wild love: gram parsons & emmylou harris

by Mary Kathryn Paynter

Image by Julie Cope

[Editor’s note: I’m thrilled to introduce both a new column and contributor to Design*Sponge. I met florist Mary Kathryn Paynter of Loretta Flower in Austin and instantly fell in love with her floral designs. So I was delighted to hear her fantastic idea for a new column called Wild Love dedicated to inspiring couples throughout history. With each post, Mary Kathryn will interpret the couple’s style through flowers and share an arrangement that you’ll learn to make at home. Welcome to the team, Mary Kathryn! xo, grace]

One of the greatest love stories in music, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ relationship was over before it began, but it produced a time-tested body of work. Merging the early 1970s sounds of rock and psychedelia with classic folk and country, Parsons and Harris helped bring about the “cosmic cowboy” sound and gave it a tenderness that was reflective of their electric chemistry.

Parsons made a name for himself when he joined well-known folk band the Byrds and infused their 1968 album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, with the sounds of early country greats like the Louvin Brothers and George Jones. Shortly after being kicked out for his hard-partying lifestyle, he joined the Rolling Stones in the south of France, contributing to their 1972 album, Exile on Main Street, widely regarded as the band’s best. He gave Harris her first big break, discovering her singing in a dive bar in Washington, D.C., and soon she was a part of his band, Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels, singing harmonies on his two solo albums and accompanying him on tour.

Images above, top to bottom: Gram Parsons, image courtesy of The Gram Parsons Foundation; Emmylou Harris, image by Denise Paxton.

Parsons was married and Harris was a respectable southern girl, but the energy between them was undeniable. After recording his second solo album, Grievous Angel, Parsons filed for divorce and went to Joshua Tree National Park, where he died suddenly and unexpectedly. Harris told an interviewer, “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 (sic) 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.” Since then, Emmylou Harris has written multiple songs in tribute to Parsons and continued to play his songs throughout her career. Harris has gone on to great success as one of the most influential female artists of our time, but her work is tinged with the sadness of losing a great love too soon.

In tribute to Gram & Emmylou, I created a bouquet that is a little cosmic and a little bit country. After the jump, I’ll teach you how to make it and tell you a little more about this talented couple. — Mary Kathryn

*If you have suggestions for couples you’d like to see in the column, please leave your favorites in the comment section below.*


Images above, top to bottom: Gram Parsons’ Memorial in Joshua Tree National Park, image via Wikimedia; Gram Parsons’ infamous “Gilded Palace of Sin” suit by Nashville rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn, photo by jbcurio; Emmylou Harris image by Denise Paxton

Image by Julie Cope

In tribute to Gram & Emmylou, this bouquet is a little cosmic and a little bit country. David Austin “Darcey” garden roses and icelandic poppies are reminiscent of the giant flowers embroidered into Gram Parson’s custom flashy rhinestone suits by famous Nashville tailor, Nudie Cohn. Rosy veronica, yellow acacia, asclepias and artemesia bring more color and a western wildflower feel to the bouquet, which is complemented by the loose and rustic style of the arrangement. Lastly, aeoniums are added with wire to give it all a Joshua Tree vibe.

Wiring succulents into a bouquet is a great way to introduce a textural element that can be replanted long after the other flowers have faded away. To do so, just cut a piece of floral wire about twice as long as the plant’s stem and carefully thread it from the base of the stem to just below the bloom. Wrap floral tape around the stem and wire connection, and continue wrapping down the wire. Voila! You can now use your succulent as if it were any other flower and replant it by just removing the wire and tape and sticking it in soil.

Above images by Julie Cope


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  • What an AMAZING new column! I don’t think that you could have chosen two better people to begin with; I adore both Gram and Emmylou. Streets of Baltimore is one of my favorite songs, and has been since I was a little girl–this post has made my day! And, of course, the flowers are absolutely beautiful, and perfect.

  • What a wonderful column! As a former floral designer, I look forward to more posts. The relationship between Anaïs Nin and Henry S. Miller is one of my favorite romances in history. I can imagine you doing amazing things with a Parisian bohemian theme!

  • What a gorgeous bouquet- would be great for a country wedding !! I can see it all- rodeo girls go round the outside!! Would love to see a Yoko Ono- John Lennon bouquet!! And a Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin one !! :-)

  • What a cool idea for a series and what a great first couple to choose! I love Emmylou and she has done such a beautiful job of keeping Gram’s spirit alive.

  • Great idea for a blog; and a super first post. Can’t wait to read more love stoires and see more interpretive arrangements! REALLY fun!

  • Wonderful idea, fabulous colorful bouquet “tribute.” What’s next? Anthony and Cleopatra..so many possibilities!

  • I really enjoyed learning about these musicians and I love the flower arrangement. I’m looking forward to future posts!

  • Love your story and photos/video. Plus the bouquet is fabulous. How about Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson?
    Aloha, Kate

  • I adored this column and learning some more music history! I went to Nashville this year and got to see Graham Parsons’ Nudie outfit in person as well as other amazing country music artists. Glad you are doing these, such a great idea!

  • What a fun column! Will look forward to reading future posts.

    Bonnie and Clyde!
    Charles and Rae Eames!!

  • So intrigued by whats coming next! Someone already posted Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash, my first choice! And I would love to see Evita & Juan Peron, Woodie Allen & Diane Keaton or (something wayyy out there) Aphrodite & Adonis!

  • This one was great, and I’m looking forward to the next columns. There are some good suggestions here! And I know flowers are supposed to be romantic, but how about some funny couples now and then? I’d love to see the occasional wacky bouquet.

  • I love this new column and love that it’s being contributed by an Austin home-girl. Great idea. Now I must go listen to Oooo, Las Vegas.

  • LOVE this column!! Can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us! My votes are for Pierre and Marie Curie, Cleopatra and Antony and for a modern twist, Barack and Michelle Obama!

  • For a departure from heterosexual coupledom… How about a Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas bouquet? I sense some great possibilities, old-fashioned, picasso-esque, some edible elements, paper, wool, silk,

  • Fantastic idea! My nomination is for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez; One of the most iconic passionate and creative couples of the 20th century. I see some Hollywood glam mixed with a latin burst of fire!

  • Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton get my vote! That would be one crazy, passionate, messy bouquet of magic!

    Fabulous new column – unique, fun and educational!

  • Fairly obvious, I guess…but Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall had a great love story! Here’s looking at your bouquet kid. And I second Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft–fun blend of wackiness and glamor. (For inspiration, watch Anne on Mel’s Silent Movie!)

  • What a fun idea! Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman were one of my all-time favorite couples. I would love to see how you could interpret them into bouquet form.

  • I love Brandi’s idea of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman! What wonderful, endearing couple – and a life long strong commitment to love. They might just be the perfect couple!

  • My son is named Gram so you know where I’m coming from on this…THIS is brilliant. You have truly captured the essence of this elusive love between God’s Own Singer and his Grevious Angel.

  • Arrangement is wonderful but I have to say the candles would take away any possibility of enjoying the scent of the flowers! Concept is limitless and should be a fun, creative posting.

  • What a FANTASTIC idea for a new column!!! And I love Gram Parsons! The two of them are some real colorful, spicy, Western twang for sure and you’ve definitely channeled their Spirit Flowers. Can’t wait to see what pairings you put together next! My only request is that you keep them as bright and lively as this bouquet. I’d walk down the aisle with this one!

  • Wow, I’m loving this new column! I’m a big fan of Emmylou’s older stuff (she is so productive, it’s hard to keep up with all her work), including all those great duets with Gram. So many great ideas for the future, too.

  • viva Manuel Cuevas and the great suit he designed for G.Parsons. the suit was featured in the 2005 exhibit at the Frist Center titled “Manuel: Star-Spangled Couture”

  • What beautiful flowers for Gram and Emmylou. Gram, you passed away too young. Am sure you still had songs in your heart that hadn’t been written yet, that we will never hear in this lifetime. Emmylou, Thank You for giving us your music then and now! All of the songs you sing have emotion, but I can hear a difference in your voice when you sing songs that you and Gram sang together. I play guitar and sing some of your songs, and like you, I only want to play and sing songs that move me.

  • This is the first
    time I had heard those quotes from Emmylou regarding her love for Gram. Do you mind giving the date and name of the interviewer? I’ve only heard Emmylou say that she would not discuss her relationship with Gram. If these quotes are validated, I would love to share with my fellow Gram friends.

  • I’m not sure if this column is still happening but on the topic of inspirational music couples, please look into David Lamb and MorganEve Swain of brown bird. They were a folk duo from Providence, RI. David Lamb’s incredible musical talent and his genius for story telling in his lyrics coupled with MorganEve’s powerful supporting vocals emit feelings of pure love through their music. In 2013, Lamb collapsed on stage in the middle of their east coast tour. He was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. He put up a valiant battle but tragically died in April of 2014. Their final album, Axis Mundi, was just released in April 2015, a year after his passing. It’s a testament to their love for each other and their music, his fight with cancer, and then ultimately his passing the musical torch to MorganEve. Please listen to the song and keep David Lamb’s beautiful musical spirit alive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrazXDCsHiM

  • Hello! Also wondering if you have a source for that Emmylou Harris quote about Gram? Would really love to find that interview. Thanks!

  • This has to be one of the most beautiful ideas I have came across in my life. I am a huge fan of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and just knowing that someone would take the time to do something so personal and unique to these two people makes me have faith in humanity. I cannot believe I did not come across this article sooner, but I am very happy and inspired by it. This is a wonderful tribute to two innovative artists. Thank you.

  • No, Jacinta. Because it’s fake, I’m pretty sure.

    There’s no source for it online anywhere. I’ve looked up and down, left and right. I have a feeling after all these years, sometimes people just romanticize things a little bit more than they were.

    I think Emmy did love Gram. I am no historian on the subject, but it would seem that their relationship was truly that of a mentor and student – and a man who introduced a woman to a sound and music that changed the course of her entire life. Maybe there was some underlying passion there, sure. But quite frankly – we’ll never know.

    And filling peoples minds with unverified information about a dead persons life is, in my opinion, a tad bit wrong. But oh well – I’m off my soapbox. Pretty sure the quotes fake.

    We know what we know and can only work with that.

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