Song of the Week: “Return of the Grievous Angel” by Gram Parsons

by Douglas Cowie on 2 January 2015

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Return of the Grievous Angel” by Gram Parsons:

One of the things I like about the songs of Gram Parsons is that his lyrics often mix imagery in a way that makes them old-fashioned and modern in the same moment.  Sometimes, like in “The New Soft Shoe,” that clash of old-fashionedness and modernity is the centerpiece of the song. In “Return of the Grievous Angel,” however, it’s more just a fact of life. The narrator is traveling down twenty thousand roads, through prairies and amber waves of grain. He’s thinking about “a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee,” and rubbing up against “truckers and kickers and cowboy angels,” but also a king with an amphetamine crown, and a man on the radio who won’t leave him alone as he passes truckstop billboards. He’s a guy lost in America, and the America he’s lost in is both geographical and historical, and in singing it this way, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris turn America into something more than geography and history, and begin pushing it into the mythical.

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