Sometimes the decisions about who to put on the cover of No Depression seem to be made of their own volition.
When the Gram Parsons tribute album Return Of The Grievous Angel started showing up on release schedules a few months ago, it raised an eyebrow, though not much more than that. Putting an artist on the cover simply for being the subject of a tribute album seemed perhaps a bit of a stretch. Then again, this was Gram Parsons, considered by many to be the artist most central to the music we cover in No Depression.
Eventually, the pieces started falling into place. At this year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Grant was on a panel with Holly George-Warren, who was Ben Fong-Torres’ research assistant for his 1991 Parsons biography Hickory Wind; in a roundabout way, that led to her writing this issue’s feature story on Parsons. We’d originally envisioned covering the tribute album as the lead record review, and opted to proceed with that as well.
From England came an unsolicited review of a Parsons tribute show put on by Sid Griffin, which worked nicely into the live-reviews section. Then a comprehensive bootleg recording surfaced, significant enough to warrant attention in our reissue-reviews section. Meanwhile, a couple people contacted us about new Parsons songs that had recently seen the light of day, both worthy of notes on our news page. By the time we’d gathered all those things together, it seemed only fitting to ask Mark Olson if he’d like to write something about Gram from a Joshua Tree perspective for the “Screen Door” page.
The result is an issue that’s not exactly focused on Parsons, but carries threads of his presence throughout. Gram gets the Glenn Hilario treatment on the cover and lead-review illustrations; photos were a bit hard to come by, but we gathered as much as we could from various sources.
In spite of all these signs that pointed to Parsons being the obvious choice for this issue’s cover, however, it wasn’t so clear-cut when it came down to the co-editors’ opinions on the subject. Gram’s music has indeed moved me in the same way it has touched legions of folks who have sought out the common ground between country and rock for decades. Yet it’s not hard to understand those who would argue that Parsons is just one of many who carried that torch, rather than the torchbearer himself.
And then there are those who just don’t get it.
Like my co-editor.
– Peter Blackstock
Given the hour, I’ll be…um…brief, and hope y’all can forgive my failure to develop this thought as much as it deserves. Let’s start with this: Gram was parson at a church that I’ve never prayed at. Don’t get it, probably never will.
I can make an argument for Parsons as a catalyst — with the Byrds, with Chris Hillman in the Burritos, and with Emmylou Harris. But if Emmylou Harris hadn’t proved out — if (god forbid) she’d settled into a housing complex and raised her children in silence — instead of rising to stardom on her own, carrying Gram’s torch with her every step of the way, would anybody still listen to his output?
The founder of something? Well, a lot of pretty smart people and clever musicians say he was. But I have a hard time believing his mix of rock and country happened in a vacuum, especially when I dig out my early Grateful Dead records (and no, that’s not my church, either).
But mostly I don’t hear the magic in his songs, nor his voice. A lot of other folks do. So this one’s for you. I’ll get mine later. Enjoy.
– Grant Alden
ALL THE FIXINS: A couple corrections to last issue’s Backsliders feature. First, we credited former ‘Slider Steve Howell as the author of “Southern Line”, which appears as an unlisted bonus track at the end of the group’s new album Southern Lines; band leader Chip Robinson says he and Howell co-wrote the song. Second, the Backsliders’ label, Mammoth, is distributed through Universal affiliate Disney, not through Hollywood as the article stated.…Finally, a note from reader Mark Morrissey in regard to a Son Volt feature in ND #17 (Sept.-Oct. ’98): “Your photo caption mixed up the Boquist brothers on page 52. Dave’s on the far left, Jim’s far right.” Right you are, and thanks for the heads-up. Better late than never.