|Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel
If you’ve dipped your toe into the world of alt-country in any capacity whatsoever, then you’ve probably heard the name Gram Parsons floated around as being one of the originators of the genre known as “country rock.” He started with the International Submarine Band, but it was his work as a member of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, not to mention his pair of solo albums, G.P. and Fallen Angel, that resulted in his achievement of “legend” status. Of course, hanging out with the Rolling Stones helped, too, as did dying in his ‘20s from an overdose of morphine and tequila, then having his body stolen by a well-intentioned friend (Phil Kaufman) who wanted to fulfil what he believed to be Parsons’ last wish.
Is your curiosity about the guy piqued? If so, you’ll want to check out “Fallen Angel,” an exhaustive but fascinating look at Parsons’ all too short life and times. Director Gandalf Hennig must be a sweet-talking somebody, given that he managed to get virtually all of the major characters from the story of Gram’s life to appear on camera and chat about him. Not only do the majority of Parsons’ living family members and his widow consent to appear on camera and discuss his life, adding considerably authenticity to the proceedings, but the lineup of musicians is darned impressive as well, covering every portion of his career. Chris Hillman is there to chat about the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, with Bernie Leadon chiming in on the latter as well, Emmylou Harris talks about the solo recordings and tours, as does Elvis Presley’s legendary guitarist, James Burton, who contributed to that material; in the house to cover the time period that bookends those two eras is none other than Keith Richards. There are also fans, like Dwight Yoakam and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who show up to point out what an influence Parsons had been on them and their work.
It’s probable that only the diehard Parsons fans will lap up the in-depth look at the man’s childhood, but taken as a larger picture, it certainly shows how easily readily he found himself on the road to alcoholism…not that befriending Keith Richards during the recording of Exile on Main Street wouldn’t have found just about anyone chugging down whiskey by the bottle. Still, the music is what will hold viewers’ interest. Hillman’s contributions to the film find him bouncing between admiration and bitterness, but once you’ve heard some of the moves Parsons pulled, you won’t be surprised by Hillman’s tone at all. Harris, meanwhile, was Gram’s musical soulmate, resulting in a relationship so close that it’s no wonder Parsons’ wife wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
The songs, unsurprisingly, are wonderful. The special features on the DVD, however, are somewhat lacking, offering only a short interview with director Henning, a discography, and a photo gallery; it would’ve been nice to hear a full commentary with Henning. As a film, however, “Fallen Angel” provides a spectacular look into the life of a man who, even with all the drink, drugs, and foolish endeavours, wrote some sweet, soulful country music.