In spite of the expense and grief ridden decision making process, funerals are fairly cut and dry quiet affairs; thoughtful and loving farewells to family and friends hopefully resting in peace. Logically then, the story of Gram Parsons’ should have ended with his death in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn.
For those who like a good story, fortunately, that is not the case.
A few months prior to his untimely death, Parsons, along with his road manager, Phil Kaufman, attended a funeral of a mutual friend. After the service Gram told a group that he didn’t want a traditional funeral. In fact, he and Kaufman promised each other that day that, in the event of an early death, the body was to be taken to Joshua Tree National Park. The one alive was to share a final beer with the corpse, and then burn the body.
Scattering ashes in Joshua Tree National Park is actually a legitimate request, and, with the proper permit, can be lawfully carried out. However, Gram’s father, who wasn’t present at the above mentioned gathering, wasn’t privy to any information about this brotherhood pact, and, in fact, wanted to bury the body in Louisiana.
Learning of this, and, not wanting to forsake a promise, Kaufman decided to take matters into his own hands. With the aid of Micheal Murphy, he successfully secured a hearse, drove to the Los Angeles International Airport, intersected the body, and convinced airport authorities that they were from the mortuary and they were instructed by the family that plans had changed.
With corpse secured in the hearse, along with a can of gasoline and some matches, they headed towards Joshua Tree National Park. Kaufman was allegedly three sheets to the wind when they arrived at the Cap Rock Trail, located 16 miles south of the Joshua Tree entrance. They pulled the casket out of the car, opened it, and doused the body with the fuel. A couple of matches is all it took to ignite a huge fireball, a signal to authorities that caught wind of their caper. The headlights approached with greater velocity; which certainly produced a sobering effect on the two bandits. They jumped in the hearse and escaped into the night.
Weeks later, cognizant that the authorities were still after them, Kaufman and Murphy turned themselves in. Since there were no laws addressing corpse stealing at that time, they were charged with a misdemeanor and, after paying a couple of small fines, were let go.
For many years, fans flocked to Cap Rock, decorating the monzogranite rock formations with graffiti and tiny trinkets. Knowing the potential peril of this activity, the national park decided to clean the area.
The area is devoid of anything but nature, save a tiny memorial or two that lay quietly in the sand.
May he Rest in Peace!