Gram Parsons is one of the legendary flameouts of rock and roll history. He hijacked the Byrds’ groundbreaking country rock album “Sweeheart of the Rodeo” in 1968 and singlehandedly created the country rock phenomenon. He wrote the achingly beautiful song “Hickory Wind” for that album, moved on to found the Flying Burrito Brothers with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman and future Eagle Bernie Leadon, discovered the great Emmylou Harris, and killed himself on a drug/alcohol binge at age 26.
Amazingly for a 1960’s member of the rock milieu, he moved unashamedly to the heart of America via country music; find any version of his wonderful song “Return of the Grievous Angel” and you can hear the love and joy in the music. But he was driven by something other than those emotions; his father’s suicide seems to have been a precursor of his own suicidal excesses. What a horrible waste!
Yesterday’s New York Times had an interesting article by Neil Strauss about Parsons and his lasting imprint on American popular music: “Gram Parsons: A grievous angel, a busy ghost.” Even if you don’t read the article, do give “Return of the Grievous Angel” a listen.
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