The Gram Parsons Manifesto

I satisfied 2 burning obsessions today.

After a lifetime of hope and want, I finally got my first pair of Air Jordans. What a great feeling! Opening the box and lacing them up was like the first day of school, the first day of basketball practice, and tip-off at the Dean Dome all rolled into one. I always wanted a pair as a youngster, but my folks never had the cash to pay $100 for a pair of shoes, especially knowing that I would destroy them and/or outgrow them in 6 months.

I'll let this soak in for a bit and will then pen a post outlining the psyche of a 26 year old man so easily excited by Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes.

If getting a pair of iconic basketball shoes was already enough, Netflix sent me the new Gram Parsons documentary, "Fallen Angel". (I watched the film while wearing my new Jordans, eating leftover Pepper's pizza, and drinking a PBR in a can. Truly a transcendental hour and a half.)

Gram Parsons was a musician from the late 60s and early 70s that, in a sense, defined a genre of music. Many call it "alternative country" or "country rock". Gram described it as "Cosmic American Music". (Note the tag line on myblog.) Whatever you want to call it, I think he made some of the best music ever recorded.

His music is timeless and his story is fascinating. Some of the highlights:

  • His father was named Coon Dog Conner. I'm not making this up.

  • His mother's family ran a huge citrus plantation in Florida. Gram grew up with everything he could ever want, but had a pretty screwed up family life. (Coon Dog committed suicide, leaving a note that supposedly said only "I love you Gram".)

  • He met Elvis as a 10 year old.

  • Throughout his career, he lived off of his substantial trust fund. He would show up in a limo to play a gig in front of 15 people.

  • Gram went to Harvard to escape the South and start his music career. He sent numerous heartfelt letters to his sister, expressing his love and such. Given the family situation, he very much felt like the family protector, especially the protector of his sister. (QuentinCompson anyone?)

  • Gram played with the Byrds. He was the "country" influence behind "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" - the original alt-country record.

  • Gram ditched the Byrds to hang with Keith Richards and the Stones. Gram was supposedly the "country" influence behind "Exile On Main Street" - the best Stones album far and away. The Stones also let Gram record "Wild Horses" for "Burrito Deluxe" before they recorded it for "Sticky Fingers".

  • He gave Emmylou Harris her big break as a back up singer on his solo albums "GP" and "Grievous Angel".

  • He recorded his solo albums with Elvis' band.

As the story too often goes, Gram lived a reckless life and died at 26 from a drug/alcohol overdose. The story that follows his death is the stuff of rock and roll legend. If you don't know it already,Google it or, better yet, watch the documentary. This post is long enough and I haven't even started to bring it home.

Why write all of this? For one, the world needs to know about Gram Parsons. If I had to pick between Gram Parsons and Netflix, I would pick Gram Parsons. If Nike made Air Parsons, I would own every pair.

For two, of all of the "tragic rock star deaths", I think his is one of the most unfortunate. He was making music that no one else was making at the time. The fact that his story and his music passes through The Byrds, The Stones, Emmylou Harris, and, indirectly, The Eagles speaks to the scope of his influence.

And he did all of this before he died at 26! In my opinion, he should be mentioned in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix as someone that God put on the Earth for the sole purpose of defining a musical moment.

If he doesn't die at 26, I say he ends up being in the Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen conversation as folk artist that embodies all that is beautiful and true in American music.