A few days ago, Dewey Dell, Rosa and I stayed in room #8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973 of a drug overdose. The establishment is now dubbed the "Cosmic American Hotel" by its proprietor, a reed-thin and sun-baked young man with faded green tattoos, dusty cowboy boots and a weather-beaten straw hat. It's located in the arid and alien desert near Joshua Tree National Park, where if per chance a brontosaurus were to come ambling out from behind the boulders you wouldn't really be surprised given how amazing and magical everything is, the lizards darting in the shadows under the heavy, penetrating silence that saturates the sky. Coz. Mick. The room where Parsons died (#8) has been lovingly un-refurbished, looking just as it did in the early 1970s, complete with the smell of grandma's house and vaguely Navajo bed sheets that have probably been washed 4 million times (or maybe only four times?). In a courtyard outside the room is a shrine of booze bottles and various tokens and tchotchkes arranged in worshipful order a few feet from a turquoise swimming pool lined with cracked tiles and shimmering in the middle of Joshua trees and cactus. A distant church has a giant "Jesus" sign in the sky.
On the bed stand is a guest book signed by visitors from all over the world (see top photo above) espousing all manner of broken-heartfelt, world-weary and vision-quested sentiments. You probably already have the song "Love Hurts" in your collection, but not this particular and exact mp3: it's ripped from the homemade CD compilation on the same bed stand in the room where Parsons died, hand-labeled by the proprietor "Room #8." (The third picture in the above set is the view of the courtyard from inside the room.)
Love Hurts - Gram Parsons (with Emmy Lou Harris)
Over in nearby Pioneertown, a 1950s Hollywood set built for shooting Westerns, there's Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, an old road house as dusty and drunken as it sounds, its walls lined with pictures of all the famous musical guests who've passed through, from Lucinda Williams and Robert Plant to the Solace Bros. (on the night we were in town) and Camper Van Beethoven. Tales of boozy nights under the sweep of stars and peyote-chewing jaw sessions around crackling fires are legend. While in town, we met a mellow stoner fella named Dave who took us into his glass-blowing workshop in his timber-frame Old West house where he makes glass beads and marbles with psychedelic swirls inside them. Cosmic? You bet.
Wheels - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)
But that was only the start. We spent an afternoon visiting the "Integratron," a giant domed building that looks like a cross between a community playhouse and a planetarium. It was built by George Van Tassel, who claimed to have been visited by a UFO from Venus in the 1950s. He downloaded from a Venusian fellow named "Solgando" all the interplanetary knowledge afforded space peoples (Solgando was photographed and looks strikingly like a dapper human man in a three-piece suit) . Based in part on the scientific ideas of cult inventor Nikola Tesla, the edifice was operated as a UFO buff's palace of wonder and many years after Van Tassel's death in the late 70s people still come from far and wide to enjoy a "sound bath" in the domed room inside, where if you stand in the center you hear your own voice in triplicate vibrating inside your skull. When people lay under the dome in this acoustically perfect tabernacle and energy machine" and listen to Mozart or New Age music they apparently connect just so with all kinds of mystical cosmic vibrations (apparently the circumference of the Integratron is exactly that of a single person's magnetic field -- 55 feet -- but Von Tassel didn't know that when he built it). You can't help but believe.
Hot Burrito #1 - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)
That's not all we did. We also ate heaps of cheese-covered and lard-based Mexican food in Palm Springs (not far from Gene Autry Trail), roamed about the desert snapping photos of rock formations and gigantic wind farms with lazily turned against massive mountain ranges and eyed temperature gages that read 100 degrees and higher. We radiated in the sun and breathed the pure, dry air and gazed over vast, Mars-like horizons and moonscapes seemingly untouched by humans. On the flight home, it was hard not to notice that the world was winking at us a little more than it had before. Things were changing. Or so it seemed. Perhaps they hadn't changed at all.
100 Years from Now - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)