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Authors: Chris Salewicz

27: Jim Morrison

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27: Jim Morrison



27: Jim Morrison

Chris Salewicz

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus

Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block

Copyright © 2013 by Chris Salewicz

The moral right of Chris Salewicz to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Ebook ISBN 978 1 78087 543 9

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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27: Jim Morrison

On Monday 7 March 1968, an incident took place at The Scene, the New York club in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan. It was one in which the three participants involved – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison – seem, with the benefit of cruel hindsight, to have been brought together by fate.

Located at 301 West 46th Street, The Scene was New York City's hippest club-sized venue of the era. From 12 June to 2 July 1967 The Doors had played two sets a night there, supported each evening by the eccentric Tiny Tim. This New York residency had proved a triumph for the Los Angeles group, cementing in New York the status newly achieved by their first US number one single, ‘Light My Fire'. This in turn would drive
The Doors
, their eponymously titled first album released in January that year, to the number two slot – one place beneath the Beatles' epochal
Sgt Pepper
– on the US album charts that September, establishing their eminence as the first nationally successful propagators of what quickly had become known as acid rock.

The Doors had repeated their residency at The Scene from 1 to 5 October, promotion for
Strange Days
, their second album, which was released that month. It reached number three in the US album charts while its predecessor was still in the Top 10. While many acts struggle with their second album, having used up most of their best material on their first release,
Strange Days
only improved on the first LP.

Jim Morrison was now embedded as a fixture at The Scene, a status he exploited when The Doors returned to New York City, to headline on 22 and 23 March with two shows a night at the newly opened Fillmore East, becoming only the second act to top the bill at the venue. Prior to these dates, The Doors played shows in Hamilton, Rochester and Boston. The concerts in March 1968 in the north-eastern United States would become legendary as The Doors' greatest ever live performances. Audiences were amazed by an anti-Vietnam war film they projected to accompany the as yet unreleased song ‘The Unknown Soldier', and the group played with such ferocity that they took the crowd's collective breath away. Jim Morrison, moreover, was neither too drunk nor too stoned, as he so often was, and performed at the peak of his powers in these breathtaking dates.

Based in Manhattan for this short tour of the US north-east, The Doors had arrived in the city from the West Coast early in the month, to take part in publicity and promotion. And so it was that late on 7 March, Jim Morrison found himself at The Scene. The Young Rascals, who had already had US number one singles with ‘Good Lovin'' and ‘Groovin'', were playing at the club that night. Towards the end of their set they were joined on stage by Jimi Hendrix, always partial to sitting in with suitable musicians. Permanently primed for the magic potential in impromptu musical get-togethers, Hendrix plugged in the open-reel Ampex recorder that he took everywhere with him.

By the time Jimi stepped out onto the stage, Jim Morrison was demonstrably inebriated – he had already irritated Janis Joplin, also in the audience, by drunkenly knocking over her table of drinks. The Doors singer staggered his way to the front of the stage, clambering onto it. According to Danny Fields, later to manage Iggy Pop and the Ramones, Jim – who was ‘very drunk' – ‘wrapped his arms around Hendrix's knees and started screaming, “I wanna suck your cock.” He was very loud and Hendrix was still attempting to play. But Morrison wouldn't let go. It was a tasteless exhibition of scene stealing – something Morrison was really into.'

Janis Joplin had already had a brief sexual frisson with Jim in Los Angeles. But this did not curb her actions. ‘Janis walked up and tried to smash a bottle over Morrison's head to get him off Hendrix,' said Fields. ‘The three of them were in a tangle of broken glass, dust and guitars. The bodyguards had to send them home, each in their own limousine.'

Within under three-and-a-half years each player in this absurd and unedifying scenario would be dead, each at the age of twenty-seven.


A poet and visionary of extraordinary ability, James Douglas Morrison, born on 8 December 1943, was one of the most intelligent of all rock stars. He was supremely talented, highly perceptive and exceptionally well educated, both formally and through his own broader studies. After first encountering the German writer's name in Kerouac's
On the Road
, ‘Jimmy' Morrison – as he then was, aged sixteen – twice read Friedrich Nietzsche's
The Birth of Tragedy
, following it with the same writer's
Beyond Good and Evil
. It was from Nietzsche that Jim absorbed the notion that whatever did not kill him would only make him stronger (Nietzsche, Ray Manzarek said later, was what killed Jim Morrison). Jim Morrison is the personification of that old adage of being careful what you wish for, because you may get it.

Yet rock 'n' roll and the music industry has always been a home to dysfunctional, damaged people, many deeply so. Extremely talented rebels, often mired in – yet simultaneously driven by – their personal problems. The Doors, moreover, were the biggest American group of the second half of the 1960s: deservedly, as they certainly were one of the greatest bands there has ever been, and the definitive Los Angeles group of that era. Keyboard player Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore were all jazz aficionados – there always was an intellectual core to The Doors' music. Although they recorded for only just over four years, The Doors' tight Gothic sound, married to the supreme confidence and beauty of Morrison's poetic lyrics, along with his suitably enigmatic death in a Paris bathtub in 1971, have made the four piece one of the most legendary of all rock acts. ‘The Doors were asserting themselves as the archetypal band for an American apocalypse that we didn't even know was creeping up on us,' wrote Mikal Gilmore in
Rolling Stone
in 2001. ‘The real question,' he continued, ‘isn't so much whether we can find the virtue in Jim Morrison's art despite the waste of his life. Rather, the question finally is: Can we separate the two? And if not, what do we make of that?'

The time span of The Doors' career encompassed some of the most vivid tableaux that defined the era, the second half of the much mythologized Sixties: the youth riot on Los Angeles's Sunset Strip in 1966, two months before the release of their first album; the Summer of Love the next year in San Francisco; the emergence of Andy Warhol's New York pop art subculture; the Kent State shootings; Charles Manson and his madness; the moon landing; the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968; the My Lai massacre and the debacle of the Vietnam War; the election of President Richard Nixon.

And the schism between Jim Morrison and his parents was equally archetypal, carrying a tremendous resonance for the group's fans, many of whom were similarly afflicted in their relationships with their families. Jim's naval officer father, for example, had allegedly disowned him for having chosen to study film at UCLA. (As the son of a Navy officer, he had been expected to attend the US Navy Academy at Annapolis, as his father had done; or perhaps to become a diplomat.) Was this why, in early publicity material, Jim Morrison claimed that his mother and father had been killed in a motoring accident? When The Doors played in Washington, DC in 1967, his mother came to the concert but the singer refused to see her, and never spoke to her again.

In the song ‘The End', the final track on The Doors' first album, Jim Morrison showed his true, complex feelings about his mother and father:

The killer awoke before dawn

He put his boots on …

And then he walked on down the hall

And he came to a door

And he looked inside


Yes, son

I want to kill you

Mother, I want …

‘Morrison himself later said,' wrote Mikal Gilmore, ‘that he intended the passage as a metaphor for bidding goodbye to childhood and creating your own lot in life. That's hardly an uninteresting or an improbable reading – especially given how many young people shared a similar sense in the 1960s – though the recitation also seems to depict both a lethal rage and psychic damage that possibly even Morrison himself didn't want to explore much once they had been given voice.'

Unlike such San Francisco groups as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, The Doors did not consider peace and love a philosophical priority. Instead, they threatened anarchy, apocalypse, an awfulness everywhere. And The Doors' – Morrison's, really – sense of betrayal by their parents, as evinced in ‘The End', partially explains the group's immense popularity amongst US troops serving in Vietnam. One such soldier was Oliver Stone, the film director, who first heard the music of The Doors when he was serving in the First Cavalry Division. At the time he was stoned on marijuana: ‘The lyrics were very clear. The music was driving and erotic and sinuous – almost Brechtian and carnivalesque at times, the organ fighting with the guitar. Their first two albums knocked my socks off – that's what the war sounded like to me.' In an irony worth noting, Jim's father, Steve Morrison, was captain – soon to be admiral – of the USS
Bonhomme Richard
, an aircraft carrier stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea; from the
Bonhomme Richard
's deck, US warplanes would daily bomb Vietnam.


‘I've been reading about the problems kids have with their parents. Yeah. That's right. And I'm here to tell you – I didn't get enough love as a kid!' Jim Morrison famously hollered in 1969 during a show in Seattle.

The eldest son of an inevitably peripatetic Navy family, Jim Morrison suffered from the disruptions of the family home being ceaselessly relocated, regularly losing new groups of friends. Yet, in what could be seen as almost a Nietzschean manner, he benefited from the self-reliant, outsider status this granted him.

After Jim's birth in Melbourne, Florida, the family lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Los Altos, California; Alameda, California; Kingsville, Texas; and Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. In Alexandria, at George Washington High School, from which he graduated, his teachers were astonished at the breadth and depth of his reading. George Washington High School was not devoid of musical talent amongst its alumni: Mama Cass of The Mamas and the Papas, The Lovin' Spoonful's Zal Yanovsky, and Scott McKenzie, hit recorder of ‘If You're Going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)', had all been educated there.

Burying himself in books, and the knowledge they provided, he found a constant he could always rely on. Despite clearly being an intellectual-in-waiting, Jim Morrison was a bully towards his siblings, especially his younger brother, carrying on the behaviour that he had endured from his parents, especially his allegedly sadistic father; he had even, at the age of sixteen, taped up his brother Andy's mouth while he was sleeping.

BOOK: 27: Jim Morrison
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