Customer Reviews: Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons
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on April 18, 2000
This book is a good introduction to the music of Gram Parsons, but not his life, however. While Fong Torres has gathered an impressive number of facts, these facts are also found elsewhere in the literature since the late 1960s. Anybody who has read Rolling Stone or any other magazine/book about music since the 60s has undoubtedly read all of these "facts." But several things stood out in my mind as being purely sensationalistic, i.e the "fight" with Clarence White--it never happened. Clarence and Gram were true friends and when Clarence had to call Gram down (nothing more than "You need to cut that out, man") for being rambunctious, that was all he had to do; Gram cooled it. Also, with all of the information out there, I cannot for the likes of me understand why the author neglected to mention that Gram had a bad heart; that being the reason he didn't go to Vietnam and also, why he was prescribed morphine. And though his lifestyle surely contributed to his early demise, it was his heart that was the true culprit. This book, more often times than not, seems only to sensationalize and dramatize the life and death of Gram Parsons. I think all due respect should be given to Gram and not needless hype.
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on March 18, 2002
While there's a lot of his music that I've enjoyed, I've always been a little wary of the cult-of-personality that's surrounded Gram Parsons and his music. Ben Fong-Torres' biography about Parsons only reinforces this wariness; he had talent, sure, but he was also a grandmaster at screwing up the good things in his life. He had an enormous ego and an appetite for chemical recreation that seems upon reading to have been limitless. Who knows what could've happened if he'd partied a little less and moved music to the forefront of his life a little more? Fong-Torres may hold Parsons in high regard, but this doesn't prevent him from showing his subject's less admirable sides.
It also doesn't prevent him from showing that when Parsons really worked at it, what resulted was some of the best music that still resonates today. "Brass Buttons," "She" and the song that gives the title for this biography are today considered to be country ballad standards of the first stripe by many, and they deserve that honor. And if he wasn't necessarily the "father" of "country rock," Parsons certainly was one of the first to show that country with a rock attitude made for some great music. All you have to do is listen to his posthumous "Grievious Angel" collection for proof of that.
Fong-Torres spends less time on Parson's music than on his personal travails, but that's probably because the latter managed to undermine the former more often than not. That said, HICKORY WIND effectively displays the life of a guy who could've been a contender and, as it is, remains a lasting presence in the world of music.
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on April 1, 2002
Gram was a fascinating character, but this book didn't really hook me the way the music does, and that's a let down. While not worthless, the writing seems extremely well researched but carelessly assembled, almost as if it were a string of magazine articles. Facts are introduced and re-introduced in an inelegant fashion, the author descends to first person unnecessarily, and jarringly illogical metaphors are stretched to the breaking point. Even more disappointing, the well collected facts and perspectives surrounding Gram's death are hard to follow and make drawing conclusions an academic exercise.
Gram Parsons was a singer of rare quality and luminosity. It's a shame that such a well-researched book turns out to be so devoid of luster.
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on March 6, 2000
Fong-Torres has done an impressive job of gathering facts on Parsons, but does little to paint a portrait of him as an artist and person. Too many seemingly important events are mentioned in passing only, as if they're were on Fong-Torres' list of things to include. This book tells you very little about a lot of different elements to Parson's life. I was left wanting to know more about fewer events.
This book is a very wide but very shallow storehouse of facts and snippets of interviews.
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on April 14, 2000
The definitive work for those interested in the short life and times of the original Rhinestone Cowboy. Credited by some as being the one who popularized the genre of Country Rock music, Gram disdained this term for his own "Cosmic American Music". Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Gram was probably cursed by genetics. His mother's longstanding bouts with the twin evils of alcohol and depression, and his father sharing those traits, conspired to doom a talent that is recognized more today than when he lived. An impetuous young man, Gram Parson's talent was unquestionable. His inability to manage that talent, while immersing himself in the most hedonistic pursuits of contemporary life, was a large part of his downfall. The story told within these pages is likely to move the reader; not so much in a sympathetic way, as Gram didn't evoke sympathy. He does, though, appear to be a product of his upbringing, which unfortunately led him down a path of self-destruction that ended in his untimely death in a high desert motel. This book reads well, written by an author who always pays attention to detail without inserting his personal judgement.
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on April 7, 2000
While this is an interesting read - giving readers a long listing of events in this short,tragic life. There is almost no "feel" for what made Gram tick -or how he came posess the unique powers and vision to be a pioneer in his musical genre. The events of his life are detailed - but without a feeling for how or why the events affected him the way they did. I still don't really know why he was so tormented or how it was such a tortured soul could feel his way clear to writing a song like Hickory Wind. I intuit that he was so much more than a "trust fund" hippie- A person such as this who had the vision to meld rock and country music and have a feel for the true essence of country - must have had a strong feeling for the essential purity of it - but this book offers very little insight. I still recommend the book for what I assume is an accurate telling of the facts.
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on November 30, 2009
Contrary to other reviews found here, this is not the "definitive biography" of Gram Parsons. That honor belongs to Sid Griffin's loving (and out of print) biography. This is a poorly written, passionless, classics illustrated story of Gram's life- lots of whats, but few whys. We'll all keep hoping for Sid's bio to be re-released. In the meantime, try wikipedia.
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on September 16, 2013
If you are looking for a good, basic overview of the short but productive life of Gram Parsons, this book will suffice, but it doesn't particularly sparkle. And I wanted some sparkle, or more passion, or something extra to liven up these pages. Perhaps this book is a victim of having been written so long ago (it was first published in 1991, and no doubt the bulk of the writing process and interviews were done in the late 1980s), or just the WAY it was written. It's not nearly as bad as some dry old history textbook, but I'd like to think a biography of such a talented, if tormented, musician could have revealed more, and inspired more.

Gram Parsons was an extemely talented musician and songwriter who has inspired countless others to make and record music. The reader catches glimpses of this influence, and Gram's magical touch, in parts of this book, but I still found the biography to be somewhat lacking. But like most music biographies, reading this one will make you want to re-listen to the music made by the subject. So dust off some of those old Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons records and CDs. That alone might result in a few "Sleepless Nights."
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on December 26, 1997
If you have heard any of Gram's work, or are at all interested in The Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros, Country Rock etc., this is a great book to find out where he came from, who he was, and why he's so heavily namechecked by bands 25 years after has death. Finding the real Gram seems pretty difficult as his knack of making up stories which may/may not be true can confuse anyone looking for him. Here though a good job has been done and you get a good idea of the man, where the songs and the talent came from, and just how influential he has been.
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on April 26, 2005
Before picking up "Hickory Wind", all I knew of Gram Parsons was that he died at the age of 26, was burned afterwords in a hasty cremation by his road manager, and that he'd spent time in the Byrds before going off to the Flying Burrito Brothers (who I'd never heard of) and his own solo recordings. As this book shows, there was so much more.

Ben Fong-Torres illuminates the early life of Parsons, including his troubled family's past, and discusses his music and its influence in the wake of his untimely demise. What it also does is make human a larger-than-life legend (as most are once their subject is passed on. Jim Morrison didn't become a "poet" until his death, really). Gram Parsons was a trust-fund kid with a world of problems, and little in the way of an ability to deal with them. Fong-Torres spares none of the grim details of his drug abuse and its effects on those around him.

Also covered are the mysteries surrounding his death. There are numerous theoris abounding, but Fong-Torres sumises that the most likely is also the dullest (a accidental overdose), but therefore the most tragic. By the end of the book, you understand what rock and country lost with his passing.

As someone who's just now getting into his music, I found "Hickory Wind" to be a great introduction to Gram Parsons, the musician and the man. It's impossible to know everything about our rock legends, but Ben Fong-Torres probably comes the closest to explaining Gram Parsons as I've seen any journalist do for their subject in a long time. Get this to learn about Gram Parsons; then pick up the FBB's first two albums so you understand what all the fuss is about.
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