Gram Parsons & The Anatomy of a Song
As noted above in my review of Twenty Thousand Roads, "Luxury Liner" is my favorite Gram Parsons song, written at the tender age of 19 when he was first in the thrall of country music.
Part of the power of the biography is author David Meyer's ability to bring a song to life on the printed page. Here is an excerpt from his description of "Luxury Liner," the lyrics to which are below this piece:
"Luxury Liner" is Gram's first fully mature song created in what would become his signature style. The lyrics are catchy and surprisingly witty. The structure is classically country. The subject is loss and solitude. The upbeat presentation contrasts with the lyrics. As with Gram's most moving songs, the lyrics can be taken lightly and the wordplay viewed as only that. Or when listened to with greater care, his lyrics become heartbreaking. The fundamental contradiction in Gram's songwriting -- first seen so clearly in "Luxury Liner" and repeated in his best work -- is the ease with which his language flows around a profound and unbearable sadness.
. . . The luxury liner of the title is that staple of country song, the locomotive. The song's chugging beat and shuffling drums suggest the railroad sound that comes not from trains but from country and bluegrass music evoking a train. The train is a recurring, deeply American image in folk, bluegrass, country and blues. It's a symbol of fleeing from trouble, moving on to better things, or the inability to do so. . . .
It's a bleak and cunning document for a nineteen-year-old, surprising for its structural sophistication. It has a great, memorable hook. It's no folk song, with narrative verses separated by a repeated chorus (like Dylan's work at that time). It's made to be a country hit single, with a building intro, a fast leap into the lyrical message, a brief solo, one choral repetition, and out, with a lingering harmonizing honky-tonk flourish at the close.
"Luxury Liner" may not be purely autobiographical, but it hits like self-portraiture. Gram's not singing about all tomorrow's parties or a leopard-skin pill-bix hat or being a nowhere man or having a nineteenth nervous breakdown or whether all the leaves were brown and the sky gray. . . . With the fervor of a new convert, Gram absorbed what his scholarship had shown him and arose, newly born, in the country tradition.