Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Country Could Use A Little Mercy Now

I miss a lot, always have.  And it has always been a source of joy to circle back and rediscover a nugget or two I missed.

Recently, I upgraded my smartphone’s software and tried for the first time iTunes Radio.  I was heading out on a ride on the Cross Bones and wanted to listen to it through the speakers in my helmet.

I plugged in Emmylou Harris, one of my favorite channels on Pandora, a similar service.  For anyone new to streaming music, when you use these services, you can input an artist and it creates a channel of music from not only that artist but others an algorithm selects as similar.

The second song I heard that day was a ballad I had never heard before, Mercy Now, by Mary Gauthier (pronounced GOat-chay.) 

Harlan Howard, who wrote many of the songs I heard while growing up, including “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline, once defined a great country song as “three chords and the truth.”

Mercy Now” is the truth and Gauthier often describes it in interviews as an epiphany regarding forgiveness.  It reached the top 10 in 2005 and was acclaimed as the sixth best song of that decade, yet escaped my attention until September 30, 2013.

I love that about life.  Always things to learn, even when you pan for nuggets you missed along the way.

Mary Gauthier was a one year old orphan in Louisiana the year Patsy Cline made Harlan Howard’s song her first #1 hit on the Country music charts.  Cline died in a plane crash in 1963.

As part of my “running from Idaho” days I ran from country music too.  But there were always several rock songs in the mid to late ‘60s that had a country sound even if it was just a guitar riff such as the one Keith Richards uses to start the Stone’s “Honky Tonk Woman.”

The Beatles were heavily influenced by country as you can hear on the cover of Carl Perkins’ “Glad All Over” in 1963.  When you are raised on country music, it doesn’t take much for that sound to resonate, such as  Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” his first hit after a 1966 accident on his Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle.

Dylan admits that the accident caused him to get off the “rat race.”

In 1968, Gram Parsons joined The Byrds and for me “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was as country as it gets.  Parsons’ sound influenced the entire genre of country rock.  He was also instrumental in helping Emmylou Harris find her sound, although she has joked, “I smoked county music but I didn’t inhale.”

I still have a mixed tape of their early songs with Parsons that was given to me as a present by a law school friend a few months after my daughter was born in 1973, the year Parsons tragically died.

Grievous Angel,” recorded with Harris, was released posthumously to acclaim.  Hearing her come in behind GP on “That’s All It Took,” made it a favorite, as when Emmylou took lead later in the 70s with Rodney Crowell.

Which brings me full circle to Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now” and “three chords and the truth.”   She’s in her fifties now but didn’t pen her first song until she was 35.

Though written before 2005, a verse speaks to today’s events:

“My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful
Who follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now.”

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