Jim Morrison, 50 years after his death: a daring rock icon, a poet, a beloved brother and a web of contradictions
Few rock ‘n’ roll legends have had such a lasting impact over generations as Jim Morrison, whose death 50 years ago next month at age 27 made him an even greater cultural icon than when he was alive.
Yet while his six-year tenure as a deep-voiced frontman in The Doors created a quintessential role model for sullen, bad-boy rock singers clad in leather and oozing with primal sex appeal, the musical stardom was certainly not the goal of this former San Diegan. . This point is emphasized repeatedly in “The Collected Works of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts and Lyrics,” a massive, nearly 600-page book published by HarperCollins.
“Being in a band was kind of an accident for Jim because he had no intention of becoming a singer. He still wrote poetry and wanted to make movies, ”said his sister, Anne Morrison Chewning, speaking from her home near Santa Barbara, California. “I thought Jim would be a poet, like one of the Beat poets in San Francisco. This is what I expected. And I was worried! Because I thought he would never make enough money as a poet to get by.
Chewning, who wrote the prologue to “The Collected Works,” is the co-executor of his late brother’s personal property. She has devoted years to compiling and directing this comprehensive new book, which includes a preface by novelist Tom Robbins and an introduction by Frank Lisciandro, Morrison’s close friend and collaborator.
“I have known several Jims,” writes Lisciandro in his introduction. “The shy loner who was my classmate at UCLA School of Film; the rock performer who always upped the ante on what was culturally acceptable; the lyricist, poet and writer who surprised me with notebook pages of intricate poems and freebies from self-published books … “
As a result, “The Collected Works” presents a wealth of unpublished material. It includes handwritten excerpts from 28 of Morrison’s recently discovered notebooks, from recorded and unregistered lyrics (some with handwritten drafts) to over 1,500 photos and drawings (including rarely seen family photos).
The book also contains the screenplay and color photos from his unreleased film “HWY,” which accompanies his 1969 experimental film, “The Hitchhiker: An American Pastoral,” which was filmed largely in the Mojave Desert. And it contains some of Morrison’s last writings in Paris, where he died on July 3, 1971, from – depending on the source – congestive heart failure, accidental drug overdose, or a combination of the two.
And that includes his hearing notes from his 40-day trial in 1970 in Miami, where – following an indicted Doors concert in which he allegedly exposed himself – Morrison was convicted of blasphemy and blasphemy. exposure to modesty. He was posthumously pardoned in 2010.
‘A more complete Jim’
“I wanted the book to be all Jim, with its poetry, thoughts, song lyrics, movie (script),” said Chewning, a retired teacher and librarian. “I wanted people to see a more complete Jim than they knew about his music or what they had read or heard about him.”
These feelings are shared by former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. His memoir, “Set the Night on Fire”, is expected to be published this fall. Also coming this fall is an expanded edition of the “LA Woman” 50th anniversary box set. It was Morrison’s last studio album with The Doors before his death and stands as the band’s most accomplished fusion of rock, blues and jazz.
“I think people will be amazed at how much poetry there was in Jim and that he wasn’t just that crazy rock star,” Krieger said. “He always had a notebook with him to write on. Sadly, many of them were left in bars and hotel rooms, so we’ll never see everything he wrote. And he was shy about it. He would never show us what was in his notebooks or say, “Look at this. “
Morrison wrote “Pony Express”, his first poem, in 1954 while attending Longfellow Elementary School in Clairemont. He was 10 years old at the time. Now exhibited at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, “Pony Express” is the first of his poems to appear in “The Collected Works”. It’s juxtaposed with a quote by Morrison from a 1969 Rolling Stone interview.
“I think around the fifth or sixth grade I wrote a poem called ‘The Pony Express’,” he told Rolling Stone.
“It was the first one I can remember. It was one of those ballad-type poems. I was never able to collect it, however. I always wanted to write, but thought it wouldn’t be good unless somehow the hand picked up the pen and started to move without me really having anything. either to do with that. Like automatic writing. But that never happened.
In fact, he self-published two labor of love volumes of his poetry in 1969. And, rather than seeking to cash in on his fame, he had his full name – James Douglas Morrison – embossed on the cover.
After his death on July 3, 1971, both volumes were officially published by Simon & Schuster under the title “The Lords and The New Creatures”. Other posthumous books of his poetry followed. The line seemed to be clear between Morrison’s poetry and the lyrics he wrote for classic Doors songs such as “Break On Through”, “Hello, I Love You” and “Roadhouse Blues”.
This was not the case, however, with other songs.
“If Jim hadn’t been into poetry as much as he had been at an early age, who knows if he would have written songs later,” Krieger mused.
“A lot of the songs came from his poetry, songs like ‘Peace Frog’ (1970s) for example. I had written the music for it and we had no lyrics. I asked Jim if he could find something and he couldn’t. His mind was a little confused at the time because it was right after the Miami court trial (1970).
“So he went back and looked in one of his poetry notebooks and found this poem called ‘Abortion Stories’, which became ‘The Peace Frog’. “
Krieger paused for a moment of further thought.
“Another example is ‘Light My Fire’, which I wrote,” continued the 75-year-old guitarist. “But that last line, just before the song ended, Jim changed“ Light my fire ”to“ Try to set the night on fire. ”I thought he just found that line at the time.
“I later found out it was from a poem in one of Jim’s notebooks years before. I think a lot of the songs he wrote might first come from situations like this. So, I always wanted there to be a book of all his poetry.
A passionate prankster
Morrison’s fame was rivaled – and fueled by – his notoriety.
A bundle of walking contradictions, it was truer than life on stage, whether he was thrilled by the music or stumbled in a drunken haze. Offstage, he could be sensitive or surly, charming or at times combative, a shameless hedonist or an urban aficionado of cinema, literature and theater.
But what was he like when he was little?
“Jim was great fun! Her sister remembered, laughing heartily.
“It started when he was little. He would trade me his nickels for my ten cents by telling me that the nickels were bigger! He would do pranks and nonsense, and he would get us into trouble at the Coronado Naval Base. “
Chewning laughed again as he recalled a particularly colorful example of his older brother’s mischievous ways.
“When Jim was at UCLA he came home for a visit to Coronado and I assumed he had been drinking,” she said. “We went to the movies on base with my younger brother, Andy – tickets were only 10 cents. Prior to the feature film, they played “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
“Jim got up and sang it all. And he was the only one in the whole theater to do that. We were just kids and we were all laughing. You can imagine the reaction from the Navy people. Because we were sitting in the officers’ section, there was really nothing they could do to us.
“A total lack of talent”
After hearing The Doors debut album in 1967, Morrison’s father wrote a letter urging his son to “give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group due to what I consider a complete lack of talent in this direction “.
Chewning – who was attending university in London at the time – didn’t even know his older brother was in a rock band, let alone the fact that he was the frontman of The Doors, whose music was then regularly broadcast by the British BBC radio network. the air.
“Someone told my mom about the album and she sent me a copy,” Chewning said. “I was like, ‘Whoa! It is my brother!’ It was incredible, shocking and surprising. I’ve never seen the band play live. But my mom kept all the magazine covers and newspaper clippings from The Doors and I found them (after she died).
And what about “The End” – one of The Doors’ most controversial songs – in which Morrison said he wanted to kill his father and put his mother to bed?
“People would whisper to me, ‘Are your parents upset about’ The End ‘? Chewing recalled. “And I would say, ‘Not at all. The lyrics are just (based on) a Greek myth. ‘ Jim did it in a new way and I loved the drama of it.
“After my father retired to San Diego, he studied Ancient Greek. Jim’s gravestone in Paris was vandalized and people were taking pieces of it. So dad had a new gravestone made for Jim with the words, in Greek, “True to his own mind.”
“I think that’s what dad finally thought about Jim, and he wanted it to be immortalized on Jim’s gravestone.”