Twenty-five years ago today, U2 released their paramount record, The Joshua Tree. The record was intended to be a spiritual quest for Bono: A meditative dissection of the "spoiled child" he saw in American culture. Before Bono blessed the area with his humanitarian spirit, however, many other musicians visited the Joshua Tree in pursuits of (somewhat) similar spiritual quests. To this day, there continues to be a substantial and very specific group of artists who inhabit the area.
The area of Joshua Tree, Calif., is located in the Mojave Desert, a location said to be a metaphysical and spiritual mecca for artists and musicians -- specifically, artists and musicians who like to participate in recreational psychedelic drug use. The most famous "trips" to Joshua Tree, a few of which ended in death, happened in the late 60's and 70's. There's something hypnotic and magnanimous about the destination.
So magnanimous that the Joshua Tree knew we were looking for it, and it presented itself to us. Two days ago -- when we were originally supposed to start writing this piece -- we flipped on the television to the "Joshua Tree" episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. In this episode, he hangs out with Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Josh Homme, who was born in the area.
In unrelated honor of U2's Diamond-certified record, we're revisiting the trips of a few psychedelic rockers and current inhabitants of Joshua Tree.
Gram Parsons: The Joshua Tree Inn usually has a long waiting list for "Room 8" where Parsons died from alcohol and drug overdose. The Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother spent most of his time there, in that hotel room specifically. After he died, his friends made sure that his body returned to Joshua Tree. When Parsons' body was being transported, his manager managed to steal his coffin from LAX and take it back to Joshua Tree. When he tried to cremate the body, it ignited a fireball. There is now a memorial where the cremation took place.
Keith Richards: Richards was a close friend of Parsons. The two lived together in London after Parsons quit the Byrds. In 1969, the two took a trip -- pun intended -- to the Joshua Tree with friend Anita Pallenberg.
Donovan: After deciding that he had achieved as much as he could as a singer and songwriter, Donovan went home to England and married his teenage muse, Linda Lawrence. The British psychedelic folk artist moved to Joshua Tree with his family during the 70's and raised their children as an "alternative" family. In 1983, Donovan decided to stop making records altogether and would not record again until 1996.
Victoria Williams Folk singer Williams is a prominent member of the High Desert musicians of Joshua Tree. She was featured in a documentary about the area called Nowhere Now: The Ballad of Joshua Tree. She has a strange presence, but is a prolific and widely recognized songwriter.
John Lennon: Lennon recorded the rare The Joshua Tree Tapes during the 70's. The album included "Imagine," "Come Together", and "Johnny B. Goode." No doubt Lennon spent a considerable amount of time getting inspiration for music with Yoko Ono.Jim Morrison:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In this video, Morrison is seen driving the only car he ever owned through the desert. The car was called "The Blue Lady" and was a Shelby GT500 Mustang. Morrison often took acid trips with his friends to Joshua Tree, becoming inspired by the scenery.
Josh Homme Homme was born in Joshua Tree. In 1997, he started The Desert Sessions, a musical collective series featuring Soundgarden and PJ Harvey. As we mentioned earlier, we watched an episode of No Reservations where he showed his friend Anthony Bourdain around his hometown. Homme mentioned that while he was growing up, he disliked the fact that there was nothing around him. Now, though, he says "I feel lucky to be in a place where there's nothing. There's something that's overpowering, grander than you."