Gram Parsons in the Country Music Hall of Fame? You’re kidding, right?
Embedded within this community, and in the broader world wide tower of babel, is a small movement devoted to the proposition that Gram Parsons should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. When I checked a moment ago, something over 3,000 people had signed an online petition to that end.
I am baffled. Not simply because, to my ears, Parsons is…oh, man, I’m not trying to pick a fight, really I’m not…my standard line is this: If Emmylou Harris hadn’t proven to be Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons would be a footnote, no better known than Peter Green.
I am baffled that anybody would think this important enough to argue about. (And so I shall, just for a moment. Kentucky played badly today, up until the end.)
Gram Parsons was never (or, at best, rarely) played on country radio. When I lived in Nashville, that was the definition of what country music was: whatever country radio would play. (Galling though it is, there is a certain hard logic to that.) He wasn’t signed to a country label. He didn’t write songs which are country music standards.
Are we going to argue that the Eagles should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, too?
Or that Jim Bouton belongs in Cooperstown, because he was a Yankee and wrote a ground-changing book?
Or that the Rolling Stones should be considered for the Country Music Hall of Fame because they wrote “Wild Horses” and “Faraway Eyes”?
Yes, Parsons is an important catalyst. But he wrote, at best, a handful of enduring songs. His voice isn’t anything to get rhapsodic about. He made and broke up bands at a frightening, Ryan Adams kind of pace (that’s backwards, of course).
But fundamentally, no, Parsons wasn’t a country artist. He was a rock dude. He may have wanted to be a lot of things, but listen to the music. Then listen to what country music was doing at the same time. Did he change country music in any fundamental way, save giving Emmylou Harris her wings? No.
By that standard, we should be talking about inducting Mutt Lange, because his ’80s metal production of Shania Twain had an enormous impact on how Nashville albums would sound. (Still does, more’s the pity.)
And, yes, I read the letter on the website. I still don’t get it.
Now. Rock Hall of Fame? Sure. They put Madonna in, Gram should at least be ahead of her. But that’s a matter of taste, and style, not music. Although Madonna’s impact is, of course, far broader and more culture-shifting.
Enough. Let the slings and arrows commence.