A Shot over the fence to the back of the Inn…toward the Emmylou Suite
photo and comment by jameshield at flickr.
A Shot over the fence to the back of the Inn…toward the Emmylou Suite
photo and comment by jameshield at flickr.
Private backyard area off Room 8. Perfect place to drink a little tequila…look at the stars….and listen to some tunes.
picture and comment by jameshields at flickr
The second rock n roll pilgrimage of my holiday in my home state of California was out to the high desert, to Joshua Tree, where we stayed at the infamous Joshua Tree Inn. It was here, in Room 8, that Gram Parsons, the founder of country rock, died.
He played with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, and was famous for his work with Emmylou Harris. They toured together in a band known as Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels. Since his death in 1973 the inn, or motel, has become a magnet for rock fans.
The motel is a great place – probably one of the last few of its type, with breeze-block walls, ceiling fans, tiled roofs and a large courtyard filled with cacti and the ubiquitous Joshua trees. It has a wonderful pool, which I thoroughly enjoyed, managing at last to shed the fine layer of grit acquired while exploring the national park nearby. We had the Emmylou Harris room next door to the notorious room, but failed to experience any ghostly disturbances.
Luckily it wasn’t particularly hot, for that place at that time of year, only the low 100s. The landscape is difficult to describe – it was like nothing I’d seen, haunting and alien looking, but beautiful. Staggering rock formations that looked liked they just been tossed to the ground by a bored giant, the strange Joshua trees everywhere, and a silence when we stopped that was all-enveloping. At one point I waited in the car while people with better ankles went for a short hike, and sat there listening to the intense quiet, the only sound the occasional cry of an unseen bird, and the ringing in my ears from the damage sustained by many a garage band rehearsal in my youth.
We went up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset, which created huge shadows across the wrinkled hills, and inevitably depressed me because the smog pouring in through the mountain passes obscured much of the view below. There was an information sign explaining about the vast amounts of smog that come into the valley from the surrounding cities, and that they are studying the effects it’s having on this previously pristine wilderness.
When I was little my grandparents lived out in the Palm Desert, and we made regular treks out to visit. On the way we would always stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards shop. They are known for their dried fruit, local dates a speciality. They also have a great selection of candy and nuts. On this return trip from Joshua Tree we made a point of stopping there, and I made sure to get a small tub of dates. They also serve banana and date shakes, which is much better than it sounds. I recommend it.
I have to say I was a bit surprised as we were driving through this area – I remember it as being Hadley’s, then a strange family restaurant called the Wagon Wheel, and behind it two dinosaurs. Now it’s preceded by an absolutely enormous casino and hotel. Cabazon is expanding along with the rest of the state. An LA Times article tells me there are big development plans for the Coachella Valley, the desert we drove through to get to Joshua Tree. Guess they’ll have to fit the condos around the wind turbines…
Ah, yes, the dinosaurs. As a child, I loved spotting the familiar t-rex and er, brachiosaurus (?) out the window as we passed – it meant we were getting reasonably close to our destination, and it was just so incongruous seeing giant dinosaurs in the middle of the desert. Now they’re slightly obscured by petrol stations and more restaurants but they’re still there. I was delighted when my sister’s husband announced we would be stopping to get some pictures of them. We never could get my dad to stop there. I don’t suppose he could see the point, really.
So imagine my horror to find that the dinosaurs have been taken over – the gift shop has been transformed. The people that now own them are Creationists, believers in Intelligent Design. And they have co-opted the dinosaurs to help explain their views to passing tourists, replete with explanations of how the dinosaurs walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and that Noah took them aboard the Ark in the Great Flood. Apparently. I do want not to get into religious differences of opinion in my blog, but, well, this was a bit much. I was angry that they’d high-jacked my childhood memories along with the dinosaurs. How dare they? Those dinosaurs should belong to everyone driving that dusty highway through that desert, not just the people that share their beliefs. And they had the cheek to charge $2 to go in and be told about all this. I was outraged. I refused to pay, but took some pictures outside anyway. It’s just a step too far.
The drive back, though interesting, further deepened my suspicion of satellite navigation systems. The one in my sister’s new Jeep got a bit confused on the way out of the desert and couldn’t seem to quite match us up with our actual location. But it was fun watching the display as we apparently drove straight through the middle of a rather large lake…
So it was a good holiday. Good to see the family, catch up with some friends and to spend time in places that I normally wouldn’t (the desert) but deeply enjoyed. As usual didn’t get to spend enough time at the beach. Might have to risk offending the family and actually go stay somewhere on the beach sometime. It was good to see that everyone seems healthy and happy, to celebrate the fact that my parents have stuck by each other for 50 years despite everything, and to see my niece is even more grown up. I got a reasonable tan (really strong sunblock), saw some interesting places, and despite wild bird poop, religious dinosaurs, smog and traffic, really enjoyed myself. We’re already thinking of what we’ll do next time – the Getty villa, the Hollywood Cemetery, the lake near Ojai. But first there are some cool, green places to visit – hoping to get to Wales next… when I’m fully recovered from my operation and I can walk again, that is.
Posted by Kathie Touin at 8:51 PM
Found a great little motel – the Joshua Tree Inn – which is famous for being where Gram Parsons died. It was really laid back and quaint. Run by Kim, who was from LA and Hong Kong. Very chilled. Spent the evening writing and then watched ‘Soylent Green’.
Up early. Gassed with the family on Skype whilst sitting on the veranda drinking coffee staring out over the desert mountains. Then off to explore the south eastern part of the park.
posted by martin at:
for more info on martin see his website at: http://www.sprigproductions.co.uk/
The Strange Death of Gram Parsons:
Gram Parsons DiscographyGram Parsons Bibliography
Courtesy White Boucke Publishing.
The trip back to L.A. after burning the body of Gram Parsons was every bit as weird as the trip out had been for Phil Kaufman and Michael Martin. Part way home, the drunken pair decided they’d better pull off the road and sleep for a few hours. When they woke up, the hearse wouldn’t start. They were stuck in the middle of the desert. Martin went for help and came back with a tow truck; after a few hours, they left with a fresh supply of cold beer.
They were nearly home when they got into a multi-car pile-up on an LA freeway, rear-ending another car. A highway patrolman approached and opened the door to the hearse. When beer bottles fell out, he handcuffed Kaufman and Martin together and told them to stay put. Then he left to attend to other drivers. Before he could return and take their licenses, the very thin Martin had slipped his hand from the cuff. Kaufman started up the hearse and fled the scene. When they got back to chez Kaufman, they sawed off the other cuff, stashed the hearse, and went into hiding.*
“God’s Own Singer”:
“God’s Own Singer,” the title of a song from the second Flying Burrito Brothers LP, may express an appropriate sentiment, but one suspects that the responsible parties were unaware that the song was written by Bernie Leadon, not Gram Parsons.
| To read about the last Gram Parsons tour and album, see Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels: 1972-1973. This section covers the death of Gram Parsons in some detail. Although his music is by far the most vital part of the Gram Parsons story, his death is the first introduction to that story for many people. Perhaps some of those looking to read about that death will be persuaded by other parts of the profile to check out his music too. So think of this section as being sort of like sex education… Since the events of that day are the subject of so many myths, mistakes, and mysteries, better to describe frankly those events (as best as they can ever be known now) than to have people believing the even wilder gossip they pick up on the street.Joshua Tree:Gram Parsons had been hanging out at the Joshua Tree National Monument for several years — he went there regularly, with Chris Hillman when they were bandmates, and later with Keith Richards, to get high, commune with the cactus, and watch the sky for UFOs. He reserved two rooms at the nearby Joshua Tree Inn, a modest cinder-block motel whose owners had come to know Parsons after several visits. Along with Parsons on this trip were his “valet” and chum, Michael Martin; Martin’s girlfriend Dale McElroy (no fan of Gram Parsons); and an old friend from his high school days in Florida named Margaret Fisher.
The events of that trip have been recounted by Dale McElroy, who told her story to Ben Fong-Torres when he was writing Hickory Wind, then retold it in her own words in Phil Kaufman’s 1993 bio. Other accounts differ, but hers seems the most reliable.
The foursome arrived Monday, September 17, 1973. That day they indulged sufficiently that Martin returned to Los Angeles the next morning to score more marijuana — even though Martin theoretically went along on the trip so he could look after Parsons. Parsons dragged the women out to the airport for lunch, throughout which he drank Jack Daniels non-stop.
When they returned from lunch, McElroy excused herself — she couldn’t drink because she was recovering from hepatitis, and she wasn’t having any fun watching Parsons drink.
Meanwhile, Parsons scored some heroin in town and then topped it off with morphine he acquired from a drug connection, who was staying at the Inn. Several hours later, a wasted Fisher showed up at McElroy’s door in a frantic state. Parsons had overdosed, she said. They grabbed some ice and went to Room 1, where he was passed out on the floor, blue. There Fisher revived him with an ice cube suppository — an old street remedy for overdoses. When McElroy left the two alone again, he was walking around the room, seemingly recovered.
After another hour or so, at about 10:00, Fisher returned to McElroy’s room and asked her to sit with the sleeping Parsons while she went out to get some dinner. McElroy grabbed a book and went to Parsons’s room — Room 8. After a few minutes, she realized that his breathing had gone from normal to labored. McElroy had no experience with drug overdoses and no training in CPR. Believing (incorrectly) that there were no other people in the hotel, she never called out for help. Instead she tried to get him breathing again by pumping his back and his chest and giving him mouth-to-mouth. “I tried to figure out whether to stay and keep him breathing or leave and get some help…. I figured if I left, he might die.”*
After about a half hour of futile pumping and pushing, McElroy realized that Parsons was probably beyond help. At this point Margaret Fisher returned, then left to call an ambulance. The rescue crew arrived quickly, but concluded that CPR would not be successful. They got Parsons to the nearby Hi-Desert Memorial Hospital in Yucca Valley by 12:15 AM. The doctors there found no pulse and, after trying unsuccessfully to restart his heart, declared him dead at 12:30 AM, Wednesday, September 19, 1973.
The press were told that Parsons had died of natural causes, but after performing an autopsy, the coroner listed the cause of death as “drug toxicity, days, due to multiple drug use, weeks.”* A blood test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.21% — high, but nowhere near fatal standing alone. No morphine showed in the blood test, though it did turn up in more than trace amounts in urine and liver tests. The urinalysis also revealed traces of cocaine and barbiturates. Since substances may accumulate in the body over a long time, it’s unclear from the urine and liver tests whether Parsons used morphine, cocaine or barbiturates that day.
Fisher and McElroy were questioned by the police at the hospital. McElroy called Phil Kaufman in Los Angeles, who persuaded the sheriff that he could answer all their questions as soon as he arrived. The sheriff then permitted Fisher and McElroy to stay at the motel until Kaufman arrived. When Kaufman got to the hotel, the women gave him Parsons’s drugs, which they had gathered up before the ambulance and police arrived.* Kaufman took the drugs and hid them in the desert, then called the police station. He promised the police he would bring McElroy and Fisher in for further questioning, then piled them in his car and drove them straight back to LA, where he hid them out for a few days. The Joshua Tree police never sought out the two women.
Both Margaret Fisher and Alan Barbary, the son of the hotel owners, told conflicting versions of that night’s events, which added to the confusion and exaggeration that soon surrounded the death of Gram Parsons.Safe at Home:
When the news of his stepson’s death reached Bob Parsons, he immediately realized that his own interests would be best served by having the body buried in Louisiana, where the senior Parsons lived. Parsons knew that under Louisiana’s Napoleonic code, his adopted son’s estate would pass in its entirety to the nearest living male — Bob Parsons — notwithstanding any will provisions to the contrary. But the code would only apply if Bob Parsons could prove that Gram Parsons had been a resident of Louisiana. Burying the younger Parsons in New Orleans would bolster the tenuous arguments for Louisiana residency. Bob Parsons booked a flight to LA to claim the body. At stake was his stepson’s share of the dwindling but still substantial Snively fortune.
We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning:
Gram Parsons left more than his share of loose ends.
You’re Still On My Mind:
Twenty-two years after the death of Gram Parsons, his music is still very much with us. His major releases, from Safe at Home (LHI, 1968) to Grievous Angel, are currently available in the States, at least on import, as are compilations such as Farther Along (A&M, 1988) and Out of the Blue (A&M UK, 1996). Cosmic American Music (Magnum America, 1995) featured rehearsal tapes for GP, while Live 1973 (Sierra, 1994) offered a live performance by the Fallen Angels.
Know More About It:
Nearly all of the Gram Parsons catalog is available through Sierra Records. Sierra is currently preparing for the release of a Gram Parsons CD called The Early Years, which will feature the tracks from the earlier Shilos release, plus nine solo tracks recorded in New York with Dick Weissman, and concluding with the four early single sides by International Submarine Band. Sierra also specializes in the work of Clarence White, Gene Clark, and Gene Parsons. Anyone interested in these artists should check out their website (temporarily offline as this is written but due back soon) at www.sierra-records.com. You can also write for the Sierra catalog at the following address:
You can also request their catalog by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photo and comment by fluidattitude at flickr.com