Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

18
Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris

We drink our fill and still we thirst for more
Asking, “If there's no heaven, what is this hunger for?”

—Emmylou Harris, “The Pearl”

No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them. All those
pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy
Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss
and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was
the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create
a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who
never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid
Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody—or at least
some force—is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.

—Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I DIDN'T EXACTLY LOSE TRACK of Emmylou Harris between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, but she did fade from my list of preoccupations. I'd been listening to her on and off since I first heard about her making records and touring with Gram Parsons, the man who turned the Byrds (and subsequently, it seemed, nearly all of LA's burgeoning rock scene) toward what became country rock, founded the Burrito Brothers, partied (and cowrote songs like “Wild Horses”) with the Rolling Stones, elevated Harris to national attention, and in September 1973 was found dead (of coroner-ruled “natural causes” that included morphine and tequila) in a motel in Joshua Tree. A friend stole his body and burned it in the Joshua Tree National Monument.

How rock and roll can you get? Parsons, never widely famous, instantly became a mythic cult figure. His life seemed appropriate: as a kid in 1956, he went backstage at a touring Grand Ole Opry show to meet Elvis Presley, who blew him away and made him want to play music, which from then on totally absorbed him. In the early 1960s, he

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