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Notes from an old soul in the modern age: postcards from Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree is one of my favorite places around LA. Like many, I fell in love with the place when I first visited it. There’s the romance and imagery associated with this particular desert area and the music of course. Jim Morrison’s notorious trips to the Park (as immortalized in HWY, An American pastoral), the tragic death of Gram Parsons in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn, Queens Of The Stone Age, and their famous Desert Sessions at the Rancho De La Luna, all have contributed to make the High Desert a glamorous destination. Most recently, the success of Pappy and Harriet’s (in Pioneertown) as a concert venue (Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, and the Pixies have played there in recent years) and the explosion of Airbnb units are indicators of the renewed power of attraction of the desert over the Angelinos. With the pandemic, many have accomplished their dream and moved out to this once secluded area, benefiting from the ability to work remotely. Joshua Tree is inevitably changing as it’s growing but there are two things that remain, the beauty of the rock formations and the gorgeous and endless view of Joshua trees inside the park. And, most of all, the friends I've made. It was my favorite getaway destination for a while but in recent years I tried to discover other parts outside LA and I have enjoyed resourcing myself in Ojai and Big Sur. Yet, I never felt what I felt in Joshua Tree during my first years as an expatriate in California. So it was time to come back and see if the dream still leaves on.

Sunset at Sheep Pass Campground. Vincent Walter Jacob.

A couple of weeks ago, I packed my tent in my car and I drove to Joshua Tree with Fanny. She recently reconnected with a childhood friend who happens to live in LA too. He and his girlfriend invited us on this trip, along with their group of friends. About 6 months ago, he had to wake up at 6 am to reserve a group campground in the park. It’s not an easy task because many people are trying to score these precious spots so we felt fortunate to tag along. This was the perfect time for me to reflect on 11 years of Joshua Trips.

In April of 2011, we first set foot in JT as we were doing our first American road trip with our friend Jeremy Thomas and we didn’t have any clue we were about to live one of the best nights of our lives. Pappy and Harriet’s, the aforementioned typical Western saloon/restaurant/concert venue was our first stop. It's located in Pioneertown, a small village that was built in 1946 by Hollywood investors, among them Western stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The main street served as a movie set for about 50 films and it's, to this day, beautifully preserved. It’s a euphemism to say it’s a pleasant change of scenery from the city. By the way, I’ll be there again next weekend because I’m bringing Hanging On Sunset to the first edition of the Pioneertown Film Festival. A few cool artists are going to perform and I will review their performances and interview them. More on that later…

Back in 2011, when we first discover Pappy’s. The reason we decided to land there is that we heard of an Open Mic that was held every Monday night and we wanted to perform along our trip. Ted Quinn, a very talented musician, and quite an amazing person was the host for the night. It was a special evening for him as he was reuniting with old friends, Stefan Arngrim and Jeremy Gillien. Stefan and Teddy used to star together in Land Of The Giants, a late ’60s science fiction TV show. They were both famous Hollywood child actors and they turned also both incredible musicians. Stefan is a wild and erudite poet, an unpredictable dandy while Teddy is more of a wise and calm figure. I’d say they are my Mick Jagger and John Lennon. I think they'd agree although this is definitely a caricature because each of them has a unique talent for words and music.

Ted Quinn blessing Fanny and Vincent at Radio Free Joshua Tree (aka The Beatnik Lounge). By Jeremy Jettho Thomas.

Jeremy Gillien, the third person we met that night, is another offspring of Hollywood, but of a different kind, a double persona. On one hand, he is a delicate and educated classical trained piano player and orchestrator. On the other hand, he’s a psychedelic rock n’ roll Hammond Organ Player. He was a teenager in the Golden Age of the Sunset Strip. He got to meet Iggy Pop when he was living at the Coronet and he once famously jammed with John Lennon, the real one. He hates to tell that story but you can hear it when Fernanda and I interviewed him last year on our podcast. Anyone interested in the history of our scene should listen to it. Teddy, Stefan, and Jeremy are all different, but I love them all deeply. That night we had the best time ever. Fanny and I got to perform way more than the expected two songs that were promised to us when we arrived. The night was so special and people so welcoming that we ended up playing a full set. Teddy encouraged us, got the audience to cheer for us, and then invited us on his own set. I remember playing the tambourine and improvising loose backing vocals. Fanny, Jeremy, and I drank more than anyone should, we made friends for life, and then we crashed next door, at the Pioneertown Motel. The room cost us about $35. Now, you can probably add a zero. But, again, you might want to reserve it 6 months in advance. What happened in the last 10 years? Gentrification of the desert you might think. And you might be very right about that. Times, they are a-changin', as the bard once sang, and the once deserted Highway 62 feels more like Ventura Boulevard at rush hour now.

During our last trip, we stopped at Teddy’s and discussed those changes that are inevitably shaking the whole community. I guess, there was no reason that the desert would be spared from the same turmoil the whole country suffers. The divisive Trump presidency, helped by a Facebook algorithmic frenzy, has created some damage to pretty strong relationships in the community. Some very liberal former hippies have recently turned into far-right conspiracy theorists. To be fair, that's probably marginal, but it's a symbol. It seemed such an oasis of pure creativity and camaraderie 10 years ago so it saddens me. Maybe it was just my naiveté, blinded by the joy of discovering a safe haven for musicians. And it really was. Year after year, we came back and we played countless other Open Mics nights. We also headlined Pappy's once when we were shooting a documentary for French TV with director and Rolling Stone Magazine contributor Stéphane Basset. Jeremy, our friend, was part of the crew again. We got to curate a memorable one-week trip to our favorite places, definitely another highlight of our Desert life. We met and interviewed other artists and our goal was to write a song inspired by their stories during the trip. The documentary is available on Youtube if you're curious.

Stéphane Basset (Joshua Trip director and Rolling Stone Magazine writer) in Wonder Valley. By Jeremy Jettho Thomas.

Vincent and Fanny (Yard Of Blondes) at the Pioneertown Motel. By Stéphane Basset.

I once wanted to create a label in Joshua Tree, trying to empower the local musicians. Teddy wanted to release a tribute to Fred Drake, the historic founder of the Rancho De La Luna and leader of the band "Earthlings?" and I wanted to help. Unfortunately, the project didn't come to life despite the fact a few artists recorded beautiful covers. I thought I had a way to finance it through a major label but the deal never happened. That was a real disappointment I have to admit, but nonetheless, the community in Joshua Tree kept welcoming us and, ultimately, they made our band part of "Highway 62 love songs", a compilation record featuring local High Desert artists. Among them, there were Victoria Williams and Eric Burdon of the Animals, and of course, Teddy Quinn himself, what an honor! We also got to record an acoustically driven EP at the Back Of The Moon, Tony Mason's analog studio, located right behind the Rancho De La Luna. I'm realising now this was before the streaming days and we should reissue it someday. I started to think it would be great to move there but life kept us in LA, and another problem surfaced. The cost of living and housing gradually and dramatically jumped. It worsened within the last year with the arrival of new remote worker transplants. One of my favorite songs ever is Death Of Cool by Teddy Quinn and it feels it couldn’t be more appropriate… Yet, like Sage, the wisely named (Teddy’s son), once said to his father: « You can’t blame people for liking a place ». That’s also very true. Maybe it's just me maturing and realizing there's complexity. It was probably never perfect as it seemed to me.

The moment of delusion was soon erased by the timeless beauty of the park, the impossible sunset you get to witness from the top of a rock formation, and the equally astonishing view you're treated to when you wake up in such a setting. We’re not avid campers and the second night proved to be difficult as the wild winds transformed the tent into an origami game but despite this, it was an amazing experience. American landscapes are like no other. Some claim America is too young to have a rich history. I say, well, look at the geology around you. That’s another kind of history, a far longer history, as vast and deep as the landscape suggests. It’s been here for so long, and it will be here even longer after the colonies of Teslas and Airbnbs, long after anything involving men has vanished from the earth. Is that comforting? A little, I admit. Talking about Tesla, it’s interesting to note that one camper of our group chose his Tesla over a tent to spend the night. I learned for the occasion that Teslas have a Camping mode, which turns the AC on for an optimal night spent in the trunk. Somehow it made me realize that by booking the campground 6 months in advance, we pretty much privatized the park for ourselves. At that particular moment, I didn’t feel connected to nature but I felt more like a spoiled kid. That guilt disappeared, just like my delusion when I saw the stars and the Milky Way that night. You never get to see the stars anymore when you live in LA, except on the pavement of a dirty boulevard.

The next morning, before we head back to LA, we stopped by the Beatnik Lounge, the little boutique that serves as a hub for Teddy’s community. « Sunny » Ken Downer was having was he calls a « Swap Beat ». I found some treasures there, including two original issues of Rolling Stone Magazine from 1968 and 1970. I also scored a 20th-anniversary reissue of the first one. This will be part of my little personal Museum and join my Chokebore custom Bassman amp (which Troy Von Balthazar played opening on Nirvana’s In Utero tour in 1993), the delay pedal that once belonged to Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), the half drum stick I fought for at a Muse show in 1999 in Dijon, France and of course, the LTD guitar Billy Graziadei (Biohazard) gifted me after he produced our debut album Feed The Moon.

I'll be back in Pioneertown next weekend for the Pioneertown Film Festival. Expect a Part 2.

- Vincent Walter Jacob

I made you a playlist for your next road trip to JT:

JOSHUA TREE 2022: By Vincent

(Pic1: Fanny, pic 2: Théo, Pic 3: Fanny, Pic4: Fanny, Pic 6: Vincent, Pic 10: Fanny).

JOSHUA TREE 2014: By Jeremy Jettho Thomas

(Pic1: Brandon Loulies & Vincent, pic 2: Jonathan Eller, Pic 3: Tony Mason, Vincent & Ted Quinn, Pic4: Fanny, Pic 5: Stéphane Basset, Pic 6: Ted Quinn & Leslie Maria Andrews, Pic7: Fanny and Vincent, Pic 8: Teddy and a dog, Pic9: Vincent, Teddy and Fanny - Stéphane in Front, Pic 10: Stéphane Basset, Fanny and Vincent).

JOSHUA TREE 2011: By Jeremy Jettho Thomas

Jeremy Jettho Thomas, Stéphane Basset, Brandon Loulies, Vincent & Fanny. On the set of Joshua Trip at Giant Rock in 2014. Stéphane Basset archives.


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