I remember the early 70s with a sadness, a melancholy stretch of personal dysphoria. Voices of our generation, each individually silenced by death within a few short months. The sense of loss was nearly unbearable.
It started with Hendrix in September of ’70. A few days later, on the fourth of October, Janis Joplin overdosed in a Hollywood Heights hotel. I wept openly.
I have few memories of the period as I tried to erase the grief with my own version of excess. I too was nearly lost. And then in the summer of ’71, “The Lizard King” joined them in absence.
Jim Morrison died in Paris, July 3, 1971.
Morrison left a legacy few rock front-men before or after have been able to achieve. For his brief career as the voice and face of The Doors, Morrison brought his own unique style the the stage. He was a poet, a rebel, an iconic personality in an era of excess and revolution. Jim Morrison was an innovator and changed the face of rock and roll.
He was born in Melbourne, FL., December 8, 1943, to future Rear Admiral George Stephen Morrison. His father was the commander the 3rd Fleet Carrier Division during the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. Being a navy family meant a nomadic existence for the Morrisons as they moved from duty station to duty station. Sometime between a few years in San Diego to early High School in Alameda, CA., to graduating from George Washington High School in Alexandrea, VA., Morrison developed a passion for the arts. He wanted to make films.
He traveled to Los Angeles to attend college where he ultimately received an undergraduate degree from UCLA’s film school and the Theater Arts department of the College of Fine Arts in 1965.
Morrison was influenced and inspired by the writings of many philosophers and poets. Count among them Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Cocteau and Jack Kerouac. He was an obsessive reader of mythology and philosophy.
After graduation, Morrison lived a bohemian lifestyle in Venice Beach, where he took up residence on the rooftop of an old college classmate. According to his friend the future rock legend lived on a diet of canned beans and LSD for several months.
During that same summer, Morrison and another UCLA classmate, Ray Manzarek, got together and formed The Doors. Days later drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger joined the pair and the rest is history. The Doors went on to become the most enigmatic touring rock band of the late 60s.
“I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos-especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom… Rather than starting inside, I start outside and reach the mental through the physical.” – Jim Morrison
Over the next five years The Doors toured and recorded and made their mark on the landscape of American rock and roll. Touring and his on-again/off-again legal problems began to take a toll on Morrison. He began to gain weight and withdraw from friends and bandmates.
In March of ’71 he flew to Paris to regroup and re-energize for a return to the studio late in the year. He hoped to glean inspiration from the culture and architecture of the city. Morrison moved into an apartment on rue Beautreillis on the Right Bank, and could regularly be seen exploring the city streets.
As the story goes Morrison’s last trip to the studio was a drunken collaboration with a couple of equally inebriated pair of American street musicians he met on a Paris sidewalk. The Doors singer took his new friends into a small studio and recorded fourteen minutes of what Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek refers to as “drunken gibberish.”
Morrison’s drunken eight and half minutes of singing on Orange County Suite at that small Paris studio would be his last recording. That session can be heard on the bootleg recording, The Lost Paris Tapes.
Just two weeks later, on the morning of July 3rd, his long-time girlfriend and common-law wife, Pamela Courson, found him dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. Because there was no sign of foul play French authorities did not order an autopsy. To this day mystery surrounds the death.Morrison’s death comes exactly two years after the Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, was found dead in his pool.
Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain were all 27 years old when they died. In this age where everything is labeled, this odd coincidence is dubbed Club 27.
I look back to the era and think how fortunate we were to have lived in a period of time where talent, philosophy, raw energy and a desire to create gave us artists like these beautiful people. They were all tortured souls who could weave that pain into beautiful song.
The Righteous Brothers sang… “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they have a hell of a band.”