A Place for Gram

From Lisa Lynn Morgan

Gram Parsons’ tour manager, Phil Kauffman, made the rounds through Joshua Tree among hundreds of adoring Gram Parsons’ fans late September. First stop was Gram Fest, held at the Joshua Tree Inn where Gram drew his last breath. Many gathered on Sunday, September 17th, to honor his life and listen to a supremely wonderful line up of folk/americana music. Kauffman signed albums, tshirts, other merchandise, all to benefit Joshua Tree National Park Association and be with people who, like him, loved Gram and understood that a promise is a promise. “Gram and I went out there (Joshua Tree National Park),” Kauffman shared from the stage, “and he said to me, ‘Promise me, if I die, you’ll take me out to Joshua Tree and set my spirit out into the desert.’ It’s fifteen years later, and we succeeded,” You see, it was Kauffman and Parsons’ assistant, Michael Martin, who posed as mortuary workers and brought Parsons’, casket, and all, back to his favorite place in the park, Cap Rock, and set it ablaze.

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Two days later, Kauffman made an appearance at the Joshua Tree Visitors Center for more meet and greets seated next to local treasure, songstress/songsmith, Victoria Williams. “Phil was my tour manager on my first solo American tour until he got gout and was replaced by Nicolas Hill,” Williams shared later. “He is heard singing on the Live from Town Hall album.”

For years people would go to Cap Rock and contribute to a shrine where his body was recovered by law enforcement. A crude cross was all that marked the spot among guitar picks, liquor bottles and a few more outrageous mementos, all of which the Park would have to clear away for the sake of the environment. Now, there is more than a crude cross to mark the spot. As of September 19th, a beautiful memorial has been installed; a triangular installation, two with a headshot of Parsons, and the other a photo of him with his band, Flying Burrito Brothers. The headshot text asks, “Who Was Gram Parsons?” It answers in three paragraphs that he was a musician, a creator, and a friend and collaborator. A footnote shows a quote from Keith Richards (taken from a Rolling Stone article in 2010): “I think he was just getting into his stride when he died. His actual output – the number of records he made and sold – was minimal. But his effect on country music is enormous. This is why we’re talking about him now. But we can’t know what its full impact could have been.”

Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn at 27 years old, September 19, 1973.

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