July 26, 2001 13:36
THE GRAM PARSONS PROJECT
The star died near his beloved National Park, and fans of the country rock pioneer are keen for him to be honoured...
The influential country rock pioneer loved the park, and visited it often, sometimes with Rolling Stone Keith Richards. He died from an alcohol and heroin overdose at the Joshua Tree Motel one mile from the park in September 1973. His association has been omitted from all park maps and officials had played down the connection until now.
When Parsons died, his coffin was stolen from Los Angeles International Airport, where it was to be sent to his stepfather in Louisiana. His road manager Phil Kaufman and a friend drove it to Joshua Tree and set fire to it, in an attempt to fulfil his wish to be cremated at the park. However, before the fire had time to take hold fully, they were discovered and the remains were buried in New Orleans.
Later, fans illegally placed a concrete slab on the outcrop Cap Rock with the inscription 'Safe At Home', the name of one of his songs, on it. However it is not included in any of the Park's official information or on maps, and its location is known mainly to fans and rock climbers.
The issue of a formal memorial and inclusion in Park material was raised last autumn by the chief of park interpretation, Joe Zarki, who sounded out colleagues around the country, pointing out that "miners, ranchers and cattle rustlers from the 1800's" are recognised, asking: "Are they more worthy of interpretation than an influential rock musician who lived way too fast and died young?"
It has been suggested that the memorial could be better controlled, and the story told in a way that stressed protection of the park environment, and the debate over whether the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s should be commemorated. Zarki pointed out: "If Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton get recognition at New Orleans Jazz National Historic site, why not Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree?"
Among the acts which have been influenced by him are Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Emmylou Harris who he performed with, as well as band such as Jayhawks and Wilco. An annual music festival is held in his honour in the High Desert, running this year from October 5 to 7.
To read an extensive description of the park and the small unofficial Parsons memorial, as well as the debate surrounding the issue click here.