If you have never been to Joshua Tree National Park and you live anywhere in the Southwestern United States I am going on record now as suggesting you go. So close to ‘civilization’ meccas such as Los Angeles and Phoenix Joshua Tree, smack dab where the Mojave meets the Colorado Desert is a strange, otherworldly slice of celestial heaven in a vast, sweeping landscape of desert otherwise populated by highway and small town America*. It takes about three hours to get to the park from LA and for the traveler there are accommodations, both camping inside and historic (read: ancient) motels around it. So outside Joshua Tree is the world we know but inside… inside is something else entirely.
What I want to do here is give you an idea of the music that I feel best accompanies a trip into Joshua Tree. These selections are partly in place because the bands directly reference the affect Joshua Tree has had on them as people, and what is art if not the interpretation of our experiences for others to share?
So here then is a listing for a pretty killer soundtrack. Also it should be said that my recommendation is approaching via the Southern Entrance, off Interstate 10, as from this angle one moves first through slightly more ‘familiar’ aspects of desert nature into the strangeness that populates the Northern parts. Time this right and get into the North near sundown and wow…
U2 – The Joshua Tree – say what you want about U2 (cuz there’s a lot to say, both good and more recently bad) but their early stuff, to me, is raw and amazing. And while the album Joshua Tree marks the end of the raw part of that description it also, with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois producing and Steve Lilywhite mixing, is a statement of external production that captures the essence of what the big open sky of the desert can do to an artistically-tuned heart. The Edge, more recently and perhaps lackadaisically embracing the power chord once fought to emulate the spacey air of open spaces with his instrument, and no where is that more perfectly captured than on Joshua Tree. The grandiose and reflective vibe of this album, to me, never made the kind of sense it did after the first time I thought of actually listening to it while investigating its namesake.
Queens of the Stone Age: Most specifically Rated R but all Queens is going to jive because Josh Homme has Joshua Tree running through his blood, most especially on Rated R I think. This makes a perfect soundtrack for any desert excursion, so pop ‘em in one by one while you dally through the lower parts of the park.
Now whether you time this like my friend Grez and I recently did and hit the Joshua Trees just before sundown or not, whatever you’re doing when the light really begins to wane you want to move to Gram Rabbit’s Music to Start a Cult To. Any G.R. will do and this may indeed be because Gram Rabbit actually hails from Joshua Tree, but this first album, driving around in dusk’s anti-light, the fluttery keyboards, space-delayed guitars and often haunting vocals of Jesika von Rabbit seem to materialize, at least in audio form, some of the hallucinations that will begin to play over your tangible senses.
If you’re staying nearby or just decide to head out to Joshua Tree Saloon or one of the other local, rustic taverns for a few it’s at this point you should bring yourself back to the consensual and soundtrack it with some real desert-grit-in-your-throat music. From here I posit two fairly different avenues one can take: Gram Parsons Grievous Angel for a more chill approach or pretty much anything by Kyuss, the band that of course eventually begat QOTSA. Either way the soundtrack to a night of ‘salooning’ should, sonically speaking, have the texture of a barroom floor covered with sawdust and peanuts, broken glass and tears, and either way here you’re covered.
There’s always the aforementioned camping route as well, but remember one thing if you go this route. As some good friends and I recently discussed the worlds of ‘hippie’ and ‘raver’ have essentially merged since both iconoclastic post-modern archetypes have lost their namesake movements and found the common bond of, ‘Yeah, I like to get fucked up and sway to repetitive rhythms too’. And thus remember you may find yourself surrounded by patchol: