The Flying Burrito Brothers Song That Includes a Tribute to Bobby Kennedy

I have probably heard “Sin City” by the Flying Burrito Brothers more than a hundred times.  But I never realized that one of the verses is about Robert F. Kennedy until reading an interview with Steve Earle.

In the interview, Earle recounted how the song’s co-writer Chris Hillman explained the Bobby Kennedy connection.  The following verse is about Kennedy.

A friend came around,
Tried to clean up this town;
His ideas made some people mad;
But he trusted his crowd,
So he spoke right out loud;
And they lost the best friend they had.

In another interview from many years ago in The Los Angeles Times, Hillman confirmed the above verse was about Kennedy. Hillman also explained how he and Gram Parsons came to write the song.

Hillman woke up one morning with the opening lines of the song in his head: “This old town’s filled with sin, it’ll swallow you in….”  He immediately woke up his roommate Parsons, who soon came up with the melody for the song.

Parsons and Hillman, who both had recently experienced relationship breakups, completed the song in about thirty minutes.  And they both ended up singing it on the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969).

Bobby Kennedy was not the only person referenced in the song.  Hillman, who still had bad feelings about the breakup of his former band The Byrds, included an allusion to that band’s manager Larry Spector.  Hillman considered Spector a thief, and the man lived on the thirty-first floor of a condo.  Hence the line:  “On the thirty-first floor a gold plated door / Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain.”

Hillman further explained that they wrote “Sin City” as a cautionary tale to “people like Gene Clark from the Byrds, who came here from Kansas with all that talent and all bright-eyed and talented and idealistic, and the whole thing just swallowed him up.”  Unfortunately, that cautionary tale could equally refer to the tragic young death of Parsons.

“Sin City” remains one of the great collaborations between two great singer-songwriters. While the original recorded by the songwriters remains definitive, there have been a couple of nice covers through the years. Below in a performance from 1989, k.d. lang and Dwight Yoakam do the song justice.

Finally, here is a wonderful version by Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings (Buddy Miller is also there on guitar).

And that is the story behind the song.

What is your favorite song by the Flying Burrito Brothers? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Tommy Lee Jones and “The Homesman” (Missed Movies)

    The odds are pretty good that you might have missed even hearing about a movie last year directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones that also featured Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, Hailee Steinfeld, and several other stellar actors. But through the miracle of DVDs, you may now catch up on the odd but fascinating movie The Homesman (2014).

    The movie is based on a book by Glendon Swarthout, who wrote several books that have been made into movies, including Bless the Beasts and the Children and The Shootist. Although the actors and crew argue about whether or not The Homesman is a Western, the film is set in the 1850s of what was the West at the time, the Nebraska Territory (although much of it is filmed in northern New Mexico). And, like many Westerns, the film features beautiful images of the open landscape with wonderful cinematography (by Rodrigo Prieto).

    Much of The Homesman centers on Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank), a resourceful, intelligent, and lonely woman living on the frontier. In several disturbing scenes, the movie shows us how harsh conditions and tragedies affect the mental health of three women who live near Cuddy. As a result of their deterioration, the townspeople select Cuddy to take the mentally ill women back to civilization. As she prepares for her journey, Cuddy encounters George Briggs, who through some odd circumstances she recruits as the “homesman” of the title, a term for someone who takes immigrants back home.

    Threads of mental illness, loneliness, and the harsh landscape run throughout the movie, which features haunting images throughout. Few movies present such scenes of oddness that touch on the fact that the Old West must have contained many disturbed characters, although we see flashes of it in somewhat odd movies like Missouri Breaks (1976) (with Marlon Brando in an odd portrayal of a character talking to his horse) and Dwight Yoakam’s interesting but messy South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000). Similarly, there is a standout strange scene in Dances With Wolves where Costner encounters a soldier driven crazy by his time on the frontier.

    Homesman is made up of many such images but ties them together in a fascinating story that seems real and honest. None of the characters are perfect and they all have their own demons and weaknesses. Because of that, the movie strays from the traditional Western format that focuses on heroes who save the day. The movie is not predictable, and while not perfect, you will not soon forget it. Tommy Lee Jones continues to show a unique directing eye as he did in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) and The Sunset Limited (2011).

    Conclusion? If you have a taste for an unpredictable honest raw movie about unusual but real characters, and if you enjoy beautiful shots of the desolate Western United States, you might enjoy The Homesman. While it is not a great classic, it is a memorable unusual film that generally received good reviews and is worth your time.

    {Missed Movies is our continuing series on good films you might have missed because they did not receive the recognition they deserved when released.}

    What did you think of Homesman? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Brandy Clark “Hold My Hand” At Grammys

    One of the highlights of the recent 57th annual Grammy Awards occurred when Best New Artist nominee Brandy Clark appeared on a side stage with Dwight Yoakam to perform “Hold My Hand.” The two gave one of the small-stage emotional moments on a night usually dominated by big production numbers.

    Check out the video of Clark and Yoakam performing “Hold My Hand,” a song about relationship insecurities that Clark wrote with Mark Stephen Jones.

    “Hold My Hand” is from Clark’s album, 12 Stories. Although she did not win Best New Artist or Country Album of the Year, the Internet loved her performance and hopefully sharing the spotlight with Dwight Yoakam will make sure we hear more from her in the future.

    What was your favorite performance at the Grammy Awards? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Dwight Yoakam on Acting and Music

    In this new video from the Weekly Feed, country singer-songwriter Dwight Yoakam discusses acting, country music, and his next CD. Yoakam explains to interviewer Kyle Meredith how he came to sing a Creedance Clearwater Revival song recently as a character on CBS’s Under The Dome. He also explains why when he does cover songs, he usually tries to avoid iconic recordings. Other topics include Yoakam’s thoughts on David Bowie, Buck Owens, T-Rex, and the state of the music industry.

    Yoakam is one of the more intelligent artists around and he has a great understanding of history, so it is always enlightening to hear him talk about various subjects. So check out this interview from the WFPK studios in Louisville, Kentucky.

    Below is the clip from Under the Dome that he discusses, where his character sits in jail and sings “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

    If all that leaves you wanting more Yoakam, below is the song he mentions at the end of the interview, “A Heart Like Mine,” from his 3 Pears (2012) CD. The song was co-produced by Beck.

    What is your favorite Dwight Yoakam song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Buck Owens: Don’t Judge a Man’s Music By His Overalls

    On March 25 in 2006, Buck Owens, who was born Alvis Edgar Owens Jr., passed away. When I was a kid, I thought Buck Owens was just a goofy guy who wore his overalls backwards and joked around on Hee Haw with Roy Clark. But as I grew up and learned more about classic country music, I discovered that Owens was a legend who made great music with his band, The Buckaroos.

    Along with Merle Haggard, Owens was one of the first to stand up against the slick Nashville music to help create and popularize a rock-influenced honky tonk music called “the Bakersfield sound” that influenced and continues to influence many great country artists like Brad Paisley. In the clip below, Owens and his long-time legendary guitarist Don Rich performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here” in 1966 on the Jimmy Dean Show.

    One of the artists touched by Owens is Dwight Yoakam. After Owens lost his friend and guitarist Don Rich in a motorcycle accident in 1974, Owens drifted out of the spotlight and eventually stopped recording music. In 1988, though, Dwight Yoakam helped bring Owens back to popularity when the two recorded a new version of Owens’s 1973 hit written by Homer Joy, “Streets of Bakersfield.”

    The collaboration between Yoakam and Owens on “Streets of Bakersfield” gave Owens his first number one song in sixteen years. I love this song.

    A Buck Owens biography portrayed Owens, who was married several times as sort of a jerk at times. But like he asks in “Streets of Bakersfield” about walking in another person’s shoes (or overalls), “[H]ow many of you that sit and judge me / Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?”

    Country musicians were not the only ones who recognized the talent of Buck Owens and the great Bakersfield sound. In “Far Away Eyes” from Some Girls (1978), the Rolling Stones described driving through Bakersfield on the country sounding song. Creedence Clearwater Revival mentioned Owens in “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (“Dinosaur Victrola, Listenin’ to Buck Owens”) on Cosmos Factory (1970).

    Even more famously, in 1965 the Beatles covered one of Owens’s songs, “Act Naturally,” on Help! with Ringo Starr singing lead. Years later, Buck and Ringo joined their humor and musical skills to record a new version of “Act Naturally.”

    When Owens passed away in 2006, he was sleeping in his bed. Hours earlier he was not feeling well and considered canceling a performance until he heard some fans had traveled from Oregon to California to hear him. So he stood on stage at his Crystal Palace club and restaurant, singing one last time in Bakersfield.

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