This article was first published on CLUAS in May 2003
The Demons of P?e-Lachaise
Mark Godfrey reflects on Jim Morrison after a visit to his grave in Paris...
P?e Lachaise is a vast cemetery like no other. Here lie the remains of
illustrious creators like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Fr?eric Chopin and Gertrude
Stein. Jim Morrison's death gave the cemetery its biggest draw
however. Every year the pilgrims come to Mecca. From all over the world they
come. The grave is marked out with signs. The security guards keep a bored
watch, interrupting a Canadian acoustic take on 'The End'. Morrison's own words
are etched in Greek: 'Excise Your Own Demons.' A crocodile-shoed crock of the
70s lights a cigarette and places it on the soil of the grave, there to stand
with pots of flowers, bouquets, roses, watches, candles, scraps of paper and
blotched ink. The graffiti is everywhere. The old rockers have come from
Florida, greasy and sore- eyed from sleeping in too many airports and train
F?ix de Az? has called it the 'Rimbaud syndrome': some artists come to be transformed into a figure of mythic proportions and ambitions. 'These are artists with a convulsive temperament that swings abruptly between depression and interspection to periods of huge genius' wrote Az?. Unpredictable, highly strung, part antisocial, Jim Morrison took the syndrome to rock culture like no one before him. He also brought the genre more original creativity than most of its surviving figures.
Born in Melbourne, Florida on the 8th of December 1943, Morrison registered as a theatre and cinema student at the University of California in Los Angeles. His US Navy admiral father dictated a future his son didn't want. Jim devoured symbolist literature: Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine - the same writers who excited Patti Smith. These scribes helped imbue in Morrison his social conscience too. His other stimulation of a non-sexual nature was rhythm and blues music, still a very black art form.
A pianist form Chicago named Ray Manzarek was the catalyst between Morrison and musical success. The two met at a local club and were bound by more than a shared bohemia. They took the name from William Blake. 'There are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and between them there are the doors.' Mystery, LSD, experimentation, cryptic poetry were Morrison's media and the mix was typified in 'Break On Through to the Other Side' and 'Light My Fire' from the band's first album 'The Doors', released in 1967.
Morrison, Manzarek, Robbie Krieger (guitars) and John Densmore on drums took the language of rhythm and blues and meshed it with psychedelia and cabaret (hence their take on Kurt Weill's 'Alabama Song'). Morrison in reality however was drawn to music only in its ability to extend his poetic license further. His poetry compilations are available in volumes like 'The Lords', 'The New Creatures' and 'The Celebration of the Lizard'.
Someone who always took things to the limit, to extremes, Morrison couldn't do anything other than be lewdly exhibitionist at concerts, clash with cops or nourish an addiction to booze and other stimulants. Morrison had created a persona: the quintessential tormented and irreverent artist.
On the 1st of March 1969 the Doors frontman was arrested at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. Morrison ended the show with an arrest for 'simulating masturbation and oral sex on the audience' and was slapped with a five hundred dollar fine and eight years penal servitude. He never served the sentence: it was still being appealed two years later when he died. The judge who sentenced him died this January, 2003.
A one way street took him to Paris in January 1971, to an apartment on Rue Beaux-Arts, which he rented with girlfriend Pamela Courson. Morrison wanted to distance himself from the music business and write more poetry. More time was spent however in the bars and bistros of the area than on artistic research. But then Morrison did often find his inspiration at the bottom of a whiskey glass... Morrison went beyond his usual extremes on a balmy third day in July 1971. Life ended with an overdose of experimentation. He died in his bath of a heart-attack, brought on by drugs and drink. Jim Morrison was 27, the same age as Jimi Hendrix was when he died. Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Rolling Stones creative pillar Brian Jones died at that age too.
The world of rock lost one of its great agitators on the 3rd of July 1971. Jim Morrison, the charismatic singer of the Doors was an idol dead, an addition to the other epic victims of pop's pioneering age. Poet and singer of the countercultural revolution who left a legacy of convulsive discs, Morrison's cult lives on and the record companies still squeezes new albums from the old recordings.
'The only thing that interests me is rebellion, disorder, chaos and any senseless activity' said Morrison. The rebellious, the disordered and the chaotic are pale shadows over Jim Morrison's tombstone at P?e Lachaise. Stronger is the sense of senselessness: the senselessness of a great talent's death and the empty sorrow left in his place. His death may have been preordained or inevitable. Morrison was too volatile a star to shine peacefully. Morrison once described religion as a 'bunch of bullshit.' Yet in the searching faces, the tears and the candles gathered about his tomb in P?e Lachaise, Jim Morrison has become an alternative religion, his bible a collection of music that never loses its relevance nor its appeal.