The award-winning country singer, Nancy Griffith, played a sell-out gig at The Forum Theatre in Waterford a couple of weeks ago and her many fans were delighted with her night’s performance.

However, not too many people took a great deal of notice of Nancy’s driver and ‘minder’ who went about his business quietly and efficiently but, had they known about his past, they might well have taken a second, long look at Phil Kaufman. Thirty-six years ago, Phil Kaufman was involved in one of the most outrageous acts ever perpetrated in rock/country music, an infamous episode that has become legendary in a business known for its excesses.

Gram Parsons was a talented country singer/writer who is credited with setting in train a brand of ‘country-rock’ music now associated with bands such as The Eagles. He played for a while with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers and many people believe Bob Dylan would never have recorded his iconic ‘Nashville Skyline’ album if it hadn’t been for the influence of Parsons. Gram Parsons was also the man who plucked Emmylou Harris from the anonymity of being a bar-singer and helped to turn her into a world-renowned artiste.

Gram came from a wealthy background and, initially, his money helped him enter the highest echelons of country music because, when he recorded, he was able to pay for the greatest and best session musicians on the scene. He was also a wild, wild man of which there were many in the early 1970s as the world of Rock’n’Roll careered out of the so-called Swinging Sixties into the Shocking Seventies. In 1973, Phil Kaufman was a close friend and associate of Gram Parsons.

Parsons, Kaufman and a group of other well-known musician hell-raisers, including Keith Richard of The Rolling Stones, regularly went out into the Californian desert that was The Joshua Tree National Park where they got high on alcohol and drugs, communed with nature and watched the sky for UFOs. Can you imagine what they thought they saw! In September 1973, Parsons and a small group of friends booked into The Joshua Tree Inn and commenced a binge of alcohol and drugs. Phil Kaufman was not with them as he was attending to some business or other in Los Angeles. Several days later, Gram Parsons died in Room 8 of The Joshua Tree Inn and the cause was later described as ‘drug toxicity’ by the local coroner.

Overcome with grief at the death of his friend, Phil Kaufman remembered that he and Parsons had once made a pact at the funeral of another musician, Clarence White, that whichever of them died first, the other would take the body out into The Joshua Tree Desert, have a party and burn the corpse in the wild. So, when Kaufman learned that the Parsons family had made plans to take the body to Louisiana for burial in New Orleans, he leapt into action. 

Fuelled with large amounts of vodka, he discovered that the casket containing Parsons’ body was being released by the police and was being transported to Los Angeles Airport for a flight to New Orleans. He borrowed a battered old hearse from a friend that was being used as a band-wagon and for camping-trips and drove to the airport where, following a sequence of events that wouldn’t have been out of place in a ‘Carry-On’ film, he stole the coffin. Kaufman and his friend, Michael Martin, then headed out for The Joshua Tree desert stopping only for drink and high-octane fuel in order to burn the body of their deceased buddy.

They reached a place called Cap Rock in the desert and proceeded to carry out their late friend’s wishes and they later described a ‘fire-ball of flame’ shooting into the night sky as the petrol soaked coffin exploded. However, as Kaufman and Martin were admiring their handiwork, they spotted the lights of approaching cars and, believing them to be the police, they fled into the night. Unfortunately, for them, the fire didn’t achieve what they had hoped for and police recovered a charred coffin and corpse that was buried in New Orleans in accordance with his family’s wishes. However, fans of Gram Parsons later erected a plaque at Cap Rock bearing the inscription ‘Safe at Home’. 

So what happened to Kaufman and Martin? Well, after a few weeks of laying low they decided to give themselves up to the police and appeared in West Los Angeles Municipal Court. They got off lightly because they were only charged with the misdemeanour theft of a coffin. They were ordered to pay $708 in compensation for the coffin and were fined $300 each for body-snatching. They paid their fines by organising a party called Kaufman’s Koffin Kaper Koncert and charged to get in where music was supplied by Bobby Picket and The Crypt Kickers who had had a Top 20 hit with a spoof-song called ‘The Monster Mash’. The party was described as ‘a memorable wake for Gram Parsons’ and the organiser, still going strong, drove Nancy Griffith across Rice Bridge and into The Forum car-park two weeks ago. 

No incineration at Great Island/Cheekpoint


Still on the subject of burning (!), most people in the Cheekpoint and Passage East areas are pleased with the news that the new owners of the Great Island Power Station have confirmed it will not be converted into an incinerator to service the South East region.

The power station was sold by the ESB to Endesa, a major player in the world electricity generating market, and rumours have persisted for the last few years that the station, five miles downstream from Waterford city, would be transformed into an incinerator plant.

However, it has now emerged that Endesa is to spend €250m over the next three years transforming the facility into a natural gas-fired turbine. At present, Wexford does not have access to natural gas so a further €45m will be spent on a pipeline that will take the gas into homes and industries. On completion in 2012, the station will be capable of producing 430 mega-watts of power. 

When Endesa took over the station it offered jobs to all 63 existing workers and 57 accepted. It is now estimated that the new power station will employ about 160 people and there will be in the region of 400 jobs created during the construction period. The planning process is expected to commence within weeks.

Meanwhile, county councillors in Cork are against the provision of an incinerator facility at Ringaskiddy and have issued a recommendation to An Bord Pleanala asking that planning permission be refused. The application by Indaver Ireland Ltd. is for a waste-to-energy plant on a 12-hectarte site with an annual capacity to treat 200,000 tons of hazardous and non-hazardous material. As well as the recommendation from the councilors, the county manager, Martin Riordan, points out to an Bord Pleanala that the proposal materially contravenes specific objectives of the 2003 and 2009 Cork County Development Plans.

I can well understand the feelings of all those concerned but, as a nation, we really will have to sort ourselves out because, at present, we are exporting huge amounts of waste for incineration in other countries. Apart from the increased cost involved, such a situation leaves us in a very vulnerable situation. Suppose, for whatever reason, our waste was rejected, then what would we do? There is little or no landfill available so I guess it would just build up into a mountain that stinks to high heaven. 

This is a small island nation and we should be self sufficient in every way possible and that includes not being dependant on others to deal with our waste. We should also be self sufficient for energy. But that’s another very long story. 

Hickey’s Blaas always rise to the occasion 

A small group of pensioners from Waterford Crystal met in The People’s Park everyday for a chat and a stroll. They were all in pretty good physical condition except one man who was always puffed out even after a mildly brisk walk around the Park. “How do you keep so fit”, he asked his best pal who also had two girlfriends on the go in different parts of the city.

“I do the same as the rest of the lads. I always make sure to eat two crispy Blaas from Hickey’s Bakery every morning and every night. They give me the energy for everything I want to do, if you know what I mean”, he said in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink tone of voice.

Jimmy was surprised and annoyed that he hadn’t known about the wonder Blaas before and, on the way home for his lunch, he called into Hickey’s in Barrack Street. “Give me a dozen crispy Blaas, please”, he said to the woman behind the counter. “Are you sure you want a dozen, love”, answered the woman, “by the time you get to the last one it will be very hard.”

Jimmy blushed a deep red and his eyes opened wide in amazement. “For feck’s sake”, he thought to himself, “everybody seems to know about this stuff except me.”