Cosmic American Music

What Is Cosmic American Country Music?

Cosmic American Music is hard to define, and often easier to define by what it’s not. Michael Grimshaw in his essay “Gram Parsons, Theology and Country Music” writes: “Parsons’ mission was the creation of a new way forward, a way to musically heal the separation and increasing divisiveness of late modern life. His term for what he attempted was Cosmic American Music.

“The narrative focus of country became superimposed on the more urban concerns of rock so instead of statements of desire or anger followed by exclamatory choruses (as one could characterize much of rock), this new form takes the listener on often both a psychological and physical journey – short stories in three-minute forms. The aim was to bring together the past with the present and provide a musical and cultural point of epiphany.

To do so, Parsons reused the language and rhythms of country, played them through the language and rhythms of rock, and in himself attempted the incarnated embodiment of a musical and cultural reconciliation. To speak theologically he was both prophet and messiah: both pointing the way to a new beginning and attempting to live out the struggles of just what that new beginning involved.”



Featured Cosmic Band

Here are some of my key points in the definition of the genre.

  • Its evolution is roots-based but it’s not really roots, therefore not most Americana, especially if not heavily country-based*.

  • It’s not usually singer/songwriter, though it requires solid songwriting, and is usually band-oriented (inc. in-studio if not officially a “band”).

  • It’s not pure country in the sense of it being solely traditional or “trad.” It’s usually more closely aligned with Bakersfield than Appalachian, though incorporates diverse background elements, including rock, soul, and jazz.

  • It’s not pseudo “country-rock,” which is typically a market-driven synthetic synthesis, which may hint at why most in this list did not sell well at the time. (True “country rock” was epitomized by Jerry Lee Lewis.)

  • It’s often southern in origin but usually not “southern rock,” which is an identifiable and distinctive niche of rock music.

  • It is not usually “Outlaw” as epitomized by those who have recently co-opted that label; having said that, in some ways, it followed Hank and Cash as the original outlaws of country music.

  • There is a large West Coast/Californian aspect to it, both migratory and per the Bakersfield sound, as well as in regard to the evolution of the genre itself.

  • It’s not soul music per se, though Gram once described it as “white soul,” and it is usually soulful in some way.

  • Above all Cosmic American Music is inventive in songwriting and delivery, cosmic in the sense of being cutting edge, but built upon the tried and true (e.g., Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Louvin Brothers, Elvis).

(*As Americana is a relatively new genre and by its own definition literally includes everything, you can’t say “Americana” does not include some Cosmic American Music.)






The Cactus Blossoms sound uncannily like a sibling harmony act who just stepped off the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or the Louisiana Hayride in the 1940s or '50s, and there's a good reason for that -- guitarists and singers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey are brothers (Jack adopted a stage name when he first stepped out as a singer/songwriter at the age of 19), and their voices fit together in a way that suggests a modern-day approximation of what the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers could deliver. The duo's sound crystallized on their 2019 album Easy Way, then expanded on One Day, a 2022 sequel featuring a duet with Jenny Lewis.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Burkum and Torrey grew up on a musical diet of pop radio and classic Beatles albums, but the brothers also shared a taste for vintage country and folk tunes, and in 2010 they began playing out as a duo, adopting the handle the Cactus Blossoms. Playing a mix of old-school country and folk classics and originals crafted in the same spirit, they released a self-titled and self-released debut album in 2011, and soon landed a residency at St. Paul's Turf Club. The standing gig helped grow the pair's audience in the Twin Cities, and highlights from their run of shows were collected on a live album, 2013's Live at the Turf Club.

As the live record gained positive press, the Cactus Blossoms expanded their touring schedule, playing clubs as headliners, sharing the bill with other acts in bigger halls (including touring with Kacey Musgraves), and appearing on the public radio show A Prairie Home Companion, whose host Garrison Keillor called them "the brother duet that America is waiting for." In 2015, the Cactus Blossoms struck a deal with Red House Records, the well-respected St. Paul-based roots music label, and the pair teamed up with musician and producer JD McPherson to begin work on their first album for the label. The brothers' Red House debut, You're Dreaming, was released in January 2016, and Burkum and Torrey set out on tour in support.

The Cactus Blossoms received a boost after appearing in David Lynch's 2018 television series Twin Peaks: The Return, and their next move came in March 2019 when they released their second album, Easy Way. The Cactus Blossoms returned in 2022 with One Day, an album that featured a duet with Jenny Lewis on "Everybody" and incorporated elements of 1970s soft rock.

The Cactus Blossoms website

Clark's Story

The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Nancy Parsons. The antics that went on with all of us in the green room before, during, and after the Flying Burrito reunion concert at the Maintenance Shop, 1979. Utimatly affecting where I am today.

The Flying Burrito Brothers and Nancy Parsons

I initially met the band back in 1979 in the green room of the Maintenance Shop in Ames, Iowa. I just moseyed in and started mingling with the backstage crowd. Everyone was pounding down drinks including Nancy Parsons. We all got fecked up pretty good. The band played two sets with a long break in between. Skip Battin and Nancy Parsons took a liking to me and we hit it off pretty well. Skip was funny and witty. After I met him I always called him Kane. Just like in his song. When it was time for them to split, Nancy slipped and sprained her ankle. The next thing I knew was with Skip, Pete, Gene, and I was carrying Nancy out of the bar, through a crowd, and into a limousine.

The line-up of the band back then was, Gib Guilbeau (violin and vocals), Skip Battin (Bass and vocals), Pete Kleinow (pedal steel), and Gene Parsons (drums.)


Granger & Williams and Nancy Parsons

Then, a few months later, it happened again, but differently.

Dave and I, (Granger & Williams,)were playing at an exotic dance club on Duff Ave. called, I think, “The Fox Lounge”. The Fox didn’t have dancers on Mondays, but instead, opted for acoustic bands.

Well, sometime during the first set, I couldn’t believe who walked in. It was Nancy Parsons and her boyfriend Steve. If you haven’t made the connection by now, Nancy is Gram Parsons widow. Her boyfriend was the owner of A and R studios just northwest of Ames.

Both of them sat up in front of the stage. After a few songs, Nancy asked us if we knew how to play Hot Burrito #1.

Of course we knew it; so we played it. She liked it and she liked how Dave and me sounded.

She had connections to help us record (A and R Studio), a road manager (Excelsior Entertainment), and a friend of hers, Judy Collins.







Clark Williams (Left)

Dave Granger (Right)

(Rough Bootleg Recording)

Promo Picture

Dave & Clark

Later on that year the Burrito Brothers were doing the mid-west leg of their tour that included Kansas City, Ames, Moline Illinois, Minneapolis, and Soux City S.D. Nancy, along with Excelsior hooked us up.

After that, Dave and I got sick of each other so we split up. I ended up floating from one group to another then hooked up with the Old Triangle, helped found a very successful seafood restaurant, co-owned a sushi restaurant, and ended up promoting Irish Music concerts along with freelancing as an assistant Chef for entertainers that headline Wells Fargo Arena, (Miranda Lambert, Jon Pardi, Ashley McBride, Carrie Underwood, Dwight Yoakum, and get this...WWE Raw, that was quite different).


Right Now

I just accepted another entertainment company to do work with, ATN Event Staffing. This company produces top-end rock concerts. My first gig with them will be at the Jack White concert.

Of course, I do have my own production company, King Baby Productions, that does all kinds of cool stuff. Art, writing, Chef(ing), and music and am still a member of the Celtic Music Association that promote only the top, best Celtic music in the state of Iowa.


And to think... All of this was just a chance happening.





Granger & Williams

Often Breaks

(Rough Bootleg Recording)








One of the C.W. Custom Designed Chuck Taylor Converse Cosmic Clark

Rock n' Roll Shoes

More About

Cosmic American Music


With those initial thoughts in mind, here’s a “Top 16” list, (but not absolutely in order), of albums that represent the Cosmic American Music genre.



Essentially, Country-Rock is rock bands playing country music. It is country music informed by rock's counterculture ideals, as well as its reliance on loud amplification, prominent backbeat, and pop melodies. The first country-rock bands -- the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Neil Young -- played straight country, as inspired by the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, as well as honky tonkers like Hank Williams. As the genre moved into the '70s, the rougher edges were smoothed out as the Eagles, Poco, Pure Prairie League, and Linda Ronstadt made music that was smoother and more laid-back. This became the predominant sound of country-rock in the '70s. In the late '80s, a small group of alternative rock bands began to revive the spartan sound of the original sound of Parsons and Young.

A Song For You

Gram Parsons' daughter, Poly, wrote the words down on these two pieces of paper for me on Christmas Eve, 2020. These are the words to her father's song. "A Song For You". If you'd like to hear the song, scroll back up to the top of this page and click the abstract portrait of Gram. I will always cherish her gift.

"A Song For You"

[Verse 1]

Oh, my land is like a wild goose

Wanders all around, everywhere

Trembles and it shakes 'til every tree is loose It rolls the meadows, and it rolls the nails

[Chorus]

So take me down to your dance floor

And I won't mind people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we will still be there


[Verse 2]

Jesus built a ship to sing a song to

It sails the river, and it sails the tide

Some of my friends don't know who they belong to

Some can't get a single thing to work inside

[Chorus]

So take me down to your dance floor

And I won't mind the people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we will still be there

[Fiddle Solo]


[Verse 3]

I've loved you every day, and now I'm leaving

And I can see the sorrow in your eyes

I hope you know a lot more than you're believing

Just so the sun don't hurt you when you cry


[Chorus]

Oh, take me down to your dance floor

I won´t mind the people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we may still be there

And tomorrow, we may still be there