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BOWS TO HOLLY


“Much has transpired to shape the national discourse in the 18 months since Holly Gleason began working on Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives,” wrote Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel when our Nashville editrix headed south for The Miami Book Fair. “Much has happened in the last 18 days to make it essential reading.” Wish we’d written that. 

The anthology—which brings together 27 women writers of all ages, races, occupations and orientations—filters music journalism through personal experience, encompassing vulnerability, doubt, loss, triumph, joy and transition. Woman Walk the Line is a core sample of country’s most intriguing females. Taylor Swift and Rosanne Cash do double duty as contributors and essay subjects, while Dolly PartonShania TwainMaybelle CarterKacey MusgravesMary Chapin CarpenterLoretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris are among the subjects.

It wasn’t just women’s voices that landed one of our own a rave review in The New York Times Book Review—it was the power of women’s art. And that’s not all, folks. Holly’s book was hailed as “truly stunning” by Paste and described as “a rhapsodic, moving look at music’s transformative power” by People. We can’t believe our good fortune that this celebrated literary figure is slumming with us hacks. 

Why this book, and why now? Damn, Holly, you’re downright prescient.
It just seems like people write off women’s voices. The Weinstein effect exists because women felt no one would listen—or believe them. But the truth is, we hear each other’s stories, and we find inspiration in them. So as I was finishing my master’s, I said to myself, “There are too many great female writers who may not write a book, and I want to know they’re preserved with a perfect binding.” And in teaching at MTSU, I find my students can’t articulate why they respond to music they love, or understand how it can change a life. There’s a bit of hopeful “monkey see, monkey do.” I’m amazed every semester how their discernment grows.

How did you match up your writers and subjects?
It was very scientific: two legal pads. One said “Artists,” the other “Writers.” The question was always the same, “Who was she? Who was the artist who changed everything?” What changed varied. Ali Berlow was paralyzed by grief after losing her mentor; Emmylou Harris punctured her emotions; Grace Potter was transfixed by Linda Ronstadt’s look and voice—you see what happened. Novelist, songwriter, Quincy Jones protege and black intellectual Alice Randall found Lil Hardin while researching for Ken Burns, but saw a woman who reflected her experience in country music. Even Access Hollywood producer Nancy Harrison’s take on Dolly Parton spins feminism in a surprising way.

Exene said, “This is for country girls, and city girls. But really this book is for everyone.” Do you see it that way?
The BBC’s Mark Hagen said, “This book isn’t about music—it’s about life.” And I think that’s true. Just like you don’t have to like country music. I’ve joked that it gives men the playbook from behind enemy lines. But our society tells men to “suck it up.” This book not only gives names to emotions they’re denied, it gives men permission to feel them. You’d be shocked at the interviews and what’s discussed.

What inspired your own essay, the colorfully titled “Punk Rock & Sex Wide Open”? 
Tanya Tucker
’s emancipation album, TNT. Show me the person who saw her in that sprayed-on red Lycra catsuit who ever forgot that image? To a kid in a plaid skirt and knee socks, it was electric. But it was a valuable lesson in not buying into labels; Tucker’s record wasn’t all that different from Rachel Sweet’s Fool Around on Stiff

The second moral of the fairy tale was a pivot: She hit tabloid critical mass but emerged with an even more successful country career. To me, it said, “Shake off gossip. Talent wins.” In today’s gotcha world, with haters, mean kids, bullying and people who are just nasty, it’s a good message. 

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