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" Final Resting Place of Jim Morrison"
December 8th 1943 - July 3rd 1971
Born:- James Douglas Morrison
Lead Singer of "The Doors"
Le Pere Lachaise, Paris, France.
Photos courtesy of Danita of New York City
James Douglas "Jim" Morrison, was an American singer, songwriter, writer, and poet. Born in Melbourne, Florida, he was the lead singer and lyricist of the popular American rock band The Doors, and is considered to be one of the most charismatic frontmen in the history of rock music. He was also an author of several poetry books, a documentary, short film and an early music video ("The Unknown Soldier"). Morrison's death at the age of 27 in Paris, France stunned his fans; the circumstances of his death and secret burial have been the subject of endless rumors and play a significant part in the mystique that continues to surround him.
Of Scottish and Irish ancestry, Morrison was the son of Admiral George Stephen Morrison and Clara Clark Morrison, who met in Hawaii in 1941 where Steve Morrison, then an ensign, was stationed.
In 1943, a pregnant Clara Morrison moved to Clearwater, Florida to live with her in-laws (Paul and Caroline Morrison) while Steve Morrison trained as a pilot at a nearby base for the United States Navy. Once Ensign Morrison's flight training was complete in the spring of 1944, he left to serve in the Pacific front for the duration of World War II. (Later he would achieve the rank of Admiral and command the local fleet from his flagship, USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) during the Tonkin Gulf incident.) Clara stayed in Florida with her new son; her husband would not return to see his family until the summer of 1946. The Morrisons then had a daughter, Anne Robin (born in 1947 in Albuquerque, New Mexico) and a son, Andrew "Andy" Lee (born 1948 in Los Altos, California).
According to Morrison, one of the most important events of his life occurred in 1949 during a family trip in New Mexico. He described the event as follows:
The first time I discovered death... me and my mother and father, and my grandmother and grandfather, were driving through the desert at dawn. A truckload of Indians had either hit another car or something — there were Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death. I was just a kid, so I had to stay in the car while my father and grandfather went to check it out. I didn't see nothing — all I saw was funny red paint and people lying around, but I knew something was happening, because I could dig the vibrations of the people around me, and all of a sudden I realized that they didn't know what was happening any more than I did. That was the first time I tasted fear... and I do think, at that moment, the souls of those dead Indians — maybe one or two of them — were just running around, freaking out, and just landed in my soul, and I was like a sponge, ready to sit there and absorb it.
Morrison would later revisit this event in the bridge to the song "Peace Frog": "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding / Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile egg–shell mind."
Both of Morrison's parents claimed that event never happened. In his many comments about this episode, Morrison stated that he was so upset by the incident that his parents eventually told him he was "just having a bad dream," in order to calm him down. Regardless of whether the incident was real, imagined, or fabricated, Morrison stuck with it and made repeated references to the imagery in his songs, poems, and interviews.
Morrison graduated from George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia in June 1961. Morrison's father was transferred to Southern California that August. Morrison was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, where he attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College.
He later transferred to Florida State University (1962-1963), which still afforded a favorable tuition but was too far away for a reasonable commute. Morrison thus moved close to the FSU campus where, for a time, he was a roommate of George Greer, and appeared in a school recruitment film .
In January 1964, urged on by an FSU professor, Morrison headed for Los Angeles, California where he completed his undergraduate education at UCLA, majoring in film.
As a naval family, the Morrisons relocated frequently. Consequently, Morrison's early education was routinely disrupted as he moved from school to school. Nonetheless, he proved to be an intelligent and capable student drawn to the study of literature, poetry, religion, philosophy, and psychology, among other fields.
Biographers have consistently pointed to a number of writers and philosophers who influenced Morrison's thinking and, perhaps, behavior. While still in his teens, Morrison discovered the works of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He was also drawn to the dark poets of the 18th and 19th century, notably the British poet William Blake, and the French poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Beat Generation writers, such as Jack Kerouac, also had a strong influence on Morrison's outlook and manner of expression; Morrison was eager to experience the life described in Kerouac's On The Road. He was similarly drawn to the works of the French writer Céline. Céline's book, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) and Blake's Auguries of Innocence both echo through one of Morrison's early songs, "End of the Night." Eventually Morrison got to meet and befriend Michael McClure, a well known beat poet. McClure had enjoyed Morrison's lyrics but was even more impressed by his poetry and encouraged him to further develop his craft.
Morrison's vision of the art and psychology of performance was colored by the works of 20th century French playwright Antonin Artaud (author of Theater and its Double) and by Julien Beck's Living Theater. But perhaps the most influential work was a rather obscure, 19th century work by Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. Morrison began practicing MacKay's insights regarding influencing and manipulating crowds while still in college.
Other works relating to religion, mysticism, ancient myth and symbolism were of lasting interest, particularly Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces. James Frazer's The Golden Bough also became a source of inspiration and is reflected in the title and starting lines of the song Not to Touch the Earth.
He apparently borrowed some wording from the King James New Testament. Matthew 7:13-14: “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and... strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life,” which speaks of death and the afterlife, one of his common themes. Their first hit single “Break On Through” includes the lines: “Gate is straight, deep and wide—break on through to the other side.” Though most of “Light My Fire” was written by Krieger, the second verse was written by Morrison and includes the line, “...no time to wallow in the mire,” a wording apparently borrowed from 2 Peter 2:22, which reads: “The dog is turned again to his own vomit and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
Morrison was particularly attracted to the myths and religions of Native American cultures. While he was still in school, his family moved to New Mexico where he got to see some of the places and artifacts important to Native American cultures. These interests appear to be the source of many references to creatures and places, such as lizards, snakes, deserts and "ancient lakes" that appear in his songs and poetry. The practices of the Native American shaman were worked into some of Morrison's stage routine in a variation of the shaman's Ghost Dance, and a song on his later poetry album, The Ghost Song. The song Wild Child was also inspired by Native American rhythm and ritual, but often interpreted to be about one of Morrison's literary influences, Arthur Rimbaud.
In 1965, after graduating from film school at UCLA, Morrison led a Bohemian lifestyle in nearby Venice Beach. Due to a regimen of little food and lots of LSD, by 1966 the formerly pudgy Morrison had trimmed down to the chiseled rock-god immortalized in the famed series of black-and-white photos taken by photographer Joel Brodsky. Known as "The Young Lion" photo session, it included the iconic, bare-chested "Christ" pose, a shot that was featured on the Best of the Doors LP cover .
Morrison wowed fellow UCLA student Ray Manzarek with a reading of his lyrics for "Moonlight Drive," and the two then formed The Doors. They were soon joined by drummer John Densmore. Guitarist Robby Krieger auditioned at Densmore's recommendation, and was immediately added to the lineup.
While it is widely believed that the name of Morrison's band "The Doors" was taken from the title of Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception", the name in fact comes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell where he wrote that "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." This, too, is the origin of Huxley's title.
The Doors' sound was a significant innovation, dominated by Morrison's deep, sonorous baritone voice, against the interplay of Manzarek's keyboards, Krieger's flamenco and classically influenced guitar style and Densmore's crisp, fluid drumming. The Doors were unique because they didn't have a bass guitar in the lineup. Manzarek provided bass lines on his newly-released Fender keyboard bass, a small bass-scale version of the famous Fender Rhodes electric piano. Although the group did augment their studio recordings with bass players (including Lonnie Mack), The Doors appeared as a four-piece in concert, apart from occasions when they were joined by special guests such as John Sebastian.
Lyrically, The Doors broke new ground in rock music, with Morrison's complex, surrealist, allusive lyrics exploring themes of sex, mysticism, drugs, murder, madness and death. Although Morrison is known as the lyricist for the group, Kreiger also made significant lyrical contributions, writing or co-writing some of the group's biggest hits, including "Light My Fire" and "Touch Me."
Morrison and Manzarek's film school education was put to effective use early on in the band's career. Decades before music videos became common-place, Morrison and The Doors produced a promotional film for Break On Through, which was to be their first single release. The video featured the four members of the group playing the song on a darkened set with alternating views and close-ups of the performers while Morrison lip-synced the lyrics. Morrison and The Doors continued to make innovative music videos, including ones for The Unknown Soldier and People Are Strange.
The Doors were first noticed on the national level in the spring of 1967 after signing to the Elektra Records label. The single "Light My Fire," written by Krieger, hit number one in June 1967. Three months later, The Doors appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular Sunday night variety series that had earlier introduced a young, wriggling Elvis Presley and the Beatles to the United States. The incident became very notorious after the censors insisted that they change the lyrics of "Light My Fire" from "Girl we couldn't get much higher" to "Girl we couldn't get much better", because of the reference to drugs in the original lyric. But Morrison sang the song with the original lyrics anyway, on live TV. This infuriated host Ed Sullivan so much that he refused to shake their hands after their performance. Later Mr. Sullivan admonished the group "You'll never play the Ed Sullivan show again!" In classic Jim Morrison fashion he replied "Man, we just did the Ed Sullivan show." They were never invited back.
By the release of their second album, Strange Days, The Doors had became one of the most popular rock bands in the United States. Their blend of blues and rock tinged with psychedelia had never before been heard. The Doors' eclectic repertoire included a swag of stunning original songs and distinctive cover versions, such as the memorable rendition of "Alabama Song," from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's operetta, "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny." The four also broke new ground in rock music with their extended concept works, including the famous epic songs, "The End" and "When The Music's Over," and the extended suite which they played in concert, "The Celebration of the Lizard."
Morrison famously lived by an oft repeated quote from William Blake: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Even before the formation of The Doors, he took copious amounts of LSD in the band's early years, but soon switched to alcohol, which he began to consume in Herculean proportions, and he reportedly indulged in various bacchanalia. He would sometimes show up for recording sessions extremely inebriated (he can be heard hiccupping on the song "Five To One"). Such excesses eventually took their toll; By 1969, the formerly svelte, 5 ft 11 in singer began to balloon due to his rapidly escalating drinking. Although the cover of the 1970 Absolutely Live LP depicts a trim, clean-shaven, leather-trousered Morrison on the front, this photo had in fact been taken about two years earlier. By the time of the tour on which the live album was recorded, Morrison was 20 pounds heavier (175 pounds). It was during this time that he tried to get away from the "Lizard King" image -- he grew a beard and started wearing regular slacks and jeans and T-shirts.
During a 1969 concert at The Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, an intoxicated Morrison attempted to spark a riot among those in attendance. He failed but a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Dade County Police department for indecent exposure some three days later while the band was vacationing in Jamaica. Morrison was ultimately convicted of indecent exposure and public profanity. Fallout from that event resulted in much negative publicity and the cancellation of many of The Doors' scheduled concerts.
Following Morrison's conviction, The Doors began to change direction with the production and successful release of the Morrison Hotel LP. It featured a much grittier, blues-based sound in contrast to the sound featured on their first three albums. By this time they had all but exhausted the cache of songs that Morrison had written in the early days of the group, and which had provided most of the material on their first three LPs.
After a lengthy break, the group reconvened in late 1970 to record what proved to be their last LP with Morrison, L.A. Woman. It solidified the group's return to its musical roots and featured songs that would quickly become among its most popular, including the title track, the pounding "Texas Radio and the Big Beat" and the album's epic closer "Riders on the Storm," which instantly became an FM radio staple.
The L.A. Woman album also witnessed another major change in the group's recording career. Shortly after sessions began, producer Paul A. Rothchild -- who had overseen all their previous recordings -- walked off the project, disenchanted with the band's new material, which he dismissed as "lounge music" and was "bored" after the band ran through the material in a bad manner. Long-serving engineer Bruce Botnick took over and produced an album that many fans consider The Doors' best after their 1967 debut. Several of Morrison's vocals were performed in the bathroom at The Doors' offices, due to the excellent acoustics, particularly in relation to the reverberation quality.
Among Morrison's more famous nicknames are "Mr. Mojo Risin', " an anagram of his name, which he eventually used as a refrain in his final single "L.A. Woman", and "The Lizard King" from a line in his famed epic poem Celebration of the Lizard, part of which appeared on The Doors' 1968 album Waiting for the Sun and which was finally captured in full on the Absolutely Live double LP released in 1970. Absolutely Live was a compilation of selected live material recorded at different venues ranging from Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The live version of "Celebration of the Lizard" was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Aquarius theater in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969.
Solo Efforts: Poetry and Film
Morrison began writing in adolescence. In college, he became interested in theater, film and cinematography. These media allowed for a tangible presentation or environment for Morrison's words and would enable the icons and symbols that filled his works to be made visible.
Even though Morrison was a well-known singer and lyricist, he encountered difficulty when searching for a publisher for his poetry. After much consideration and at the urging of poet Michael McClure, Morrison self-published two slim volumes, The Lords / Notes on Vision and The New Creatures. Both works were dedicated to "Pamela Susan" (Courson). These were the only writings to be published during Morrison's lifetime.
The Lords consists primarily of brief descriptions of places, people, events and Morrison's thoughts on cinema. They often read as short, prose paragraphs strung together by what seems to be little more than the pages upon which they appear. McClure describes the work as Morrison's deconstruction of his UCLA thesis on film. The New Creatures verses are more poetic in structure, feel and appearance. These two books were later combined into a single volume titled The Lords and The New Creatures.
Much later, two posthumous volumes of poetry were published, both of them selected and arranged by Morrison's friend, photographer Frank Lisciandro, and Courson's parents, who owned the rights to his poetry. "The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison" Volume 1 is titled Wilderness, and, upon its release in 1988, became an instant New York Times best seller. Volume 2, American Night, released in 1990, was also a success.
Morrison recorded his own poetry in a professional sound studio on two separate occasions. The first was in March of 1969 in Los Angeles and the second was on December 8, 1970, his 27th birthday. The latter recording session was attended by personal friends of Morrison and included a variety of sketch pieces. Some of the tapes from the 1969 session were later used as part of the Doors "An American Prayer" album released in 1978. The album reached number 54 on the music charts. The poetry recorded from the December, 1970 session remains unreleased to this day and is in the possession of the Courson family.
Morrison's best-known but seldom seen cinematic endeavor is HWY, a project begun in 1969. Morrison financed the venture and formed his own production company in order to maintain complete independence in its making. He was assisted by Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro and Babe Hill. More of an art film than a commercial endeavor, Morrison played what is essentially the sole continuing character, a hitchhiker turned killer car thief. This same or very similar character is alluded to in "Riders On The Storm". Morrison asked his friend composer/pianist, Fred Myrow to select the eclectic soundtrack for the film. The film shows the influence of other producer-directors of independent art films, such as Andy Warhol, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard.
Morrison's early life was a nomadic existence typical of military families. Jerry Hopkins records Jim's brother Andy explaining that his parents had determined to never use corporal punishment on their children, and instead instilled discipline and levied punishment by the military tradition known as dressing down. This consisted of yelling at and berating the children until they were reduced to tears and acknowledged their failings. Andy said that although he could never keep from crying, his brother never shed a tear.
Biographers record that during his youth, Morrison was a dutiful and respectful son who excelled at school and greatly enjoyed swimming and other outdoor activities. His parents hoped he would follow in his father's military footsteps and, for quite some time, Morrison was happy to emulate his father, intending to study at United States Naval Academy. In adolescence, however, Morrison discovered alcohol and embarked on a life-long pattern of alcoholism and substance abuse. He was often disruptive in class and became a discipline problem. Once Morrison graduated from UCLA, he broke off most of his family contact. By the time Morrison's music ascended the top of the charts in 1967, he had not been in communication with his family for more than a year and falsely claimed that his parents and siblings were dead. This misinformation was published as part of the materials distributed with the first Doors album. Morrison's father acknowledged the breakdown in family communications but said that he could not blame his son for being reluctant to initiate contact.
Romantic and sexual relationships
Morrison met his long-term companion, Pamela Courson, well before he gained any fame or fortune, and she encouraged him to develop his poetry. At times, Courson used Morrison's name with his apparent consent and Morrison referred to Courson's parents as "the in-laws." Still, their relationship was a stormy one, with frequent loud arguments followed by tearful reunions. Doors biographer Danny Sugerman surmised that part of their difficulties may have stemmed from a conflict between what they perceived to be their philosophical commitment to the ideal of an open relationship and the consequences of living in such a relationship. Right before he left for Paris, Morrison called Courson his "cosmic mate" when speaking with a friend. In his will, he left his entire estate to her, naming her co-executor along with his attorney, Max Fink. After Morrison's death, the California probate courts recognized Courson as his common-law wife when she sought a widow's allowance while claims against the estate were being litigated, even though California is not a "common-law" state.
In 1970, Morrison participated in a Wiccan handfasting ceremony with fantasy writer Patricia Kennealy, who now insists it was a wedding, although such ceremonies are not recognized by law. Morrison, however, did not appear to take the ceremony seriously, and the relationship did not endure beyond a dozen or so encounters scattered across a year or two. Kennealy discussed her experiences with Morrison in her autobiography "Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison", and in an interview reported in the book "Rock Wives".
Morrison also regularly slept with fans and had numerous short flings with women who were celebrities in their own right, including one with Nico from Velvet Underground, a one night stand with singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, and an alcohol-fueled encounter with Janis Joplin that left Joplin in tears. Judy Huddleston also recalls her relationship with Morrison in "Living and Dying with Jim Morrison". At the time of his death, there were reportedly as many as 20 paternity actions pending against him, although no claims were made against his estate by any of the putative paternity claimants, and the only person making a public claim to being Morrison's son was shown to be a fraud.
Morrison moved to Paris in March 1971 with the intention of taking a break from performing and concentrating on his writing. Hoping to get his life back on track, Morrison lost a great deal of weight and shaved off his beard.
He died on July 3, 1971, at age 27 and was found in his bathtub by Pamela Courson. According to Stephen Davis' Morrison biography, it was reported the Morrison had dried blood around his mouth and nose and large bruising on his chest. This suggests Morrison might have died from a massive hemorrhage caused by tuberculosis. Many fans and biographers have speculated that the cause of death was a drug overdose, but the official report listed the cause of death as heart failure. No autopsy was performed because the medical examiner, pursuant to French law, found no evidence of foul play or criminality. The lack of an official autopsy left many questions unanswered and provided a fertile breeding ground for speculation and rumor.
In his autobiographical novel Wonderland Avenue, Danny Sugerman recounts that he briefly met with Courson when she returned to America in the mid-1970s. According to his account, Courson told him that Morrison had in fact died of a heroin overdose when he inhaled copious amounts of the substance, believing it to be cocaine. Sugerman added that Courson had also given numerous contradictory versions of Morrison's death, but the majority of fans seem to have accepted the mistaken heroin overdose account. Courson herself died of a heroin overdose a few years later. Like Morrison, she was 27 years old at the time of her death.
Morrison is buried in "The Poets' Corner" of the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in eastern Paris. In the past, some of his fans were nuisances, leaving litter, graffiti, and cannabis behind them after their visits. Well-publicized complaints by numerous families of the deceased about desecration of surrounding grave sites led many to expect that Morrison's remains would be forcibly relocated when the 30-year lease to his plot expired. Parisian authorities, however, have denied any such intention. Indeed, Morrison's grave has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris, along with Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. In 1993, his parents visited the site and made arrangements with a cleaning company to have the graffiti removed from the nearby tombstones.
Morrison's gravestone has a Greek inscription reading Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού (transcribed into Roman lettering: KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY). Various interpretations have been proposed, including, "down (presumably in Hell) with his own demons", "burnt by his demons", "with the devil himself." In ancient Greek, the word daimon means spirit rather than demon and contains no negative or pejorative qualities. The phrase is more properly translated as "True to his own spirit," and is the meaning intended by the Morrison family when the inscription was selected. It was Morrison's father who either selected the phrase or drafted it himself.
Some conspiracy theorists contend that Morrison did not die in Paris. The fact that only two people (other than the police, emergency personnel, and mortician), admitted to the press that they had seen his body, has helped keep the rumor alive for over 30 years.
Throughout Morrison's turbulent career, there had been numerous rumors that he had been killed in an auto accident or had died of a drug overdose. Also, in the days preceding the announcement of his death, the press had been told that Morrison was simply "very tired" and resting in an unnamed French hospital, contributing to the suspicion.
In The Lizard King, Jerry Hopkins recounts that, well before the Doors achieved noticeable success, Morrison had joked that he should fake his own death in order to generate publicity. According to some of Morrison's friends and bandmates, once the Doors had achieved their remarkable success, publicity was no longer seen as being so desirable. Morrison then spoke of wanting to fake his death and move to Africa in order to escape the scrutiny that surrounded his every move. He told them that if he could succeed with the ruse, he would write to them using the pseudonym "Mr. Mojo Risin." Such a disappearing act would have paralleled the life of one of Morrison's favorite French poets, Arthur Rimbaud. According to Krieger and other Doors members, they have yet to receive any letters. Nonetheless, some fans still feel his death was a hoax.
Speculation about the cause and actuality of Morrison's death plays a large and continuing role in the Morrison mystique. Rumors still abound that Morrison committed suicide, was assassinated by the CIA, murdered by a witch, died in a toilet at the notorious Rock and Roll Circus (a nightclub in Paris) or any number of variations. Add to that persistent rumors that he is still alive and living in India, Africa, South America, as a cowboy in Oregon, above a Quik-Check in New Jersey, or in North Dakota anonymously and the "Morrison legend" has taken on a life of its own. It may be fitting that Morrison the man, always fascinated by ancient mythology, has merged with the image of Morrison as Dionysus, the ever dying, ever re-born god of ecstasy of ancient Greece.
Jim Morrison & The Doors' Legacy
Jim Morrison often claimed he walked in the footsteps of French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), once having said, "I am a Rimbaud with a leather jacket". Some sources allege, although it's unverified, that while in France at the end of his life, Jim undertook a pilgrimage to Rimbaud's birthplace in northeastern France, Charleville. This lineage between "the man with the soles of wind" (Rimbaud's nickame) and "the Lizard King" (Jim's nickname) is very fitting. Both symbolized the bravado and the rebellion of youth against a conservative society that seeks to squelch the individual through social control. Both were brilliant individuals torn between their ambition to shake things up through their art and their temptation to drift away, before being caught up and finally struck down by their inner demons. Most of all, they were both visionaries with a profound and mystical feeling that there is something "more", something "beyond", something that their poetry and music allowed us to touch, if only for a brief moment.
"If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it's to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel", Jim once said. And that is exactly what he and The Doors achieved. With their hauntingly beautiful music that stays with you long after "the music's over", they take us to uncharted territories. They let us "break on through to the other side", however briefly. They did indeed open the "doors of perception", doors that can never be shut again. And that is probably the true legacy of Jim Morrison and The Doors.