This is what all music memoirs should be like - funny, sad, true and not just about the music. The fact that Gram Parsons is the character around whom the rest of the book swirls makes it of particular interest to his fans, but this is a book that tells much more. It shows America changing in the Sixties, from a country ruled by grown-ups to a place where Vietnam dominated the minds of every male between the ages of 15 and 30 and made them realise that the grown-ups do not know everything. This is a brilliantly written road book, a musical meander across the United States with the International Submarine Band, in which Parsons sang lead and the author played bass. It's a great read - one of the very best memoirs to emerge from the height of hippydom, or indeed from any musician in the past 60 years.
Ostensibly about the author's relationship with Gram Parsons this is as much about his relationship with an America on the verge of massive social change. It's a great read which feels far shorter than its 300-plus pages. It probably gets closer to the reality of the late sixties than most books I've read. It's real life written as a novel. It's fun, illuminating and it features an astonishing cast of characters including Hopper and Fonda and that's kind of appropriate for a 1968 road book. As a first effort it's hugely accomplished. Its more than a music book... it's literature!
Ian Dunlop's first book is a wonderful tale of escaping the LA scene in the late sixties. It was a time when the war in Vietnam was escalating and every young man had this on his mind. You are transported back to the exact place you were when the assassination of Bobby Kennedy occured and how that moment changed us all forever. In the middle of all of this there was this band called the International Submarine Band, paddling upstream and trying to gain acceptance playing Country Music (of all things) during the psychedelic music craze. It is a travel log of a trip across America in a VW bus and a rediscovery of nature and one's soul. You are riding along on a fascinating journey from the West coast to East filled with record stores overflowing with old 45s and 78s, geodesic dome communes, campfires and hole in the wall diners, and old signs, brands and labels of a time you will remember clearly if you were even half awake. Along the way Ian reminds us of early music pioneers that we missed or have forgotten, like Mezz Mezzrow, Spike Jones, Johnnie Taylor and Mose Alison. And of course some intimate moments with Ian and Gram. This book is as close to hearing Ian himself telling stories in your living room as one can get. In fact when I was in the midst of the book, I swear I could see him sitting in the chair next to me rattling off one of the many great stories included in this great read. This book is a trip you will want to take for yourself. Enjoy !!!!!!!
In May 1968, Ian Dunlop - close friend of Gram Parsons, bassist and founder member of both the International Submarine Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers - climbed into his ramshackle VW camper and drove out of the LA smog. All the months of fruitless meetings with record company 'suits', recording sessions that never quite jelled, and playing gigs to Californian surfers and flower-children (deaf to anything that sounded even remotely like country music), had finally got to him and he headed for the hills.
'Breakfast in Nudie Suits' is Dunlop's account of his meandering road trip eastwards, and as he coaxes his clapped-out van across the States, each stop along the way triggers another memorable anecdote about the ISB's three-year uphill struggle as country music apostles. Many of these are uproarious - the band's appearance in the Peter Fonda movie 'The Trip', their shortlived (and unpaid) stint as backing band to early 60s rocker Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon, a TV slot on the bizarre Zacherly Disco-Teen Show. And some are tragic and prophetic, such as the time when an über-cool Mike Bloomfield holds forth dismissively about lightweight drug-users, while sprawled on the floor a near-comatose Gram sweats his way through a bad acid trip; drugs would be the death of both within the next 14 years. Dunlop's recall of those times is near-perfect, aided by his sketchbooks and journals, and if you want to know what the Sixties were really like, you won't find a better guide than him; this book deserves to be kept in the Smithsonian.
But 'Breakfast' is about so much more than just the music business, and a band of stubborn country-rock musicians beating their heads against the wall of public conformity. As the bright lights of LA grow fainter in his rear-view mirror, Dunlop's journey becomes an exploration into the rural heart of the nation, where the closest that some people got to the American Dream were the rusted hubcaps littering the roadside. He rubs sweat-stained shoulders with a field-gang of Mexican piece-workers and drops in on the idealistic hippies of Drop City, living in geodesic domes built from scrapped autos. He passes through the dilapidated shambles of a Navajo Reservation and watches Native Americans pimping their heritage for the tourists in Santa Fe, gets sermonised at a bible-thumbing revivalist meeting in West Virginia, and with a mechanic in a greasy shed in a one-stoplight Missouri town he shakes his head over the news of Robert Kennedy's assassination.
The book isn't perfect, and some diligent editing would have helped. The flashbacks are occasionally confusing (hang on, are we in Flagstaff in '68 or Encino in '67?) and the typeface is rather cramped. But these minor flaws won't spoil your enjoyment, and on the plus side Dunlop has provided useful, quirky illustrated sketch maps at the beginning of each chapter, charting the progress of his bus, and there are eight pages of photographs (including promotional group shots as well as snaps taken en route) which leave you wanting more.
Gram fans will probably fast-forward through the narrative for each new reminiscence about their hero, but for the rest of us 'Breakfast' is as much a fascinating tour through rural America as it is about late-night bar-room gigs and studio recording sessions. As I turned the final page, and stepped down from the fly-blown and dust-streaked camper van, I was grateful that Dunlop had taken me along for the ride.