Joshua Tree National Park is most closely associated with one musician: Gram Parsons. This country-rock legend, who played with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and created two classic solo albums GP and Grievous Angel, frequently made trips out to Joshua Tree. On some of these occasions he was accompanied by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, spending time at night, searching for UFOs from the park’s boulder outcrops.
There are two locations that are destinations for any Gram fan: Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn (I stayed in Room 9) and Cap Rock.
Room 8 is at the epicenter of Gram’s cult legend for it was in this room that he died on September 19, 1973 at the age of 26. He was just shy of joining the infamous “27 Club” whose members include: Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Pigpen, D. Boon, Richey Edwards, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.
The memorial for Gram Parsons erected outside room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, Joshua Tree, Ca. “Safe at Home” is the name of one of Gram’s early albums, then playing with the International Submarine Band.
Gram was another causality of the distructive rock and roll lifestyle, he was another musician cut down too early making many fans wonder what might have been. So far this seemed to be the typical rock and roll tragedy but things were about to get strange, very strange.
Gram’s body was sent to LAX to be flown to New Orleans. But Gram’s friends claimed that he had talked about having his ashes spread in Joshua Tree. So two of his drunk friends put on some suits, borrowed a hearse and convinced airport officials to release the body to them. They then headed east to Joshua Tree stopping to buy gasoline on the way. They took the coffin to Cap Rock, filled it with gasoline and set it on fire.
The boulder at Cap Rock where Gram Parsons’ body was set afire. To rock climbers it’s known as the Gram Parsons Memorial Hand Traverse. (The traverse can be seen at the base of the rock.)
Cap Rock is now an unofficial public shire to the legacy of the music and memory of Gram Parsons.