Monday, April 27, 2020

More Burritos -

Growing up in L.A, everyone was from somewhere else, mostly "Back East." There's a line from Frank Lloyd Wright: "Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles." Like Joni Mitchell sang about California as if it were home, The Flying Burrito Bros. were a Valley Band, though Gram Parsons was from Florida and Chris Hillman was from - wait! Los Angeles, weird. The point is, L.A. was rock's melting pot.

I grew up in the Valley and in my last post I wrote of sitting outside Burrito Manor, the so-called hacienda of Parsons and Hillman. Since then, I spoke with my brother, my personal chauffeur at the time (I was ten), and he was a bit foggy on the locale of Burrito Manor. He said it was somewhere off DeSoto in Reseda. I asked about La Castana Drive. He acted like he'd never heard of it. A friend from the time, who we still chat with, said it was near Beverly Glen, which is funny because I lived on Beverly Glen in the early 1980s. Had I known I would have certainly sought it out. My memory is top-notch. You'd think that would be a good thing (and it is), yet it gets so frustrating when you can't envision all the details.

Rock history is an odd bird in that respect. Even when researching a band as well documented as The Beatles, the stories differ based on the cast of characters. No one will deny the influence of Robert Johnson on the blues or Miles Davis on fusion, but far too few really point back to Gram Parsons' role in establishing country-rock. Parsons transformed The Byrds and then, with The Flying Burrito Brothers and his solo projects took it to the next level. Think about the influence of Parsons on The Rolling Stones – there would be no "Wild Horses" without Parsons' impact on Keith Richards.

My mother was a backup singer for the likes of Burt Bacharach and Ray Conniff. I don’t remember her Columbia days, but I do remember heading over to A&M on La Brea. Having a single parent, there was many a time that I'd hang in the lobby when she had a session. I’d sit with the receptionist and draw. Always the same, a rock band on a stage (I'd do the same drawing on every placemat in every restaurant as well).

My remembrance of those days is crystal clear, but there are times when I'm not sure whether I remember or if I was told the story and somehow incorporated it into my mind. My mother knew Chris Hillman quite well. Her "friend" at the time was a studio musician who had played with The Byrds. I remember once at a short-lived though important rock club called The Trip on Sunset Blvd., sitting in the backroom (I wasn’t allowed in the club) playing Ouija with David Crosby. He was annoyed that the Ouija board kept pointing to the "NO." In my novel, Jay and the Americans, I wrote a passage about that night and stated that I liked David Crosby because he looked like a walrus. Doing my research, later on, I realized that that is a piece that I made up in my mind; Crosby didn’t have the distinctive mustache at the time.

I digress. I remember clearly (at least I can see it in my mind), Hillman coming into the lobby at A&M with Graham Parsons. As Hillman and my mother spoke, Parsons was flirting with the receptionist. He said something imperceptible and then looked over and asked me, "What do you think, Cowboy?" At 17 or so, I used to try and impress the girls by driving them all over L.A., to the places with which I was familiar. I'd relate stories like that. I had a crush on a girl named Daisy and it was with her that we sat outside A&M and then found our way to Burrito Manor. Parsons was often spotted, they say, at Irv's burgers and so we sat there in the aura of her rock God. And then we drove out into the desert on a rock 'n' roll pilgrimage.

Las Vegas is 289 miles from L.A. and my parents would stuff my brother and me in the back of the Rambler and off we'd go through the desert. I loved it. There wasn't that much to do in Vegas for a little boy, but we'd sit in the motel room and watch the lights down the Strip. On the way, though, we'd stop at all the date stands in the high desert.

Like Gram Parsons, the desert with its date palms and Joshua trees fascinated me. Would it impress Daisy, you bet.

Parsons and road manager John Kaufman would venture into the deserts on weekends. One of those jaunts included Keith Richards. Parsons would hang out at local bars and stay at the Joshua Tree Inn. That was our destination  At night he'd starwatch and search for UFOs.

During a friend's funeral in 1973, a few months before Parsons' own death, Parsons and Kaufman said that if either of them were to die prematurely, they wanted their body taken to the desert at Joshua Tree. Just a few months after the pact, Gram checked into room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn on September 17th, 1973.  During this visit, Gram overdosed on both morphine and alcohol.  By the time Kaufman got to the Inn, Gram's body was in the morgue of the Yucca Valley hospital.  

After a day of heavy drinking, Kaufman decided to go into action. The body would be sent back to L.A. by plane. Kaufman's plan was to intercept the body at the airport. Borrowing a hearse with broken windows and no license plates from a friend, Kaufman and his cronies loaded up the Caddie with beer and Jack and headed for the airport. A drunken Kaufman somehow persuaded an airline employee that the Parsons family had changed its plans and wanted to ship the body privately on a chartered flight. The two drunk body snatchers left the airport with the body of their friend, stopped at a gas station in Cabazon near the Interstate 10 dinosaurs.  

The pair stopped at Cap Rock in The Joshua Tree National Monument, a landmark geological formation, and unloaded their friend's coffin.  Kaufman doused Gram's casket with gasoline and threw on a match. 

I assume that Daisy already knew the story, but I told it again as we drove from the Joshua Tree Inn to Cap Rock – THAT was how one impressed a girl in 1978!

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