Twenty Thousand Roads, By David N Meyer

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The Independent Culture

Gram Parsons, the subject of this impressive biography, is shown on the cover wearing a C&W outfit known as a Nudie suit. Instead of the customary motifs of saguaro cactus and bucking broncos, it is embroidered with poppies, a marijuana plant, pills and an LSD sugar-cube. The garment sums up the life of Parsons, a talented, charming dissolute who injected country music into the bloodstream of rock and roll.

Born into a family of alcoholics, Parsons was the scion of a Florida orange juice empire. Describing his innovatory hybrid of C&W and ironic, intelligent rock, Meyer insists, "It took great courage – and massive insolence – to deliberately imitate what was regarded as the least worthy music in America." Nevertheless, it was Parsons's tastes that powered the Flying Burrito Brothers and influenced the Byrds' influential Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Ironically, Parsons's vocals were wiped from this record ("an astonishing attempt at artistic murder," claims Meyer). Nor does he appear on the Stones' finest record, Exile on Main Street, though Parsons "showed Keith [Richards] the path down which Exile travels".

If this account conveys the magic of the Sixties, it also delineates the self-indulgence that destroyed the era. "Gram was as knowledgeable about chemical substances as I was," says Richards. But he wasn't as tough. With two albums to his name, Parsons died from "a classic relapse overdose" in 1973, at the age of 26.

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