Uncut Editor's Diary
Gram Parsons, Ray Davies, Mick Ronson, Simple Minds, The Rolling Stones, Family and Nick Drake's mum in the new Uncut
There’s a lot to be said for the charisma of premature death. And the manner of his particular dying – turning blue on a motel floor at the age of 26, his heart fatally faltering, ice cubes being stuffed up his ass in a pathetic attempt to bring him back from the brink after one binge too many – booked Gram parsons an automatic place of honour in a rock’n’roll Valhalla already overcrowded with dead young heroes, Jimi, Janis, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and more already among its spectral population when Gram died in September, 1973.
And then, of course, there is the bonfire they made of his body, the macabre drunken ritual of his Joshua Tree cremation, his friend and roadie, Phil Kaufman, fulfilling a pact he made with Gram at the funeral of former Byrds guitarist Clarence White. Which was basically that if either checked out while the other was still living, the one still standing would take the other, now dead, and burn the corpse out there in the Mojave Desert – where Gram had dropped LSD, partied with Keith Richards, died. Kaufman may have thought he was merely honouring a boozy promise. He was actually creating a legend.
If Gram’s early exit ensured a notorious immortality, it also to some extent unintentionally overshadowed the music he left behind, which is his true legacy. People who’ve never heard him, however, may wonder whether the myth looms larger than the music, about whose merit they may be somewhat suspicious. After all, an image has grown since his death of Gram as something of a playboy, a rich southern kid living off a substantial trust fund who was more interested in narcotic debauchery and reckless living than the nurturing of a sublime talent. In the circumstances, can his music really be as good as his fans say it is?
The answer, of course, is yes, as David Cavanagh’s cover story for the new Uncut – on sale from tomorrow, January 3 – so brilliantly attests. On his way to the grave, Gram produced some of the most beautiful and moving music ever made. There wasn’t much of it to leave behind, his legacy only – what? – six studio albums, a couple of live albums, a smattering of compilations of out-takes and rehearsal tapes.
It’s not a lot, but when those albums include The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin and the solo GP and Grievous Angel, you begin to realise the extent to which this fated young man’s pioneering vision changed the face of American music. Forty years after his death, the music he made - the honky tonk laments, country death songs and heart breaking ballads – have lost none of their original magic, remain unforgettable, forever haunting.
Elsewhere in our first issue of 2013, we have a revealing new interview with Ray Davies, by Nick Hasted, author of the definitive Kinks biography, You Really Got Me, Garry Mulholland looks back on the star-crossed post-Bowie career of Mick Ronson, with ample testimony to his musical genius from, among others, Morrissey, his longstanding friend and collaborator Ian Hunter and T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn and Rob Stoner, who played alongside Mick in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. We also celebrate the return of Roger Chapman and Family, who have reformed for two shows next month, sadly without original guitarist Charlie Whitney, who’s decided to stay on the Greek island where he’s lived for many years. With London’s weather as bad as it’s recently been, who could blame him?
In the course of the rest of the issue, we also speak top Joe Cocker, Simple Minds, Jane Birkin, Pete Seeger, Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos, Nick Drake’s mum and Yo La Tengo, while our 2013 Album preview features Wilco, The Black Keys, The National, Phosphorescent, Queens Of The Stone Age, Iron & Wine, Edwyn Collins, Low and many more. There’s also an especially busy reviews section for what’s usually a fairly quiet time of year, headed by an exciting new discovery Matthew E White, whose debut, Big Inner, is stunning. There are new albums, top, from broadcast, Aaron Neville, Villagers, Arbouretum, Anais Mitchell, with notable reissues from Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, Marianne Faithfull and Hawkwind, not to mention live reviews of The Rolling Stones, Shuggy Otis and The National.
If all this sounds like something you wish you were already reading, you might want to think about taking out a subscription to Uncut, one of the perks of which is getting the new issue before it goes on sale in the shops. Full details of current subscription offers are on uncut.co.uk.
Happy New Year!