Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gram Parsons

I'm reading "Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music," by David N. Meyer. I picked it up at a discount bookshop off Charing Cross Road soon after coming to London, when I knew I would soon need reading material.

I'm not particularly a Gram Parsons fan. Parsons, a composer, singer and guitarist, is usually credited with helping to blend country into rock music in the late 1960s as a member of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I have never liked country -- in fact it brings up a sort of instinctive revulsion in me, a product, I suppose, of growing up around and feeling threatened by redneck southern culture. About the only country I can stand is Patsy Cline.

But I'm bound to Parsons by a common link -- Winter Haven. It's the Florida town where I lived and worked in the late 1980s, and it's where Parsons spent his later childhood and his formative years in the early 1960s as a young musician. The newspaper where I used to work often treated Parsons as a hometown hero, following every posthumous twist and turn in his career. (Parsons, addled by substance abuse and addiction, died in 1973.)

A few years ago I bought one Parsons album, "Another Side of This Life," a collection of homemade recordings he made in Winter Haven in the mid-'60s. They're folky and don't suffer from the "twang" that makes so much country unbearable. I still have a couple of the tracks on my iTunes.

The book is a good read, if a little too comprehensive for someone like me who's not a Parsons fanatic. Its most salient message, I think, is how horrible substance abuse and addiction can be. Parsons came from a home that was rife with addictions and he was unable -- or unwilling -- to escape the same trap in his own life. I'm up to the early '70s in the book, a period when Parsons -- despite obvious talents and an association with some of the most powerful rock musicians in the business, including the Rolling Stones -- is relentlessly destroying his own career.

I'm learning a lot, too, about country and country-rock from that period -- the personalities and the influences. Pretty interesting stuff, but all I can think is, "Thank god I never did any hard drugs!"

(Photo: Portobello Road, a few days ago.)


  1. oh my, i freakin LOVE that photograph! I made it big and fell right into it, the colors, the details. i imagined you sitting there, reading your book, and it seemed like heaven. thanks!

  2. Being a professional musician is a hard road -- with or without drugs.

    I'm with you on country music, probably for the same reason you cited. Fortunately there is a lot more to listen to!

  3. I've definitely been thinking, in the wake of Amy Winehouse's death, about how harsh serious addiction can be.

    I love me some twang - not every day, not all the time, but sometimes c/w is just the thing.

    Sometimes - not!