Recently The Curmudgeon scrolled down his iPod and selected the Emmylou Harris album “Evangeline” to accompany him while he baked chocolate raspberry bars for the high school marching band’s end-of-the-season dessert party; yes, marriage has made him a band parent. “Evangeline” is good old friend: old enough that The Curmudgeon originally bought it on vinyl and good enough that he bought it again on mp3 for his iPod.
Humming and occasionally even singing along while measuring and stirring – a sure sign that he was alone in the house – he came to a stop, of both measuring and stirring, humming and singing – as he does more often than not when Emmylou sang…
Now my grandfather was a sailor, he blew in off the water.
My father was a farmer and I, his only daughter.
…the opening line of the song “Millworker,” which time will mark as James Taylor’s greatest contribution to western culture. It’s a beautiful, poignant song with a lovely melody about a woman with an unsatisfying job and an unsatisfying life that she knows she’ll never escape, because, among other things, she
Took up with a no good millworking man from Massachusetts
who dies from too much whiskey and leaves me these three faces to feed.
And because of the turns in her life she is resigned to understanding that
…it’s me and my machine for the rest of the morning,
for the rest of the afternoon and the rest of my life.
James Taylor’s rendition of his song is outstanding. Much to The Curmudgeon’s surprise, Bette Midler, who’s never met a song or a scene she couldn’t chew into oblivion, also does a wonderful version (but you need to scroll past the first 22 seconds, which are filled with pointless crap because Bette ultimately is a sucker for crap of all kinds). Bruce Springsteen even tries, for reasons you’ll understand when you hear the lyrics if you’re unfamiliar with the song, but as is often the case when he covers the work of others and tries to make it his own, he swings and misses. The definitive version, at least for The Curmudgeon’s money – The Curmudgeon’s money twice, actually – is Emmylou Harris’s because the soft, plaintive quality of her voice brings out the heart-rending lyrics.
And if you listen closely enough to those lyrics, especially when Emmylou is singing them, they may just bring a tear to your eye.
Give it a listen.