American Poet – Lizard King – Mr. Mojo Risin’
December 8, 1943 - July 3, 1971
Earning himself more nicknames in a 27 year flash than most artists could wish for in a life time, Jim Morrison represents many things to many people. There are no clear answers or images, just a desperate wish to be understood emanating from his work, caught by some and lost to others. Although his time in the limelight was brief, more than 30 years on all that he shared is still with us – trying to lead us on into his realm.
Born into the turbulent life of an army father as James Douglas Morrison, Jim as we know him, was destined to be someone always searching for a home. Spending very little time in his home town of Melbourne, Florida he was constantly on the move with his family and spent much of his childhood in a self made world of books and stories, hardly ever making a close friend in the real world.
Many of his encounters on the families travels seemed to stick with him though, as references to them can be found scattered throughout his poems and lyrics. One of the most famous tells of a dawn encounter on a desert road. A truck full of American Indians had crashed, leaving its passengers strewn across the ground, blood and dust hanging in the air.
“That was the first time I tasted fear. I musta' been about four — like a child is like a flower, his head is floating in the breeze, man. The reaction I get now thinking about it, looking back — is that the souls of the ghosts of those dead Indians... maybe one or two of 'em... were just running around freaking out, and just leaped into my soul. And they're still in there.”
As he entered adolescence, Jim’s fascination with escaping reality grew along with him and immersing himself in the works of Sartre, Nietzsche and Blake as well as the currently popular movement surrounding the ideas of breaking through, tuning in and expanding consciousness he found himself seeing the world though a different view than most. Passions that went hand in hand, considering the experimental times, were those of film and psychedelic drugs.
At the wish of his parents he spent some time at the Florida State University, but it wasn’t long before he dropped out and headed to where he thought he should be – California, and more specifically, UCLA. Although in the end he never followed in some of his class mates footsteps, it was here that he formed his first long lasting relationships and the basis for all that was to come.
Focusing more on his poetry than on that which he had enrolled to study endeared him toward another like minded man – Ray Manzarek, as well as his future wife Pamela Courson. From here on, the story of The Doors is well trodden ground – however their story and his is tightly wound, as he played muse to both the band and its fans.
"Real poetry doesn't say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities... It opens all doors and you can walk through any one that suits you. If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it's to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel."
As early as 1966, during the bands first performances at LA clubs, Jim’s soon to be famous stage persona was taking form. With a penchant for performing in tight leather pants, shirt not included and with a raw intensity that either made people terrified or turned them into idolaters, he began to earn a reputation as a provocative, powerful and almost erotic showman. After being the reason the band got thrown out of many clubs, he finally got them fired from the famous Whiskey A-Go-Go for his offensive and lewd adlibs. But despite this, and the claim by many that he couldn’t actually sing per se, what he brought to the band as the lead singer is what made them all icons. And his lyrics which dominated the bands albums were directly descendant of his poetry and love of books.
After the massive hit of Light My Fire, Jim began to be heralded as a new rock icon, a sex symbol and a cult favourite and as the band’s fame grew so did Jim’s power over the audience. When on stage it seemed as though the music controlled him and through it he controlled the fans. His performances were unpredictable, wild and passionate – the words never came out just as lyrics, but as desperate or excited pleas to something higher and something within. He often claimed that when performing, the spirits of dead Indians took over, spreading his consciousness and allowing him to feel the audience. Indeed some avid concert goers claimed they could see the spirit side on stage with him, earning him yet another nickname – The Electric Shaman.
It was only logical and totally inevitable, that with his interest in spirit and mind and living when he did, that he would have a strong relationship with chemicals. Pot, LSD, mescaline, mushrooms and whatever else was doing the rounds were a daily part of his life, with alcohol as the fuel in-between. Being a believer that the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, he did nothing lightly, as with everything in his life it was all or nothing. As the various substances began to have more and more of a hold on him, so they began to touch everything around him. Concerts were often, in not always, performed drunk, interviews were given while high and not a sober moment could be found with him from either his wife or band members.
"Let's just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen. That's all it was: just curiosity."
His propensity for expressing himself on stage, combined with the constant intoxicated state soon got him into trouble with promoters and later the authorities. His sexual and drunken reputation began to precede him. Organizers were nervous of booking the band due to the unpredictable nature of the shows, Jim could have stood on stage chanting lyrics such as "fuck the mother kill the father" for ages, taunted the audience, caused a riot or simply have turned up too drunk to even hold the microphone. Even more dangerous could be the times when he was nearly sober – his ability to manipulate the audience and hold them in the palm of his hand turned many concerts into massive orgies or teaming masses ready to do whatever he said. Involving a groupie in a sexual stage act lead to authorities using tear gas on him and then charging him with breaking the peace and resisting arrest.
Events culminated at a Miami concert at the end of ’69 when a warrant was put out for his arrest after he allegedly exposed himself to the 10 000 strong audience and committed 'other lewd acts'. In 1970 he was convicted on counts of indecent exposure, open profanity and public drunkenness. He never played down this image, but nor did he pander to it, he just stated himself as he was, and made it clear that no one could change him. However with an appeal pending, not so glowing reviews of the bands last album and a total submission to alcohol, he was falling apart at the seams. Spending some time alone in New York during the middle of 1970, he ended up getting married to Patricia Kennealy in a pagan ceremony. However when she became pregnant Jim told her to get an abortion and flew back to California to make up with Pamela.
When he got there and saw her state he decided to confront her about her heroin addiction – the one drug he would never touch. She threw it all back to him ten fold, bringing all his addictions and problems into the open. He began to become very reclusive and wanted as little as possible to do with fans, feeling he could not explain himself to them. He was beginning to have the same feeling towards the band and started to focus most of his energy into projects outside of it. What was to be his last ever concert with the band saw him come on stage, smash the microphone, throw bits into the crowd and fall down on the stage.
In early 1971 he and Pamela decided to move together to Paris, to clean up and start again. Jim provisionally left the band just as it was again having enormous success, stating that he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and publish his literary works.
Before leaving he also discussed the idea of faking his own death with the band. Allegedly he wanted to escape the world he had created, the world of the rock star, and go and live with primitive people in the jungles of Africa. One day he would send a message to them with the pseudonym Mr. Mojo Risin’ – an anagram of his name that had been featured in LA Woman – to let them know that he had found what he was searching for. And that was how he left them.
"We're more interested in the dark side of life, the evil thing, the night time."
Once the couple reached Paris, no one knows exactly what happened. Jim hardly kept in contact with the band members, and both himself and Pamela had long since stopped speaking to their parents. Jim did eventually get a book of his poetry called The Lords And The New Creatures published. And An American Prayer, which he had printed privately in earlier years, was also released publicly. It seemed that perhaps his wish to be an artist in many forms was taking shape and that his up and down romance with Pamela was growing into something more stable.
And then one night she found him dead in the bath. Calling no one save for one doctor who wrote an almost illegible death certificate with heart attack as the cause, his death lead to many questions. As has been noted, the details surrounding that night still cause controversy to this day and for every ex-hippie roaming the world there is someone who believes he is not really dead. Yet even those who believe he did die can add fuel to yet another conspiracy – because it adds another to the 27 list, a dubious honour to be sure. His grave is at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and is one of the cities most popular attractions to visitors. In 1990 his headstone was stolen and many of his unpublished works made available for the first time.
When most people look at his life they see a man hell bent on personal destruction. Someone who could not live for long with such a will to destroy himself. Yet, in perhaps a more insightful way, some see it more as if someone with such a passion for living could not keep it up forever. It was a love of living and not a wish for death that killed him in the end. Which ever way, it is certain that he’s earned a place in America’s cultural and musical history and as he said it himself:
"I see myself as a huge fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps, "Oh look at that!" Then - whoosh, and I'm gone... and they'll never see anything like it ever again... and they won't be able to forget me - ever."
- The Official Doors Website – http://www.thedoors.com/
- Jim Morrison by Tracie Peters - http://empirezine.com/spotlight/morrison/morrison1.htm
- Jim Morrison on rotten.com - http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/entertainers/music/
- James Douglas 'Jim' Morrison (1943-1971) - http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/morrison.htm