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In the End, The Only Thing That Will Matter is Everything
The sum of Gram Parsons' parts and how you can measure your life's impact.
You live eternally as a music luminary, or you die in infamy with a bunch of ice cubes shoved up your ass. Take your pick.
Ingram Cecile Connor III had a devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other, and a monkey clinging to his back, singing George Jones songs in his ear. He also had the music world at his fingertips.
His place in music history is as mysterious as it is meaningful. His exit was as swift and jarring as his entry. He seemingly came out of nowhere and was everywhere all at once. In his short music career (life), it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold or shit.
He had no country roots. He didn’t grow up with hootenannies and guitar pulls in his family. He wasn’t the descendant of country music royalty. And he didn’t sell his soul at a crossroads in exchange for otherworldly talent. He was a self-made legend. He had a vision and worked it. A trust fund baby turned champion of country music - and then some.
Just as he transformed himself from Ingram Cecil Connor III into the Grievous Angel himself, Gram Parsons, he transformed country music into his brand of Cosmic American Music. This was his concoction of country, soul, gospel, and blues (you could say Rock and Roll, too - but that itself is an amalgamation of the sounds mentioned above). In every Americana playlist on every streaming service, the reverberations of his Cosmic American vision still ring out today.
His impact will be felt forever. Long into the future, when people write songs with a rock and roll riff and a bit of country twang, all roads will lead back to Gram. His legacy has been cemented, and his impact rings out.
I hate to break it to you, but you will die. I can’t say when, but it’s going to happen. That’s ok. Don’t be worried. Death has a role to play.
Let’s not bury the headline here. Gram died at the unripe young age of twenty-six. He died of a morphine overdose in Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Motel, located on the outskirts of reality in the desert sands of Southern California. This is all fact. Another rock and roll casualty wasted on the way. While there is no way to bend that truth, his mythology will have you stretching the bounds of your imagination. Get your leotards on, dear readers. You’re going to need them.
Though he lived just a few years, his life was complex and storied. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gram, I will give you a whistle-stop tour of his existence. I feel like I am leaving so much out! Because I am. Providing a comprehensive overview would take too long here and now. If you would like more, I suggest you read his Wikipedia page. It’s very detailed. I also implore you to watch the 2004 BBC documentary, “Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel.” It’s Gram 102. Pour four fingers, get saturated, and sink in.
OK, here we go. See if you can comprehend this. He’s like a multiverse unto himself.
In 1946 he was born the son of a citrus fruit magnate in Winter Haven, FL.
Both of his parents were alcoholics.
His dad committed suicide when Gram was twelve.
His mother died from cirrhosis the day he graduated from high school (1965).
Gram went to Harvard. He lasted four months.
His time there was transformational. He heard Merle Haggard for the first time.
That’s all it took. Gram was changed. He would play country music. His way.
He formed the International Submarine Band. Cosmic American Music was born.
The ISB broke up. Gram split. He met Chris Hillman of the Byrds.
Hillman brings him into the Byrds - the most famous band in America at the time.
Gram worms and get them to create one of the most influential albums ever.
Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo creates a new style of music - country rock.
Gram meets Keith Richards. Rock and Roll’s greatest bromance begins.
Gram reconciles with Hillman. The Flying Burrito Brothers are born.
On their second, they release “Wild Horses” with the Stones' blessing.
They release it before the Stones do on Sticky Fingers.
In 1971 Gram moved in with Keith during the recording of Exile on Main St.
The bromance is in overdrive. Keith and Gram are thick thieves.
During the recording. Gram plummets into heroin use. He’s asked to leave.
He tucks tail. He kicks. He’s not entirely straight, but he’s off the junk.
He connects with Hillman again. Hillman says, “Go to D.C. and see a girl sing.”
Gram goes to a bar in Washington and hears an unheard-of Emmy Lou Harris.
She becomes his protege. They created musical history together.
Gram and his road manager pinky-swear about Gram’s chosen death plan.
Gram broke from his wife (Gretchen) and shacked with an old flame.
They went to Joshua Tree. She shot him up with morphine.
Gram overdoses. He dies.
His road manager steals his body from LAX, and he burns it at Joshua Tree.
Bands form. Songs are written. Genres have offspring. Gram rings out, rings true.
A man died young. A legend was born, and a legacy was cemented.
I hate to break it to you, but you will die. I can’t say when, but it’s going to happen. That’s ok. Don’t be worried. Death has a role to play. That you die is what makes life so precious. Without death, life becomes meaningless. Can you imagine living forever? You would go on and on and on with no end in sight. Without death looming, being able to strike at any moment, would you feel any sense of urgency? What would the point of living be?
One hundred years from this day
Will the people still feel this way
Still say the things that they're saying right now?
One hundred years from now? Who knows? Who cares? One hundred years. I’ll never see it. Oh, no. Don’t fall into that trap. Work backward. One hundred years from now, in reverse. Where are you now? What are you doing? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? Now look forward to the future. Can you see the forest? What does it all add up to? What impact do you want to create? What will you leave behind?
Life’s questions. High aspirations. The Big Comeuppance.
I shared my thoughts on time in a previous entry. Time ticks on constantly. You can’t slow it down. You accommodate it. You partner with it. You sympathize with it. If time keeps you moving forward, death keeps you honest. It hides in your shadow and is there, watching and wondering what you’ll do next.
One hundred years from this time
Would anybody change their minds
And find out one thing or two about life?
I added this song to the Their Music is My Life Playlist because it makes me think about the big picture. My big picture. It makes me think about what a legacy means. I think about shoulda, woulda, and coulda in the present tense. You may not live forever, but your legacy can. What’s that worth to you? What does that mean right now?
How is what I do today measured and perceived when the Big Curtain comes down?
Life is a sum of its parts. It may not be easy to see it as you are living it, but in life, everything - every little thing - matters. Everyone has the opportunity to live a life with purpose - to ensure they are successful on their terms and in the eyes and lives of people that matter most to them.
At the end of your life, to understand if you achieved your purpose, you have to (can only?) view the impact of your accomplishments in aggregate. There’s no other way to express all the individual things you will do in your life than to express them as everything.
It isn’t whether or not the aggregate is the most accurate way to measure our life - it isn’t. I think it is the best we can do, and I think it makes sense. The aggregate allows room for error. It gives you the ability to course correct. It allows for the sum of parts.
Once you understand your purpose in life, you know that every choice you make, every decision you take to support it, and every interaction you have - matters.
The aggregate is your legacy. It is what you will be known for and how you will be remembered. You don’t have to create electricity to have a legacy. You just have to be thought of as a good person. Or someone generous. Or someone that always made others laugh. Or someone who changed the way we think of country music.
Gram died in infamy. But our memory of him is not that he died in a motel room in the desert after being given an ice cube suppository to reverse the effects of a morphine overdose. He lives on as a legend, widely regarded as the spark that ignited what we today think of as country rock or Americana.
Gram devotee and Everyone’s Groupie Pamela Des Barres says that Gram’s purpose was to “unite rock and roll and country music.” Did he achieve that? It’s fair to say that he did. Why? Because that is the interpretation of what he did. It’s how his life and impact are viewed - as an aggregate interpretation of what he achieved, not dying in a motel room at twenty-six.
One Hundred Years from Now is one of my top two favorite Gram songs (the other being Hickory Wind). Listen to the entire song once all the way through. Listen to the musicianship, specifically the weaving of the guitar picking of Clarence White and the glassy steel playing of Lloyd Green. What pros. What a sound.
I don't know where Gram is coming from with the lyrics. It feels a bit doomsday, and there’s a history repeating itself angle. And he appears to be speaking to someone (a woman, himself?). It’s the one line that gets me thinking.
One hundred years from this day
Once you understand your purpose in life, you know that every choice you make, every decision you take to support it, and every interaction you have - matters. If you deny that and stray from that thinking, you miss out on an opportunity to live a purposeful life and know that you can affect it while it is happening and shape how you are remembered long into the future after you are gone.
We can't be perfect all the time - and shouldn't try to be - but we need to follow our guiding principles to be the best we can be consistently. When you look back on your life to understand what legacy you are leaving behind, you will realize that you will not be able to remember each individual moment, and the only way to reflect on these moments is to remember all of them.
Because in the end, the only thing that will matter is everything.
Well, now. That was fun. We’ve just completed the first phase and stage of the Their Music is My Life Playlist, “The Whim of the Great Magnet.” Thanks for sticking with me. Next week we move on to our second phase and stage, “The Rise and Fall of My Ups and Downs.”
This is where it starts to get interesting. This phase and stage includes some of my all-time favorite songs and artists and some of the most defining moments in my life.
Thirty-year-old me. This was taken from the balcony of our apartment in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, in 2002. I still wear this T-shirt, which fits like a glove with room to spare. There is a wannabe Cosmic American Musician in me somewhere. Always has been.
What a picture. Youth. Rebellion. Music. Camaraderie. Joy. Brothers.
This image had a significant impact on me when I was a kid. I’d stare at it for hours. The Universe has a plan. It brought together the Chuck Berry-loving alpha-archetype of rock and roll from the UK, a dairy farmer from Massachusetts that turned musical genres into stained-glass mosaics and referred to himself as one of the most awe-inspiring tombs of the world, and a trust-fund baby from Florida with the balls to redefine country music and skip-to-my-loo through some of the most popular bands of all time. How did these three end up at a makeshift bar drinking Schlitz tall-boys in Laurel Canyon in 1968? If I could travel time…
Killer footage of the Burritos playing Altamont in 1969. Notice Brother Keith in the audience digging the set. Belly shirts were in, apparently.
Here’s a song that will jerk tears and make you wince with how ridiculous this video is. Listen to that glassy steel by the master Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
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