Saturday, July 7, 2007
Parsons and Hillman, Reaching the End
Part Five of extended interview; see previous portions below. Gram Parsons emerged from the bathroom towelling his long hair and quickly reassumed the lead in our conversation, his ideas decidedly more fanciful ...
GP: I'd like to do a ((television)) series about The Flying Burrito Brothers. They could bring the cowboy thing in if they wanted--of course they would, to make it sellable. Like a hip Monkees... if you don't mind me using the word "hip" or the word "Monkees." Cowboy Monkees... no, Cowboy Monsters, that's what it would be! But I'm serious. I mean, if we wanted to do one week about pulling off a big bank robbery--a really deluxe, super bank robbery--whereas the Monkees never would have done a thing like that; they were never serious the whole time. One week we're into horror shows, the next week we're actually making some chick. Romance! Next week, train ride; next week, giant rodeo; next week, clothing trip. You get it? By "clothing trip" I mean sort of set up a hip commune, but real life--tranche de vie. "A Slice of Life with the Burrito Brothers..." Burrito Brothers Pie we could call the series.
GP: Country Pie, and each week we'd take a different slice.
CH: The Burritos at Knotts Berry Farm...
GP: And we could do documentaries--a show that was just about freeways, a show that was just all of us driving, freaking out.
Do you own any property? ((me trying to reestablish some order to the interview)) Chris was saying he owns some land.
GP: Yeah, I own some land in Florida. It was left to me; I didn't buy it. I've lived near enough to it to know I wouldn't want to live on it. It's a citrus grove.
CH: ((restless)) You got a bathtub?
GP: You mean in your deluxe suite you got a color TV and no bathtub? Great. Me, a bathtub and no maid. We could even do a week on this hotel, staying in the crazy hotel where the bellman's coming down from his Methedrine shot or something. He was really a ghost, man--"Aw right, I'll get it for ya..."
Where do y'all go after this?
GP: Back to L.A., back to record.
What were the particulars of your joining The Byrds and then of your leaving, which was connected to that trip to South Africa?
CH: Ah could've murdered him that day.
GP: ((exaggerated accent)) Ah joined with a friendship an' left with a argument.
CH: I remember that day, just as good as I can see daylight.
GP: It was a year ago exactly. Roger ((McGuinn)) said, "This is the anniversary of South Africa."
CH: I was duped into goin' myself, and I didn't realize that. Nothin' good happened except that they had real good grass down there. No women. No... ((stops))
Let's get heavy for a minute. What was the word you were using earlier? Let's get profound. Here you are out of backwoods Georgia... not just backwoods Georgia, but the whole idea of you refusing to go to South Africa probably surprised a few people.
CH: Yeah, you know what he is--a "redneck racist."
GP: Somethin' a lot of people don't know about me, I was brought up with a Negro for a brother--I was brought up with a spade brother. Like all Southern families, we had maids and servants, a whole family that took care of us, called the Dixon family. Sammy Dixon was just a little bit older than me, and he just lived with me. He wasn't paid for doing it. His older sister was paid for cooking, and his oldest sister was paid for being the maid, and his mother was paid for cooking and doing the laundry. He just grew up with me. I learned at a real close level that segregation was just not it. It comes in my mind, lots of things, why I didn't stay with country music and I went on and was, like, a folk singer. I pictured myself as a sort of male Joan Baez at the age of 16; I was singing protest songs, things like that. I think I was hip to how carried away I had gotten by the time I graduated from high school. I had cooled off...
But you still went to Harvard for one quarter.
GP: That was the result of running away, in the "Bomb" phase, running away to the Village at 14, 15, 16... getting hip to it... then returning and settling down. Then at that time, I got into bluegrass. One of my favorite records was one the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers did--that was Chris's group, and I would have given my left knee to have been in that group. Of course, I didn't know he was in it. Then the Dillards were another of my favorites. Because they were young, and I'd say, "God, I'm old enough that I could be in one of those groups, man. Boy, are they far out." They weren't doing that protest number, that resistance sort of number; they were just slappin' down music. I suppose since then I've just gotten into performing and the technology of it--a thousand percent more than I was.
What are your feelings about the South?
GP: It's not a nice place to live. If you're gonna live there, you got to do or die. I wouldn't go back there for any amount of money. The climate's great--North Carolina, Blue Ridge Mountains, man, whew! Fantastic! Virginia's all right; Charleston, South Carolina, is Deep South; New Orleans has a nice climate. Anywhere you get that's close to a city like New Orleans, they're not the kind of people you want to live around for very long. They can be fun for an evening--for one drunk, two drunks. It all just circles around in my head--the North and the South, the Civil War or Uncivil War, and where the South is at and where the North is at. But I can't get it all straight in my mind--bein' from the South, what a difference it's made. The South is less affected in a way; it's less organized, it's harder to understand in some ways than the North. It's not a matter of it being ethnocentric. The people down there are... ((stops)) Oh, I don't know, I just can't say, I just can't say...
((and sadly that's where my notes and the interview ended))
The Burritos with Chris and Gram went on for another album and a bit more, then Gram headed off for some sort of cosmic karma drug life with Keith Richards. When I saw him at Altamount later, he was already pale and puffy and pretty much out of it. As all fans know, he worked to straighten out (some), teamed up with an unknown folkie named Emmylou Harris, and then died suddenly and tragically, his coffin shortly thereafter road-manglered and Viking-burned.
Chris hung in for a while after Gram's early departure and then split off to discover his incredibly varied creative life ever since, with Stephen Stills, Byrds semi-reunions, solo albums, the Desert Rose Band, bluegrass, great vocal duets with Herb Pedersen, and more--still going strong and sounding great in 2007.
But there is a strange P.S. to my brief acquaintanceship with Gram. In April 2000, my wife and I and another couple headed off to (pre-Katrina) New Orleans for the ever-phenomenal Jazz and Heritage Festival. The music was great that year of course but not really relevant.
We four were staying at a house near the park owned by, as we soon discovered, Bonnie Parsons and her later husband Sal Fazzio--Bob Parsons' widow, that is, Gram's stepmother, remarried again years after the Southern Gothic deaths and financial maneuvering that took Gram from Georgia and Florida to New Orleans and then the world. Bonnie was charming (Sal pretty much monosyllabic or uninvolved), telling us stories about Gram and lamenting her alienation from other surviving family members. I still have the card they gave us to get back in touch if and when we returned to the Big Easy.
But life's never that "easy," is it? September 11th came, and family duties as my parents were declining, and then the hurricanes hit the Louisiana-Mississippi coast, and the damned useless Bush Administration--to coin a phrase--bailed on 'em.
I don't know if Bonnie was still there at the time, or if her home survived the flooding. Maybe I'll dial that phone number one of these days...