I’ve Said It Before, I’ll Say It Again: Gram Parsons Wrote “Wild Horses”
I wrote this in 2013 after an article in Uncut magazine quoted Mick Jagger’s brother as saying Gram Parsons wrote “Wild Horses.” I’ve always thought so, but never analyzed it from a literary standpoint, what the song could have been written about. So I did so interpret the song, noting that I had no facts pertaining to authorship. The piece was published in the No Depression website, where it received much notoriety (to put it mildly). The term “fake news” did not exist in 2013, though I recently have been accused of that. This essay is obviously not any kind of “news.” I am not presenting it as fact. It is a discussion of the song’s meaning by way of biographical and literary analysis. Yes I’m also saying that everyone else should admit the same in regard to historical fact; the facts concerning the actual genesis (not recording etc.) are at least jumbled, and as long as the Corporation that comprises the Rolling Stones is a reality, I believe any agreement that may have been made among the parties will remain hidden. Gram didn’t care about the money, etc. and yes he never rejected the Stones’ claim of authorship, which of course would have been part of any deal, not knowing he would be dead shortly after those comments were made. Also the genesis of the song may have been in such a drugged up state that not even Keith and Gram remember exactly who wrote it! I’m assuming there is some interest in the subject, as the No Depression article had 60,600 page views (approximately a thousand a month) until ND redesigned and ended the visual page counter. So relax everyone, enjoy my flight of fancy if you want to perceive it thusly. As for me, I just go with what ol’ Bill Faulkner said, “I don’t give a damn for facts, just truth.”
[Beginning of original article]
Or at least co-wrote it. Gave the lyrics to Keith on the way out the door. Whatever, I don’t care. Some of us who know Gram’s style of songwriting (and love it) have always known it. And we also know the Stones’ style, both before and after meeting Gram. Now in the Feb ’13 issue of Uncut we have Mick’s brother saying it was a Gram Parsons’ composition (“not that he ever got anything for it”). And we have an old quote from Mick himself, “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons…” Etc. Really Mick, you “remember” that much… in ’71? And knowing Gram, I imagine he wasn’t doing anything? Just sitting around, watching? Right.
I won’t even get into the obvious about Jagger “allowing” someone to cut one of their best songs first.
But I’m not here to argue the point. Please! I know there’s no proof. Move on if you’re not interested in my new (well, I thought it out a few years ago) theory about what (and who) it’s about.
No there’s no proof, unless you believe in analysis of art and life as proof.
So on with it.
I’ve felt for years that the original lyrics, written by Gram and perhaps modified slightly by the Stones, were written about/for Gram’s sister Little Avis. I’ve read various interpretations of the song, and none seem to ring true. I believe this does. Gram felt tremendous responsibility for Avis after their parents’ deaths, and overwhelming guilt at times for leaving her. And, no doubt, some guilt over what was happening to him, and that he would also soon be leaving her for good. “Faith has been broken, tears must be cried.” His letters to Avis (see Meyer p. 163 et al.) to me mirror the thoughts and feelings in the song. With that in mind, the song here w/out all of the “drag me away” lines.
Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted I bought them for you
Graceless lady you know who I am,
You know I can’t let you slide through my hands
I watched you suffer a dull aching pain,
Now you’ve decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines
Can make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie,
I have my freedom but I don’t have much time
Faith has been broken, tears must be cried,
Let’s do some living after we die
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.
(Yes, “Graceless Lady” could easily be a loving, personal reference to one’s younger sister.)
That’s it, nothing fancy; just obvious to me (and maybe only me, doesn’t matter). I go with Faulkner, I don’t give a damn for facts, just the truth. And that’s what I hear in “Wild Horses.”
[End of original article.]
Here’s a little exercise that I had done in the original comment section of the No Depression article. It’s based on an interview with Mick Jagger in 1971 [my comments are within in brackets]:
“I remember [as what, in a fog? this quote is from 1971] we sat around [we?] originally [as in origin] doing this [does “doing this” meaning “writing this”] with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. [Everyone knows including Mick that the FBB version was released more that slightly first, but Mick seems vague, “I think…” a manner of covering up the obvious question regarding the only time he allowed such a thing, giving one of their songs to someone he disliked, to put it mildly] Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was [again, for such a complex song, he doesn’t “think” it was about Marianne (it wasn’t)]; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally [as we all are when we hear it Mick]. It is very personal, evocative, and sad [I couldn’t agree more, and quite obvious]. It all sounds [“sounds,” all this is said as if listening not knowing as the writer] rather doomy now [not sure Mick would ever say one of his songs sounds anything negative], but that was quite a heavy time.” [Indeed].
And from Gram’s Notebook. A gentleman from Hard Rock Cafe, which owns the notebook, has released a video since this article was composed that claims with more certainty than I that Gram wrote “Wild Horses” based on several handwritten copies of the song in Gram’s notebook (it is odd, you don’t edit a song written by Jagger/Richards); I take no position on his remarks.