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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 Washington D.C.
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 older generation.


Plexus Publishing / London 1979
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