House Appropriations

Suit by Nudie

Why does our music culture tend to be in love with its own reflection? Is there any song that’s going to be left alone without reinterpretation? Not that I mind this. Just an observation. Hip hop, sampling and the never-ending remix pop into one’s mind first. 51 versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, answer songs, and live covers made to sound like samples often cause me to stand up and take notice. And Irreverent folkie covers, collage mashups, and jazz vocalist “interpretations” are all well and good. But the songs I like the best are those that manage to eak out the very knowability of a tune as an entity, by taking it’s fame and doing something altogether different–dare I say disrespectful–with it. As such, I have begun to keep a log of those songs which manage to snatch the essence of the things.

Day One: Pierre Menard, Author of the Sweetheart

The seminal country album by the Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is dominated by the earnest, plaintive presence of singer Gram Parsons, who stayed with the band for this one album before moving on to greener pastures. Here’s an account from The Adios Lounge of how that all went down:

The Byrds played South Africa in July without Gram Parsons, who decided that shooting smack with Keith Richards was better than playing segregated Johannesburg, so he essentially fired himself. While GP’s political motives were undoubtedly more expedient than heartfelt, to his credit he flew the coop on a tour that was, by all accounts, “Custer-esque.” Back on home turf … and without the motivating force behind their just-released album, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo … Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman recruited Clarence White into The Byrds, then fired drummer, Kevin Kelley, and replaced him with … Gene Parsons. Hillman then reconciled with Gram, left The Byrds, and formed the Flying Burrito Brothers. GP and Hillman then asked White and Gene Parsons (no relation) to join the Burritos, but the new Byrds, upon deeper reflection, decided to remain new Byrds. Are you getting all this?!?!

Well. So. Anyways the music. The album, while it somehow manages to feel very cohesive, has songs from all over the place. There’s a tongue-in-cheek Louvin Brothers cover, two Dylan covers (including one where Roger McGuinn screws up the lyrics, only to get called on it by Dylan in a later version of the song), a Merle Haggard tune, a traditional, an amazing William Bell cover, and Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Then there are the Parsons originals. I think a lot of folks go right for the jugular and get all weepie over his sentimental ballad, “Hickory Wind,” and so did I. That is, until I heard a Parsons-only vocal version of the tune that follows it on the album, “One Hundred Years From Now.”

The Byrds – One Hundred Years from Now (Rehearsal)

This tune is an amazing, angst-ridden diatribe against what people called, in 1968 terms, “the establishment”. While Parsons desires–with a certain amount of disdain–that people look beyond the day-to-day in order to see what really matters, he does tend to blame the powers that be for keeping him from his gal:

One hundred from this day
Will the people still feel this way
Still say the things that they’re saying right now.
Everyone said I’d hurt you
They said that I’d desert you
If I go away
You know I’m gonna get back somehow.

Well, in the Summer of 2008, Dr. Dog Singer Toby Leaman takes a different approach:

Dr. Dog – 100 Years

What’s so amazing about this song is its attempt not merely to channel the the spirit of The Byrds tune, but rather to use the same simple lyric and surround it with all things that we now tend to associate with country- and folk-rock or the 1960’s: lush harmonies, tack piano, rock drums, and well, Gram Parsons. But where GP tries to reassure his lover and tell her that it’ll all balance out in the end, Leaman takes responsibility for the space between them, and rather seems to be offering a promise to himself:

When I look back on what I done
‘Bout a hundred years from now
I’m gonna cry myself to sleep at night
If somebody shows me how.
And when I get off Tennybrook Farm
‘Bout a hundred years from now,
I’m gonna marry you out of common sense
And get out from behind this plough.

Perhaps these two songs have nothing to do with one another. Leaman may have never heard of Gram Parsons or Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Parsons may be his unknown hero, known by his deeds and accomplishments rather than his name. Where the passage of time has a more literal meaning to a frustrated lover in 1968, to a lonesome ploughman, 100 years is just the space between now and the end of the workday.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Dude, Gram Parsons is not unknown. I heard fucking 3 versions of the same Gram Parsons song at the last Swallow Hill party. People in the folk community are keeping the man and his music propped up with reverent scaffolds. Which I welcome, he writes a good ditty.

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