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‘They’re not being kind to the brothers’ (Why Keith Richards and Gram Parsons boycotted South Africa)

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Keith Richards met the legendary American musician Gram Parsons at a London club in 1968 when Parsons was touring with the Byrds. Parsons was then 21, Richards 24. From Richards’s 2010 book, Life.

They [the Byrds] were touring, on their way to South Africa….. I think we went back to [art dealer] Robert Fraser’s to hang out, do some stuff…

At Fraser’s that night we started to talk about South Africa, and Gram asked me, “What’s this drift I’m getting since I got to England? When I say I’m going to South Africa, I get this cold stare.” He was not aware of apartheid or anything. He’d never been out of the United States. So when I explained it to him, about apartheid and sanctions and nobody goes there, they’re not being kind to the brothers, he said, “Oh, just like Mississippi?” And immediately, “Well, fuck that.” He quit that night. He was supposed to leave the next day for South Africa. So I said, You can stay here, and we lived with Gram for months and months, certainly the rest of that summer of 1968, mostly at Redlands.

Note to all ye of little faith. This was 18 years before the U.S. Senate voted for sanctions against South Africa, overriding President Ronald Reagan’s veto, and 22 years before apartheid collapsed.

Life” was co-authored by James Fox. Full excerpt, including the drug bits, at google books. The Byrds went on to South Africa. The band had a different view of Parsons’s stance.

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9 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    December 10, 2013, 12:28 pm

    Phil: Isn’t the USA always so slow on the up-take? Its government does not govern the USA “as if people mattered” and it s/b no surprise that it treats the people of other countries even worse.

    18 years for South Africa. How long for Cuba and Palestine? And Egypt. And unnumbered (and widely unknown inside the USA) countries in Africa.


  2. Citizen
    December 10, 2013, 12:50 pm

    The real key as to music folks reluctance to stand up for the Palestinians while they often support other freedom issues is what is not a revelation, that so many Jewish folks are involved in the music business, both as to funding music making and managing it. Only those who have already made the top performers list get to choose without death to their careers, and even then, most are still afraid to stand up for Palestinian freedom. It’s the same way in Hollywood re the film industry, and in the mainstream media industry. Anybody doubt this?

    • Marco
      December 10, 2013, 1:20 pm

      And not just Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but academia as well. I’ve been a reader of the Marginal Revolution blog by economist Tyler Cowen. The other day he posted a piece quoting Milton Friedman praising the occupation of the West Bank back in 1969. He would never dare write this way regarding other oppressed people around the world. Economics as an academic specialty is especially full of Zionists.

  3. Krauss
    December 10, 2013, 1:09 pm

    Yes, but Norman Finkelstein says the Palestinians have too maximalist a position for demanding full equality & democracy! He says they must calm down! They must at some level accept the status quo. Why? Because Gandhi, apparently.

    This just shows that we could be at this for many years to come. And we probably will.

    South Africa had that reputation already by the 1960s, yet they did not have nearly the amount of sympathizers in the American mainstream media that Zionism has today, nor did they have nearly as effective lobby as AIPAC is.

    Still, the amount of progress the last five years alone has been amazing. I think more and more people understand that activism in America is at least as important in the short-to-medium term as it is in Palestine, because the American political establishment is the great enabler and benefactor of Israeli Apartheid, just as it was for white ruled-South Africa.

    That’s why this website is so crucial, it’s a nexus of journalism, from an American context, on the conflict.

    And that’s why Max Blumenthal’s book was so important; it was in many ways aimed at American liberal elites, the people holding the influence, and why the attacks were so ferocious on it precisely because the attackers understood the power it could hold, because the book was so well-reported and so thorough.

    And there are encouraging signs. Rihanna changed her lyrics to “all I see is Palestine” – when performing in Tel Aviv. She quickly succumbed to pressure and her PR people made sure to retract it a day later. Still! It shows that progress is possible and preferably will reach more artists under the age of 50 (all due respect to Costello and Waters) within due time.

    But I believe that Max is right when he says: this isn’t going to happen from within the Jewish community by and large, and Jewish critics are treated as outcasts. It’s going to be force from the outside; external pressure. Some of this pressure will be done by Jews, but it will be done from a position outside the mainstream concensus/establishment. In other words; the Peter Beinart position is doomed to fail. He can’t even call what is happening in Hebron by its name; Apartheid. He has also said this:

    “I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.”

    Such a person can never bring about change from the inside; he fundamentally do not differ a lot with the people he criticizes.

    • Kathleen
      December 10, 2013, 3:07 pm

      Although Said’s, Finkelsteins and many others books in 60’s, 70’s about this critical broke some sound barriers Carter’s “Palestine Peace: Not Apartheid”..then Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Israeli Lobby” put a big hole in the wall of silence that has been so well constructed by the I lobby here in the states. Blumenthal’s book keeps blowing that hole open further.

      To think so many music artist were involved in taking a stand against apartheid in South Africa decades ago yet Roger Waters and a few others stand alone on standing up to the apartheid government of Israel. Has to start somewhere. Waters is a brave and honorable person.

    • Sycamores
      December 11, 2013, 12:42 am

      perhaps aipac has power in the US

      but Europe is israel largest import and export market. if Europe goes down the road of boycotting israel the great enabler, the US, won’t be able to save them.

      as it is the illegal settlements are causing havoc for israel with Europe

      Dutch water giant cuts ties with Israeli counterpart due to settlements (paywall)


      [the British Department of Trade and Investment on Tuesday warned British citizens not to be involved in business activities connected to Israeli communities over the 1949 Armistice lines.

      “European citizens and businesses need to be aware of the reputational risk that may be caused due to financial involvement in settlements,” the warning states.

      The British warning adds “investment, acquisition, holding businesses, tourism in the settlements or any financial activity that bears benefits to the settlements creates financial and legal risks because according to international law they were built on occupied territory, and they aren’t a legitimate part of Israel.”]

      There is more than one way of achieving an aim.

  4. Scott
    December 10, 2013, 1:57 pm

    Not to be confused with Graham Parker.

  5. LanceThruster
    December 10, 2013, 7:26 pm


    Good on you, mate.

  6. seafoid
    December 11, 2013, 4:07 am

    A very good find, Phil. The whites thought apartheid was eternal too. Zionism now reminds me of the pro smoking lobby in the 1960s. All that money and a beaten docket.

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