Great discussion of Gram Parsons’ “$1000 Wedding” I stumbled across just now. The tune, if you’re not familiar:
I’ve been on a bit of a Parsons kick lately, playing “Sin City” with the group I play with and leading “Hickory Wind” at last Friday’s Slojam in La Mesa. So, the question is, why?
One of my great concerns, after the actual playing, then writing music myself, is the shape that the form is in. The form in this case is, more or less, traditionally-informed music of the United States. Some people call it “Americana,” they used to call it “folk-rock,” and Parsons himself called it, in a vastly superior term to either, “Cosmic American Music.”
The form, then, is not in the best of health, despite what seems to be something of a wave of bearded twentysomethings picking up banjos with the same fleeting vigor their recent antecedents picked up ukeleles. This is not a bad thing at some level. When something good becomes trendy, some people follow the trend and then sniff out the real stuff. Some people will discover Roscoe Holcomb because of all of this, and be changed. That said, as far as the health of the form is concerned, this is problematic. We don’t have a new burst of organic musical development from tradition. We have a wave of too-slow dirges and mid-tempo pop tunes played on bluegrass instruments.
In a Gram Parsons we hear the echo, so to speak, of decades of musical development made present. The sound is deep. The current wave of banjo pop may represent some desire for authenticity but in a concrete sense we’re not seeing a new development of living tradition but rather a thin reference backward that, by the act itself, confirms that the past is dead. The sound is shallow. Gram Parsons knew where he came from musically but his eyes always faced forward.
The problem with trying to preserve the past is that it can’t be done. The past is past. What we can do is be rooted and in our present both. Gram Parsons was both. That’s how it needs to be.