Cosmic American Fanatic
PilGram Sheilah Siminuk talks about her shrine
It’s one thing to know and possess all of the music of your favorite artist, and quite another to light candles for him each night. There are fans, and then there are fans. In early March when I introduced the Music Chambers column, I tried to entice readers to show me spaces in homes that are devoted to music, asking unseriously, “Is there a shrine to Gram Parsons tucked away in your attic?” About six weeks later, photos of just that—a bona fide Gram Parsons shrine—materialized in my inbox. Ask and ye shall receive!
The sender, Sheilah Siminuk—a full-time mother of three and former naturalist with an MS in Environmental Studies—answered some questions about this religious, razzle-dazzle corner of her family’s home. The Orange County, Calif. resident opted for an emailed interview, and below is her explanation.
Is the shrine in your house?
Yes, my shrine is located in the "Den of Gram," a back room in our house that also serves as a bar/office. My shrine is in the corner, on top of the bar, and covers several layers of shelves and walls. A large poster of Gram dominates the shrine; it is surrounded by smaller photos in jeweled frames, several statues of angels and cherubs, a glitter lamp and other decorative lighting, and mementos brought back from my "pilGramages," including souvenirs and items from important locations in Gram's life. Strings of colored beads and crystals form an intricate web above the shrine.
I modeled my Gram nicho after the traditional Hispanic nichos, which resemble "shadow boxes," and represent a saint or religious figure (or could even depict a departed celebrity or family member). In my nicho, I placed Gram's photo, covered the inside with glitter and embellishments, and placed natural items found at Cap Rock, Joshua Tree, where Gram's road manager attempted to cremate him after stealing his body from the airport. Photos do not accurately depict my shrine; it must be experienced in person to capture its essence and its beauty.
... My loving and patient husband is thankful that my shrine is contained in one specific location, and not throughout our entire house! (I wouldn't want that, anyway, as Gram remains only one part of my life, which has many varied and unique dimensions.)
How do you use it?
I go to my shrine whenever I need a creative outlet, a meditative break, a place to reflect and think deeply. Its bright colors and images lift my spirits, and photos of Gram's beautiful features help soothe any stress that I experience throughout the day. At night, I light several of the candles and oil lamps, and burn sandalwood incense (as I was told that Gram often wore sandalwood musk cologne).
This room is also where our computers are located, as well as where we keep all of our CDs, LPs, photos, books, etc. I frequently listen to music in this room, play my guitar and banjo here, and work on various creative projects. During our travels, I collect trinkets from various places that would "fit" the theme of my shrine, and when I gaze at the entire collection, I am reminded of pleasant memories of all the places we have visited.
This is a place that invites deep reflection, quiet contemplation, and helps connect me to Gram's spirit. When I am around my shrine, I am reminded of another place where we frequently visit, which is Gram's room, No. 8, at the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram died in 1973. People often question why we stay there; I respond that helps bring me closer to Gram, to commune with his spirit, and we have experienced only the most peaceful of vibes in that hallowed place.
What motivated you to create a Gram Parsons shrine?
I have always felt a passion toward music, especially music from the late ’60s / early ’70s. Since high school, my favorites have been: Neil Young; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Creedence Clearwater Revival; and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Though I have been a fan of Gram Parsons for years, it wasn't until 2004 that I literally became obsessed with him. After reading a newspaper article about Gram's musical legacy, I decided that we would go to Joshua Tree to that year's Gramfest. Since then, my life has never been the same. Within days of "rediscovering" Gram Parsons, I was profoundly captivated, and I studied everything I could about him. He became my idol, my obsession, my passion.
Though I have experienced similar obsessions with other musicians / actors / historical figures, this passion for Gram felt very different—more personal, more life-changing, more meaningful. Since becoming a "pilGram" I have not only given, but have received so much, and have found personal fulfillment through my friendships with not only other Gram fans, but several members of Gram's family as well.
What makes you like Gram Parsons' music?
Gram is real, not a concept designed by some record executives; he is not a commercial product. What appeals to me are the powerful emotions that saturate his voice, the fact that his voice breaks and cracks just heightens his appeal.
Gram speaks to me. While listening to his recordings, it's as if the boundaries of time and space are virtually eliminated, and I am suddenly transported to be in his presence, watching him perform.
I am thankful that he was with us for a little while to teach us about his cosmic American music. Gram is a beautiful angel, a spirit who brings me comfort and peace. I believe that he's also a mischievous spirit, who likes to remind us that he's "still around" through harmless practical jokes, such as messing around with electronic equipment!
Is there anything you want people to know?
Yes, that Gram should be remembered for all that he accomplished and represented, and not just by negative stereotypes or focusing only on his death and its aftermath. He strived to unite different types of people ("hippies" and "rednecks"), and to introduce new generations to the beauty and depth of classic country music, and for them to appreciate this important part of our American heritage.
Also, just because popular musicians have sold many records or earned money/awards, it doesn't make them the BEST, or even GOOD, for that matter. There are many "unknown" musicians who are talented, unique and worth listening to. If Gram had lived longer, he may have achieved stardom, but to me, it doesn't matter. Music is art; it's not a popularity contest.
People have incorrectly judged me by my passion for Gram, but this interest remains only a small part of who I am. When people tell me to "get a life," I respond by telling them to "get a passion!" ... Through my journey as a "pilGram," I have learned that if you follow your passions and reveal them to others without censorship or apology, you may lose several puzzled individuals in the process (or many), but through your beacon, you will find a few like-minded souls whom you will cherish.