The Angels Rejoiced That Night–On The 38th Anniversary of Gram Parsons’ Passing

Sep 19th, 2011 in Music

38 years ago today, Gram Parsons’ time came while wandering in the desert, and he was granted speed into his Lord’s Promised Land at the age of 26.  Surely the angels rejoiced that night.  Thus ended, at least chronologically, Parsons’ visionary and transforming contribution to American music.  Though he left the earth too soon, Parsons’ music lives on here and continues to influence and touch hearts and minds.

As we have written previously, Parsons invented the country-rock genre and did more to keep Real Country music vibrant and alive than any other artist who has dabbled in that realm.  Parsons’ songs continue to inspire and affect 38-years later.  We know this from experience since our most popular piece on The Lefort Report to date is on Parsons and his revelatory song, In My Hour of Darkness. In honor of Parsons and acknowledgment of his songs’ deep affect on our musical lives, we give you some more of our Parsons favorites (with emphasis added on moments of particular worth or weight).  And Gram, we’ll see you in the by and by.

Parsons’ daughter, Polly, has recently put up a phenomenal website devoted to her father.  Go check it out HERE for all things Gram.

First up in our list of faves is Return of the Grievous Angel, Parsons’ lament for the road, and its travels and travails, and his craving the calicoed comforts of home.  20,000 roads indeed.

“Won’t you scratch my itch sweet Annie Rich
And welcome me back to town
Come out on your porch or I’ll step into your parlor
And I’ll show you how it all went down

Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town

Oh, and I remember something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

`Cause I headed West to grow up with the country
Across those prairies with the waves of grain
And I saw my devil,
and I saw my deep blue sea

And I thought about a calico bonnet from
Cheyenne to Tennessee

We flew straight across that river bridge,
last night a half past two
The switchman wave his lantern goodbye
and so long as we went rolling through
Billboards and truckstops pass by the grievous angel
And now I know just what I have to do

And the man on the radio won’t leave me alone
He wants to take my money for something
that I’ve never been shown

And I saw my devil,
and I saw my deep blue sea
And I thought about a calico bonnet from
Cheyenne to Tennessee

The news I could bring I met up with the king
On his head an amphetamine crown
He talked about unbuckling that old bible belt
And lighted out for some desert town

Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town

Oh, but I remembered something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you”

Gram Parsons–Return of the Grievous Angel

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-13-Return-Of-The-Grievous-Angel-Remix.mp3|titles=2-13Return Of The Grievous Angel [Remix]

Next up is the supremely sad $1,000 Wedding, undoubtedly a vivid imagining of his wedding to Nancy Ross that never took place.  When he sings “bad, bad day” you can taste the loss.

“It was a $1000 wedding supposed to be held the other day
and with all the invitations sent the young bride went away
when the groom saw people passing notes not unusual, he might say
but where are the flowers for my baby
I’d even like to see her mean old mama
and why ain’t there a funeral, if you’re gonna act that way

I hate to tell you how he acted when the news arrived
he took some friends out drinking and it’s lucky they survived
well, he told them everything there was to tell there along the way
and he felt so bad when he saw the traces
of old lies still on their faces
so why don’t someone here just spike his drink

Why don’t you do him in some old way
supposed to be a funeral, it’s been a bad, bad day

the Reverend Dr. William Grace was talking to the crowd
all about the sweet child’s holy face
and the saints who sung out loud
and he swore the fiercest beasts
could all be put to sleep the same silly way
and where are the flowers for the girl
she only knew she loved the world
and why ain’t there one lonely horn and one sad note to play
supposed to be a funeral, it’s been a bad, bad day
ooh, supposed to be a funeral, it’s been a bad, bad day”

Gram Parsons–$1,000 Wedding

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-16-1000-Wedding.mp3|titles=2-16 00 Wedding]

Next up is arguably Parsons’ and Emmylou Harris’s best duet, Hearts on Fire, their voices born to sing together, and taking advantage of that realization.  “God please take this heart of mine, ’cause if you don’t, the devil will.”

“Hearts on fire
my love for you brought only misery
hearts on fire
put out the flames and set this cold heart free
one short year our love burned
until at last I guess you learned
the art of being untrue and then goodbye
what could I do except to cry and moan
Lord, what have I done
once we were as sweet and warm
as the golden morning sun
hearts on fire
my love for you brought only misery
hearts on fire
put out the flames and set this cold heart free

Friends say it’s just a game
and that no one is to blame
go out forget her lies
but she’ll be there and sparks will fly
my love has turned to hatred
sleep escapes me still
God, please take this heart of mine
’cause if you don’t the devil will

hearts on fire
my love for you brought only misery
hearts on fire
put out the flames and set this cold heart free
hearts on fire”

Gram Parsons–Hearts of Fire

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-14-Hearts-On-Fire.mp3|titles=2-14 Hearts On Fire]

Next up is She, Parsons’ ode to a working woman and his lament of the simpler life.  Oh, he sure could sing.

“She, she came from the land of the cotton
land that was nearly forgotten by everyone
and she, she worked and she slaved so hard
a big old field was her back yard in the delta sun
ooh, but she sure could sing
ooh, she sure could sing

Then he looked down and he took a little pity
the whole town swore he decided he’d help her some
but he didn’t mind if she wasn’t very pretty
for deep inside his heart he knew she was the only one
ooh, but she sure could sing
yeah, she sure could sing

She had faith, she had believing
she led all the people together in singing
and she prayed every night to the lord up above
singing hallelujah, ooh hallelujah

they use to walk singing songs by the river
even when she knew for sure she had to go away
and she never knew what her life had to give her
and never had to worry about it for one single day
ooh my but she sure could sing
ooh, she sure could sing

She had faith, she had believing
led all the people together in singing
and she prayed every night to the lord up above
singing hallelujah, ooh hallelujah
she, she came from the land of the cotton
land that was nearly forgotten by everyone
and she, she worked and she slaved so hard
a big old field was her back yard in the delta sun
ooh, but she sure could sing
my, my, my she sure could sing
ooh, yeah she sure could sing
ooh, she sure could sing”

Gram Parsons–She

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-06-She.mp3|titles=2-06 She]

Next is A Song for You, Parsons’ sweet-voiced, emotional elegy to a relationship.  “Some of my friends don’t know who they belong to, some can’t get a single thing to work inside.”  So true.  Please pass the mirror.

Oh my land is like a wild goose
Wanders all around everywhere
Trembles and it shakes till every tree is loose

It rolls the meadows and it rolls the nails
So take me down to your dance floor
And I wont mind the people when they stare
Paint a different color on your front door
And tomorrow we will still be there

Jesus built a ship to sing a song to
It sails the rivers and it sails the tide
Some of my friends don’t know who they belong to
Some can’t get a single thing to work inside

So take me down to your dance floor
And I wont mind the people when they stare
Paint a different color on your front door
And tomorrow we will still be there

I loved you every day and now I’m leaving
And I can see the sorrow in your eyes
I hope you know a lot more than you’re believing
Just so the sun don’t hurt you when you cry

Oh take me down to your dance floor
And I wont mind the people when they stare
Paint a different color on your front door
And tomorrow we will still be there
And tomorrow we will still be there”

Gram Parsons–A Song for You

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-04-A-Song-For-You.mp3|titles=2-04 A Song For You]

Next up is the mournful Dark End Of The Street in which the influence of Motown and R&B can clearly be heard.  Parsons was an early mix-master, combining R&B and Rock with his beloved Country, to great effect.  Here we hear R&B cut with beautiful pedal-steel guitar.

“At the dark end of the street
That’s where we’ll always meet
Hiding in shadows
Where we don’t belong
Living in darkness
To hide our wrong
You and me
At the dark end of the street
You and me

I know that time’s gonna take its toll
We’ll have to pay for the love that we stole
Cause it’s a sin and we know that we’re wrong
Oh, but our love keeps coming on strong
You and me
At the dark end of the street
You and me

They’re gonna find us
They’re gonna find us
They’re gonna find us someday
We’ll steal away
To the dark end of the street
You and me

If you take a walk downtown
And find some time to look around
If you should see me, and I walk on by
Oh, darling, please don’t cry
Tonight we’ll meet
At the dark end of the street
You and me
You and me
You and me”

Gram Parsons–Dark End of the Street

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-15-Dark-End-Of-The-Street1.mp3|titles=1-15 Dark End Of The Street]

We’ll end with Parsons’ cover of Wild Horses, which according to Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, was first written about Richards missing his young son, Marlon, but then converted by Mick Jagger into an ode to then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithful. Regardless, it’s one of the great ballads of all time, given haunting treatment by Parsons.  These lyrics were, it turned out, entirely too apropos:

“I know I’ve dreamed you, a sin and a lie
I had my freedom, but I don’t have much time
Faith has been broken, tears must be cried
Let’s do some living after we die.”

Gram Parsons–Wild Horses

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-23-Wild-Horses1.mp3|titles=1-23 Wild Horses]

4 Comments

  • I never turn down free gifts.

    I will say the sound of pedal steel is very pleasing to me. I love slide guitar. And Emmylou is definitely another conversation entirely. I even have a couple of her songs on my iPod… from the soundtracks of O Brother Where Art Thou? and The Apostle. At least I’m not a lost cause.

  • Kelly, I am going to buy you a Hank Williams box-set and a pedal-steel guitar for Christmas. Give him (and Emmylou ferheavensake) a few more listens. I expect to eventually see you riding around town on your bike in chaps. As for the flame-out, I’m sure Parsons’ biggest disappointment up above is in only making it to 26 and not being a part of “Club 27” (Winehouse, Hendrix, Cobain, et. al).

  • I regret that I still am not much of a CM fan, but Gram Parsons’ story is too fascinating and poignant to ignore. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t flamed out so young.

  • […] darkness in 1973.  It’s not even close.  We’ll write another time in full about Gram [Lefort:  A year later, it can be found HERE].  Suffice it to say for now that he invented the country rock genre, and played it out in the […]

 

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