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Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music Paperback – September 16, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gram Parsons is remembered as much for wearing sequined cowboy suits on stage and for being illegally cremated in the desert by one of his friends after dying of a drug overdose as he is for the half-dozen albums he played on in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Byrds' classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Meyer (A Girl and a Gun) covers both aspects of the legend, but he gives particular attention to the way Parsons brought together elements of country and rock music to forge a new sound. After a leisurely telling of Parsons's rich white trash family drama in Florida and Georgia, including his father's suicide and the barely contained contempt of his mother's family, the biography plunges into his musical career, careening from one band to the next just as Parsons himself did. Meyer is appreciative but never adulatory of Parsons, who he believes threw his talent away; while citing the influence of the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut album, for example, he repeatedly mentions the band's unbelievably sloppy sound. This isn't the first biography of Parsons, but Meyer's semidetached stance as a critical fan makes it a valuable one, in the vein of Peter Guralnick or Greil Marcus. (Oct. 30)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

'A vivid, unravelling tragedy' The Times 'One of the best five rock books of 2008' Rolling Stone 'Meyer's definitive biography peels away the layers of myth to reveal the brief, bright life within' LA Times 20 Best Non-fiction Books of the Year 'Finally his life not only has a book to do it all justice, but possibly also a book that grabs the mantle of biography of the year - music-based or otherwise' Record Collector --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345503368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345503367
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In July 2013, Da Capo book will publish David N Meyer's definitive biography of the Bee Gees; THE BEE GEES: THE BIOGRAPHY, the product of two years of painstaking research and interviews.

David N Meyer is also the author of the acclaimed biography of singer/songerwriter Gram Parsons: TWENTY THOUSAND ROADS: THE BALLAD OF GRAM PARSONS AND HIS COSMIC AMERICAN MUSIC. The Los Angeles times chose TWENTY THOUSAND ROADS as one of the 20 Best NonFiction Books of the Year; Rolling Stone named it one of the Five Best Books of the Year and UnCut magazine chose Music Book of the Year. It made many Top 10 lists in America, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Meyer has for the last 14 years taught Cinema Studies at the New School in Manhattan.

His other books include THE 100 BEST FILMS TO RENT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF and A GIRL AND A GUN; THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO FILM NOIR ON VIDEO.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Matt on January 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Meyer has given us, without a doubt, the best book on Gram Parsons yet. Wheras Ben Fong-Torres' work focused on the historical, "dry-er" side of Parsons's story, Meyer perfectly combines fact with fiction. The result is a wonderfully balanced view of Gram as the supposed "father" of Cosmic American Music and Gram, the self-destructive human being who couldn't stay out of his own way.

I would like to point out a few problems I have with this book, though. One of Meyer's strengths is the exclusion of his personal viewpoints. Unless they're dumbly obvious- that "Burrito Deluxe" does not even compare to "The Gilded Palace of Sin," for example. Meyer crosses into subjectivity once, however, and I found it rather ridiculous- he insists that "GP" is a better album than "Grievous Angel."

I admit that, personally, I think that "Grievous Angel" is one of the best albums ever whereas "GP" is a good album (just ask Tom Petty). But that's not the issue- Meyer never backs up his claim. He states that the high points of the album are as best as Gram ever did, and then continues to name all but one or two of the tracks as exemplary. So why is "GP" better? Perhaps Meyer wants it to be better, because it (arguably) combines more genres of music (the R&B-based "Cry One More Time", for example), giving more claim to the term "Cosmic American Music". Perhaps not. But in either case, he doesn't substantiate his one truly subjective input.

Also, with regards to Emmylou Harris's and Gram's relationship, Meyer doesn't point to Harris's recent comment that she really WAS in love with Gram and was waiting to tell him! Seeing as how Meyer devotes a few paragraphs to addressing their (platonic?
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Scott J. Regner on December 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book has all the elements of a well written biography--it's incredibly comprehensive in Grams' details from birth to death and the aftermath, it's easy to read and follows smoothly, it doesn't judge and presents many contemporaries' and close friends' points of view, and it provides a lot of data for proposing that Gram was one of the main and most dedicated creators of the blending of country, soul and rock music in the mid-sixties--Which were at great odds with each other culturally at that point in time.
For folks like me who lived through the era it reveals how a lot of the connections I saw occurring in music--why the Rolling Stones went roots-country-blues on Exile on Main Street (after sucking at psychedelia), where Poco, Manassas, Pure Prairie League and especially Emmylou Harris suddenly sprung from in the early '70's etc., etc
A great read of a sad, short but fruitful life--and an encyclopedic rendering of the beginnings of alt-country, outlaw country music...
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Moore on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
Meyer patiently, carefully lays out what he can of the life of Gram Parsons, from well before his birth to well after his death in 1973. While no biography can ever claim to be exhaustive (not Boswell's fat Life of Johnson, nor Malone's 6-volume Jefferson), Meyer does as fine and thorough a job of explaining GP's life as one might expect. At well over 500 pages, the book never seems too much in a hurry, and this is mostly a positive, though I learned a bit more about the pre-Gram days than I cared to.

But it's all here, laid out well: family wealth and decadent, alcoholic lifestyles, his father's--Coon Dog's--suicide, his mother Avis's death by alchohol, his stepfather's (Bob Parson's) later death by the same, his love of music (the ongoing explanation of this is one of the book's greatest strengths), early bands, flunking out of Harvard, various love interests (or the major ones), life in NYC, then LA, playing with the Intl Sub Band, the Byrds, the Burritos, and his solo career (w/ Emmylou), his friendship with Keith Richards (and the jealously of Mick), drug use (and more drug use), commercial failures and artistic successes, the fateful day at Joshua Tree and the tragic foolishness regarding his corpse. Meyer leaves few stones unturned. He has done his homework on Parsons, he has obviously spent a lot of time interviewing familiy members and friends, and he has great respect for and understanding of Parsons's music, as well as that of his contemporaries and his many influences (Elvis, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, George Jones, the Louvin Brothers, etc.).

Maybe it's me, but Meyer's occasional use of the colloquialism is a bit annoying, and the book is plagued (though not fatally) with some wordiness and repetition.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By GP Fan on October 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a passionate, well-researched rock bio of Gram Parsons. It's an easy read, wonderful for those who love the music, great for those who are learning it. An amazing saga. Meyer's other books contain some of the funniest, incisive criticism of film; as he turns his attention to the fabled rocker, few old myths are left standing, but Parsons emerges as a human figure who we now know as never before.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Bracy on November 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I consumed David M. Meyer's fantastic biography of the enigmatic, deeply destructive and hugely gifted Gram Parsons within weeks of having also read Jim Walsh's likewise excellent oral history of The Replacements "All Over But The Shouting". Quite the double bill- there is much that overlaps in the two stories- enough to cause one to really ponder the relationship between challenging art, marginal personalities, and the contrary and self defeating nature of so many artists in different mediums who have exhibited a very particular sort of attraction/revulsion towards a wide, mainstream acceptance in the market place.

In a strange, if entirely appropriate coincidence, Keith Richards occurs as a kind of chimerical figure in both books. Keith bonds with Gram, appreciates his extraordinary talent, and shares his penchant for excess. Only too haltingly does he assist Gram in getting his music heard- a long held promise to produce a Gram solo record goes mournfully unfulfilled- eventually Gram succumbs to the high wire lifestyle that both men are driven to but only Keith survives. A decade and a half later, he's a Replacements fan and has them open for the X-Pensive Winos at Madison Square Garden. But immediately it becomes clear that the stage is too big for the Mats and they too wilt in Richards Shadow.

All of this occurs to me as a single illustrative instance of what is so peculiar about the dichotomy between the relatively few great artists seemingly programed to survive and even thrive in the hothouse of public notoriety and the larger number who seem unable to weather it's various excesses and deprivations over the long term.
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