Gram Parsons described his art as “Cosmic American Music.” He was a trust fund baby and a Harvard dropout whose grand dad owned a sizable chunk of Florida’s orange groves. Despite his blue blood background, he wrote songs illuminating the little man’s plight, spiritual struggles, and tales of a broken heart. Gram’s influence on the late 60’s music scene earns him a chiseled chunk of marble in the pantheon of the musical gods
Parsons cut his musical teeth on early rock and roll, folk, and country music. He later joined the Byrds for a short stint contributing to their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. His legacy with the Byrds, and later the Flying Burrito Brothers, left an indelible groove in the wax of American music.
In the early 70’s, Parsons combined forces with the talented Alabama-born singer Emmylou Harris. Unfortunately, Parson’s personal demons, combined with his drug-fueled excesses, caught up with him. In 1973, He died from a lethal combination of morphine and alcohol in the desert at Joshua Tree National Monument.
Phil Kaufman, Parson’s road manager, made good on a promise to cremate his corpse in Joshua Tree.
Kaufman and a friend managed to steal Parsons’ body from the airport and, in a borrowed hearse, drove Parsons’ body to Joshua Tree where they attempted to cremate it, by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin, and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. Police chased them, but, according to one account, “were encumbered by sobriety”. The two were arrested several days later, but since there was no law against stealing a dead body, were only fined $750 (or $700) for stealing the coffin.The burned remains were eventually returned to Parsons’ stepfather and interred in New Orleans. (source)
In December 2005, I made a pilgrimage to Joshua Tree to see the roadside motel where Parsons spent his last moments. The sun was setting in the California desert as I made my approach. It could not have been better timed. I shed a tear as I pushed the throttle onward towards Sin City.
Return of the Grievous Angel ~ Gram Parsons Won't you scratch my itch sweet Annie Rich And welcome me back to town Come out on your porch or I'll step into your parlor And I'll show you how it all went down Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels And a good saloon in every single town Oh, and I remember something you once told me And I'll be damned if it did not come true Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down And they all lead me straight back home to you `Cause I headed West to grow up with the country Across those prairies with the waves of grain And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue sea And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee We flew straight across that river bridge, last night a half past two The switchman wave his lantern goodbye and so long as we went rolling through Billboards and truck stops pass by the grievous angel And now I know just what I have to do And the man on the radio won't leave me alone He wants to take my money for something that I've never been shown And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue sea And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee The news I could bring I met up with the king On his head an amphetamine crown He talked about unbuckling that old Bible belt And lighted out for some desert town Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels And a good saloon in every single town Oh, but I remembered something you once told me And I'll be damned if it did not come true Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down And they all lead me straight back home to you Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down And they all lead me straight back home to you
“He seemed like a nice enough fellow. Regardless of anything else about Gram, he was a Southern boy: very polite, raised in a kind of genteel society, and there was a certain inherent kindness and humor that was always there, and you could spot it right away” ~ Emmylou Harris