I love Gram Parsons. A privileged rich kid from Florida who became an outcast from his family to become a musician. A musician during the long-haired ’60s who had such a passion for country music that he transformed one of the best bands in rock music into a country-rock band for a while, creating Sweethearts of the Rodeo as a testament. He even steered the Rolling Stones toward country music and, I think, given time, would have taken over that group the way he took control of the Byrds.
Most of all, I think Gram saw the beauty and honesty of country music, and the degree to which he felt the heartache and longing in the lyrics was clear in many covers that he recorded with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Fallen Angels.
Last year, Amoeba Records released a recording of two Flying Burrito Brothers 1969 performances, as they opened for the Grateful Dead at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom. The set lists from the two shows are nearly identical, so you get two versions of FBB choice of covers: Waylon Jennings’ Sweet Mental Revenge, Willie Nelson’s Undo The Right, the Wilburn Brothers’ Somebody’s Back in Town, among them. But the highlight for me is two performances of She Once Lived Here, written by Autry Inman and previously recorded by George Jones.
Any George Jones song is a good place to start a conversation about the appreciation of good country music. (OK, maybe not Love Bug.) But She Once Lived Here, whether it’s the Jones or Parsons version, is a convincer.
She Once Lived Here (performed by George Jones)
Written by Autry Inman
The mayor gave me the keys to the city
the welcome wagon’s already appeared
But again I’ll be packing and leaving
for it’s plain now that she once lived here
I’ll never know what could make me forget her
cause she’s love and love lives everywhere
Could it be that I’ll never stop saying
I’ve got to go now for she once lived here
I see her face in the cool of the evening
I hear her voice in each breeze loud and clear
There must be a town without memories
but not this one for she once lived here
Parsons doesn’t reinvent the song. The George Jones inflections are still there, the stress on the same words in the line, “I see her face in the cool of the evening,” but it sounds like where Jones is portraying pain, Parsons is channeling it. After listening to the song a few dozen times now, I have to believe that Parsons is thinking of a particular woman, in a particular town, and senses that feeling particular to country music lovers — the need to run away, to outrun pain rather than letting it overtake you.