Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jim Morrison: Dionysian Shaman or Acid-Addled Freak?

Pamela Courson and Jim Morrison
Dead by Heroin
Photo:  Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson.

I watched Oliver Stone's 1991 movie on the life of Jim Morrison, on  It stars Val Kilmer as the strange rock star of the Doors, an acid rock band that performed and recorded from 1967 to 1971.  The Doors are famous for such rock hits as "Light My Fire," "LA Woman," "Riders on the Storm," and "No One Here Gets Out Alive."

Kilmer actually sang the Morrison songs in the 1991 film, and he was simply awful.  He portrays Morrison as he most likely was in life: a narcissistic, self-absorbed addict who made a concerted effort to erase all viable brain cells with a steady regimen of hard liquor and drugs.  In the process, Kilmer's Morrison goes on stage wasted, insulting the audience, improvising incoherent lyrics to songs, and greatly aggravating both club owners and fellow band members.   Off stage, Kilmer's Morrison is depicted as screwing every female within a three mile radius.  Naked women are seen running through the halls of his hotel while his common law wife, Pamela Courson, suffers the infidelity.  When he isn't copulating, Morrison is depicted smashing things and screaming at Courson.

The film portrays some real events in the life and dubious career of Jim Morrison:  his confrontation with the police in a New Haven, Connecticut concert, where he was arrested on stage, leading to a fan riot in the streets; his alleged indecent exposure on a Miami stage.  Per Wikipedia:
During a Doors concert on March 1, 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida, Morrison gave a controversial performance. The restless crowd was subjected to Morrison's lack of interest in singing, as well as to his emotional outbursts, screaming challenges to the audience, and making irreverent social statements. A few days later, on March 5, the Dade County Sherrif's office issued a warrant for Morrison's arrest claiming Morrison deliberately exposed his penis while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robbie Krieger and was drunk at the time of his performance. Morrison turned down a plea bargain that required The Doors to perform a free Miami concert. He was later convicted, sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a $500 fine. However, Morrison appealed this conviction and died in Paris before serving his sentence.
In fairness, the bit about exposing himself was later proved untrue; only one witness claimed to have witnessed Morrison's penis, and she was a cousin of the arresting officer.  However, Morrison was guilty of all the other charges, e.g., public drunkenness, public obscenities, etc.  Some sources say he tried to induce the Miami audience to riot, but failed in the attempt.

At the end of his career, Jim Morrison was showing signs of substance-abuse dementia at the band's last and final concert:
During the Doors' last public performance, at The Warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 12, 1970, Morrison apparently had a breakdown on stage. Midway through the set he slammed the microphone numerous times into the stage floor until the platform beneath was destroyed, then sat down and refused to perform for the remainder of the show.
Morrison moved with his common law wife, Pamela Courson, to Paris in March 1971.  He spent several weeks taking walks through the city and visiting all of the usual tourist attractions.  However, on July 3, 1971, after spitting up blood and complaining of chest pains, decided to take a bath.  Courson found him dead in the bath tub at 5 AM.  Morrison had apparently died of a heart attack induced by a drug overdose.  No autopsy was made, however, to confirm the cause of death.  He was 27 years old.

Morrison was buried in the famous Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise on July 7, 1971.  This cemetery holds the remains of many famous people, such as Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde.  One of my favorite French singers, Yves Montand, is buried there as well.

Morrison's grave was soon a gathering place for fans who share Morrison's fascination with death; they scaled the walls at night to place lighted candles on his headstone, while smoking pot, shooting up or drinking booze, leaving used needles, flowers, empty bottles and other paraphernalia behind. Morrison's bust (a statue of Morrison's head and shoulders) on the grave, as well as surrounding walls and tombs, were soon festooned with graffiti. In later years, someone stole the bust and cemetery officials removed the graffiti. Night patrols now discourage nocturnal visits from drug-addled fans, but they still come in the daylight.

Morrison's wife, Pamela Courson, went home to California and died of a heroin overdose in 1974 [see death certificate].  Her ashes are entombed there.

The Jim Morrison story is interesting to me. He, like Obama and many other "celebrities," has become a fantasy for fans, who impute great poetic, intellectual or shaman-like qualities to their idol. Morrison, however, was a weak man of limited talents who self-destructed in an orgy of nihilistic self-indulgence.

Here's a video of Morrison performing his most famous hit, "Light My Fire":

1 comment:

  1. So many of us wish we had Jim Morrison's "limited talents". He soaked up the writings of the great philosophers, spent countless days in Paris seeking out the haunts of famous writers and educated himself beyond his film school learning. He had so many ways of expressing himself.

    Neither you nor I, no matter how talented we like to think ourselves, can ever measure up to the incredible music, lyrics and poetry left to the world by Jim Morrison. Let's not judge.