by Marianne Sinclair 1979
Those Who Died Young
Jim Morrison was probably one of the most truly intellectual of the
sixties rock casualties. Jim was lead singer of the Doors, known for
the profundity of the songs they sang, songs composed mostly by
Morrison himself. For Morrison not only had an exciting stage presence
and a voice so strong it could make itself heard without a mike during
a riot; he was also a gifted poet, a man of words, as he described
himself and one of the most creative talents of the great rock decade.
James Douglas Morrison was born in Florida on December 8th, 1943.
His father, a high-ranking naval officer, brought his children up strictly
and Jim's later revolt would often express extreme hostility to his
family and the traditional values it stood for. The Morrison's moved
to Virginia in the late fifties and Jim was sent to high school in
Jim demonstrated his rebelliousness in quiet ways at first, refusing
to join in the activities that were expected of 'good' American
teenagers of that period: sports, clubs, etc. He went to college in
Florida for a time, then moved to California in 1964 to study film-
making at UCLA. His fascination with films would never leave him
for it was tied up with another of his enduring preoccupations- death.
As he once said "The attraction of the cinema lies in the fear of
death. Movies create a kind of false eternity." During his subsequent
career as a rock star, Jim made several short films of a surrealist sort
which resembled the poetic imagery of his poems and songs. One was
called Hiway; another, The Unknown Soldier, illustrated one of his
anti-war songs, while yet another, Feast Of Friends, was a free-form
documentary of the life of a pop group on the road.
While he was still at UCLA, Jim became friendly with Ray Manzarek,
a fellow student who was paying his way through college by singing
in a jazz group on weekends. Though Morrison had already started
writing song-poems, he had never thought of singing them himself, let
alone of becoming a professional rock singer. But the idea took shape
under the influence of Manzarek. Morrison and Manzarek had both
drifted inevitably into the mid-sixties beach culture of the California
coast where acid was the favored stimulant. Manzarek remembered
the first time Jim recited Moonlight Drive to him, and how in the
euphoria of the moment it seemed there was no reason why they should
not get a group together and 'make a million dollars'. By 1965, Jim
and Ray had formed their group, calling themselves the Doors with Jim
as lead singer-composer, Ray Manzarek as organist, Robbie Krieger as
guitarist and John Densmore as drummer.
The new group was immediately recognized as being one of the most
original and dynamic in the States, largely because of the quality of Mor-
rison's songs and his impact as a performer. They were snapped up by Jac
Holzman of Elektra after he saw them at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in L.A.
and their first album The Doors was one of the best-selling of the era.
The single that came from it, Light My Fire, became, as Lester Bangs
has said, 'the anthem of a generation'. After it reached number one
in the summer of 1967, the Doors' concert fee shot up from $750 a
night to $7000 for two.
At first Jim Morrison was rather withdrawn on stage, but as his audiences
grew larger and he allowed his pent-up emotions to surface, his manner
grew wild and uninhibited. His performances eventually became a form
of rock theatre, his singing punctuated by screams and harangues to
the public. One of his early tricks was to throw lighters into the
audience during Light My Fire; for three years audiences would light
thousands of matches during subsequent performances. Another trick
was the use of pauses during performances- sometimes between songs,
sometimes between lines, sometimes between syllables. Morrison
claimed that these silences could draw out the hostility and bring the
group (or himself) and the audience closer together.
The contents and the delivery of Jim Morrison songs were perfectly
representative of the spirit of their times- they were anti-social, de-
spairing, charged with sex and violence, full of hatred for restrictions
and hope for a new order of things where the young at least would
run their lives in the way they chose.
Inevitably, Morrison and The Doors became a focus for attack and
victimization by the conventional forces of society. Nothing illustrates
better how wide was the gap between them in the mid-sixties than a
television company's attempt to censor one line of Light My Fire
which the Doors were due to perform live on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The line objected to was inoffensive, but Morrison agreed to sing an
alternative- and did so in rehearsal- but characteristically he reverted
to the original when the show went out later. Doors' performances
were frequently cancelled at the last minute through the efforts of
local do-gooders and audiences were regularly clubbed by policemen
during concerts. Jim Morrison was himself arrested while actually
giving a performance, once in New Haven, Connecticut in 1967, for
verbally attacking the police and 'incitement to riot', and a second
time in Miami in 1969 for supposedly exposing himself on stage. This
was too much for Morrison, within whom the forces of destruction had
already been long at work. A heavy user of LSD and an alcoholic who
could get drunk at any time of the day or night on whatever happened
to be handy, Morrison seemed hell-bent on killing himself young.
He once described his drinking as 'not suicide, but slow capitulation'.
What he was capitulating to was his own need to block out the sense
of frustration, despair and growing paranoia.
Jim went to Paris with his wife Pamela. His relationship with Pamela
was enigmatic- in spite of the inevitable groupies and the fact that
he sometimes treated her in a humiliating, domineering way, she
managed to stay with him for some years, and he had dedicated the
song Queen Of The Highway to her. But Paris was not the answer. After
several months of heavy drinking and bouts of depression, he died
suddenly in the summer of 1971, while taking a hot bath in the middle
of the night. His death was attributed to heart failure and he was
buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery, but there was no autopsy; the exact
cause of death can never be established. There are some who even
claim that he did not die at all, as always happens in the aftermath of
shock when someone young and famous dies. The mystery has been
heightened since the only reliable witness, Pamela, herself died of a
heroin overdose in 1974. Jim Morrison, high priest of open, all-out war
between the generations, died before he could become a member of the
Plexus Publishing / London 1979