Paris, France. That man, that scary, scary man, first glimpsed by eight-year-old eyes on large family room television set with limb movements representing fiery flames, like a corpse sitting up and turning during the cremation ceremony on the Ganges, “Come on baby, light my fire.” I’d been exposed to Ozzy, Maiden, any form of nasty mutant death they showed on cable TV (unsupervised), but That man was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen, “And our love become a funeral pyre … Come on, baby …” Is he a hero? No, he is not. I do not look up to him, think, “Now, why can’t I be more like Jim?” What, die in a bathtub in Paris, France? They say of a heart attack. Or was it foul play?
Modest roots. Navy brat. I remember my own father – “That’s the thing about children [disappointed tone] you never know what you’re going to get.” [IMAGE: Morrison and his father on the bridge of the USS Bon Homme Richard in January 1964.] Their falling out? A note from Dad upon hearing, “I eat more chicken than any man ever seen. I’m a back door man.” “Dear Son AKA Lizard King, Give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I consider to be a complete lack of talent in this direction.” That’s how you wind up dead in Paris in a bathtub of a heart attack. Or was it an overdose?
The light on the streets of the Latin Quarter this morning is soft and not quite white, not quite yellow. The Greeks of the restaurants with their rotating wheels of carving meats have gone to bed with the gals from the souvenir kiosks. All shuttered up. Only the kindly boulangerie is baking arm-long breads that are hard on the teeth yet satisfactory to the soul. The bread (le pain) is designed to go down the esophagus, and down it goes like so many things that go down, the muscle yields, like Nico yielded to Mr. Mojo Risin’, as did Pamela Courson, et al. [At the time of his death, Morrison had at least 20 paternity actions pending against him] And I now can see the gothic cathedral NOTRE DAME OUR LADY [And another bite of the sandwich at last gives way to swallow] Rest myself against a filthy cold stone wall above the frog-green waters of the gushing Seine, broken glass, plastic bottles rubbish and a salty mouth wound from le pain. He was here, I sense, here coughing up blood.
An empty tourist ferry sails by.
Morrison joined Courson in Paris in March 1971. They took up residence in the city in a rented apartment on the rue Beautreillis in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on the Right Bank [in case you didn’t know that] and went for long walks throughout the city, admiring its vanguard architecture.
Like many today. Even in the early morning the Parisians are smoking their cigarettes at damp café tables with their hard breads and soft buttery croissants, reading about things, Euro crisis maybe, but probably not symbolist poetry, but what a grand city Paris is to have even given us symbolist poetry! We just love you intellectual Paris, we adore you. Like Owen Wilson staggering around and Woody Allen in his little burned bread of a beret hanging on his little Brooklyn head [aaaand ACTION!] I too stagger and wonder if I should I go to Pere Lachaise to visit Jim. What will I say to him? What is there left to say?
[“Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. Send my credentials to the house of detention …]
Our souls were once twinned. Jim spoke to/for me. In the darkness of high school unrequited love melodrama, this sick-headed youth found solace in his parents yard by listening to, “This is the end, beautiful friend, my only friend the end …” And in high school bands, “Break on through to the other side!” Arguments about whether that was a bass or just a bass pedal on an organ [it was a real studio bass guitar, you fucks] And when my own real life Jim, Jim Shea, a young comedian who suffered from everything (now he’s a big-shot-hot-shit lawyer) Fifteen-year-old Jimmy Shea rolling around on a lawn in his pathetic self pity wallow crying in a drunken mewl, “I’m the Lizard King, I can do anything!” And the other high schoolers congregating like old Cubans at a cock fight, “Shea’s really gone crazy now, Lizard King? Huh!”
There is plenty to say to my Soul Twin Mr. Mojo Risin’, or plenty to transmit back to him. So much he has given us directly and vicariously via Oliver Stone and any number of best selling [No One Here Gets Out Alive] books and the music, [Soft Parade], well … we thought Paris would be good for you Morrison, you’d leave those dead Indians in the desert, leave the others to their Doors of the 21st Century tours and lawsuits and books about lawsuits – Fuck it, Morrison, let Paris take you in, suckle on Gray Sacred Lady Notre Dame, eat the beignets, the hard sandwiches, bask in the symbolism. Go visit Man Ray the avant-garde photographer, he’s still alive in 1971, five more years left in him [See, he dies in November 1976, says so right here] go see Man Ray, pay a hero a visit before he’s gone, talk about pictures and anagrams and nicknames, [My dear Emmanuel Radnitzky], because we all need our heroes, and so do you …
Consult the Scripture of Art, dear Back Door Man. And that one time, at Jessica Pisa’s Sweet 16, they made all the theater people get up and sing, “You make me feel so good, you make me feel so good,” which is fine if you are a gayboy, but not fine if you are an ashamed scaredycat self loathing fuckface, as I was, and so I summoned my inner Mojo Risin’, Like, “You make me feel so good … Father, yes son, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to rrrraeerrarrearrrrgghhhh!” Then I leaped off the stool and into Pisa family home video legend.
[I die for a second in embarrassment in Paris of 2013, and then sip the chocolate dusting off my still-warm morning cappuccino and resume, all downwind of Shakespeare and Company, a man bikes by]
What do they say of this foggy time, Anno 1971, Nixon, Brezhnev, shag carpeting, All in the Family debuts – What do they say? They say that Morrison had asthma and was suffering from a respiratory condition involving a chronic cough and vomiting blood on the night of his death. Remaining members of The Doors attest that Morrison had been coughing up blood for nearly two months in Paris, but none of the members of The Doors were actually in Paris with Morrison in the months prior to his death. Intrigue, suspense!
Remember that cover for Morrison Hotel? What they didn’t show you was Jim coughing up blood in the toilet of that bar next to some other drunk who was also coughing up blood after the photo was taken. This same “they” also says that the Lizard King’s snuffing of heroin was accidental, that he thought it was but simple man’s cocaine, or did Pamela kill him? This same “they” says that too. In one account, he lies in warm tub, coughing up rivulets of blood, calling to Pamela to get an ambulance, but she nods off, stoned on her own, and when she awakes …
[Or maybe she was pretending to be asleep. That’s what you get for being an unfaithful famewhore, Mojo Risin’!]
That’s not what Sam Bernett, a former manager of Le Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus nightclub, says. He says Jim went to buy heroin for Pamela [aww, sweet], tried some, and died on the shitter in the club. Gross. Then the drug dealers brought his [coughing up blood] body back to rue Beautreillis and dumped him in the tub and left country, lickety splickety. All to protect the sterling reputation of Le Club! Wouldn’t want to impinge on future dope deals! THE FRENCH CONNECTION. According to a Madame Colinette, who was at the cemetery that day mourning the recent loss of her husband, she witnessed Morrison’s funeral at Père Lachaise. She was standing there at Père in her fur coat with her poodle and arm full of bread and copy of Le Monde, watched the pitiful drug-stricken attendants, dark druggy-eyed Pamela, too, bid adieu to James Douglas Lizard King, tossed a couple blossoms on his box and then made like the Seine itself, gushing off, rippling off to someplace, everyplace, but not there.
The film didn’t end in the cemetery. It ended with the scene of him in the tub and red lights on his dead open-eyed face [Though it was really Val Kilmer, in the performance of a lifetime.] They tried to get Jim to say, “Babe, we couldn’t get much better” instead of “higher” on the Ed Sullivan show, remember that part, “Dig?” And Ray the keyboardist was for it, because “it’s just a word,” but then Wise Back Door Man said, “Why don’t you change your name to Irving Manzarek? After all, it’s just a word.” HE HATH SPOKEN!
Where to start, where to end? That film, those iconic images, rented on VHS, Andy Warhol and his telephone [“Somebody gave this to me. They say you can talk to God through it, but [effeminately hesitates] I don’t know what to say”] and the fake Velvet Underground and the strange men in horse-drawn carriages [Densmore says, “Let’s get out of here. These people are vampires.”] and “Strange Days” playing in the background, “… have fallen.” Nico [whispers, “Mowison, come heow,”] in the red elevator blowing Jim, and the door opens and Pamela sees Jim being fellated by those Teutonic Model Lips (so much thicker and more plastic Hollywood in Oliver Stone than in real life, according to old B&W film clips) and Jim/Val laughs at Pam/Meg, and teenage boys everywhere in 1991 cream themselves and say: “I want to be THAT GUY when I grow up. Jim Morrison’s MY fucking HERO!”
I know so much about this man, Mojo Risin’. I know who blew him in an elevator in 1967. Another empty ferry goes sailing by, but this one in another direction. It passes under the bridge.
[IMAGE: Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise]
‘”What are you writing there?” Asks inquisitive tourist man with lilting Swedish accent who has been looking at used books outside ye new Shakespeare and Co.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about The Doors,” I answer.
“Ah, Huxley, The Doors of Perception?”
“No, The Doors.”
“You mean the band?”
“Yeah. People know so much about that band, about Jim Morrison. They know their songs and what their songs are about and about Jim Morrison and his life.”
He contemplates beside his bike with used book under armpit. “Well, I don’t know how much he knew about music, but Jim Morrison was a … how do you say … he had charisma.”
“That’s just the thing,” I say. “He was inspiring, and yet I don’t think anybody wants to wind up like Jim Morrison. So he wasn’t that inspiring.”
Swede contemplates more. “You mean dead in a bathtub?”
I shake my head no. “That’s just one version of it. There’s another version that he died on the toilet in a nightclub while he was buying heroin.”
“So how did he wind up in the bathtub?”
“The drug dealers dumped him there. They didn’t want the police snooping around the club and busting up their business.”
“Makes even more sense,” he says.
“Sure! Who does that? Dies in a bathtub … what, you relax so much that you die … of a heart attack?” I don’t know” [doubtful Swedish face]
“Well, another version is that Jim snorted heroin instead of cocaine. He thought it was cocaine.”
Swede Biker snorts himself. Not sure if that was a laugh or just winter snot. “That’s the thing about rock singers,” Swede says.
“Sooner or later, you have to decide whether you are going to be a Bono or a Morrison.” He says Bono to rhyme with “Oh, no,” but all the MTV veejays have always said, “Bono” to rhyme with “Mano-a-mano.” Is there something I’m missing here?
“What do you mean?” I probe.
Swede sighs. “Let’s be fair. Bono was once experimenting with life, with religion, you know he went through a deep religious period, right?”
“Yes, I know.”
“Bono was, like, experimenting with religion. But then … well, look at what he’s become. Morrison though, he went out at … it’s like he reached the top of the hill and then he just went out.”
“He peaked, you mean. Climaxed.”
“Climaxed!” Swede’s eyes light up, he likes the tingling word. “But Bono climaxed …” he holds a hand in the air, “and then he went downhill,” hand dives to knee-level, “into what he is today. I mean, he’s just Bo-No. He’s a nice guy and all, but …”
“He is,” I approve. “Very philanthropic.”
Swede shakes his head up and down and then back and forth. “It’s like there is all this weight on you, you know, when you are a rock singer.” He taps at shoulders. “All of that weight like, like Kurt Cobain. Morrison, Cobain – they just couldn’t take it. Couldn’t handle that weight.”
“He was the same age too, 27,” I say. “Part of that club. The 27 club.”
“They have their own club?”
“It’s an expression.”
Swede ruminates. “And Elvis was 27 then, too, wasn’t he. He went out young.”
“No, Elvis was middle-aged.”
“The Beatles basically killed his career, then he had his Comeback Special, but then he got all fat and addicted to pain killers and was wearing that white suit in Hawaii. You know the one all the Elvis lookalikes wear?”
Swede gestures yes.
“Then he died on the toilet, too.”
“Well, we don’t know if he died on the toilet or not. What a way to go though.”
Swede nods at the depth of the statement. He savors its underwater tectonic trench depth, as if he is there at the bottom of the ocean himself, somewhere between South America and Africa.
“Yeah, well, I’ve got to get going …” Swede tosses his pack on his back and mounts up on his bike.
“I’ll remember that though,” I say. “You’ve got to make a choice – Bono or Morrison.”
“We’ve all got to make that choice,” he says, knowingly, and rides away on his bicycle past the old Hippies selling used records.
Morrison is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Mr. Mojo Risin’s resting place is said to be one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. The grave had no official marker until officials placed a shield over it, which was stolen in 1973. Then, in 1981, the Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin placed a bust of Morrison and a new gravestone with Morrison’s name at the grave to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, but the bust was defaced through the years by cemetery vandals and later stolen in 1988. In the ’90s, Morrison’s father, Rear Admiral George “You’ve no talent, son” Morrison, placed a stone on the grave that bears the Greek inscription: κατα τον δαιμονα εαυτου, literally “according to his own demon” though sometimes translated as “true to his own spirit.”
Demon more like it, I say. And I know that Demon, too, have dined with her, entertained, drugged, made loved. And once, in a strip club, I was accosted by a blondie-bimbo-dancer in red whose eyes lit up like mirrors at me and in deranged I’ve-been-used-by-men-all-my-life-and-loved-every-second-of-it bubbly tone lisped through the club darkness, “Oooh, thweety, you look jutht like Jim Morrithon.”
“You know, there is a club of couples who have met at Morrison’s grave.” This is what she, Kaja, my wife told me before she left for Egypt. “You mean like your friend in London. That director?”
We met her at the Ukrainian House. Kaja interviewed, I ate sausages and watched a BBC made-for-TV special about Guy Fawkes and his [aborted] plot to destroy the British parliament. “She was cool,” I said, meaning I was attracted to her – and who wouldn’t be? A pretty girl she was, soft features, long potato brown hair, AND she met her husband at Père Lachaise. “Yeah, she was,” says Kaja, who was also probably attracted to her in that familiar soft-warm cozy cat-like lulling [strictly platonic!] hopeless lesbianism of women everywhere, even dear Paris. [IMAGE: Director Who Met Husband at Jim Morrison’s Grave Interviewed by Curlypermed Kaja About Directing and How She Met Husband at Morrison’s Grave While Kaja’s Bono-Like Future Husband Looks On] “What is she doing these days?” I ask. “Oh, she’s directing some off-off-off-off-off Broadway play,” says Kaja. “But not off the real Broadway, you know, in London.”
Had I had gone to Père Lachaise I would have kept an eye out for couples meeting each other, given what Kaja said. But I didn’t go to Père Lachaise that morning because I’ve made my choice and Jim “Lizard King” Morrison is not my hero, never was, never could be, He who Died in Parisian Shitter or Bathtub.