Fallen Angel (In memory of Gram Parsons, November 5, 1946-September 19, 1973)

September 19, 2009

January 14, 2007. A friend lent me her DVD about Gram Parsons (I think it’s called Gram Parsons Fallen Angel) so I watched it last night, not expecting too much as I am not exactly a fan of that sort of music. It turned out to be quite engrossing, though, mainly due to Gram himself. He was so pretty and charismatic and you could see immediately that he was destined to be a Tragic Figure. I didn’t know this before, but his biological father committed suicide when Gram was very young, and then a man named Bob Parsons married Gram’s mother and adopted him and his sister. Both step-dad and mom were serious alcoholics, which is where I guess Gram got his gene for overindulgence himself. He was also a trust-fund baby (his mother’s family were wealthy as hell) so later, when he moved to LA to become a musician, he never had to worry about the paying gigs the way some of his bandmates did. He was able to drink and do lots of drugs and go to London at the drop of a hat to hang with his close friend Keith Richards. It’s as if Gram never had to grow up in a way, despite the fact that by now he was a father himself. There’s a lot more to the story, but in the end he died at a motel at the Joshua Tree Monument in California, a victim of his own overindulgence at age 26, and in the presence of three friends. (One of them was interviewed for the film; she still seems understandably affected by the fact that her friend died right in front of her. I don’t expect a person could ever get over something like that.) Then there was a fight between Gram’s estranged step-dad and Gram’s friends over his body, which led to his friends literally stealing his casket from the airport before it could be flown to New Orleans and his family. His two very stoned friends took his body to Joshua Tree, opened the casket, poured gasoline on him and set him on fire in some sort of ritual cremation. This was apparently what Gram had wanted, though he probably would have appreciated it if they had been sober enough to finish the job properly. His half-burned casket and remains were found shortly afterward by the side of the road and eventually were flown to New Orleans after all, where he now hopefully rests in peace. I don’t know what it says that I think Gram Parsons as a person was much more interesting than his music. I suppose I am just naturally drawn to Tragic Figures, as are many of us….you know, there but for the grace of God and lack of a trust fund and so on.

September 19, 1009. I’ve grown to be just as interested on Gram’s music as I am in him as a person since I scribbled the above thoughts 2+ years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize for myself what a true pioneer Gram was and how bands like Wilco and the Jayhawks and so many others would not ever have existed if not for him. Everyone says that, I know, but it’s true. I wonder what he might have been had he lived, but I guess a lot of people wonder the same, though maybe our conclusions differ.

I don’t know, but “Return of the Grievous Angel” sounds like a little piece of heaven to me today. Thanks for that and everything else, Gram.


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