Hot Burrito #1
When the clan at 01 Magazine asked me to write a piece themed for the music issue I instantly told them to go fuck them selves…but then out loud, I said it would be no problem. In my gut I felt nervous. My gut knows better then I do and not wanting to wane my willingness to contribute I needed to work out a conclusion for the task ahead of me – I guess I feel too passionately for music and I realize it’s way too subjective to write about. Well, to write about in any seriousness without sounding like a dolt.
My opinion of music, trends, and bands is so fucked. I am aware that this is due to my own ignorance, but I hate loads of artists that people seem to be so fucking enamored with. It probably has more to do with a hate-on for culture, then the actual music – especially in our Internet age where content is ultimately disposable and gets pissed into the vast ocean of status updates.
Our generation is witnessing a pivotal cultural crossroad. Here is a wonderful generalization of fans of music today; they will never hold a record of their favourite artist in their hands. A record that represents the full parcel which a band or artist has taken a slice of life to put together: concept, music, art direction, and packaging. Dating back to 1860, when recordings were first made able to be played back, right up until when cassettes and even compact discs were used as the main medium for listening to or collecting tunes, you were actually holding something tangible in your hands. You were holding a time capsule.
Listening to music has become ritual. I’m putting The Flying Burrito Brothers ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ on my turntable. Released in 1969 on the A&M label, the album was a commercial failure. It’s hard to say how or why but it might have had something to do with 9 out of 10 shows bombing due to the constant ingestion of prescription pills, alcohol, and never actually practicing their songs. So why now is this record so important? Because the stoned, infectious, old soul of Gram Parsons.
Gram grew up between Waycross, Georgia, and Winter Haven, Florida, with wealthy and supportive alcoholic parents, both of whom died from their vices while Gram was still young. Gram started playing in rock bands young, hugely influenced by seeing Elvis Presley play in Winter Haven when he was just 10 years old.
Now grown up some years later, Gram was living in Boston and attending Harvard University which he flunked out of almost immediately; he was too busy smoking dope and playing country to be bothered with class and most believed going to Harvard in the first place was just a good excuse to get the fuck out of Waycross. Fortunately enough, being kicked out of university gave him the opportunity to move West to Los Angeles, where the scene was strong and groups like Buffalo Springfield were starting to get recognized.
Once Gram arrived out in LA he played with several bands, the most notorious of which was the already successful Byrds. There he would meet future Burritos Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke. Even though the band was prone to numerous line-up changes, when Gram joined his talent and persuasion would forever change the Byrds sound with the record ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’.
After ditching those nerds in the Byrds on the eve of a tour to South Africa, to instead play country music and do drugs in England with Keith Richards, Parsons was writing more music then ever and felt the drive to start a new band back in LA. Once living back in San Fernando Valley at “Burrito Manor”, Parsons and ex-Bryd Chris Hillman would begin writing ‘Gilded Palace’ during a time when getting stoned out of your fucking tree was just as much a part of being a musician as it was to play an instrument. Although his drinking and drug abuse was more constant, Gram’s vision was sharp, he felt productive and they were writing music that would change country music forever and Hillman claims that this was the most productive time in music he’s ever experienced. Incorporating Gram’s natural tenure of folk, roots, rhythm & blues and rock’n’roll they recorded ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ and what Gram would define as ‘Cosmic American music’.
Look at this album cover…from the font, to location, to the random chicks hanging out. Everyone, including the photographers and art directors were whacked out. But the best part – the Nudie Suits…The Burritos received their advance from A&M to record so the first thing they did was excitedly head to ‘Nudie Cohn Rodeo Tailor’ in North Hollywood and commissioned individual custom suits, blowing all their advance. Gram’s suit is very iconic and is said to be a representation of how he wanted to die. Emblazoned on the each sleeve is every kind of pharmaceutical drug in pill form, all up the front are marijuana plants, two naked women on the collars, on the back a giant glowing cholo cross, all with flames climbing up his pant legs. Fuckin’ hell.
This was the beginning of the end for Gram. He would go on to record two solo records, one with Emmylou Harris and then release a posthumous Flying Burrito Brothers compilation of previously recorded material. Gram died September 19th, 1973 at the age of 26 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol on a trip to attempt to dry out at Joshua Tree in the Southern Californian desert. Later, his friends would steal his corpse from an LA airport, destined for burial by his stepfather in New Orleans, and drive him to Joshua Tree to give him a very improper and very partial gasoline soaked cremation. It is what Gram had wanted.
Despite Grams influence on country and rock music, acclaim from musicians and critics alike, and the legacy he created he has still yet to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.