GP: The Grievous Angel

For years I’ve been wanting to go to Joshua Tree National Park: 1) because it’s an amazing place, and 2) to pay tribute to country rock legend Gram Parsons.

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I can’t remember when I first learned about Gram, but I’m pretty sure it was through one of the many Keith Richards interviews/memoirs I’ve read over the years, seeing as Gram and Keef were BFFs. As a result, Gram was a big influence on the Rolling Stones’ country-flavored stuff in the early 70s (some of the best music of all time, IMO).

A little history: Gram Parsons started off playing folk and rock guitar, but his real bag was country. After dropping out of Harvard, he went to LA and joined the Byrds in 1968, sticking around just long enough to tour a bit and make Sweetheart of the Rodeo (I’m not huge on the Byrds, but that album is one of my favorites). Then he and Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers:

(Gram is the one in the hat and Nudie suit, hamming it up for the camera.)

After that, he spent some time hanging out with the Stones, living with Keith during the recording of Exile on Main Street, another one of my favorite albums of all time. It was around this time Gram heard Emmylou Harris perform in a club in DC, and invited her to sing on his first solo album, GP. He and Emmylou toured for a bit, but never really got much of a following. I’m devastated there are no good videos of them performing live, because their voices together were magical. Emmylou would go on to become a big star, but that’s getting ahead of the story a bit.

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As any country rock outlaw would, Gram loved Joshua Tree (you can see the Burrito Bros. hanging out in the park in the video above). He went there alone, he went there with Keef, he went there whenever he could. In July 1973, when bandmate Clarence White was killed in an accident, Gram told his friend/manager Phil Kaufman that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree in the event of his death.

Unfortunately, Kaufman had to make good on that deal just a few months later. Gram overdosed at the Joshua Tree Inn on September 18, 1973. His body was taken to LAX to be flown back to New Orleans at his stepfather’s request, but in order to fulfill Gram’s wishes, Phil Kaufman and another buddy Michael Martin drunkenly stole the casket in a hearse and drove it out to Joshua Tree. They stopped at a rock formation off the main road, doused the casket in gasoline, threw in a match, then drove away.

How Kaufman and Martin were found by the police is a story in itself, but they were eventually arrested, released, and fined just a few hundred dollars for stealing the casket (not the body, because there weren’t any laws about that). The not-quite-cremated body of Gram Parsons was found by some campers and was eventually transported back to Louisiana, but fans have been going to Joshua Tree for decades to pay tribute at the place he loved most.


This past weekend, I finally made it to Joshua Tree. While driving to the park, we listened to GP as I told Alex the story of Gram’s death and botched cremation. I made us stop for a photo op outside the Joshua Tree Inn (the actual motel is fenced off, but guests can still stay in Room 8 where Gram died). I had vague understanding about a makeshift memorial in the park, but didn’t know where it was. A quick Google search before entering the park placed it at Cap Rock, the site where Kaufman and Martin unsuccessfully tried to cremate Gram’s body that night.

While I’m sure there are detailed instructions somewhere on how to find the memorial, all we had was the general location (Cap Rock wasn’t even on the park map we were given), so we hiked around a few different rock formations until Alex finally spotted it: an unassuming alcove in the shade of a big boulder, right next to the main road. On the underside of the boulder were some song lyrics written in charcoal, and on a nearby rock, someone had drawn a cross next to the initials GP. A handful of guitar picks and other trinkets were arranged on a little ledge above. It would be pretty easy to miss if we weren’t looking for it.

No one else was around, so we quietly snapped some pictures and went on our way. Park rangers periodically “clean up” the site, so I have no idea if this was a few days or months’ worth of tribute.

Somewhere in my classic rock adventures I’ve become particularly fond of 60s/70s country rock, no doubt thanks to Gram, Keef, and Nez (who I recently saw in concert! another post on that later, maybe). Songs about the desert and the highway—even if they’re about loneliness and heartbreak—always bring back happy memories of childhood road trips through the Southwest. So basically what I’m saying is, Gram’s music holds a special place in my heart, and even though his flame burned out too soon, it’s nice to know his spirit is very much alive in Joshua Tree.

In which I try to understand science

Yesterday we finally experienced David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar’s Neurosociety project in Menlo Park (some context). It was pretty fascinating: part art exhibit and part science lab – 80 minutes in small rooms with 8 strangers.

Here are my rambly, non-scientific observations, for anyone interested.

Continue reading In which I try to understand science

Hello, my treacherous friends

Ok, so I’ve been seeing this Top 10 High School Albums thing circulating around lately, and since I’m all about lists…and albums, and high school nostalgia…I figured I should probably do it (and then not post it on Facebook, because wow, apparently everyone else had much cooler musical tastes than I did as a teenager).

You might think I chose period-appropriate albums when I could’ve actually named a bunch of 60s/70s albums, but in fact, I did listen to a lot of current music in high school. :P These are the albums that will forever remind me of beach bonfires, driving to the Krikorian, coming home from band tournaments with my CD player tucked in my jacket pocket…basically, a time capsule of high school in Southern California circa 2002-2006.

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Ahhh, so many awkward, acne-filled memories…
  • OK Go, OK Go. I think I listened to OK Go and Oh No equally, but picked the former because it has a cooler cover. One of the two albums was always in my car stereo.
  • Make Up the Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat. My pitfriends and I were really into this album during the summer of ’05 (I think Alie even made screen-printed Hot Hot Heat t-shirts for us, although maybe I’m thinking of OK Go). Whatever happened to these guys?
  • Give Up, The Postal Service. For when I wanted to feel moody and introspective.
  • Rooney, Rooney. One of those “all my band friends are listening to this so I’ll listen to it too” albums. It was my personal soundtrack to Hawaii ’05.
  • Live at Leeds, The Who. I went a little Who-crazy the summer before senior year (like, writing-fan-letters-to-Pete-Townshend crazy). This album is unique because 1) it’s a live album, and I’m not usually a fan of live albums, and 2) it’s one of the few classic rock albums that does remind me of high school. Still a favorite.
  • Hot Fuss, The Killers. This has senior year written aaaallllll over it.
  • Catalyst, New Found Glory. An album that I bought solely because my crush liked it. As a result, I listened to it more than I’d like to admit.
  • Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard. I mean, who didn’t listen to Yellowcard in 2004??
  • Strong Bad Sings (And Other Type Hits). My years in high school coincided with the golden age of homestarrunner.com. As a result, my friend Kyle and I both bought this album, and sampled it heavily in our Music Tech class. I still regularly find myself singing “The Cheat Is Not Dead” and the Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes theme song.
  • Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. Not even embarrassed at how much I listened to this. Ok, maybe just a little.
To end with, here’s an 8tracks playlist I made a few years ago that pretty much sums it up:

The past harmonizes

Oh, hello. Apparently it’s almost 2017.

November and December sped by so fast that I wound up at home in Vista the week before New Years, feeling like the holidays never even happened. While I’m here attempting to soak up some Southern California sunshine, here’s a quick(ish) update.


It has been a strange year, hasn’t it? If you follow me on Twitter, I already mentioned it there, but I just finished Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a novel about JFK’s assassination and the consequences of time travel. In the book, the main character goes back in time to try and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK, but because the past doesn’t want to change, horrible things keep happening to keep him from doing it. And now I’m convinced that a bad guy has come back in time to 2016 to change history and make Trump president (what other explanation could there be??), and as punishment, 2016 is taking away all of our favorite people.

David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, George Martin, Maurice White, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn…

The list, sadly, goes on.

Some of these deaths could be predicted, others were an unexpected punch to the gut. Especially David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, who each released incredible albums this year, and Prince, who was still performing up until his last days. What a simultaneously great and depressing year in music.

But let’s also remember that in 2016, the Cubs won the World Series, Leo won an Oscar, and my overcrowded, underfunded high school won a $10 million grant. This, plus the list above and the presidential election, goes to show that just about anything—no matter how unbelievable—is capable of happening. Hopefully 2017 gives us more of the good stuff and less of the awful.


On a personal note, 2016 was pretty surreal (in a mostly good way). I quit my comfy career in recruiting operations to become a full-time writer, which has always been my dream. I also started volunteering for the drum corps I was a member of in ’07-’08. Alex and I moved to the Outer Richmond, and as part of my work for Hoodline, I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people in my neighborhood and throughout San Francisco. Instead of going to NYC in October as planned, we ended up spending 4 days in the hospital (don’t worry, all is fine now). And over Thanksgiving break, we adopted a 6-month-old kitty named Cooper (as with any modern cat, you can follow his adventures on Instagram). So it’s been a rewarding but extremely busy year! I have some personal projects I want to work on in 2017, and I can’t tell yet if that’ll mean more or less blog posts. Either way, this will always be where I go when I have a new obsession or want to fangirl over the Monkees, so you can at least count on a few new posts.

Byeeeeee 2016, we won’t miss you.

How else I spent November

Hello darkness my old friend December. I’m back and happy to report that I finished NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row! And this time around, I wasn’t sick of my story by the end of the month, yay! So I’m actually going to keep working on it, which is a good feeling.

Besides novel-writing, I did do a couple of other things in November, which I’ve deemed appropriate enough for this blog:

Obsessing over Mad Men. Disclaimer: I’m very reluctant to commit to TV shows…In fact I’m pretty sure the only shows I’ve ever watched in their entirety are Arrested Development, Star Trek TOS, Seinfeld, and the Monkees. All these “Golden Age of Television” shows that people keep talking about? No interest. Even with multiple people telling me how much I’d love Mad Men, I still resisted, until a few months ago when I was bored and watched the first episode on a whim. And, as expected, I immediately became obsessed with the period details (the 60s are my spirit decade, after all) and the strange, fascinating, hot mess that is Don Draper.

The cast and writers of this show are great. I appreciate the fact that one episode can be simultaneously delightful and devastating (S04E07 and S05E12, I’m looking at you), and that I still can’t decide whether to love or hate Don. Yes, I understand the hype now. With about one and a half seasons left, I’ll probably be bingeing extra hard.

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Watching The Beatles 1+ Deluxe DVD/Blu-ray. The day this came out, I called every record+DVD store in SF asking if it was in stock (it wasn’t). I spent an entire weekend trying to find it, until finally the Barnes & Noble in San Bruno saved the day. I’m usually not a fan of compilation albums, but 1 has a special place in my heart, because it was the CD that introduced me to the Beatles’ music. (And to be fair, it’s actually a really worthwhile collection of Beatles hits, many of which don’t appear on any of their albums.) This new reissue of 1 is especially exciting to me because it includes videos for all of the songs (plus a bonus DVD!) in really freaking high def. For example,

Among the silliness of the Beatles trying to maneuver their horses through an alleyway and randomly flipping a table, I think the shots of John walking down the street are beautifully poignant. It seems like they were well aware that their music and image had changed pretty dramatically after they stopped touring, and this was their way of presenting the “new” Beatles to the world. This article captures it perfectly.

Bonus: the Beatles sitting on the ground eating sandwiches, which is the real kind of footage I’m interested in.

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Reading Season of the Witch. Oh wow, this is an incredible book about San Francisco. I originally checked it out from the library because I was interested in learning more about the city during the time that my parents lived there (it focuses on the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s). But it turned into a sort of holy bible for my NaNoWriMo story, which basically takes place within one block of San Francisco over the course of 100 years.seasonofthewitch

For being so gritty and dark (see: the Zebra murders, the Zodiac, the Peoples Temple, the SLA, Dan White), Season of the Witch was weirdly enlightening. I love learning the history of places, and in this case, learning about the people who helped shape San Francisco in the past half a century. Although the city has physically changed over the years and will continue to change, I think the heart and soul of San Francisco has stayed intact. It’s a place of ambition, eccentricity, and unrest. If there’s one thing I learned from reading this book, it’s that there will always be things worth fighting for in this city, and that’s what I love about living here.

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For December, I’m predicting: lots of Mad Men feels, rain, novel-revising, and a new hair-do??!

We’ll be right back, after these (50,000) words

Funny how the seasons change exactly when you want them to.

I was so ready for cold weather and rain and early nights, and now that it’s November, here they are all at once! My summer-obsessed self finds it hard to believe I could feel so happy walking down Market in my puffy jacket and scarf, carrying an umbrella just in case. Yet here I am, bundled up on my bus ride home, secretly enjoying the 5pm darkness because it means I can creepily look into everyone’s beautiful San Francisco homes as they start decorating for the holidays.

November also means NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. my attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in a month, a.k.a. my becoming a complete hermit for 30 days. So far, I’m staying on track, just barely:

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I generally average just enough words per day before I reward myself with an episode (or two) of Mad Men because IT’S 2015 AND I’M FINALLY OBSESSED WITH MAD MEN. More on that later….probably in December.

Anyway, this was just a short PSA to let you know I might be on a month-long hiatus while trying to churn out a novel (or something like it). I’ll let you know how it goes.

DCI & The Power of the Crowd

This post inspired by /r/happycrowds, my new favorite subreddit. And also drum corps, because it’s one of my favorite things of all things.


Like most other people on the internet today, I have now seen a video of 1,000 Italians performing the Foo Fighters song “Learn to Fly” in unison: an unexpectedly awesome thing to witness.

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I especially liked the grid of drum sets.

The video reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple months ago, about how we both get overly emotional when sharing an experience with a big crowd or group. It could be any situation, like the Giants winning the World Series or the day that San Francisco turned into Gotham City for a 5-year-old kid named Miles, or in my friend’s case, simply reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with his classmates in elementary school. It sounds weird, but I totally got what he meant: it’s about having something in common with all the people around you—citizens, fans, friends, or strangers—and that one shared thing is all that matters, at that moment. It’s a feeling of unity and cohesiveness and all-around warm fuzzies.

There is nothing that embodies this feeling more to me than drum corps, so excuse me while I geek out for a bit.

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Rookie year, 2006

DCI (Drum Corps International) is what some people call “marching band on steroids.” I guess it’s necessary to compare it to band, but with a level of athleticism that rivals marathon runners and way sicker choreography. The people I’ve met through drum corps are easily the most talented, hard-working, and dedicated people I know. Even with full school schedules and part-time jobs, drum corps performers pursue the perfect show with the kind of insane devotion you see from kids who get full-ride scholarships to Berklee, or professional athletes who get paid to compete (except, the young adults in drum corps—and their families—pay $3500 out of pocket each season to do what they do). In return, they get to embark on a cross-country tour each summer, sleeping on buses and gym floors surrounded by an extended family of 150 people, performing for sold-out crowds in pro football stadiums.

I got to be a part of this activity for 3 years. Some people do it for a lot longer. But once you’re 21, you “age out” of being a drum corps performer, and suddenly that’s it: you never get to do it again. And the older I get, the more I admire how much blood, sweat, and tears a group of 15-to-21-year-olds can put into an 11-minute field show. It’s exhilarating just to watch, let alone be a part of it.

At any given DCI event, the crowd will be filled with alumni, proud family members, and hopeful band kids. Everyone has their favorite corps (after all, it is a competition), but there are always those shows that make you jump to your feet regardless of who you’re cheering for. The performers hype up the crowd, the crowd hypes up the performers. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it from both sides, and let me tell you, my eyes get misty and my heart swells up just the same regardless of whether I’m on the field or in the stands. How awesome is it that an activity like this can make people react so strongly?

FAVORITE EXAMPLES, in varying degrees of video quality:

SCV ’04. The Vanguard yell at 1:10 gives me goosebumps EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This was the first year I went to a DCI show. After that, I was hooked.

Phantom ’08. Whenever I watch this video, it makes me cry happy tears while fist pumping and yelling “I AM SPARTACUS” along with the crowd (2008 was Phantom Regiment’s first true championship).

Troopers ’13. Like Vanguard’s bottle dance, the Troopers’ sunburst is a classic old-skool DCI move – it’s too bad you can’t see the crowd when they do it in this video, but I guarantee you they’re going nuts.

DCI to me is what baseball or football or soccer is to some people: score-checking, forum-reading, and live-streaming (the Periscope app has been especially revolutionary). This post is appropriately timed because DCI Finals are next weekend in Indy, and if you’ve been keeping up, it’s been an incredible season. Additions to shows will be happening right up until finals night, and the corps in the first place slot has been changing daily. I can’t wait to see what happens, but most of all I can’t wait to see the energy at finals night. I won’t be there in person, sadly, but I’m going to try to go to the annual theater showing and get my face blasted off along with a bunch of other “strangers” who have the same love for the activity as me.

Thank you Foo Fighters and Italian musicians and drum corps performers/crowds everywhere, for reminding me of the pure physical and emotional power of music. I hope there will always be things that make me feel this way.