Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music

Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music

by David Meyer
     
 

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As a singer and songwriter, Gram Parsons stood at the nexus of countless musical crossroads, and he sold his soul to the devil at every one. His intimates and collaborators included Keith Richards, William Burroughs, Marianne Faithfull, Peter Fonda, Roger McGuinn, and Clarence White. Parsons led the Byrds to create the seminal country rock masterpiece Sweetheart

Overview

As a singer and songwriter, Gram Parsons stood at the nexus of countless musical crossroads, and he sold his soul to the devil at every one. His intimates and collaborators included Keith Richards, William Burroughs, Marianne Faithfull, Peter Fonda, Roger McGuinn, and Clarence White. Parsons led the Byrds to create the seminal country rock masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo, helped to guide the Rolling Stones beyond the blues in their appreciation of American roots music, and found his musical soul mate in Emmylou Harris. Parsons’ solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, are now recognized as visionary masterpieces of the transcendental jambalaya of rock, soul, country, gospel, and blues Parsons named “Cosmic American Music.” Parsons had everything–looks, charisma, money, style, the best drugs, the most heartbreaking voice–and threw it all away with both hands, dying of a drug and alcohol overdose at age twenty-six.

In this beautifully written, raucous, meticulously researched biography, David N. Meyer gives Parsons’ mythic life its due. From interviews with hundreds of the famous and obscure who knew and worked closely with Parsons–many who have never spoken publicly about him before–Meyer conjures a dazzling panorama of the artist and his era.

Praise for Twenty Thousand Roads

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAMED ONE OF THE FIVE BEST ROCK BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY ROLLING STONE

“Far and away the most thorough biography of Parsons . . . skewers any number of myths surrounding this endlessly mythologized performer.”
–Los Angeles Times

“A terrific biography of a rock innovator that hums with juicy detail and wincing truth. . . . Page after page groans with the folly of the ’60s drug culture, the tragedy of talent toasted before its time, the curse of wealth and the madness of wasted opportunity.”
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The definitive account of Gram Parsons’ life–and early death. From the country-rock pioneer’s wealthy, wildly dysfunctional family through his symbiotic friendship with Keith Richards, Meyer deftly illuminates one of rock’s most elusive figures.”
–Rolling Stone

“Meticulously researched . . . Though Meyer answers a lot of long-burning questions, he preserves Parsons’ legend as a man of mystery.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“Meyer gives Parsons a thorough, Peter Guralnick-like treatment.”
New York Post

Visit the official website: www.twentythousandroads.com

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
One more time through the gaudy life of the '60s country-rock pathfinder. Though he released only six albums in his 26 years, Gram Parsons was and remains legendary for his affecting, unprecedented music, his drug- and booze-saturated lifestyle and the sensational story surrounding his demise. (After he overdosed in 1973, two friends stole his body, took it out to the desert and set it on fire.) This fifth full-length biography is by far the longest, but it doesn't top Ben Fong-Torres's Hickory Wind (1991). Meyer (Cinema Studies/New School for Social Research) is strongest on Parsons's privileged youth as scion of a wealthy Florida citrus family. His Southern-Gothic upbringing and a round of tragedies-father's suicide, mother's death from alcoholism-receive deep, riveting scrutiny. When Meyer turns to Parsons's life as a trust-funded rocker, however, the narrative bogs down in thrice-told tales. His move to Los Angeles with pioneering country-rock unit the International Submarine Band, his trend-setting sojourns with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and his dope-suffused solo career are all dutifully logged in frequently superfluous detail. Meyer attempts to sift the plentiful legends about Parsons but eventually somewhat wearily admits that many witnesses were just too stoned to remember what went down. Though well-researched, the book is hampered by reliance on secondary sources and the non-participation of such crucial family members, friends and collaborators as Parsons's oft-bashed widow Gretchen, Keith Richards and Emmylou Harris, all of whom appear in Gandulf Hennig's excellent 2005 BBC documentary. Small, irritating factual errors abound, but the book's uninformedobservations and suspect critical judgments are even more aggravating. Meyer finally loses patience with his gifted, self-destructive subject, and the resulting snarky tone does not serve his story well. He also misses the heart of "Cosmic American Music," the term Parsons coined to describe the synthesis of country, R&B, gospel and rock that he aspired to play. The Grievous Angel never takes flight here. Agent: Jay Mandel/William Morris Agency

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345503367
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/16/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
378,327
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

John Austin is the author of Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Prank University. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Meet the Author

David N. Meyer was born in Gainesville, Georgia. His 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. He has written on film and music for Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, Wired and The Rocket. Mr. Meyer teaches in cinema studies at the New School and is the film editor for the arts monthly Brooklyn Rail. He contributed to the underground humor classic The Book of the Subgenius. He lives in New York City and Ketchum, Idaho.
www.twentythousandroads.com

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