I'm in room #8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, the room where Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973. The whole hotel is a memorial to him: there's a shrine right outside our door. Posters and paintings and laminated news articles, stacks of CD's, photographs, books all dedicated to this dude, who at 26 years old overdosed on heroin in a hotel room in the high desert.
When we got here yesterday, I had sort of forgotten that we were staying in this room, at this hotel. I glossed over the part where my partner announced excitedly "We got Gram's room!". I just knew we were going to Joshua Tree. To be honest, I had to secretly read the Gram Parsons wikipedia page yesterday when we got here. I knew he was some kind of country singer, but that's all I knew. And now I know how his body was burned on some rocks in the desert by some of his friends, who stole the corpse from LAX (insert "Gram Theft Parsons" joke here). I know what his face looked like. I listened to some of his songs last night, he and Emmylou Harris just sad as fuck. I don't know why the door is gold, I don't know why it's romantic to sleep in a room that someone died in, I don't know why people want to be in the desert.
Yesterday we drove through Joshua Tree National Park, found a place to pull over, climbed up a 30-foot pile of boulders that looked as if they were casually dropped into formation, and watched the sunset over the mountains. The heat from the day began to wane and the wind picked up and we were the only people around for as far as we could see in any direction. I'm sure you've seen pictures of Joshua Tree--it looks just like that--only bigger. I always imagine being the first person to show up in a place. What did the first people to migrate to the Mojave Desert think when they showed up here? "Oh, this looks like a nice place--spiny plants, no water, huge unnavigable piles of rocks disguised as mountains, 120 degree heat. Let's stay!" I think about that still when I see the little houses scattered around the desert, each presumably with human beings inside, having chosen to live here.
Leafing through a real estate magazine while waiting for dinner last night at Crossroads Cafe, I realized that the reason the houses are so scattered is because you can buy land here for so cheap. Donovan's (yes, that "Donovan") estate is for sale on 20+ acres for under $400K, and you can buy a manufactured home on 5 acres for under $60K. You can afford to live here, to own property, to put down roots (as long as you're a spiny desert plant). So even if you're making minimum wage, or living on disability or some crappy pension, you can have space. I'm starting to get it now.
I tend to think of a forest as a cluster of trees, but not here. The joshua trees have spread out over hundreds of miles, in the same way the people have, giving each other the space they need to survive. Maybe that's what Gram Parsons was doing. Maybe that's what I'm doing. Maybe that's what we all need to do.
Prints available soon. I'm on vacation, people.