The Flying Burrito Brothers: Behind The Songs
“I think Gram did his best work in co-writes,” says Chris Hillman, who wrote a number of classic songs with Gram Parsons while in The Flying Burrito Brothers. “Sometimes when you’re working with one other person, it’s such a magical thing. You’re editing each other and you’re trying to create that one spark.” Hillman remarks on five songs they wrote together.
We’re writing about Hollywood in 1969 – but it’s relevant today. We’re touching on money, indebtedness, collapse, war. We had this manager, Larry Spector. He lived on the 31st floor of a condo in Hollywood. He had the most ugly front door with gold plating on it. “The scientists say” was about the threat of an earthquake. “We’ve got our recruits and our green mohair suits, so please show your ID at the door.” Gram wrote that line. It had something to do with him and I going to the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip. To this day, I’m going, what is he talking about? And the last verse was, of course, about Robert Kennedy. Each verse was a little vignette.
“Christine’s Tune (Devil In Disguise)”
“Christine’s Tune” was later renamed “Devil In Disguise.” The young lady we wrote that song about passed away in a car accident. We felt it was really terrible to have her name there. It was not the kindest lyric. It’s a misogynistic lyric.
The older guys tell me what it’s all about [laughs]. It was just goofy. It was out of left field. We were doing like this semi-Norteño, Mexican surf music is what I call it. “It’s so costly living down on the ocean.” It was just funny. That was the joy of working with him – we’d come up with these funny ideas.
Juanita was the sister of Arlo Guthrie’s wife. She was a great gal. She was at the Troubadour, one of the watering holes we used to go to all the time. There was a house we were living at in the valley. At the time, she was exactly as the song says – we were down in the dumps. We both could relate to this loneliness: “Then an angel appeared, she was just 17.” I don’t think she was really 17.
Gram bought a BFA motorcycle – an old English-made – they don’t make them anymore. He took it out and crashed it and cut his leg up. He rolled it home and we wrote “Wheels.” That really has a gospel bent to it. “When I feel my time is almost up … I’ll turn to Him.” That tongue-in-cheek, light subtlety – but yet seriousness. That’s brilliance.