The following was written to CMA criteria and submitted as hard copy with List of Supporters to the CMA, 9/19/08, on the 35th anniversary of Gram’s death and is made available to them updated 24/7 online.
Basic Standard A
Candidate basically is to be judged on the degree of his/her contribution to the advancement of Country Music and on the indelibility of his/her impact.
Cecil Ingram Parsons III (Gram Parsons) meets this
standard unquestionably, arguably advancing country music more than any
other individual or force within that past 40 some years. His indelible impact
can be seen and is seen in the broad scope of all types of country music today.
His contributions, from the International Submarine Band’s “Safe at Home”
(which many critics consider to be one of the great country albums of all time,
and is included in the Library of Congress collection as such),
his work with the Byrds during which he literally hijacked a rock band to
further his country vision with “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (upon its release he
played the Grand Ole Opry, a milestone the Opry itself marks as being 33 in
their top 80 Opry Moments of All Time), through the groundbreaking “Gilded
Palace of Sin” and his two albums completed with his protégée Emmylou
Harris, “GP” and “Grievous Angel.” It should be noted that Ms. Harris herself
on numerous occasions credits Gram Parsons for her understanding of and
distinguished career in country music and her own well deserved induction into
the Country Music Hall of Fame. Please see the comments of well over 11,500
individuals so far comprising the List of Supporters (attached and at
http://www.gramparsonspetition.com) for further substantiation of this observation.
Individual Candidacy Only
Individuals may be elected to the Hall of Fame. Companies, publications, radio stations and other groups many of which significantly foster Country Music are not eligible for Hall of Fame recognition.
Gram Parsons, although he worked with many distinguished musicians,
including those mentioned above, members of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and
Elvis Presley’s backup band, is presented here for individual consideration as a
country artist; moreover, it is his singular individuality upon which this
nomination is based.
Scope of Activity Flexible
Authority is vested in the Electors in identifying the scope of a candidate’s activity in Country Music. The individual may have excelled in a narrow, specific sphere . . . such as songwriting, publishing, musician, recording artist, etc. or may have been active in several areas. In any event, a candidate must have achieved definitive leadership in his/her own field of Country Music activity. However, it is definitely not mandatory to honor the leaders in every activity related to Country Music. A candidate truly must compete with all candidates in all fields, as well as with all candidates in his/her own field.
I cannot imagine a field of endeavor within country music within which any
individual can claim greater and broader excellence than that of Gram
Parsons, a scope which encompasses brilliant country songwriting, plaintive
and uniquely evocative voice, excellent musicianship on several instruments,
and as a leader, his artistic vision compelling others to help him achieve his
steadfast objective: to promote country music and bring it squarely into the
next century without turning his back on innovation in
the era in which he lived, which often was a divisive and turbulent time. He sought
with gentle kindness, good humor, wit and his art to allow those who would not
otherwise “see the light” to have it shine on them brightly.
Span of Influence
The time factor of a candidate’s impact on Country Music is completely flexible. It may cover an uninterrupted span of many years or it may cover two or more distinct and separated time cycles. Conceivably, even a candidate may earn Hall of Fame recognition by one transient act, momentary in time, providing the impact on Country Music is deemed significant enough. Longevity of involvement with Country Music, therefore, will not in itself warrant recognition in the Hall of Fame.
In addition to his own history-altering achievements on the field of country
music, Gram Parsons had a profound and now widely recognized influence on
others that continues to this day. More than any other artist of the late 60s and
early 70s, Gram brought a new audience to a deep, genuine, and
transformational appreciation of authentic country music. Ironically, his
direct influence has actually had as great a longevity, if not greater, than any
nominee considering by your distinguished board over the years. I know of no
one in the past 40 years whose influence has actually grown and continues to
grow to span the decades and to have as broad an impact on country music
than Gram Parsons.
Influence on Others
A most significant criterion in evaluating a candidate will be his/her inspirational effect on others . . . the degree to which he/she multiplies his influence through others to create impact on Country Music far beyond his/her own direct individual contribution.
Gram Parsons had an exponential influence on those of his time and those in
the 38 years that he’s been gone. The best testament to this are the comments
attached from all over the world, for indeed his influence was arguably more
global in spreading the gospel of genuine American country music throughout
the world than any other country artist in history (again, please reference the
List of Supporters and their countries of origin, also at http://gramparsonspetition.com).
Quantity vs. Quality
A candidate’s ability to expand the popularity of Country Music is a quantitative virtue. The professionalism of his/her activity is a “qualitative” one. Both quantitative and qualitative criteria are to be considered equally and separately important; conceivably, one may be present without the other.
It is the opinion of this nominator that the Latin word versus should not be used
in the above criterion. Substitute “and.” The key words in this criterion are “a
candidate’s ability to expand the popularity of country music” as a quantitative
virtue. Many country stars come and go, some even selling millions of
records. But how many of them leave an indelible mark on the dispersion of
country music to new audiences and expand its reach to any great extent? One
who did and continues to is Gram Parsons. An excellent reference for this is
the 7,000+ List of Supporters and their comments. I was amazed as someone who
loved Gram’s music back when he was with us that so many, seemingly most,
have discovered him recently and express their reverence for his music and
wish to emphasize how it has influenced their own style of country. Then there
are the tribute songs written about him, said to total more than about any other
musician. And the number of books and movies about someone who died at 26 put
him in the same group as Anne Frank, King Tut, and Robert Johnson. While difficult
to quantify with any precision, the numbers of “units” sold since his death has
increased exponentially. There is little to add, except to say that any number
of expert lists, books and reviews put the five albums in particular listed in
the first criterion at the top of influential and both quantitative over the
years, and qualitative excellence far above most others.
Devotion to Others
Furthering Country Music by selfless devotion to the interests of others may enhance the candidacy of an individual, but it is not essential to winning. The activities of a candidate may be completely self devoted and still be considered significant enough to warrant recognition.
Perhaps the most striking example of Gram’s selfless devotion to others is a
letter he wrote from Harvard, one of many, to his little sister Avis, for whom he
felt responsible after the death of both parents due to alcoholism. Please
reference David Meyer’s biography (page 163) or other source for this letter,
which is as exquisite in its thought, feeling and artistry as any of his songs. All
who knew Gram knew of his personal devils (a major theme of country music),
but they also attest to his humanity and devotion to those he loved. Again, a
good source who has backed this up many times on the record is Ms. Emmylou
Harris, as well as the likes of Bonnie Bramlett (“Gram was also a catalyst among
fellow musicians. He spread the word. He was our buddy…”) and many, many others.
Professional Conduct and Image
A candidate is expected to have practiced the highest caliber of professional conduct in order to enhance the public image of both himself/herself and Country Music.
All of the foregoing attest to Mr. Parsons’ caliber of professional conduct. All
who knew him attest to the degree to which he had grown, both personally and
professionally, during the making of those brilliant final albums. His music
represents a desperate though controlled attempt to bridge the abyss that had
formed in the 60s and early 70s. He would preach the truth of country music to
anyone who would listen, and often did. He would walk into an otherwise
dangerous bar in the valley and win over the most hardcore of traditional
country fans. He proudly wore the same suits as Mr. Porter Wagoner, not
ironically, but out of a deep respect for the music he loved (indeed, he was one
of Mr. Nudie’s best friends). Had he lived, he would have continued to enhance
the public image of country music as many of his proclaimed followers have.
Personal Morals and Behavior
The selection process is not a judgment of personal morals and behavior, providing the latter do not negatively affect the professional conduct of the candidate and the public image of Country Music.
No one will ever know what definitively happened that night 38 years ago just as
no one will know all the details of New Year’s Day 1953. Gram Parsons lived in an
undeniably divisive time, a world between the worlds.
As has been stated, everyone knew Gram had his devils. As his beloved Louvin Brothers
said, “Satan Is Real.” But I am not going to simply write off this criterion by
pointing to an equally great country music legend who died a tragic young
death fighting his devils. Recent science has shown that addiction is also real,
and is caused by a defect in a gene. Both of Gram’s biological parents were
extreme addictive personalities clearly demonstrating this genetic abnormality
(again, see Meyer’s biography and others). True, the era he had no choice but
to live in didn’t help, but to judge Mr. Gram Parsons negatively based on an
addictive behavior would not only rule out Hank, Sr., but also many other
country music notables by using a prejudicial criterion clarified by modern
science. No, Gram Parsons believed wholeheartedly in his art, in country music, in
what William Faulkner called the only thing worth writing about: the human
heart in conflict with itself.