5.04.2011


Lauren is one of my bestest blogging buddies. She is from Nashville, which is like, the coolest thing in the world to me. We love to chat about everything, life in the south, our cute cute pets, and whatever else is on our minds. But our most favorite thing to talk about is music, girl knows her music, and so I am going to let her take it from here!


A couple of years ago, I started lurking on Jamie's blog. At first, my lurking was for wedding planning inspiration, but it quickly morphed into an admiration for her aesthetic, her love of the desert... and most of all, our mutual love of much of the same music. I think I secretly thought to myself, "I could be friends with this girl" and as it turns out, I could be. And I am. And that makes me happy. It really started over a deep love of Gram Parsons. When I first saw Jamie's inspiration board for her desert wedding, a photo of Gram in his Nudie suit was right smack dab in the dead center. I knew that any woman who would use a photo of Gram on a wedding inspiration board was a bad ass motor scooter. I wasn't wrong.


For those of you who don't know much about Mr. Parsons, here is the juice: His childhood was that of Southern Gothic folklore that included a father named 'Coon Dog', alcoholic parents, and a regal name that included a roman numeral. After the suicide of his biological father when he was 12, his mother remarried and he was adopted by his step-father, which is where he got his last name. That parental relationship was tumultous also, with his step-father having an affair and his mother drinking herself to death. Of course, just like a VH1 Behind the Music, Gram turned to music as his salve for the soul. Gram went to Harvard where he surprisingly heard Merle Haggard for the first time. (I know. You would figure being from such a crazy family in the deep South that he would've heard some country music before then, but alas. This is the stuff of legend).

He moved to LA where he joined The Byrds, and was at the helm of their best album, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo", forcing the band to record it in Nashville. In fact, he was with the Byrds as they were the first 'rock' group to play on the Grand Ol' Opry. (The Opry made him get a haircut before they allowed him on the stage). He left the band in 1968 under some sketchy circumstances, but during that time he'd become pals with the Rolling Stones. "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and Gram's songwriting really, in my opinion, mark the birth of modern Americana music, the alt-country movement and the integration of rock music with country music in a tangible way. Of course, I don't know that he realized that's what he was doing. But if you ask modern alt-country musicians if they can pinpoint the moment when the tide turned in their favor, it will almost always start with Gram. And a lot of the time, it will point directly to this album. (Gram called it Cosmic American Music).


Gram then founded The Flying Burrito Brothers. (It's time for a personal side note. Bernie Leadon, an original Burrito Bro, was the brother of my childhood guitar teacher, Tom Leadon. Tom was in MudCrutch, which was Tom Petty's first band). They continued to modernize country music, got some Nudie suits, and recorded some albums. This is where things start to change. Gram started gambling and snorting cocaine. He partied too much. He went to France and lived at Villa Nellcote with the Rolling Stones while they were recording Exile on Main Street. Legend has it that he is all OVER that album, but has no credits in the liner notes. Legend ALSO has it that Gram was the inspiration for the song "Wild Horses". I'm here to tell you that hanging with the Stones will push a borderline drug addict over the edge into full-blown addiction. When the Stones have to ask you to leave, you know you're in big trouble.

gram + keith. photo by dominique tarle.

So you get kicked out of the Stones recording sessions in the South of France. What do you do? You return home, marry this kind of unstable and much younger aspiring actress girlfriend, attemp to kick a heroin habit, and discover Emmylou Harris. Yup. After seeing her perform in a bar in DC, they became fast friends and decide to tour together. Man, those two had some steamy on-stage sexual tension. Emmylou, ever the lady, still refuses to comment on her relationship with Gram. She claims they were just close friends. But Gram's wife was on the tour, and she had some major issues with their close-ness and apparent intimacy during performances. Also along on the tour bandwagon: Phil Kaufman. Phil served as Gram's manager/wrangler. Poor Phil must've really loved Gram, because he was pretty much single-handedly responsible for Gram's "sobriety" during the tour. One night, after the funeral of a beloved friend and musician, Clarence White, Gram drunkenly told Phil that his wish was to be cremated in Joshua Tree. Gram loved the park. He would literally disappear for days in the park, doing drugs and avoiding his failing marriage. With his new girlfriend and some pals, he ventured into the park and stayed at the Joshua Tree Inn. It was here that he died of an overdose of morphine and alcohol. I guess this is what you get when you try to keep up with Keith Richards... such a shame.


But here is where the story gets REAL juicy: Gram's step-father was set to inherit Gram's share of a family estate. But first, he had to prove that Gram was a resident of the state of Louisiana. He somehow finagled a way for Gram to be buried near New Orleans, fufilling the Napoleonic Code of my home state. Gram's body was waiting at LAX. Phil Kaufman, wishing to grant the wish of his prematurely dead genius of a friend, got drunk, borrowed a hearse that had no license plate, convinced the good folks at LAX that he was supposed to transport the body elsewhere, drove drunk back to Joshua Tree with a dead Gram in the back of the hearse, poured 5 gallons of gas into the coffin, lit a match, and watched it burn. Legend has it that Emmylou, Gram Nash, and a group of friends were watching the flames of their beloved Gram lick the sky from some undisclosed location within the park. (This is the rumoured subject of Emmylou's famous tune "Boulder to Birmingham"). A few days later, Kaufman and his accomplice were arrested. The kicker? There was no law in the state of California about stealing a dead body. They were fined a few hundred bucks and got off scott free. Apparently, there is a commemorative concrete slab where Gram's body was burned. I think it might have been moved, but ever'body still apparently pays homage, painting his initials on the rocks and leaving their trinkets. 

So what is it that we love so much about Gram? His whole life is fairly undocumented, and a lot of the events that formed him as a musician are the stuff of rock legend. He was a charismatic visionary, and is responsible for my love of country music. He is the easiest pill to swallow if you're just getting into the deep, deep hole that is country music. Who can resist a man who loved Emmylou and wore a Nudie suit embroidered with pot leaves, pills and a cross? Someday I will get to Joshua Tree to see where Gram spent his last hours. Granted, they were drug fueled and spent with a woman who was not his wife, but the legend remains. And hopefully I'll get there with Jamie, Ben, and their little one. You know we're gonna teach him all about this music stuff. Let's hope it sticks.

14 comments:

  1. thank you for the intro to naurnie, and naurnie for the (fascinating) intro to gram parsons. i'm in an i-need-medicine-to-soothe-my-soul kind of funk and this is the perfect kind.

    ReplyDelete
  2. you're welcome, ml! nice to meet ya. gram is a nice way to pull out of a funk. good luck. xo.

    ReplyDelete
  3. well done, LB; well done indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. i love this post, naurnie. i grew up listening to and being inspired by rock/folk/country bands from the 60s/70s. there is something timeless and comforting about their music that continues to inspire my work (albeit, photography) to this day. i just read about gram parson's last hours at the joshua tree inn and that the room still exists (my friend and i are planning a road trip to joshua tree next month). funny to read your post mentioning it!

    p.s. i'm so happy to have a new blog to read!

    ReplyDelete
  5. @kidchamp - Thanks! Your opinion means a lot. Your approval made me feel cocky all day.

    @mercie - nice to meet you! i wanna hop in the car on that joshua tree road trip.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Um, I love you and your rundown on the amazing Gram Parsons, who has long been my favorite singing myself silly in the car music! Epic. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE this... such a great tribute to amazing, amazing gram! i have to say that i totally blame keith richards for the loss of gram by introducing him to the serious stuff. you are my new fave, naurnie!! also, i keep getting foiled in my plot to stay in room 8 at the j tree in and have a seance. maybe that's for the best. plan ahead if you go because that room books up fast!

    ReplyDelete
  8. We get a NAURNIE POST *and* it's a GRAM PARSONS POST? Best day ever.

    Can I humbly add to the party?

    1. The Joshua Tree Inn is for sale. Not only can you stay in Room No. 8, but you can own it, too. Huzzah.

    2. More juicy bits to the story behind the cremation (according to some old-timer Joshua Tree folks): a very wasted Phil Kaufman and Michael Martin doused the coffin in fuel and lit it up not far from the road near Cap Rock (for those of you seeking the shrine) but bolted when they saw headlights in what was then just a remote national monument, thinking it was the po-lice. Poor Gram was only partially cremated- it was a real mess for the cops. Way to go Phil and Mike, right?

    3. Check out the painted tin Grievous Angel at True World Gallery in downtown JT if you ever get the chance. Folk art genius.

    ReplyDelete
  9. BIG BANG - LOVE YOU. seriously. can you take me to joshua tree? it would be more fun w/ you + jamie. i've never been + i need to know these things. xo.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lauren, this is so badass. A Joshua Tree pilgrimage. I like. And I want in. Pick me up in Little Rock on your way out west. Thanks. xo.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is one of the best posts I've ever read.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous8:05 AM

    Hi!

    I've been wanting to read a Gram Parsons biography, but I see several. Have a recommendation? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Anonymous! You should check out Grievous Angel. It is very good; Hickory Wind is not as comprehensive (even though it is written by Ben Fong-Torres).

    ReplyDelete