Monday, December 8, 2008

Jim Morrison: 65

Today marks the 65th birthday of the late Jim Morrison of the Doors. Somehow the notion of Morrison living to retirement age (and becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare) seems alien considering the deliberate path of excess he chose for himself which culminated with his passing in a Parisian bathtub in 1971.

Why do I mark the birthday of a man who had a relatively brief musical career? (Four years).

It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ to him.

It seems almost clich├ęd to say it but I became a Doors fans after I saw the opening sequence of the movie Apocalypse Now where director Francis Ford Coppola used the Doors song The End as musical background to a napalm attack. To paraphrase actor Martin Sheen, listening to Morrison sing those tortured lyrics really put the hook in me. Then came the book that did more to mythologize Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive.

I was too young to see the Doors in concert. I was a month shy of my eighth birthday when Morrison died (although it seems mysteriously intriguing that my personal life began unraveling right after his death). It was during the tail end of that emotional unraveling that I discovered the Doors and, through the Doors, an appreciation of Morrison’s life and artistic self.

To some it may seem fatuous but Jim Morrison saved my life.

How is that possible? How could someone who drank, drugged, had indiscriminate sex (pre-AIDS), and devoted himself to disarranging his senses save my life?

It was because Jim Morrison gave me the courage to write.

The blog you’re reading now is because of Jim Morrison. The song lyrics, prose, poetry, and social commentary I’ve been doing since the age of seventeen are because of Jim Morrison (well not solely because of him. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Byron, Keats, Shelley, and T.S. Eliot and various other writers had something to do with it as well) but Morrison ranks up there as a personal inspiration to put pen to paper; to make my fingers hit the keyboard; to put my work before the public and let it stand naked in the spotlight for better or for worse.

Before I discovered the Doors I was lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, having no sense of sanity or self.

Morrison gave me the courage to find my voice. To paraphrase one of his poems, he spoke to my heart and gave me the great gift of words, power, and trance.

His body of work allowed me to see my pain (and the causes of it) for what it was. He cleansed my doors of perception, allowing me to escape; to go on journeys through a primitive darkness before returning and telling others what I saw during the journey.

He gave me the courage to travel and discover new worlds and draw inspiration from those worlds.

If I didn’t have my writings then I wouldn’t be alive today. I would have died or gone insane or did both a long time ago.

My writing gave me a reason to live; a reason for hope (albeit a forlorn one). But like Morrison sang in Orange County Suite, “I’m still here and you’re still there and….”

Since that time I have always been on the lookout for Morrisoniana: I have most of the videos, books, and records. Even more interesting is that despite Morrison’s brief career and the lack of respectable critical acclaim that the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan received, Morrison endures as a cultural icon. His shade pops up in the most interesting places. Movies like Eddie and the Cruisers, Death Becomes Her, Wayne’s World Part Two have made allusions to him or had actors portraying him. (I think the Death Becomes Her portrayal was the best one). I even remember a short-lived TV series involving UFO investigators had an episode where a pre-famous Jim Morrison was featured as a doomed character. Miami Vice had an episode where the entire show featured the music of the Doors. And of course there is Oliver Stone’s revisionist and puerile cinematic bio The Doors. (I remember being disappointed with the film. I felt that Stone missed the point of Morrison’s life although there are a couple of scenes when the movie really capture’s Jim’s life. One is a shot of actor Val Kilmer (who portrayed Morrison) staggering silently, drunkenly through the streets of Los Angeles after a montage of scenes capturing Morrison’s dissipation; the other is the one where Kilmer as Morrison harangues his friends on the L.A. streets about whether they were really alive or not. Sadly the rest of the film failed in its mission. Like biographer Stephen Davis writes in his bio of Morrison, “He’s still causing trouble.”

I have spent nearly three decades trying to find his footprints. The first day I arrived in Paris, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was go to Pere la Chaise cemetery and commune with his spirit. It was the 15th anniversary of his death and I, along with young kids from around world, kept vigil, passing a wine bottle around, and sharing our love for Jim. (The experience inspired me to write a song called The Graveyard Shift to pay homage to those who visit his grave). When I was in L.A. precisely seventeen years ago to film my Jeopardy! episode, I spent the day after the filming wandering the streets of Venice Beach where Morrison lived in starvation and poverty, gobbling LSD, and writing many of his great hits. When I returned to Paris in 2005, what did I do? I spent an entire afternoon walking the streets surrounding his apartment in the Rue Beautrellis in the Marais district of Paris, drinking at his favorite brasserie, and resting at the Place des Vosge. The last thing I did before going home was to visit his grave again and act as an amateur docent telling the young visitors about the time when the grave had graffiti and didn’t have security guards like it does now.

For me, my favorite Doors songs are as follows:

1) The End
2) Crystal Ship
3) End of the Night
4) Soul Kitchen (The Absolutely Live! Version)
5) Strange Days
6) Moonlight Drive
7) Unknown Soldier (the live version at the 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert. If Morrison were still alive today and performing methinks he would be dusting off this chestnut and performing it with great effect with the Iraqi war going on).
8) Celebration of the Lizard (to this day I can still recite all 133 lines of his epic poem. My favorite recitation came in 1989 when I was staggering drunk on Italian white wine through the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. Amazingly the streets were relatively deserted so I amused myself by reciting the poem at the top of my lungs. Even more amazing is that I didn’t blow a single line!)
9) Peace Frog
10) Queen of the Highway
11) Indian Summer
12) The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). I like both versions, the L.A. Woman album version and the 1968 live version which he performed on Dutch TV featured on the live album Alive She Cried.
13) Someday Soon (from the Doors box set)
14) Orange County Suite

Among his poems (there are some who dismiss his poetry as pretentious and others who feel that his best poetry was in his song lyrics) I’ve always loved Lament and An American Prayer and his Graveyard poem.

Jim Morrison was my road not taken but he also guided me to the road I’m taking now. I have no regrets on that score. He kept me alive and he kept me rocking.

Thanks, Jim. Happy birthday and Rest in Peace, Mr. Mojo Risin.

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