PUBLISHED IN ROCK MAGAZINE
BY DANNY SUGERMAN
A Shaman’s Sojourn Through The Doors Music Company
ROCK takes pride in presenting a profile of Jim Morrison by the writer who probably knew him best.
Jim Morrison, lyricist and focal point of the supergroup The Doors, died in Paris, Farance, July 3, 1971. He was 27 years old. The cause of death is unknown. Some say it was some sort of mysterious narcotic overdose. But there is a flaw in that theory – Jim Morrison drank. Oh sure, in the early Doors days he babbled heavily in psychedelics, as he publicly admitted, but as time progressed he preferred the old American stand-by, alcohol. Jim was not a doper. Some people theorize Jim simply lived too brutally in general, that the booze, lack of sleep, disregard for his physical self and intense living habits ultimately led to his death, which would justify the “official” cause released to the world three days after his demise: a heart attack.
Before Jim departed to Paris in late January of ’71 to meet his wife, Pamela, who had already set up temporary house, he had a diagnosed respiratory ailment caused from taking a fall out of the second story window of a L.A. hotel. (Jim was known to hang out of windows on impulse.) Physicians warned to slow down but he ignored their advice. Reports from Paris regarding his activities don’t indicate he took them seriously at all. A heart attack is conceivable, but unlikely.
And lastly there are many who persist in believing that Jim is, in fact, not dead at all and the whole thing is just a hoax conceived and perpetrated by his cunning mind. And maybe this last speculation is not as outrageous as it might seem. It would not be unlike Jim at all to have staged the whole scandal as a quick way of dipping out of the lime-light and today keep himself stashed away somewhere in Africa laughing at the whole affair and writing poetry, perfectly content to allow everyone to go right on thinking he was dead.
Jim’s ambition, from grade-school, was to become a writer. His idols were not those his peers shared, not actors or even the early rock and rollers—they were poets and journalists. Rimbaud, Keats, and Jack Kerouac were the three major influences which helped develop young Morrison’s mind. The life-styles of these men whetted Jim’s appetite sufficiently so that when he grew up, he would indulge in the wild nights, the women, and the vagabond lifestyle, as well as versing him with the idea of a quick sky-rocketing career with the concept of an early, tragic death, the one so many of his heroes met.
As a student Morrison excelled in text work, but in cooperation and work habits he was far too teasing and troublesome to merit the outstanding grades he received in the courses themselves. Time and time again Morrison would not only amaze but outsmart his teachers as well by going to a local library and pouring over outside reference material, bringing the knowledge back to class with him. He devoured knowledge particularly in the areas of history, science, psychology, English, and the arts.
In junior college Jim was given the task of composing a term paper on any artist he so desired for his final art-class assignment. Ever ready to use his imagination, Jim chose the Renaissance Dutch painter, Heironymous Bosch. To this day little is know of Bosch’s life. Yet Jim went to work, concocting an entire biography on the artist complete with place of birth, birthdate, schooling background, lovers, and even went so far as to diagram a fictitious family tree. His professor was amused and impressed with his imagination, he gave him an A on the paper. And on another occasion at the same junior college he attended in Melbourne Florida, Jim took a train to Washington D.C. to the Library of Congress where he composed an essay he was working on pertaining to the life-style of a primitive African tribe. The paper was so well researched that after he handed it in, his teacher had to consult with the head of the science department at a nearby university to make sure the bibliography was accurate and not a figment of Jim’s notorious imagination.
Also a testament to Jim’s love for knowledge was a game he’d play on his friends after he’d moved from Florida to Los Angeles where he attended film school at U.C.L.A. The game consisted of Jim pointing to one of his wallfulls of books and challenging the visitor to randomly pick out any book (while Jim closed himself in the bathroom) open to any page and read a passage. From the clue Jim would recite the chapter, the name of the book and the author. The collection of his texts at one point numbered in the thousands.
Jim’s father was a career man, an Admiral in the Navy. Jim rarely saw the man who was overseas most of the time conducting “top secret business,” and when he did they exchanged few words. Jim was usually told to get a haircut and dress better. When he became famous, he said his parents were dead. The Son of a naval officer, Morrison moved around the country frequently; early in life Jim learned to make friends fast and not to get too close, a characteristic he carried into his later life. The constant movement also gave him a good excuse to burrow deeply into his never-never land of deep thought.
Though Jim made millions, he spent little directly on himself, and when he did it was usually on getting himself out of trouble. Like the lives of the characters and the authors themselves he’d consumed so vicariously through literature, Jim became somewhat of a vagabond buccaneer. Preferring $10 a night motels to a permanent house or apartment, preferring only the clothes on his back to a wardrobe, he had few possessions to speak of. If it got cold out at night, he’d pull out a credit card (often his sole possession, and he was always losing those) and buy a coat. When it warmed up the next day, he’d give it away to a girl, or to a stranger. His driver’s license was revoked one day for his having too many accumulated tickets and he never renewed it. He bought expensive cards and crashed them, or just left them somewhere one night when he was drunk, forgetting the next day where he had parked it. He never went to look for it and never reported it lost.
At one point he sent Pamela around the world collecting clothing for a store he had purchased for her. He had it lavishly decorated with hand-carved wood, feathers, satin pillows, antiques, and imported fabrics. It was located two doors away from The Doors West Hollywood office and the boutique lost a fortune. But Jim didn’t mind a bit, it kept Pamela happy and he didn’t consider it a loss. For Jim, wealth meant drinking Chivas Regal instead of beer and toasting the town, treating a host of friends, or flying out of town on a whim (which resulted, by the way, in his arrest on the way to Denver to see The Stones), taking care of Pam, his friends, and eating what he wanted when he wanted with whom he wanted.
Life was an experiment for Morrison. He was out for a good-time and to hell with anyone or anything that got in his way. And at the same time he meant business. Vision was Jim’s concern. Always testing the bounds of reality. Finding some meaning, and if it meant bending reality, he’d to that too. He was obsessed with vision, intensity, and the magic of life. Jim Morrison was a genius. No disputing that. And his vision was his madness, and his curse. Rock and roll just happened to be the medium he ended up in. Maybe the perfect one at that.
After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Cinematography from U.C.L.A,he told his classmates he was going to New York to work on films, practice and make a living at what he’d learned. One of those classmates was Ray Manzarek.
About two months after graduation, Ray bumped into Jim on Venice Beach, a dying L.A. beatnik hang-out which was beginning to see the very first signs of the on-coming age of the hippie. Ray walked up to Jim, and the following incident is famous today as the landmark of the beginning of The Doors.
“Hey man,” Ray said to his old college chum, “I thought you went to New York.”
“Nah, Ray, I never left. I been living on some roof-top writing songs.”
“Songs?” Ray, who was leading a band of his own since graduation, asked.
“Yeah. Just bits and pieces. Ya know in a notebook.:”
“Far out man, let’s hear some.”
And Jim sang him “Moonlight Drive” and when he was done, Ray slapped him on the back, said “Those are the greatest fucking lyrics to a rock song I’ve ever heard. Let’s get a band going and make a million dollars.” Just like that.
For a brief few weeks Jim showed up at the odd gigs Ray’s band, Screamin’ Ray Daniels, did in the basin area. He’d climb on stage, unable to really sing; clapping a tambourine, shouting “right on!’ every once in a while, and leave the singing to Ray. The band, which included Ray’s two younger brothers came up with the conclusion Jim’s lyrics were too far out. They split. Ray recruited Robbie Krieger and John Densmore from his meditation class and rehearsals began.
They were dubbed the Doors after Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” and they worked for six months straight where they ended up at the Whisky A GoGo. By this time Jim was singing his own lyrics, and he was facing the audience. And, with constant gigging, an impressive repertoire of songs, they gained a loyal core of fans.
Their engagement as the house-band at the Whisky for four months did nothing but strengthen and expand that core into a throng of dedicated followers who would show up every night, for two shows a night. Jim worked up his stage show and one night Elektra Records Jac Holzman dropped in to see the band that was making all the noise.
Producer Paul Rothschild also showed up and the band, who had frightened every label in town away. Was signed on the spot for then thousand dollars.
Their first album was hailed as a masterpiece by critics everywhere during the magic summer of ’67. And with the aid of “Light My Fire” The Doors booted Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band out of the No. 1 slot and four months later, their first album still stood firmly in the top ten when their second album joined it. Strange Days solidified the Doors’ success: Two albums in the top ten; head-line concerts causing riots, limosines; hit singles, radio airplay, interviews, photo-sessions. Jim’s picture popped up on the cover of virtually all teen magazines in America: Vogue, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eye, Newsweek and Time did lengthy features on the band that breathed hellfire and sang about doom, the revolution, and death while their competition preached peace and love. The Doors legend spread.
Jim’s interpretation of his future audience’s tastes and requirements for acceptance was remarkably accurate. The combined need for a hero and a controversial spokesman, blending poetry and insanity was the mark he aimed for. And he hit it.
The Doors became nothing less than myth-makers, Morrison a performer of monstrous proportions. They stood for all the unpredictable and forbidden excitement America had ever dreamed of – and they delivered.
The Doors became the media’s delight and Morrison, the darling of the avant-garde. He was called “The Ultimate Barbie Doll,” “The King of Acid Rock,” “The King of Orgasmic Rock.” “The New James Dean,” and finally “The Lizard King.”
A Doors concert was a trip into the unknown: a mystical, dark, intense, evil world – more than rock and roll. The press called it Theatre Rock. Gothic Rock, Theatre of the Unknown. But that only came close to describing the overwhelming presence of the Doors. They were the purveyors of the endless night, of Everyman’s nightmare. Morrison was every girl’s dream, every boy’s self-image.
The Doors were not act. They were very alive. Ray Manzarek on keyboards was incredible. Robbie Krieger’s fret fingers were like five snakes slithering over the strings. John Densmore was one of the most under-rated drummers of all time. And in front, picture beautific, angelic, unpredictable, gamey, and brilliant Jim Morrison. Jim was everything you have heard of and more. Whether he took a grip of a rising curtain, hanging on until it stopped, then dropping twenty feet as he did at a concert in New Jersey , or diving off the stage, flopping like a fish out of water or suddenly dropping like he was just shot at point-blank rage, Morrison delivered his very best.
At most concert, The Doors would usually begin with “When the Music’s Over” or “Back Door Man.” When it was time for the lyrics, Jim would leap out from the shadows, causing a wild combination of gasps and screams. He would fondle the microphone stand, as the music would build; Morrison was a shaman. He would go into a trance, and take the audience with him as they were mesmerized by the music. His performances were electric.
The audience would sit in awe on nights such as these, when The Doors were at their best. The band would put them on the edge of their seats, caressing them with an hypnotic, pacifying rhythm – lifting and peaceful. Then the mood would grow ominous. And it would build, and Jim would writhe, the instruments would lock and the air would crackle and intensify.
Jim would throw back his head, moving his left leg in time with the music. Then, at the height of excitement the music would stop. Ray’s head hung, eyes closed at stage left. Densmore awaited the clue. Kriger lost in a daze. Suspense. And with no sign of warning Jim would throw is face directly toward the audience, eyes agog and blazing, tearing at the microphone stand with his hands; he’s fill the silence like a vacuum, he’d scream out the most blood-curdling scream, the most devastating death cry you could ever imagine. The audience, already on the edge of their seats, were devastated as shot through the ceiling. They were Jim’s now. He could take them along his trip, or he could leave them behind, to feel empty forever. Inevitably the concert would end, and without so much as a good-bye, The Doors would split leaving the audience either stomping their encore, or riveted to their seats, entranced.
Jim Morrison was a superstar. “Touch Me” made the charts, Miami made the news. His tour was cancelled. The last of The Doors twelve arrests culminated in a total of forty odd charges. Over ten in Miami alone, including felonious indecent exposure. Jim had gotten out of his previous busts, the breach of peace in New Haven, inciting a riot in Denver, Seattle, Hawaii, and Boston, the airline stewardess ruse, he slid out of them like he slid into his leathers, but he couldn’t shake Miami.
The line he had written earlier, “You are caught in a prison of your own devices” because a haunting description of his predicament. He was paying the price for “delivering,” and rock and roll went on trial.
The result was tragic. Jim Morrison, after four albums (The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, and The Soft Parade) had began a rebellion against his own image, something he himself had created. But he couldn’t just stop, it was out of control. The Doors had become a monstrous corporation. He was bound to contracts, there were expectations
…and the record company wanted another album. The Doors went in to record Morrison Hotel. They gigged sporatically where they could. The Miami bust had sparked a nation-wide ban on the Doors. No promoter would touch them except for a firm called West Coast Promotions, and even they had to post a ten thousand dollar bond so the Doors could play in a union hall, a five thousand dollar bond for the “Fuck” clause, and they were banned in 16 states. The concerts sold out, but they lacked the old magic. The rock still burned, but Jim shed his leathers and subdued his image. He feared another bust.
After nearly two years the Miami trial was concluded and Jim’s lawyers began their lengthy appeals. Jim was found guilty and faced up to ten years in the state pen.
In December 1970, the future of The Doors was at best uncertain. As a recording entity, they had fulfilled their contractual obligations to their recording company. They had delivered their share of albums, had chalked up eight gold albums (at the time more than any other American group) with L.A. Woman, their best album in years which was streaming upwards on the charts. Ray, Robbie, John and Jim were all worth well over a million dollars each. The Doors had become synonomous with sensationalism and musicianship; perhaps it was the first rock and roll band to combine those two essential attributes with the pose they projected. Their appeal was inviting and enormous. And Jim wanted out.
Jim realized that stardom was unreal, but he was real. He’d played the game long enough—it wasn’t fun any longer. He looked around himself and became closer to the people he’d worked with for so long. He joked, became more and more accessible, put on weight, grew his bear wild and woolly and eased up a bit on the booze, but partied more energetically than ever as if to celebrate his decision.
One day the singer announced he was going to Paris with Pamela, to travel, to write some poetry, maybe even to write a screen play. He didn’t know for sure, he just wanted to wander, on land and in his mind. And whenever he returned they’d discuss the possibility of resuming the controversial career of The Doors. In the meantime however, he was going on vacation. They’d all earned one and they all agreed the time was right. Jim Morrison left L.A. with a gleam in his eyes and high hopes of starting a new life.
But Jim was not born into this world to take life easily. His essence defied tranquil existence; every fiber of his body was drawn too taut for that. He wanted the world and he wanted it now!—not later. He was born to be a peripheral citizen, walking the edge, stoned, immaculate. His thirst for experience and sensation and excitement was insatiable; he could not slow down and he certainly could not stop. At 27, Jim was the oldest soul I ever knew. He made his own magic, always held the center of attention, always amazed everyone. But the one thing Jim Morrison wanted most, he never had. On July 3, 1971, James Douglas Morrison found peace.