One day, in 1975, a few weeks into my freshman year of college, I got a new roommate.
She unpacked, introduced herself, and put a stack of albums on top of my record player.
“This is my cousin,” she said, pointing to a cover with a picture of a pretty woman with long dark hair. “She’s going to be the biggest thing in country music.”
Mentally rolling my eyes, I took it from her. The title of the album was “Pieces of the Sky” and it was by someone called Emmylou Harris. I had never heard of her.
In the next few weeks, I listened to Emmylou a lot. For one thing, even between us, we didn’t have a big record collection. But usually what led me to pick that album was the clear, sweet voice. Emmylou Harris knew what to do with a song.
When she came to town – back to her hometown – for a performance, I sat in the grand old theater downtown and watched her play, and I listened to the sound of that exquisite voice chase itself around the auditorium. After the concert my roommate took me backstage to meet her cousin.
Emmylou was smaller than I had thought she would be, leggy with a fragile slenderness that lengthened her and made her look taller than she was. But she was every bit as pretty as the pictures on her album covers.
I became a fan, but I didn’t completely become a believer until I met a boy and fell head over heels. When he broke my heart, I played my roommate’s records – by this time Harris had released “Elite Hotel”– and it felt like Emmylou was singing especially for me. Songs like “If I could only win your love” and “Sweet Dreams,” accompanied by the ubiquitous popping and faint hiss of the vinyl records, were the soundtrack of my heartache as I sat and cried, cloistered in the little dormitory room.
That was 30 years ago. It’s all ancient history now. We all moved on.
I took a leave from school, fleeing the too-small campus that made me feel as though I was smothering, and forgot about the boy who had made me cry.
My roommate married a classmate. I lost touch, but I think she had a child, divorced and remarried.
And just as she had predicted, Emmylou Harris became the biggest thing in country music – one of the biggest names in music of any kind. She became a legend.
Last Thursday night I stood in the green room at the Opera House watching as Emmylou Harris was given a key to the city of Spokane. Afterward, I introduced myself and asked her to tell my old roommate hello.
Just as I had done so long ago, I stood backstage beside Emmylou and noticed how beautiful she is. Still fine-boned as a bird, the dark hair is silver now, but the face and voice are just as sweet.
Later, I sat in the audience and listened to her sing. When she sang a few of the songs from those first albums, I thought about my roommate and how much fun she had been; about how young we had both been.
I thought about the boy who was so careless with my heart. Several years ago, someone told me he had married and had children. He’s a banker now, not the professional baseball player he was so sure he would become. And all that hair he was so proud of is long gone.
Everything about everything is different now. Except the songs.
The moment Emmylou Harris walked onto the stage, strapped on her guitar and the pure silver sound of her voice filled the room, it was all the same.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.