Stephen Morrow Jones, founder of the Cosmic Aeroplane in Salt Lake City, died on December 16, 2016. He was born on January 1, 1943, at New York Presbyterian Hospital in lower Manhattan to Eleanor Caldwell Jones and Robert Morrow Jones. The family lived on Weehawken Street in Greenwich Village for the first two years of his life; and moved to the Stevens Institute of Technology campus in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1945.
As a child, Steve read extensively, including comic books, and was a dreamer. When he was 13, in June 1956, the Jones family camped their way across the country to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Steve’s father was taking the position of Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at the University of Utah.
Steve attended Olympus Junior High and Olympus High School. Still an avid reader, he also liked going alone up into the Wasatch Range and finding snakes, and enjoyed tinkering with machines and motorcycles. He took pleasure in researching subjects that interested him.
During the summer of 1963, he rode a vintage Indian motorcycle from SLC to Manchester by the Sea, MA (northeast of Boston) to visit with his grandmother. Perhaps it was this long road trip that helped plant the seeds for the creation of The Cosmic Aeroplane. Steve briefly attended the University of Utah before venturing off into the Cosmic Aeroplane.
He will be missed by his brothers David and Robert, of Washington State, and sisters Judith Cary Jones and Robin Jones, of Nantucket, MA, Susan Jones Toner, of Beaune, France, and Ann VanArsdale, of Delhi, NY.
At the beginning of the Summer of Love in 1967 — word of a new store started spreading in the Salt Lake City Area via word of mouth, and even on the request lines of AM Radio. When I first visited that place, called Cosmic Aeroplane, there was a prominent announcement that essentially said: “We do not know where to get drugs of any kind. If you don’t understand, read this sign again.”
I was expecting to see recent concert posters from San Francisco, but the quantity and quality of Underground publications surprised me. The man behind the counter had long dark hair, as expected, but when we started talking about the periodicals, co-owner Steve Jones was remarkably soft-spoken and knowledgeable.
“I thought there should be a place where you could get underground papers, cigarette papers, jewelry, that kind of thing,” said Steve Jones (in an interview from 1992.) “Posters were a big thing at the beginning, dance posters, W. C. Fields posters. It was a head shop, but a head shop in the terms of using your head — I wanted some kind of image of traveling in your head, hence the Aeroplane part. That didn’t necessarily entail drugs, either …”
Frank Zappa’s catty phrase about “Psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street …” may have applied to other Head Shops, but the Cosmic Aeroplane was different. From the very beginning there were more things going on than merely faddish exploitation. Steve Jones and his partners brought the wider world to Salt Lake City, which had been previously isolated by distance and culture until the Baby Boom exploded in the 1960’s.
I saw my most creative friends at the Cosmic Aeroplane as it relocated to different neighborhoods around town, and made new friends as Steve’s shop widened its clientele. My friends stayed around too, partly because of Hal Sparck and Peter Crockett’s very effective Draft Resistance counseling office which sub-let space there and saved the lives of hundreds of young men.
A list of artists I learned about and studied because of the Cosmic would include the sublime Jacques Prévert, and exquisitely ridiculous Holy Modal Rounders. Steve would play Alan Ginsburg over the store’s stereo, and sell Ralph Ginzburg’s Avant Garde magazine. He had a table of used books that specialized in cutting-edge American literature by artists formally known as beatniks. Light Show artist Richard Taylor of Rainbow Jam painted the windows and decorated the interior before he moved on to a career in Hollywood. The Human Ensemble started an influential theater company in the under-used back room. Former partner Ken Sanders has said that Steve Jones was: “Very indulgent and tolerant about people trying things out.”
My circle of friends bought used and discount record albums regularly at the Cosmic Aeroplane, and picked up the latest in Underground Comix. It wasn’t just me and my friends, though! When I came back from Europe in 1977, the Cosmic Aeroplane was selling a million dollars’ worth of inventory a year on First South from a fully-stocked bookstore, record shop, custom jewelry market, and very active boutique-style Head Shop. They were definitely filling a need, and were allied with an alternative scene that had continued long after the end of the so-called Hippie Era. It is impossible to say how proud I was of Steve and his cohorts. His eclectic store was a creative incubator during the Punk-Rock Era, the New Wave Era, and the New Age Era. It acted as the first Comic Book shop in Salt Lake, and spurred the creation of other businesses that still exist today. KRCL-FM used to borrow records to play over the air during the wee hours when they were neighbors, above the equally eclectic Blue Mouse Cinema.
After his Cosmic days were over, I would see Steve Jones walking in Sugar House, where he lived during the late 1990’s, and noted that this area was devoted to posters, comics, bookstores, Raunch Records, and the amazingly successful Blue Boutique, which had spun-off from Jones’ old Head Shop. He wasn’t working for any of them, but he had certainly pioneered the scene.
I was both surprised and honored when he sought me out to create a website about the Cosmic Aeroplane after I returned to Salt Lake City from Montana in 2012. We started with an envelope of memorabilia from the late Bruce Roberts, and I scanned the contents at Charley Hafen’s Jewelry and Gallery. After a while we gathered some more research from Steve, and he contacted the Marriott Library at the University of Utah, who had a complete run of The Electric News, which Steve had published along with Sherm Clow in the 1960’s. They also had the complete run of Bruce Roberts’ Street Paper, and a stack of old posters from Ken Sanders. The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department have been steadfast allies in the Cosmic Aeroplane Archival Site from its inception, and this wouldn’t have happened without Steve Jones.
Cosmic Aeroplane’s old customers and allies contribute to the site regularly because they haven’t forgotten how that shop changed their lives for the better. There is an enormous pile of material that awaits context and effort before appearing online, and Steve was working along with me on this heap just ten days before his passing. This work will go on, but Steve Jones’ unique intellect and generous energy will be sorely missed.
Michael Evans – December 2016