One of the greatest examples of Cosmic American Music out there can be found in the form of the posthumous album Grievous Angel, released four months after Gram’s death at the age of twenty-six. Though it’s billed as a solo album, Parsons couldn’t have pulled it off without the honeyed harmonies of Emmylou Harris. I think the two of them were in love once, Gram and Emmy. The music said so, but Gram died before he could separate from his then wife Gretchen Burrell. Before he could go for it. The album was originally credited to “Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris” and featured a photo of Gram and Emmy together on the front, but Gretchen, not being fond of their relationship, relegated Emmylou to a simple mention on the back of the album.
If you’re looking for another solid example of Cosmic America, then look back to that night with Tim and Jess and myself all arranged like a neat triangle on the corner of the couch. All the signs were there. If you didn’t have an ear for it, then it probably just seemed like noise masquerading as melody, like my fifth grade choir class all cranking out “Cotton-Eyed Joe” on the recorder at the same time. But if you did have an ear for it, if you could wade through the rough edges and into the spiraling charm, then you’d find your foot starting to tap because life is polyphonic like that. Sad music doesn’t really make us sad. It makes us feel pleasant, wistful, capable in our knowhow to be nostalgic, in our ability to remember. Heaped upon heartbreak and loss are layers of infinite emotion and extra lives. If I could go back, I’d run my fingers through Tim’s dark hair and gaze into his wet and widely spaced eyes and croon into his ear, “Hear me out, dude. Just hear me out,” and I’d slink with Jess down to the floor, each item of removed clothing attached to its own discernible note. Crop tops flopping in E minor. Lycra denim jeans crumpling in C major. I’d remind him that “in the game of free association, tragedy should only ever remind you of a time when you were honest with yourself. It is a game that you cannot play alone. You need partners to help cultivate the cadence. So, Tim, let’s jam. If I gasp and Jess moans, then what do you do?”
“Good. Now if I moan and Jess gasps, then what do you do?”
Stomp your feet.
“Nice. Then if I bite Jess on the neck and she probes the depths of my ear with that long tongue of hers, then…grab your coat. Good! Now you’ve got it. It’s collaboration. So back us up. Feel the beat. Better yet, be the beat. Nothing is sacred anymore, so Cake Walk, Cincinnati, Cubanola your ass across the floor. Slam the door. Start the car. Rev the engine. Peel out. Maybe once people thought witnessing tragedy was the best way for a spectator to know how to feel, but I say pick up a tambourine and get to shakin’ because the times they are a changin’, my friend. And just remember: you deserve some of the credit. After all, we made this. We did this. All of us.”