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HICKORY WIND by Ben Fong-Torres


The Life and Times of Gram Parsons

by Ben Fong-Torres

Pub Date: July 10th, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-70513-X
Publisher: Pocket

 Fong-Torres, 12 years an editor at Rolling Stone and currently feature writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, presents a richly detailed life of Gram Parsons--a musician who, although his records sold poorly and he died in 1973 at the age of 26, continues to be cited as a seminal influence by musicians as diverse as Emmy Lou Harris, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, and Elvis Costello. Born into a wealthy southern family, Parsons, as Fong-Torres shows in interviews with the musician's sister and friends from Waycross, Ga., was reared by alcoholic parents who indulged him and encouraged his musical bent. His short life followed this childhood pattern with fidelity. Given to self-destruction (he died of a heroin overdose), Parsons wrote strikingly beautiful songs and trashed them in performance with compulsive drinking and drugging. At one session with a producer who shared his hobby, he fell from the piano stool and attempted to continue singing from the floor, while the producer passed out across the control board. Probably the just-say-no bunch and the he-did-it-for-art crowd will both claim him; Fong-Torres, laudably, cleaves to straight reporting. For a while, Parsons was a member of the Byrds, although only co- founders Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman received royalties--the other musicians were hired hands. He turned them on to the fun of contemporary country music, but was fired for refusing to tour South Africa. Keith Richards, with whom Parsons hung out in 1969, is quoted: ``he...redefined the possibilities of country music for me, personally. If he had lived, he probably would have redefined it for everybody.'' A more convincing tribute is offered by Emmy Lou Harris (whom Parsons ``discovered'') via her ongoing recording and performance of Parsons's songs. A skillfully drawn portrait, tragic and absorbing. (Eight pages of photos--not seen.)