Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Curious Case of Gram Parsons Or How A Rich, Long-Haired Singer-Songwriter Who Loved Country Music Died And Became A Beloved Alt-Country Music Icon


Alex, I'll take Rock and Roll Drug Casualites for $400. Answer: This son of Orange Juice Heiress Avis Snively and WWII War Hero Ingram Cecil "Coon" Connor II was a member of The Byrds, founded The Flying Burrito Brothers, discovered country music goddess Emmylou Harris and rose to prominence with his mix of country and roots music that he called "Cosmic American music" died of a morphine and alcohol overdose at the age of 26 and was cremated in Joshua Tree National Park. Question: Who is Gram Parsons? These are the basic, Wikipedian facts of Parsons' tragically short life. The following are my slightly skewed impressions of this trailblazing icon. Gram was pretty boy. Yep, he was definitely pleasant to the eye. His looks and his down-home-aw-shucks Southern charm made him an absolute lady-killer, as documented in numerous biographies, most recently and superbly in David Mayer's excellent biography Twenty Thousand Roads. Believe it or not, my Parsonian attraction is more than skin deep. He was a rebel, baby, and I utterly adore rebels. Parsons dared to merge country and rock and roll. He was a country-western singer in a rock and roll world who played Altamont and hung out backstage with Keef in various states of altered conciousness. He was also a rock and roller in a country-western world, performing at the Grand Ole Opry with The Byrds to the jeers of outraged patrons who didn't take kindly to long-haired hippies polluting the hallowed Opry stage. But Parsons, no doubt heavily medicated, braved the boo's, insults, hurled bottles, and death threats to bring his mix of country and roots music to the masses. As a result, Parsons created a new musical artform, a country and rock hybrid, that is still enjoyed today. One can easily trace groups like Son Volt and Wilco to Parsons' grand experiment of country rock. Parsons' vision and courage makes him a much beloved musical icon.

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