PSF: What was so special about Gram that made you want to write a book about him?
Sid Griffin interview
by Jason Gross
I started to write a book on Gram because of discussions a friend of mine, the gay poet and novelist Dennis Cooper (and I mean gay, that's the theme of all his work) had about Gram being so terrific and not getting enough of the spotlight. The book was our attempt to bring a little of the spotlight to Gram and his musical legacy. I like to think my book and all the interviews we did in the Long Ryders rapping about Gram Parsons are one of the reasons he is so important today.
PSF: What did he do that was so unique?
It's hard to say without hearing his music. People who don't know his music are missing out because if you like post-war Western pop music at all you can hear Gram and get into it. The rockers can hear "Sum Up Broke" or "Hot Burrito #2," the schmaltzy types can hear "Brass Buttons" or "Hot Burrito #1," the country fans can hear "Ooh Las Vegas" or "Still Feeling Blue," the R&B fans can hear "Dark End Of The Street" or "You Don't Miss Your Water"... Man, there is something for seemingly everyone and all of it is laced with that sweet cosmic American soulful singing the guy was known for.
PSF: What is Gram's legacy? Ultimately, what was his contribution?
Gram's legacy, as it stands today, is definitely Emmylou and alt-country as both would never have happened in the way they did without him. He fills in so many gaps between the sixties and seventies and what's happening now whilst being the ultra-important link in the chain between hip stuff like George Jones and less hip but wildly popular stuff like the Eagles (once memorably described by Gram as "a plastic dry fuck").
Further to all this, Gram Parsons' music made it okay for so many people like me and so many much younger than I am to like country music. This is the guy who explained it all to Richards and Jagger who like country music somewhat but who "considered it something of a joke". Next thing you know Richards and Jagger are HUGE country fans with at least one token C&W styled tune on each record.
Then look at me. I'm eighth generation Kentuckian and yet I hated C&W as a tyke, it was redneck's music, old people's music and I wanted to go to London and be in the Beatles like millions of other American kids. But when I got Sweetheart Of The Rodeo because of my love of the Byrds I began to understand that country music was White Man's Blues, White Man's Soul music. And this is Gram's contribution as he made that Sweetheart LP what it was.
Same for all these alt-country dudes half my age. They'd still be playing some post-Velvet Underground, Nick Cave styled material but after hearing Gram (and frankly romanticizing his awful, awful death) they turned, logically enough, to the music of their fathers and their grandfathers. And I say more power to them!
PSF: What is he going to be remembered as?
Gram Parsons will be remembered as a musical visionary who tried to unite the then opposing musical cultures of rock and country and, alas, as a bit of a dilettante because if he had had the discipline of Hillman or Jagger he'd have stuck to his career path in a more sober fashion and we wouldn't have to be speaking about a dead guy.
PSF: Why are so many people fascinated by him?
This is the sad part of Gram. Like James Dean, Nick Drake and so many others a great part of the fascination with Gram is directly due to his early death and frankly, though I hate to say this, the romanticizing of his sad passing. By this I refer to the drug abuse and all that. If Gram had died helping a kitten out of a tree in suburbia or died doing something worthwhile or noble, then his legend would not be what it was.
Yet because Gram died in such a wild, weird fashion and then Phil Kaufman stealing his corpse and setting it on fire, the foundation of a legend has been set. I mean it is a hell of a story! No denying that but I just wish Gram was around now, celebrating his 53rd birthday, slightly overweight and balding but with a couple of dozen albums under his belt like Dylan or Van Morrison.
PSF: Why is his work still important today?
Because it is good, because it is real and emotional and human and because we live in a world where these qualities are in ever shorter supply. Most people who make records just want them to sell immediately, in the relatively short term so they can make a lot of money. Gram was making statements; taking the folk-rock Byrds into straight country, matching psychedelia with country on Gilded Palace Of Sin, playing straight country yet with a rock n' roll attitude on those last two solo albums... This is why his work stands up today. He was consciously building it to last.
PSF: Does his legend threaten to overshadow his work?
Absolutely, in my opinion anyway. And that's a shame because his work is one of the most life-affirming bodies of work in pop music, even the deeply sad stuff makes you feel alive and cleansed and human in some way. Examining his death makes you feel the opposite as it is a grim, sad and very ugly way to go out.
PSF: Is he in danger of being over-reviled, over-rated?
I doubt we could consider Gram overrated when, at the end of the day, it is only a sizeable cult who even know his name. Inside the cult there are no doubt some folks who think the world of Gram but as long as they don't take it to an extremist point like "Gram for President" or "Gram is my Jesus" and we keep them away from firearms and sharp knives what harm is there in that?
To be honest, the one thing which is overrated is people saying overrated all the time. The Bottle Rockets had a hilarious song about it a few albums back, can't remember the name of the cut and I wish I could as I would quote it now.
Sid's band (well, one of two) the Coal Porters have a CD out now called The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts in which they perform many Gram Parsons songs. For more information, check out Sid's scene at http://www.sidgriffin.com
See the rest of our Gram tribute
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