Jim Morrison: The Eternal Rock Poet

Photo by Joel Brodsky

The iconic Doors frontman was born on December 8th, 1943

Jim Morrison: The Eternal Rock Poet

In 1981 the Rolling Stone magazine published an issue featuring Jim Morrison on the cover, the title famously read: “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead”. Jim Morrison has been one of the most enduring Rock icons, his magnetism has been passed from generation into generation and his following and cult only grows bigger everyday. Together with The Doors he made some of the best and most timeless music in Rock, he lived fast, only 27 years, believing the “road to excess” would lead to the “palace of wisdom”. We look back at his influential life and career.

Wild Child And Indians Scattered On The Dawns Highway Bleeding

James Douglas Morrison was born on December 8th, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. The son of an admiral, Morrison’s early life was marked by his family nomad lifestyle as they moved frequently due to his father’s career. He often talked about the event that would follow him for the rest of his life and that happened when he was only five. When travelling with his family, arriving in a desert stretch between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, he witnessed a road accident that involved a group of Native American Indians, Morrison later said that he felt the soul of one of the Indians possessing his body and never again let go of him. This would play a big role on the development of his personality and public image. An unusual child, Jim grew up rebelling against all forms of authority from an early age; he would also act mischievous and was known to be a prankster on every school he went to, however he was never able to make many friends due to his personality. He was different, and one of the main factors of difference that made him stand out from the other kids of his age was his intelligence, Morrison was a highly intelligent child and teenager with an above the average IQ of 149. His main areas of interest were literature in particular Philosophy and Beat poetry, Morrison was not a big music fan, he listened to the occasional Rock N’ Roll music by Elvis but preferred old Blues records whenever he had the opportunity to access it. After graduating at age 17 Morrison studied at the Florida State University, but not for too long. He started to develop a taste for hitchhiking and bohemian lifestyle that included drinking as much as his body could take. The conservative environment, in which his family lived and wanted him to follow, was not in his plans.

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From Los Angeles, California, The Doors

He moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1960’s primarily to study film at the UCLA. For a while his parents would send him money so he could subsist, thinking would be just another one of his rebellious phases, however this end up fracturing his relation with his parents for the rest of his life. In Los Angeles Morrison found his way, he felt at home surrounded by people that he identified with, mostly wanderers, struggling or failed artists, people that had grew up the same way Morrison did, feeling they didn’t belong anywhere. They all came together at Venice Beach that had a bohemian and blooming scene environment for young people and artists. Morrison didn’t really had a place of his own and among the odd places he lived was a rooftop. During that period he started to experiment more often with drugs, especially LSD, and started to develop his writing and poetry while at the same time regaining a new interest on Rock music. At UCLA he met Ray Manzarek, also a film student that admires his film projects, unlike many of the other students. Though they become acquaintances they don’t develop an immediate friendship. In 1965, clueless about his future and what he wanted to do Morrison considers moving to New York to work on a movie career. That summer he comes across Ray Manzarek in Venice Beach, after several months not seeing or talking to him. Both talk about their future projects and Morrison tells Manzarek he has been also writing songs however, but, because he doesn’t knows how to play an instrument, they are all inside his head. Being Ray a trained musician and playing in a band with his brothers, he asks him to sing one of his songs. “Moonlight Drive” it’s the chosen one, and he made such an impression on Manzarek with the melody and lyrics that he’s almost immediately invited to join Ray’s band. At first he only would play Harmonica or sometimes would have a guitar on stage, but only as a prop cause he didn’t knew how to play. Morrison’s personality and lifestyle begins to be perceived as a little excessive and unusual for the other band members, soon they start to leave and Jim and Ray form their own band, that Jim names The Doors, inspired on the book “The Doors Of Perception” by Aldous Huxley. After John Densmore and Robby Krieger join in as drummer and guitarist, The Doors final line up its complete, only a bass guitar player is missing, but Ray fills up the bass section with his Fender Rhodes organ, playing simultaneously both sounds. After recording a first demo with Morrison songs, the band is rejected by several record labels that call their music non-commercial and eerie. They play intensively on the Sunset Strip club circuit, eventually ending up as a resident band at the famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1966. The band is signed to Elektra Records in the fall of 1966, their first album, “The Doors” it’s released in January 1967. During that period Jim Morrison starts riding the crazy roller coaster of fame that leads him to an increasingly excessive lifestyle filled with drugs and alcohol. He finds little stability on his open relationship with Pamela Courson, his “cosmic mate”, but despite that, she becomes the most important person in his life. In July 1967, less than two years after the band was formed, The Doors reach No.1 in the Hot 100 with “Light My Fire”, it establishes them as the biggest Rock band in the U.S at the time. His road to excess continues even further.

Living By “The Road To Excess Leads To The Palace Of Wisdom “

Jim Morrison saw music as means to an end for his literary ambitions. He always thought that was a faster way to project his true passion and vocation: poetry. That was reflected on the lyrics of almost every Doors song and on stage. But as his successful music career went on, personally he felt frustrated. During 1967 The Doors were everywhere in the U.S, they did The Ed Sullivan Show where they were famously banned due to Morrison’s use of the word “higher” on live TV, they intensively tour coast to coast and Canada, and by December Morrison was known as “The Lizard King”, always dressed in black tight leather pants and a menacing look. On December 9th, in New Haven, he becomes the first Rock singer to be arrested on stage when telling the audience about his backstage experience with the police and how they sprayed mace on his eyes after caught him making out with a groupie. This was not the first time he had been arrested, in 1963 when he was 19 he already had been arrested due to public drunkenness, but this was the first time that Morrison, the Rock Star was arrested and caused fuzz in the music community. By 1968 The Doors music and popularity crossed the Atlantic to Europe; they also record their third album “Waiting for the Sun”, in the midst of a chaotic and inflaming relation of Morrison with the rest of the band. He is allowed to drink all he wants because, as perceived by the record label, he is the member of the band with the most pressure on him. But Jim was becoming an alcoholic and an addict. As an example it was necessary over 100 takes to complete the song “The Unknown Soldier” due to Morrison passing out flat on the studio floor. His dream of literary recognition, by finally have a full side of the album with his Epic poem “The Celebration Of The Lizard”, in which he invokes his alter-ego The Lizard King, end up being shelved as the band was not satisfied with the final results of the almost 20 minutes carnival of words and sound. Despite being now one of the biggest Rock stars and The Doors one of the best-selling bands in the U.S and Europe, Morrison’s habit of a nomad life style that he had been exposed to since he was a child, was still part of him. He didn’t own any valuable possessions, barely owned anything more than his Ford Mustang, some books (including his notebooks), a few set of clothes which he usually wear out and replace by others, and surprisingly not even a place of his own, he had though rented a house for Pamela in Laurel Canyon, where sometimes he would stay, but his main residency was in a motel room at the Alta Cienega Motel in Hollywood, where he lived most of the time from 1968 to 1970.

The Lizard King Visits Europe

In July 1968 the band plays the Hollywood Bowl, a statement of their success, before the show, Morrison was visited by Mick Jagger who later watches him from the audience studying his behavior and how he controls such a big audience. In September 1968 the band tours Europe for the first time, they are received as stars in London and they play two sold out shows at the Roundhouse with members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the audience but when the band travels to Amsterdam, another incident takes place, after an afternoon indulging on all types of drugs, including swallowing a whole bar of hashish and several pills offered by fans in the street, just before The Doors go onstage Jim Morrison collapses, “dying” for a short period of time. Rushed to the Hospital, the band goes on without him, with Manzarek taking the spots of singer, organist and bass player. After the European tour is over Morrison stays in London with Pamela and poet friend Michael McClure who deeply appreciates his poetry and writing. Having a hard time finding an editor for his books, Morrison decides to self publishes them, “The Lords and the New Creatures”, were released in two volumes in 1969, much motivated by McClure.

The Public Assassination Of The Rock Star Known As The Lizard King

1969 was the year where the beginning of the end started for The Doors as a band. With their new album “The Soft Parade” near to completion, the band starts planning their promotional tour and appearances. It was during this period that an increasingly out of control Morrison begun to boycott his “Sex Symbol” and “Rock God” image. Determined to get his message and words to be passed and heard, he grows some weight and a bushy beard to cover his face and starts attending events such as “The Living Theater”, a revolutionary acting company where the actors took off their clothes on stage and yelled their message to the audience, using the most extreme approaches in order to be heard. Morrison loved it. He got inspired by it and decided to apply it on the infamous Miami concert on March 1st, 1969. The concert was a disaster waiting to happen, if it wasn’t because of Morrison’s performance that evening, would had been for the excessive number of people inside the hot auditorium as the promoter had recklessly sold several more tickets than he was supposed to, and it exceeded the capacity of the place. After arriving several hours late to the venue because he had been drinking all day at the airport and missed two flights, The Doors finally started their concert, they would be presenting some of their new songs. But instead, what happened was an attempt of Morrison with his beard and dark shades, “waking up” the audience to reality. He wanted his message to be heard loud and clear and thought that doing it like he had seen The Living Theater doing, would work. “You’re All A Bunch Of Fucking Idiots”, shouted Morrison during the song “Five To One”, he then rambled about California being the place to be, and how he was born in Florida but “got smart” and moved from there, he calls the audience “slaves” that like to have their heads “stuck in the shit” he incites the audience to get naked and “love each other”. The attempts to complete a song were constantly failing, when The Doors start playing one of their new songs “Touch Me”, to light up the environment from Morrison’s ramble and rap, he interrupts it after just a few seconds calling it “bullshit”. He gets down on Robby Krieger’s knees during the guitar solo of “Light My Fire”, which is perceived as an allusion to oral sex, and then he puts his hands inside his leather pants and tells everyone he will show his “cock”. The concert, ended up with the stage collapsing and an audience riot. A few days later a warrant is issued for his arrest; moral and conservative rallies starts taking place against the band and in particular the “indecent” Morrison. Most of their concert dates are cancelled, by July 1969 “The Soft Parade” is released, the album shows for the first time a fractured band, instead of the song writing credits being attributed to all the members like it happened on their first three albums, this time, they were individually credited. Morrison was the one who insisted the most for this to be done, mainly because he didn’t identified with the songs that had been written by Robby Krieger to the album, and he disliked the idea of people associating him to some the lyrics or songs on the album. One example was the song “Tell All The People”, that contains the lines: “Follow me down / Can’t you see me growing, get your guns / The time has come /To follow me down”, with the increasing controversy and public hysteria about the band and him in particular, Morrison, who was an anti-guns person, thought would be dangerous for some people to think he was inciting them to follow him and get guns given the current times they were living. The band was able to promote the album only once, at the invitation of the PBS channel in New York, where they performed songs from it and gave an interview to Richard Goldstein. During that period Morrison starts the slow “killing” of Rock Star “The Lizard King” and embraces the upcoming “Mr. Mojo Risin’” and the poet James Douglas Morrison.

Trials, Hotels And Absolutely Alive

The Miami trial was an extensive attempt to incarcerate Morrison that by then had become targeted by the FBI due to his “influence” on young people. During this period The Doors go back to the studio to try to recover from the sales flop of “The Soft Parade”, their 4th album, “Morrison Hotel” succeeds as one of their best albums and it’s praised by critics that welcome them back, they also record a live album at the Aquarius, in Los Angeles that resulted on the double LP “Absolutely Live”, during the concert Morrison gave away copies of a poem called “Ode To L.A While Thinking Of Brian Jones Deceased”, as the name indicates was a tribute to the late Rolling Stones guitarist who had died earlier that year at age 27. But Morrison gets in trouble again when he’s arrested at Phoenix Airport on his way to a Rolling Stones concert due to complaints by the aircrew regarding his drunken behavior during the flight. In 1970 The Doors release three new albums, “Morrison Hotel”, “Absolutely Live” and a compilation “13”, for all the album covers Elektra demanded Jim’s image to be clean and shaved, on the live album, the cover photo shows a 1968 Morrison live at The Hollywood Bowl, but inside the gatefold are the actual photos from the Aquarius shows with a bearded and overweight Morrison. The band was able to recover a big chunk of their public and started to get booked again for concerts, though they didn’t do as many as they were doing during 1967 and 1968, and this was also because of Morrison dedicating himself to his own side projects such as the making of his movie “HWY”, based on a script he had written when he was studying film at the UCLA about a serial killer hitchhiking across the U.S killing whoever gives him a ride. The Doors also return to Europe (exceptionally allowed by the court due to Morrison’s trial) to play the Isle Of Wight Festival in England where they shared the bill with The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen among many other big names. The available footage of the concert shows a worn out Morrison that can barely stands up, one of the reasons for this was that he had been awake for over 30 hours by the time he got on stage. He also had started using cocaine and his relationship with Pamela, who had become a heroin addict, begun to deteriorate, specially after his unofficial Pagan “marriage” to Patricia Kennelly, a music journalist and witch, however, Jim and Pam couldn’t be apart from one another too long. The Doors played their last concert with Morrison on December, 1970 in New Orleans. During the concert, the band played some of their new songs, such as “Riders On The Storm”, however, Jim’s energy was fading. According to Ray Manzarek, Morrison’s energy could be seen leaving his body that night, he was finally burned out. Jim Morrison’s last stage act was to sit on the wooden floor and beat the microphone on it, over and over, until it crackled the wood in immense feedback. After that, he was done. Perhaps the Indian had finally left his body.

Moving To Paris

In 1971, after The Doors finish recording their last album “L.A Woman”, which finally released them from the Elektra contract, Morrison took the decision to leave the U.S. The recording sessions for “L.A Woman” had gone well; despite starting out bad with their producer Paul A. Rotchild abandoning the project; he didn’t thought The Doors music had enough quality anymore. The band produced the record together with engineer Bruce Botnick, and recorded it at The Doors Office, their headquarters in Los Angeles that they transformed into a recording studio, using even a toilet to serve as Morrison’s vocal cabin. After the album was complete Morrison had little interest to remain in the band or in the music business, together with Pamela he decides to leave to Paris, France, where he plans to write a book, with the Miami trial still pending. Ironically, when he gets to Paris he notices that he’s as famous as he was in Los Angeles and his hopes of anonymity aren’t fulfilled. At first Morrison tried to sober up, but what happened was exactly the opposite. He found the same type of people that he had come across during his years as a Rock star, people that would push him more into the drink. While in France, he and Pamela travels around Europe and Morocco where he loses his passport. After a while Morrison starts feeling isolated, Pamela’s not always present and often she travels to Italy where she allegedly has a lover or hangs with her own friends. By June 1971 Jim Morrison was not the same motivated man anymore that left to Paris earlier that year. Allegedly he also started to try out heroin, which he never wanted to do, but in Paris, at the time it was the trendy drug, and a lot of people snored it instead of shooting it. On the night of July 2nd, the official story told by Pamela says they had dinner together at a Chinese restaurant and later went to the movies where they watched “Pursued” with Robert Mitchum. They returned to their rented apartment on Rue Beautreillis in the Marais Quartier, Morrison felt sick during the night and vomited blood several times; he then took a hot bath but continued to vomit and struggled to breed. Later that night, around 5 am Pamela noticed that he hadn’t returned to bed and found him unconscious in the bathtub. She panics and calls her friends in Paris, when the paramedics arrive they declare Jim Morrison dead by cardiac arrest. He was 27 and no autopsy was performed. He was quickly buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery where only 8 people attended the funeral, among them, Doors manager Bill Siddons who never actually saw the body, in fact only Pamela saw his body, the coffin was sealed while still in the apartment. Pamela Courson returned to Los Angeles, where she never recovered from her drug habit and the loss of Jim. She died in 1974 also aged 27 from a heroin overdose. Over the years countless theories over Morrison’s death have been written, some say he died from a heroin overdose at the toilet of the Rock N’ Roll Circus, a club known for the heroin use among its famous clients, and was taken home by two drug dealers who put his body on a bathtub with ice so they could try to revive him. Others say he was alone that night and snorted Pamela’s heroin mistaken it by cocaine, and because he wasn’t familiar enough with the drug, took more than he was supposed to. Others say he simply staged his death and took off to Africa where he lives to this day away from the entire spotlight and circus his life had become.

Legacy And Influence

No matter what happened that night in Paris, music and art lost one of its most brilliant geniuses, he lived fast but created memorable songs, poems and performances. He was the perfect Rock Star Prototype, beautiful, smart, stylish, excessive, fearless, and talented. Jim Morrison’s influence, not only in music but on other art realms, it’s enormous, he has contributed to Popular Culture and Rock Mythology in a way that few have done. The Doors music it’s a phenomenon of its own, it’s timeless, as a band, The Doors remain one of the most contemporary and influential ones. Would be unfair to say that this is only due to the fact of Morrison’s myth and legend, Ray, Robbie, John and Jim did superb music as a unity. In 1978, the members of The Doors composed and played music for Jim Morrison’s unfinished Poetry record “An American Prayer”, a spoken word album that Morrison had the intention to do and recorded partially on his 27th birthday, the album was released as “An American Prayer: Jim Morrison, Music By The Doors”. In 1991 Oliver Stone directed the movie “The Doors”, a biopic about the life of Jim Morrison starring Val Kilmer as Jim, the movie was highly criticized in particular by Ray Manzarek as it doesn’t depicts most of the events as they actually happened or in chronological order as well as Oliver Stones’ Morrison’s portrait of a mad and wild Rock star. Regardless of that, the movie was successful with Kilmer being praised by his acting and it did created a new resurgence in the mainstream of The Doors music. Jim Morrison was posthumously inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993 as a member of The Doors. Today, Jim Morrison’s magnetism still can be projected through his photos, videos, words and voice. He’s the eternal poet of Rock.

Watch The Doors performing “Light My Fire” live at The Hollywood Bowl in 1968

Watch the music video for “Ghost Song” from the “An American Prayer” album

Listen to some of The Doors best songs with Jim Morrison on Spotify

Listen to Jim Morrison’s “An American Prayer” on Spotify

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