Palm Springs

I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight
With a billion stars all around

“Peaceful Easy Feeling”

Not tonight. It’s raining. But last night it was so clear and there were so many stars it reinforced why artists come to the desert for inspiration.

I went to speak at NAMM.

What did I learn at the musical instrument show? That Gibson guitars now tune themselves! Purists may be annoyed, but they can always buy something from the custom shop, vintage replicas don’t have these tuners. But the truth is the machine can do it much faster than a human. And can tune to a flat piano. And can remember different tunings… Play with it, you’ll be amazed.

Also in the Gibson booth I saw their new Bee microphones. Bee, like yellow and black, designed by the old Blue people, if that doesn’t make you crazy enough. Amazing how much technology you can get for a cheap price these days.

And I played with the retro Arp Odyssey. Everything old is new again. No, not really, but analog synths are coming back. As for amplifiers, Korg no longer distributes Marshall, but now has Blackstar, which is supposedly the old Marshall people. Is all this true or hearsay? I don’t know.

And Sunday is not the best day to go to NAMM, that would be Saturday, when all the artists are in attendance. But I did run into Michael Halloran, of 91X, who told me that San Diego is a hotbed of boutique instrument companies, like Satellite and Revival amps, and that there’s also a nucleus of local talent, that’s what he’s emphasizing, because his station can own it first. Mike says he’s as excited as ever, because of the freedom 91X’s owners give him and the music.

And then I got behind the wheel to drive to Palm Springs, to visit my mother, who’s ensconced in the desert for a month while they fix her elevator. That’s right, they want her to walk outside for six weeks while they do their work, that’s not gonna happen, not in Connecticut in January.

And what you don’t realize is California is endless sprawl, until it isn’t. That if there were not signs, you’d have no idea you were in Anaheim as opposed to Los Angeles, it’s a megalopolis, with looping freeways taking people home to communities I’ve never been to, never mind heard of.

So I fire up Siri and she’s taking me from the 57 to the 91 to the 215 to the 60 and even though the speed limit is 65, if you’re not doing ten miles more than that, you’re endangering yourself.

I drove by Yorba Linda, saw the signs for the Richard Nixon library and burial place and it made me want to go, not that I still didn’t hate him, but for the fact that he grew up here in the first half of the twentieth century…what was that like? How did that make him who he was? If you grew up on the east coast you think that’s all that exists, but then you move to California and experience the weather and you ask yourself what you were doing back there all that time.

And since California is so young, there are few historical places to go and see. We don’t have the Civil War sites, never mind the Revolutionary War sites. History is so recent, you don’t even bother to study it.

And then the sun starts to fade in the west and the mountains turn green and sharp in its reflection and you’re driving through the hills and you’re so inspired, it’s eerie. You suddenly realize why U2 became enraptured by the Joshua tree, never mind legendary desert denizens like Gram Parsons. There’s just something about the light and the landscape that makes you feel both free and unfettered and creeped out. The possibilities are endless, what are you going to do with them? If you remove yourself from all the influences, the hustle and bustle of the city, all the obligations, you’re stripped bare to your essence, it’s only you and the environment. Life is for the living as opposed to the endless doing.

And today it rained. Don’t think it’ll help the drought, never mind the skiing, it’s got to snow in the Sierras, prodigiously, to make a difference and right now the precipitation at Mammoth is sporadic sleet. Ugh.

So we went to the Shields Date Garden, in Indio, for shakes.

But first we watched the movie.

Floyd Shields emigrated from Montana, met his bride in Long Beach and then moved to Indio at the turn of the last century to try his hand at date farming.

This always stuns me. How people have the pluck to go somewhere godforsaken, like the Coachella Valley, and compete in a new game and try to win. Kind of like the Silicon Valley madness. We hear about the winners, but most are losers.

And we’re watching the movie and I learn that you don’t pronounce it like the leather company, that there are two syllables, that it’s definitively CO-A-CHELLA. Where it can be 139 degrees in the shade and you’ve got to pollinate the dates by hand and Floyd won’t stop testifying about crystals.

Not crystal meth, date crystals, which are used to make the shake. Which would own the drive-in if it was exported. It’s thick and creamy and almost like chocolate and if you believe nothing can be too rich, the Shields date shake is for you.

And the shop is filled with so much chozzerai it’s overwhelming. Remember that game where you put a beard on the man with metal filings steered by a magnet? Shields still sells it. Along with hand sanitizer called “OCD” and so many varieties of dates that after you sample them all you don’t want to buy any, you’ve had your annual fill.

And the film is shown in an auditorium that hasn’t been updated since the fifties, when it was built. With wood paneling and old school theatre seats it not only reminded me of summer camp, but college, where the venues were aged but the ideas were new, where I made my primary relationships.

Not that I’ll tell you the “Romance and Sex Life of the Date” movie was riveting, I think I need to see it again, but I was stunned by the aged cars, we’ve been driving a long time. Kind of like those online pictures from the Great Blizzard of ’88:

The Great Blizzard of 1888

Did those people know they were backward, living under duress? Or like us, do they believe they’re on the cutting edge.

Not that those in the desert in January are on the cusp of changing the world. A gray-haired man in front of me fell asleep during the twenty minute movie. Everybody’s shuffling. This is what comes next, which is scary.

But that’s life. It’s all about letting go and enjoying the ride. Knowing that people trump things and you don’t need technology to have an experience.

Hell, the Shields date shake couldn’t possibly be improved upon!

Shields Date Garden

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