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Lived fast, died young, left some great music
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.