Return of the Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons
Country music alternate universe: Week 2
The thing about Gram Parsons is that the story has surpassed the music. This is normally a something reserved for the myth-making-rock-and-roll-died-too-young club (e.g. Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, blah, blah, blah)But neither Gram Parsons nor this album Grievous Angel (N.B. Which I bought as part of a Gram Parsons double album with his debut, GP, for $6 out of the Guestroom used CD bin) are rock and roll, by a stretch. It’s been called country rock and Parsons himself called it “Cosmic American Music” which I adore. However, there’s too much slide guitar and harmony for it to be mistaken for rock and roll. But it is amazing.
That’s Emmylou Harris (N.B. She of 12 Grammys and collaborations with everyone from Ryan Adams to Warren Zevon with The Boss and Willie in between) on backing vocal. And Emmylou Harris is certainly a part of the story. The legend is that Parsons intended to give Harris a more prominent role on the record. However, because Parsons overdosed in a hotel outside of Joshua Tree National Park after cutting the album, and Parsons’ widow was none too fond of he and Harris’ relationship (N.B. Astute readers will recall the song Emmylou by First Aid Kit and the line “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too.”)(N.B. and if you don’t know who June and Johnny are, email me and I’ll cancel your subscription) and decided to edit her out save a small credit on the back of the album.
Another part of the legend finds Parsons in 1971 summering in a villa, Nellcôte, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice France with his friend Keith Richards (N.B. do all roads of great music eventually trek though the Rolling Stones?) where Richards and his band-mates had gathered to: (a) avoid paying back taxes in their native England; and (b) record Exile on Main St.
Depending on who’s talking, Parsons was ultimately asked to leave for being a heroin addled jerk (N.B. which makes a lot of sense given the Stones’ strait-edge reputation), Mick was jealous of Parsons and Richards’ relationship, and/or Parsons’ influence on Exile is pervasive. Regardless, Parsons’ being tied to one of the (N.B. if not the single) greatest rock albums of all-time only builds his legend.
So maybe Parsons was supremely influential in a seminal moment in rock history and maybe he wasn’t. But I know why country music didn’t spin off of him the way it should have. As mentioned above, he died of a drug overdose (morphine/alcohol)(N.B. and let’s be honest, if someone tells you they’re on morphine and alcohol isn’t that past the point of drugs being fun? Like how competing in full triathlons is past the point of “staying in shape”) in September 19, 1973.
You would think that his death might have at least stopped new wrinkles to the legend of Gram Parsons. But no, his over-dosed body was abducted (N.B. are bodies “abducted” or “stolen?”) from LAX awaiting shipment (N.B. Yeah, stolen.) back to Louisiana. And I’ll just cut and paste the rest, because it’s amazing.
“To fulfill Parsons’ funeral wishes, Kaufman [Parsons’ long-time manager] and a friend stole his body from the airport and in a borrowed hearse drove it to Joshua Tree. Upon reaching the Cap Rock section of the park, they attempted to cremate Parsons’ corpse by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. The police gave chase but, as one account puts it, “were encumbered by sobriety,” and the men escaped. The two were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 pounds (16 kg) of his charred remains in the desert. Parsons’s body was eventually buried in Garden of Memories of Metairie, Louisiana.” (Linky to the Wiki)(Brackets are mine)
Of course they made a movie about it, Grand Theft Parsons. I’ve never seen it.
All of this (N.B. and let’s be honest, it’s fucking amazing) has obscured the music. And Parsons’ music was important and maybe should have been more important at least to country music (N.B. NP) today. But we’ll never know.