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Title:Grievous Angel: Gram Parsons and the country rock movement
Author(s):Stanislawski, John
Director of Research:Magee, Jeffrey S.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Magee, Jeffrey S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Magee, Gayle S.; Solis, Gabriel; Hansen, James A.
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Gram Parsons
country rock
country music
rock history
youth culture
"cosmic American music"
popular music
American music
Abstract:The country rock movement emerged in Southern California in the mid-1960s and was comprised of musicians who, through diverse musical practices and conceptual means, sought to fuse elements of country music with other popular genres. Developing amidst the social and political turmoil that defined the era, country rock provided a space for musicians and listeners to negotiate both musical and cultural boundaries. This dissertation provides a critical analysis of the life, legacy, and music of one of the movement’s central figures: Gram Parsons. Since his death in 1973 at the age of 26, interest in Parsons has steadily increased such that today he is hailed by many critics and fans as the “father of country rock” and the movement’s most influential artist. Much of this posthumous recognition is rooted in idealizations of Parsons’s Southernness, experiences of familial tragedy, fusions of country, rock, blues, and soul, or what he famously called, “cosmic American music,” and the bizarre details of his death. Intended to forge links between Parsons’s biography, music, and idiosyncratic personal style, these elements have been foregrounded by listeners in a way that has allowed Parsons to transcend the limited commercial success he received during his lifetime to attain a nearly mythical status. Though provocative, the myths and originator narratives that surround Parsons paint an incomplete picture of his life and work, and ultimately, limit understanding of Parsons while failing to acknowledge the many musicians and complex social forces at work within country rock as a whole. In this light, the purpose of this study is twofold: first, to critically assess Parsons’s musical career and contribution to country rock, and second, to investigate how aspects of Parsons’s life, both real and fictionalized, have contributed to his posthumous acclaim and singular position within country rock’s historical narrative. By virtue of the oppositions that are perceived to coalesce in Parsons’s life, persona, and music—country/city, region/nation, lower class/upper class, hippy/redneck, libertine/gentlemen, sacred/secular—he provides an excellent case study of the tensions that not only undergirded country rock in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, but that continue to inform conceptions of genre, authenticity, and musical meaning within discourses of popular music today. Through analyzing recordings, biographies, interviews, popular press articles, and a variety of media from an interdisciplinary perspective, this study demonstrates how an integrated musicological approach to understanding individual artistry and musical hybridity can both reflect and illuminate its objects of inquiry.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 John Stanislawski
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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