Monday, February 25, 2019

Gilded Palace of Sin

As all of our esteemed and malignant readers are well aware, this month marks the 50th anniversary of The Flying Burrito Brothers' classic first record, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Some people would call this album country music. These same people probably fold their underwear. Sweet as yucca honey, strange as sunstroke and sadder than a sapsucker slurping on a sheet of sandpaper, this record is pure, uncut Cosmic American and we offer the following words as tribute to this group of weirdos and a record they made.

Awake, face down in the sand. Lips parched and where am I. Song of the cactus wren whirwhirwhirling somewhere nearby. Ah yes….Joshua Tree, land of The Flintstones, town of Bedrock, climbing bums and Hollywood’s doomed attempts at tox and detox. We awake in the darkness, the world rimmed in embers, to the sound of sea lions jockeying for position on a rocky headland. Sea lions...impossible here in the desert. A few seconds more and the sounds reveal themselves to be the labored coupling of humans, their moans and exertions subsiding after a few minutes of scumbag glory.

Shards of memory from the day before coalesce out of the dark abyss that, until recently, housed my brain. A black-throated sparrow in the talons of a shrike as the two floated down into a cottonwood draw, presumably to have dinner together. Seagull Steve miraculously conjuring up a Varied Thrush with some eerie harmonica playing. Watching it hop about in the palm fronds instead of the mid-canopy in an ancient coniferous forest, furthering my discombobulation and growing sense of  existential freefall. Taking a piss behind a gas station just outside the park and having a barn owl flutter by, a one-handed life bird for one of us in the group and thus creating the phenomenon now known as Meat Lifering.

In addition to birding and copulating with one another, we are here, sort of, to pay respect to Gram Parsons, the Grievous Angel, psychedelic country bard, Godfather of Cosmic Americana, whose body was burned at the base of one of these giant granitic boulders, where now a shine to his music and meteoric life is built every year. When the petroglyphs, doobies, beer bottles, photos, poems and piles of dead roses become visible from the tour buses, the altar is dismantled by park service stooges who are most likely listening to the Dave Matthews Band while doing so. The shrine is rebuilt again by the next pilgrim and her meager offerings.  

This site was the final destination in one of the more beautiful and bizarre episodes of rock n’ roll’s sordid history. After Gram died of a morphine overdose in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree hotel, his step father (whom Gram apparently despised) arranged for his body to flown back to Louisiana. Gram’s friend and manager, Phil Kaufman, had a better idea. He hijacked the corpse from the Los Angeles airport and drove it out in a borrowed hearse to this desert, stopped once for booze and a piggyback of gas, and came to a halt beneath a boulder named Cap Rock. He then dragged the body out of the car, poured gasoline into the casket and lit the singer his final cigarette.

A couple of years after the birth of Meat Lifering in Joshua Tree, I rode a bus through the night to Palm Springs, borrowed my aunt's car and drove up to the Motel to attend the 35th anniversary of GP's death. I walked into the courtyard around back, where a band of burnouts stumbled beautifully through a Flying Burrito Brothers tune. Some folks were huddled over an Ouija board, stones and talismans stacked around them. Light flooding out from the cracked door of Room 8. An older woman stopped me, ‘Can I help you?’, her demeanor that of a neighborhood watch lieutenant. ‘I’m here for Gram,’ I replied. She smiled warmly and wrapped her arms around me. ‘Grab a hot dog, sweetie. There’s beers in the cooler.’

I don’t remember much from that night, apparently a common occurrence upon visiting this region. Sitting on the edge of the bed that Gram died in, sipping a beer and staring in the mirror for too long. Later, trying my hand at the Ouija with the help of a stranger with multiple rings on each of her fingers.  Slumped on stage and hacking my way through ‘My Kind of Town,’ Gram's anti-war/draft dodging anthem, to scattered applause from my new friends. Eventually ending up under a cactus, looking up at the night sky, the constellations cut into musical notation by the power lines overhead, thinking I must transcribe the cosmos...

And where am I. Bottle of bourbon glowing in the sand beside my head. The whirwhirwhirling of the cactus wren there in the morning, the same song that accompanied the black sidewinder of smoke that rose out of the casket so long ago. Awkward extraction from my sleeping bag and never mind finding my shoes, there is an urgency in finding this bird backlit against the morning sun, in having its song wash over me. A proper soul wringing, blood sacrifice born of cholla spines in bare feet. Parched and bleeding in the Mojave.

Reborn in The Gilded Palace of Sin.


  1. "We flew straight across that river bridge" "Across those prairies with those waves of grain"

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    2. Song of the Grievous Angel, sung as it soars about, seeking suitable habitat.

  2. Pure gold.

    Meat Lifering I will never be...But I often contemplate the meat-laden fingers of my male birding companions as they grope their way into the communal bags of snacks shared during our birding escapades.

    1. I think Meat Lifering is technically possible, regardless of gender. My understanding of its definition is that it's pretty loose and forgiving.

    2. Ah. This post is to bird blogs and HST’s were to editorial narratives.

      So what sort of bonuses does one experience while ‘meat-lifering’ if the bird observed is also emiting? And if she contact is held?
      How does meat-life ring factor into HJs being owed if the Lifer involved assistance?
      So much to fathom.

    3. @oneofmany your meat-laden reflections are not unwarranted

      @Laurence the complete story of the meat lifer is not known - the song of the meat lifer has been all but forgotten, but perhaps there will soon be the dawn of a new age of meat lifering. However, I believe it is best kept separate from the sacred giving of lifer hjs.

  3. Heh, that site at Joshua Tree is on my bucket list drive that also incorporates Tuscon, Tucumcari, Tehachapi, and Tonopah. And hopefully some birds.

    Do a Google for When Will I Be Loved - Gram Parsons Flying Burritos. It's worth it.

    With some luck I'll cross your path on a September Pelagic.