Music Saved the Boy but Drugs Silenced the Voice

By Hoffmann, Michael | The Florida Times Union, November 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Music Saved the Boy but Drugs Silenced the Voice


Hoffmann, Michael, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Michael Hoffmann

CALLING ME HOME: GRAM PARSONS AND THE ROOTS OF COUNTRY ROCK

Author: Bob Kealing

Data: University Press of Florida, 296 pages, $27.50

Gram Parsons was a Florida boy with South Georgia roots and like too many of his musical peers, chronic and excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs led to an early death. But between 1968, when Parsons' and the reconstituted Byrds' "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" was released, and 1973, when his final recordings were made, the influential musician "jumped in with both feet to bridge the country and rock divide," says Bob Kealing in his new biography "Calling Me Home." Contemporary country music reverberates with Parsons' contributions to the "white man's blues."

Parsons' youth was spent in Waycross, Ga., the Orlando area, and Jacksonville, and was marked by privilege and family dysfunction. He never lacked for anything material, including sports cars and expensive musical equipment. Parsons became a trust-fund baby, getting $30,000 a year from the trust.

His father was a World War II hero who committed suicide when Parsons was 12. His mother came from a wealthy Central Florida family and died in 1965 from alcoholism - on the day that Parsons graduated from The Bolles School and months before he entered Harvard (where he lasted one semester.)

His stepfather, who was crucial to Parsons becoming a professional musician, began an affair with a younger woman (a baby sitter for Parsons' much younger half sister Diane) while his wife was still alive and married her after Parsons' mother died.

What continuity and structure that was experienced at home by young Gram and his two sisters came from "the help," African-Americans who cooked, cleaned and maintained a large home, including three members of the Barnes family who came from Waycross and moved to Central Florida with the Parsons family.

Music was Parsons' release, his joy and eventually his vocation. He had his first musical epiphany about what he later called Cosmic American Music in 1956 when he attended a performance in Waycross by Elvis Presley, who was sharing a bill with the Louvin Brothers, whose songs Parsons later recorded, and the Carter Family including June Carter (Cash). …

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