Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My friend Mike loaned me his copy of Twenty Thousand Roads, David N. Meyer's excellent biography of Gram Parsons. What a great read. And what a tortured soul. Gram was a poor little rich boy who made some amazing records but fell victim to drug abuse at the tender age of 26.

When Parsons was hanging out with The Rolling Stones during the Exile On Main Street recording sessions, Keith Richards warned that Gram was using a dangerous amount of heroin. When Keef is "running your intervention," Meyer writes, "you know you're in trouble."

This time last year Marti & I made a rock 'n roll pilgrimage to one of Gram's favorite places to hang out: the lunar landscape of Joshua Tree Monument in the California high desert. We even made a macabre necrotour of the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram checked out for the last time. Some strange shit went down with the country-rocker's remains back in September 1973. Following Parsons' wishes, one of his rowdy friends retrieved the coffin at LAX, drove out to the desert & burned it at Joshua Tree. It's become part of Gram's legend. I had to see the place. I've been a fan of his music forever.

While I was reading the book I was spinning a lot of Gram's tunes, from the restored takes of his vocals on The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo to his great songs with the Flying Burrito Bros. to his late solo albums, which introduced the wonderful voice of Emmylou Harris.

Marti heard me playing their version of "In My Hour Of Darkness" & said, "Hey, that was on The Country Tape. That was the first time anybody ever made a mixtape for me."

I had compiled The Country Tape in 1978 for Marti to play in her babyshit brown Datsun 510 while commuting between Amherst & Springfield, Massachusetts. Although the cassette had been gathering dust on a shelf in recent years, it became a soundtrack for many of our roadtrips back in the day. This past weekend I dug out the tape & decided to recreate it on CD -- a 30th Anniversary Edition, if you will, with a few minor changes & several additional songs. I was all over iTunes, Amazon & 7 Digital harvesting tracks from the past . . .

01 Under Suspicion Delbert McClinton
02 Help Me Kris Kristofferson
03 When I Get My Wings Billy Joe Shaver

04 In My Hour Of Darkness Gram Parsons
05 I Dream Of Highways Hoyt Axton
06 Lookin' For A Love Neil Young

07 She Never Spoke Spanish To Me
Joe Ely
08 You Asked Me To Billy Joe Shaver
09 Till I Gain Control Again
Rodney Crowell

10 Sold American Kinky Friedman
11 A Song For You Gram Parsons
12 Sweet Virginia The Rolling Stones

13 Breakdown (A Long Way From Home)
Kris Kristofferson
14 Let The Rough Side Drag
Jesse Winchester
15 You Never Even Called Me By My Name
David Allan Coe

16 Footlights Merle Haggard
17 Coat Of Many Colors Dolly Parton
18 Arizona Telegram The Alpha Band

19 Desperados Waiting For A Train
Guy Clark
20 One More Cup Of Coffee Bob Dylan
21 Against The Wind The Highwaymen

This mix of country, country rockers & folkies represents a huge chunk of the music Marti & I love best. In the three decades since I made The Country Tape we've heard a dozen or more of these artists in live performance. We've met quite a few of them as well.

One of our favorite Paris memories is of singing with Kinky Friedman on the sidewalk outside Brentano's English Language bookshop in the avenue de l'Opera. It was a sunny summer afternoon. Kinky, who also writes detective novels, was on a European book promotion tour. Accompanied by a former Miss Texas of a certain age in full rodeo girl drag, Kinky grabbed his guitar & led us in a singalong to his Merle Haggard parody, "(I'm Proud To Be An) Asshole From El Paso." It doesn't get any more down home than that here in the City of Light.

Now we have a remastered CD edition of The Country Tape. Marti & I have a lot of travel planned for the next several months. It'll be fun to have this old favorite along on the road.

Here's what else we've been up to lately . . .

On February 20 Marti & I went to see Julee Cruise at Le Divan du Monde, a fabulous small theater immortalized in a Toulouse-Lautrec poster (when it was known as Le Divan Japonais). Julee is as eccentric & marvelous as ever. You may remember Julee from her David Lynch period. Julee's music is in Blue Velvet & she was featured in the Twin Peaks TV series. At Le Divan she sang "Mysteries of Love," the eerie Angelo Badalamenti composition. We loved it.

A couple of nights later we hooked up with our pals Des & Mike at their favorite Italian resto, Il Sorrentino. Great place. Mike brought me the Gram bio that evening.

Il Sorrentino is in the 7th arrondissement, right by the Tour Eiffel. The tower was strobe-sparkling when we stepped out after our meal. Quick cab ride over to the Café Laurent in the 6th for after-dinner drinks & a jazz set by pianist extraordinaire Christian Brenner & his trio.

On Monday, February 25 my Amsterdam friend Steve set us up with free tickets to see Tower Of Power at the Bataclan. The Oakland-based funk veterans kicked down a mighty string of their hits: "What Is Hip?," "Soul Vaccination," "You're Still A Young Man" & "Down To The Nightclub," among them. What a fun night. Marti & I enjoyed late supper afterward at our favorite anarchists' bar, the Maldoror. Joel wined us & his wife Françoise fed us hearty bistro fare.

Last Friday night my bride & I went to the Nouveau Casino to hear a New Orleans jamband called Galactic. These guys are incredibly funky & tight -- my Atlanta friend Pat has been on me for years to check them out -- but lately I find my tolerance for jambands is nearing zero. Thankfully, Galactic's new CD has a strong hip-hop overlay, lotsa guest MCs. That made it more interesting for me. Boots Riley, Chali2na (& Chali's bro) provided welcome energy to the set. Our friend Rick was in da house with his gal pal du jour. Rick pointed out Stanton Moore, Galactic's awesome drummer. I was more familar with him from his own Stanton Moore Trio. Gotta give him his props: he plays with impeccable taste & makes the sticks fly.

A couple of days ago I rendezvoused at the Louvre with my longtime Massachusetts home boy Gil, his lovely wife Pam & their charming niece Sarah.

Marti joined us for dinner at the Occitanie restaurant in Menilmontant. We ate huge servings of southwestern cuisine. (Gil thought I meant fajitas!) This was duck-intensive heart attack food from the southwest of France. Gil already runs on a pacemaker. I asked if he could open other people's garage doors with that thing. He was not amused. But Gil was amusing. In fact, he is a repository of corny jokes. I don't remember him as being all that funny when we were in Junior High & High School together. He was Class President & an athlete then.

But that was way back in the foggy mists of time. I'm glad he's well. Marti & I are always happy to see him & Pam. Buds like Gil bring to mind a song by Guy Clark, who figures prominently on The Country Tape:

Old Friends they shine like diamonds
Old Friends you can always call
Old Friends Lord you can't buy 'em
You know it's Old Friends after all

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