The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Gram Parsons is like the John Cazale of Rock and Roll. John Cazale made five movies in the span of six years before his tragic death from cancer at the age of 42 in 1978. Those five movies—The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and the Deer Hunter—are all considered masterpieces. Despite Cazale’s genius, he was only nominated for a lousy Golden Globe for Dog Day Afternoon and is one of those unsung geniuses of modern cinema. Though unheralded, you could argue that his presence in those films pushed them into that higher realm of cinema. Someone who’s influence and consummate professionalism raised the bar for everyone around him (this according to Meryl Streep, whom he was dating at the time of his death).
In 3/5 of his films Cazale plays a sort of foil to Al Pacino. They were best bros, etc. However, as brilliant as Pacino is (especially in Dog Day Afternoon, my favorite of Cazale's films and a film you should seriously watch asap because it is magnificent), you get the impression that Cazale is kind of raising the bar for everyone around him.
Gram Parsons made (or was involved with) five albums in the six years before his death via drug overdose in 1973 at the age of 26. Though death by drug overdose is a bit less tragic than cancer, it’s tragic nonetheless, especially if you factor in Parsons’ influence and youth. Though one of those five aforementioned albums (International Submarine Band’s Safe as Houses) isn’t a widely acclaimed masterpiece, the other four—the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin, and his two solo albums GP and Grievous Angel—are like the ten commandments of alt-country, country rock and pretty much anyone who sings with a little bit of twang. (He also dated Emmylou Harris who, in my head, is sort of like the Meryl Streep of country music).
Effectively, I feel like The Gilded Palace of Sin is Parsons trying to make his own Sweetheart of the Rodeo (with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman in tow nonetheless). Half the time it sounds like a Louvin Brothers tribute album or a general love song to the sad bastards who invented country and western music, but then there’s all this weird shit like the marijuana leaves on Gram Parsons’ suit on the cover. Just look at these guys! WEIRDOS. That’s the first thing I think when I look at this record. A bunch of weirdos with some sketchy chicks. What was this photo shoot like? It’s all so posed. And what the fuck is Sneaky Pete doing? He LOOKS like a guy you would call Sneaky Pete (and not in a fun, affectionate way). He looks like he’s got some secrets. I prefer Parsons’ solo albums to The Gilded Palace of Sin, but I can’t really deny the album’s influence on a hundred or so bands I love. I went on a serious alt-country kick circa 2005 and I know Wilco/Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and probably even up through the Silver Jews and any other band I love that ever broke out a pedal steel. Despite all of the throwback-filtered-through-new-weirdness vibe the album gives off, the insertion of socio-political subject matter (draft dodging on “My Uncle,” for instance) dates it in a really fantastic way. It’s really the era it was released in that makes this record so special. It’s modern and yet plays like a torchbearer for the country greats.