When I was thirteen, my dad played me Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps, which leads off with one of his greatest tunes My My, Hey Hey.  Dad was sure to point out his favorite line of the song, "It's better to burn out than to fade away."  For a tweenage boy who hadn't yet reached his nihilistic phase, Burning Out > Fading Away was quite a bit to digest.  Especially on a rainy Sunday after church, when I should more upset about having to rake leaves all afternoon rather than considering my own mortality.

Surrounding all this, my exploration into music had me discovering figures like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, all who died well before 30.  Kurt Cobain had in fact just toed the shotgun at age 27, which prompted my friends and I to believe that if you truly are great, you gotta get everything done by age 27 so you can peace out with confidence.

Of course, I hadn't yet heard the story of Gram Parsons.  Probably because my dad was wise enough to know that the quickest way to get a 13-year-old disinterested in classic rock is by playing him bluegrass or the Byrds.  He waited until I was in my mid-twenties to drop Sweetheart of the Rodeo into my Christmas stocking.  And by then I was ready.  If it were physically possible to wear out a CD, that's what I did to Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  I lasered all the 1's and 0's the hell out of it.

So this past summer, when I started to look at some Gram Parsons' solo albums, my dad reached over my shoulder and pulled out Grievous Angel.  "You know this was Gram Parsons' last album before he died?" he informed my while asking a question, respecting the fact that I may have learned a thing or two on my own over the past few  years.

"Yeah, I think I read that somewhere," I replied.  Protecting your music nerd knowledge like that only works with people who know less than you.  My dad is not one of those people.

He dropped the needle on the first track, Return of the Grievous Angel.  Electric guitar, fiddle, and Gram Parsons' crystal clear voice filled up the room.  When Emmylou Harris joined him to sing backup, I felt like we needed to get another room to fit all this damn music into.  But I also realized the 13-year-old me would have run screaming to his room, and probably go listen to the new Offspring album, which was just so awesome at the time.  Times (and my palette) sure have changed.

As the needle ht the gap between track one and track two (Hearts on Fire), I asked my dad how old Gram Parsons was when he died.  Sitting at his desk, feet up, wireless mouse on his lap (Dad's most favorite position since the advent of the wireless mouse) he quietly googled the name.  Somewhere around the second verse he said, "Twenty six."

Twenty six?  This guy burns out at age twenty six?  Here I am, listening to his masterpiece, damn near thirty, thinking, "Boy, if I want to burn out instead of fade away, I really better get a move on!"  Thankfully, Dad wasn't holding any opiates, or we might have missed the Eagles game.

As we listened through the album, it's clear why this twenty-six-year-old talent is considered the father of Alt Country.  $1000 Wedding could very easily be an Uncle Tupelo song.  Love Hurts is so universally good it was covered by Nazareth and used in a Gatorade campaign that over-dramatized the importance of sport.  (which in turn makes me think of cookie dough, for some reason)

When In My Hour of Darkness abruptly ends, it doesn't feel like you just heard the last album of a man about to burn out.  It feels like Gram Parsons had many more songs to sing. And in the silence before I get up to return the record to the shelf, I sit in that raggedy old chair for just one extra moment.  I don't think Dad or I will ever be accused either burning out or fading away.  But in the end, I guess it's just not our call.

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