I've Said It Before, I'll Say It Again: Gram Parsons Wrote "Wild Horses"
In honor of the expanded reissue of the 1971 classic Sticky Fingers that boasts unreleased studio outtakes and live performances in addition to freshly remastered sound. including a single featuring "Brown Sugar" backed up with "Wild Horses," and the later also with an acoustic version, I offer the following.
Gram Parsons wrote "Wild Horses."
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 (and musically, Ry Cooder). 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. There's no proof. Already conceded that point. Doubt you'll ever see any unless the corporation that is Mick Jagger passes on and truths may be spoken.
No, there's no proof. Unless you believe in the 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' death, 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 this writer mirror the thoughts and feelings in the song. With that in mind, the song here the drag me away lines omitted.
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). Blew this by Bob Kealing, author of Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock and he... well, he's staying with he's got to mull that one over (he's a journalist, darn them all, and they want facts!). I go with Faulkner, I don't give a damn for facts, just the truth. And that's what I hear in "Wild Horses."
Originally published in Gram Parsons InterNational blog, 2013