Awards and Country Music Association Awards, and in July 2011 the NME voted it the best video of all time by NME in July 2011.

I can’t not show it now, can I?

The bit that gets me every time I watch that is not the frail state that Cash is in, distressing and uncomfortable as it is, nor the reliving of past glories – it’s the moment at around 02:35 when you suddenly see June standing on the staircase, adoringly watching over him.

And the reason it gets me every time is this: June died in May 2003. Cash, as if he could see no reason to carry on without her, died four months later.

Jesus, was that thirteen years ago??

Well, this has all got rather gloomy, hasn’t it? I think it must be the hangover from the far too many rock star deaths in Black January, a trend which sadly seems to be continuing into February too.

So let’s bring this back to the original song I came here to write about:


First Aid Kit – Emmylou

More soon. And something more cheery, I promise.

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