A Personal History of Music, Day 30: “Lover’s Return,” by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

John Scalzi

In one’s life, one is lucky to get one or two genuinely perfect moments. This song soundtracked one of mine, which I described here on Whatever a couple of years ago:

It’s 1999. Krissy and I had our first house. Our daughter was newly born. I had gotten my first book contract, or was about to, and was successfully freelancing as a writer. On the evening of one of those days, Krissy was bathing our infant daughter while I talked to her about the day. Our dog Kodi napped contentedly in a corner, and a song was playing in the background.

It was a simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment in my daily life, and yet in the moment I had the presence of mind to recognize that in that simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment, I was absolutely and transplendently happy with my life and the people in it. I was happy. We were happy. We were all happy together. It was a clarity of joy that one gets only a few times in one’s life, and here it was, while my wife was bathing my daughter and talking to me about nothing in particular. It was at the time, and remains in my memory, a perfect moment.

Why was I listening to this song? Because I was a music critic at the time, and Trio II, the album it was on, had come out recently, and I was planning to review it. There was no planning for it to be on at that moment; I had put it on and then checked in on Krissy and Athena, and then quite accidentally stumbled into this small perfect moment. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to remember it. I’m pretty sure having this song, with its close harmonies from Ronstadt, Parton and Harris, helped anchor it in my mind.

Listening to it now does not take me back to the moment. But it reminds me I had it, and that is more than enough. The memory of a perfect happiness is in itself a happiness.

It’s why, among other things, I’m choosing this song to close out this series. We are ending, emotionally and in the case of Dolly Parton’s harmony line, literally, on a high note. Thank you for coming along with me on this tour of music that has mattered to me. I hope you enjoyed reading and listening to it as much as I enjoyed presenting it to you.

— JS

10 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 30: “Lover’s Return,” by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris”

  1. Your post today reminded me of an event you spoke at, and you included the story about the first time you danced with Krissy. You were covering a dance for a newspaper, and it was in California. No longer remember the song, hoping you’ll refresh my memory.

    I apologize if it’s on this list, I don’t always get a chance to check your posts (which is definitely my loss).

  2. May I ask why you picked all-female vocalists? Are we going to have a repeat of this next year with all male vocalists?

    And yes – I have enjoyed the month, and this closing entry. I’m certainly fond of songs that lyrically capture this feeling (Our House – CSNY, some song by Simon and Garfunkel that escapes me, and Yours and Mine by Fountains of Wayne (fuck COVID … what a loss to popular music).

  3. it is impossible to pick which of these three women is best — they are all transcendently genius at their chosen craft. I continue to be amazed at how many of Scalzi’s picks are performers we listen to often. And the others are great advice to pick up on.

    Such a tragedy that Linda Ronstadt can not sing any more, what a great voice she had. Dolly and Emmy Lou continue their roll. Dolly does such good work for the community with her book drive.

    Thanks, Scalzi, for sharing this great list. Your taste in music is closely aligned with mine, which makes it great!

  4. I’m curious to know if there is a ‘Scalzi’ bump in sales when you mention a song/artist in a post. I know I’ve purchased a number of songs based on your recommendations…

  5. Probably no “Scalzi Bump” at this point, as most of the music has been out for years and also is available for streaming. I am, alas, no “Stranger Things.”

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