Born Cecil Ingram Connors III On November 5, 1946, American singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Gram Parsons never really made it big but nonetheless he did become a cult figure in music circles. Parsons created a musical genre he named Cosmic American. It was an acoustic blend of blues, folk and rock with a country edge. It was a precursor to the music of groups such as the Eagles.
In 1968 Parsons would become pals with the bassist of The Byrds Chris Hillman. Shortly thereafter Parsons too was a member and was vying with Roger McGuinn for leadership of the band. He led the way with their 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo platter.
After the album’s release Parsons and Hillman quit The Byrds. They founded The Flying Burrito Brothers. This band, however, would only meet with limited success in comparison.
In 1973 he released his solo premiere platter, G.P. He would also record a sophomore solo album, Grievous Angel; although he would not live to see it hit the record racks in 1974.
Shortly after finishing the album he went with some of his buddies to what’s now known as Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California. He spent a most of the day poolside, drinking, smoking and injecting numerous substances. As night fell, Parsons retired to his room.
A few hours later, his friends would discover him in an especially deep sleep. On September 19, 1973, a coroner determined that parsons, age 26, had died of “drug toxicity, due to multiple (morphine and alcohol) drug use”. It was said that the amount of morphine taken by Parsons would have killed three regular users and therefore he probably “overestimated his tolerance considering his experience with opiates.”
Even in death Parsons received less attention than he deserved. Coverage of his passing was eclipsed by the death of Jim Croce the next day. Parson’s stepfather, who stood to inherit Gram’s portion of his grandfather’s estate if he could actually prove that gram was actually a resident of Louisiana, anxiously arranged to have Gram’s body flown to New Orleans for burial.
Parsons manager, Phil Kaufman, having learned of the artist’s death, immediately remembered a pact he had made with Parsons. They had agreed that “the survivor would take the other guy’s body out to Cap Rock (a prominent natural feature there), have a few drinks and burn it.” So after a few stiff drinks, Kaufman learned about the shipping arrangements and, along with another mutual friend, Michael Martin, forged some documents, borrowed a hearse and headed for the Los Angeles International Airport.
After signing the release “Jeremy Nobody” they took Parsons’ corpse and drove 150 miles to Joshua Tree. By the light of the moon they dragged his coffin as close to Cap Rock as they possibly could. Kaufman pried the coffin open, poured in 5 gallons of gas and tossed in a lit match.
An enormous fireball rose from the coffin and Kaufman and Martin headed homeward. The police would soon give chase but the pair escaped. The tale of the passed Parsons being hijacked and set afire wrangled more press than his life. The police placed Kaufman and Martin under arrest after the purloining pair turned themselves in.
They were charged only with misdemeanor theft for stealing the actual coffin, made to pay $708 dollars in damages and were additionally fined over $300 each. Neither one was prosecuted for the 35 pounds of charred remains they had left in the desert. His remains were shipped to his stepfather and buried at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana.
Fans wishing to visit his grave enter the cemetery and take the first two rights. Then after a hairpin left turn one will see a sculpture of “The Last Supper” to the right. Fifty yards in front of the sculpture, between two large trees, a small bronze circular marker marks the final resting place of Parsons’ remains.
The pseudo-cremation site was once marked by a little concrete slab near a large rock flake that rock climbers call “The Gram Parsons Memorial Hand Traverse”. More recently the slab was removed by the U.S. National Park Service, and placed at the Joshua Tree Inn. His final release, Grievous Angel, hit stores at the start of 1974.
Oddly, although Parson’s passing publicized the record, it would only rise to number 195 on the album charts. His fans would place a small memorial plaque marked “Safe At Home” on it close to Cap Rock but in the end, Parsons would remain an artist who “may have done so much more” had he not died so early.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.