When I go for walks, I usually take my iPod set in the “shuffle” mode. Because of my eclectic interests in music, this sometimes leads to odd concatenations, as on a recent walk during which the Sinfonia from Verdi’s Nabucco was followed immediately by the Holy Modal Rounders’ version of “Flop-Eared Mule”. Sometimes these conjunctions are serendipitously pleasant, as on one walk several years ago when the first, allegro movement from J.S. Bach’s Second Brandenberg Concerto was followed by a lively Cajun song.
A few days ago I started out with the iPod playing Gram Parsons’ haunting, autobiographical “In My Hour of Darkness,” with Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal, from Gram’s posthumously released album Grievous Angel (audio clip with still of album cover above); next came “My Dear Companion” from the Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt (live performance video below). It’s easy for me to speculate that “My Dear Companion,” on which Emmylou takes the lead vocal, was chosen by her as a tribute to Gram, her late musical companion and friend.
I never met Gram Parsons, but I knew of him before he became famous. While I was a student at the University of South Florida I became friends with several students who had known him in his home town, Winter Haven. They told me about this brilliant, talented guy who was a folk singer, and who performed with his group, the Shilohs, at the Derry Down, a night club for teenagers that was owned by his stepfather. I heard that he was at Harvard, and, later, that he had dropped out and started a group called the International Submarine Band along with fellow Havenite Jon Corneal. I was thrilled when, in my second year of law school, I read that he had joined my favorite rock group, the Byrds. I bought their newest album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which includes what has become his signature song, “Hickory Wind”. I followed his career as he left the Byrds and, along with another former Byrd, Chris Hillman, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, then had a solo album, GP, which introduced to a wide audience the voice of Emmylou Harris. His death from a drug overdose in 1973 saddened me enormously.