I’ve already mentioned that I started writing these posts about songs that turned out to not constitute Yacht Rock before I realised what Yacht Rock was and that I didn’t like Yacht Rock – well, hardly any. I thought Yacht Rock just meant MOR Country & Western records. Where I got that idea, I don’t know. What I do know is that I like a lot of Country & Western records a lot more than I like Yacht Rock.
I’ve written about Sylvia’s Mother, Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) and Lyin’ Eyes and, frankly, none of them count as being remotely cool, even by the standards of aficionados of Country & Western. Lyin’ Eyes in particular, being by The Eagles, attracts a fair amount of bile from purists. I can see why that is, but I don’t care particularly, even though I don’t really like them either. This record, on the other hand, probably does count as being reasonably cool, providing you’re prepared to allow middle aged men from Wigan who wear cowboy hats and too much denim dictate what ‘cool’ is. Maybe they don’t think that either, what I’ve learned is that I don’t have any fucking idea about anything.
Anyway, if The Eagles are inauthentic breadheads, then Gram Parsons apparently isn’t. I don’t really know why that is either but nobody wants a never ending list of things I don’t know anything about because nobody lives that long. Mind you, they don’t want this either so knickers because I’m doing it anyway.
Ingram Cecil Connor was born into an extraordinarily rich family from the Deep South, so it’s not as if he was some kind of self made man with a lot of credibility that comes from being born dirt poor. Regardless, that doesn’t seem to bother anybody, including me.
He was in The International Submarine Band, who were probably the real originators of Country Rock, then The Byrds, then The Flying Burrito Brothers and then he went solo, even though ‘solo’ is pushing it a bit. From what I can gather, Country Rock became a thing because proper Country & Western apparently has a lot of strict rules about what you’re allowed to do within its confines, including not having long hair and no minor chords or whatever it is. Anyway, the stuff that the proper Country & Western people weren’t dead keen on was stuff that Gram Parsons was. He was into proper Country & Western, but wanted to take it somewhere else. He didn’t call what he did Country Rock, he called it Cosmic American Music, which I quite like the sound of. Certainly more than the old guard did.
By the time Grievous Angel – the album that this song’s from – came out, Gram Parsons had been dead for four months. Not only was he dead, but he’d suffered the ignominy of overdosing, having an ice cube shoved up his arse and having his cock sucked in a failed attempt to resuscitate him before his manager burned him at Joshua Tree, now mainly and even more tragically known for U2’s (presumably) shit album from the late 1980s.
Like a lot of songs from his solo career (only two albums), actually this is more like a duet than a solo performance. A duet with Emmylou Harris, the idea of whom I enjoy considerably more than the reality. In terms of her records at least. She seems like a decent sort and, as a facile aside, a woman who got better looking as she grew older.
It’s one hell of a record though, $1000 Wedding. It begins with a meandering piano and, like most Country records, a pedal steel guitar that sounds like it’s crying. And there’s plenty of crying going on here. And death. Well, death’s mentioned quite a lot even if nobody actually dies in the song. There’s a lot of wishing for death. If a character from Shakespeare was going to sing this, I’d pick Horatio from Hamlet. For non-Shakespeare cunts, in Hamlet pretty much everybody dies except Hamlet’s friend Horatio, and Horatio expresses a desire for death, seeing as everybody else has carried it but Hamlet won’t let him because Horatio has to tell everybody what happened.
In short, it’s about a bridegroom who gets stood up at the altar by his bride-not-to-be who, it also turns out, has probably been shagging about and everybody else knew it except him.
It starts off in the thick of the action, the invitations have been sent out and, standing at the altar, the groom notices people passing notes to each other. Then he realises that the flowers haven’t turned up. And neither have her family – “I’d even like to see her mean old mama…” So, he’s been ditched at the altar and she’s told her family not to bother turning up but not bothered to let him know. The last line of the first verse tells us that, actually, everybody knew about it and the groom still hasn’t really put two and two together because he asks the miserable faced crowd, “And why ain’t there a funeral, if you’re gonna act that way?”
All of this has been sung solo over a spartan backing of piano, pedal steel guitar and a s-l-o-w accompaniment of bass and kick drum.
When the chorus part kicks in, Emmylou Harris’ soaring harmony vocal joins him along with the rest of the drum kit and an electric guitar as the piano turns staccato.
Whenever I hear this song, especially the choruses, the same mental image slips into my mind and it’s the image of a man with his head on a trestle table, banging his fist helplessly next to his head. That’s what it sounds like to me: frustration, but not aggressively expressed. It’s with sadness and humanity. And it’s beautiful.
The choruses have different words. The first one is about the immediate aftermath, during which he goes out and gets pissed with his mates. So pissed that “...it’s lucky they survived…” Whether that means they drank so much that they had alcohol poisoning or that everybody was contemplating death, like the last scene in Hamlet, or that the ditched groom thought about murdering them because he saw “…he saw the traces of old lies still on their faces...” Which tells us that they all knew all about it long before he did and they lied to him about her. As a result of his belated realisation, Gram suggests, “So why don’t someone here just spike his drink / Why don’t you do him in some old way?” Which prompts another reference to funerals and death.
So, yeah, by the end of the first chorus, the groom’s been stood up, which everybody else already knew would happen, gone out and got pissed and given the impression that he’d be better off dead than going through another moment of this torture.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Country music!
The second verse consists of the Reverend Dr. William Grace, who’s giving a service. Now, at this point, it really gets vague. I don’t know exactly whose funeral it is, but it sure as hell is somebody’s. It might be the groom or the bride. Certainly the suggestion is that it’s the bride: “…And where are the flowers for the girl? / She only knew she loved the world...” Whoever the corpse is, it sure as hell is someone.
Emmylou joins in again on the chorus and they harmonise about The Reverend Dr’s eulogy in which “… he swore the fiercest beasts / Could all be put to sleep the same silly way...” Whatever that means. Dead animals as well, maybe. Futility? I don’t know, but it’s misery, isn’t it? No shit, and the refrain that runs through the song is, “It’s been a bad, bad day.”
The music’s great, it’s that sort of soporific, slightly too slow country thing that The Rolling Stones made a decent fist of a few times, especially Wild Horses, which Gram covered with The Flying Burrito Brothers before The Stones’ version was released. In fact, it might even be the Stones version with Gram singing on it.
But it’s the singing that makes it. Gram’s great by himself on the verses. He sounds kind, gentle and sensitive, which you don’t often hear in men’s voices. Not done well, anyway. Lou Reed could do it too, even though he didn’t do it very often on his later records. Actually, that might not be true because I give up on Lou Reed after Berlin and, credit where it’s due, he had his kind, sensitive, gentle voice on display on pretty much every record he put out up to that point. After that, who knows? Well, I’m sure some people do, but I don’t.
Even so, it’s Emmylou Harris’ harmony vocal that really makes this record one of my favourite Country records. Alone, as I’ve said, it doesn’t really do it for me, but the records she made with Gram Parsons show that the pair of them should really have sung together permanently because theirs is a match made in heaven.
Maybe it’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect to hear on a yacht but maybe that’s the point. For me, at any rate. If I had a yacht, I’d listen to this on it because it’s fucking great and if proper Yacht Rock people would rather listen to Steely Dan or Hall & Oates records than this, then maybe they’re doing it wrong.