Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Life and death of the Lizard King
Jim Morrison was and still is one of the most significant singers, lyricists and poets.
Born in Melbourne, Florida on December 8, 1943 he was the oldest child of George and Clara Morrison.
In 1947, Morrison, then four years old, allegedly witnessed a car accident in the desert, where a family of Native Americans were injured and possibly killed. He referred to this incident in a spoken word performance on the song "Dawn's Highway" from the album An American Prayer, and again in the songs "Peace Frog" and "Ghost Song".
Morrison believed the incident to be the most formative event in his life, and made repeated references to it in the imagery in his songs, poems, and interviews. His family does not recall this incident happening in the way he told it. According to the Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, Morrison's family did drive past a car accident on an Indian reservation when he was a child, and he was very upset by it. The book The Doors written by the remaining members of The Doors, explains how different Morrison's account of the incident was from the account of his father. This book quotes his father as saying, "We went by several Indians. It did make an impression on him [the young James]. He always thought about that crying Indian." This is contrasted sharply with Morrison's tale of "Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death". In the same book, his sister is quoted as saying, "He enjoyed telling that story and exaggerating it. He said he saw a dead Indian by the side of the road, and I don't even know if that's true."
With his father in the United States Navy, Morrison's family moved often. He spent part of his childhood in San Diego, California. In 1958, Morrison attended Alameda High School in Alameda, California. He graduated from George Washington High School (now George Washington Middle School) in Alexandria, Virginia in June 1961. His father was also stationed at Mayport Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
Morrison went to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, where he attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College. In 1962, he transferred to Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, where he appeared in a school recruitment film. While attending FSU, Morrison was arrested for a prank, following a home football game.
In January 1964, Morrison moved to Los Angeles, California to attend UCLA. Morrison attended Jack Hirschman's class on Antonin Artaud in the Comparative Literature program within the UCLA English Department. Artaud's brand of surrealist theatre had a profound impact on Morrison's dark poetic sensibility of cinematic theatricality. Hirschman was then an Assistant Professor of English at UCLA, an author, published poet and collegial contemporary of Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, among others. Morrison was later to meet Michael McClure and together to envisage the Poetic Dream.
In 1965, after graduating from UCLA, Morrison led a bohemian lifestyle in Venice Beach. Morrison and fellow UCLA student Ray Manzarek were the first two members of The Doors. Shortly thereafter, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger joined. Krieger auditioned at Densmore's recommendation and was then added to the lineup.
The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception (a reference to the "unlocking" of "doors of perception" through psychedelic drug use), Huxley's own title was a quotation from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which Blake wrote that "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
Although Morrison is known as the lyricist for the group, Krieger also made significant lyrical contributions, writing or co-writing some of the group's biggest hits, including "Light My Fire", "Love Me Two Times", "Love Her Madly" and "Touch Me".
In June 1966, Morrison and The Doors were the opening act at the Whisky a Go Go on the last week of the residency of Van Morrison's band Them. Van's influence on Jim's developing stage performance was later noted by John Densmore in his book Riders On The Storm: "Jim Morrison learned quickly from his near-namesake's stagecraft, his apparent recklessness, his air of subdued menace, the way he would improvise poetry to a rock beat, even his habit of crouching down by the bass drum during instrumental breaks." On the final night, the two Morrisons and the two bands jammed together on "Gloria".
The Doors achieved national recognition after signing with Elektra Records in 1967. The single "Light My Fire" eventually reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. Later, The Doors appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular Sunday night variety series that had introduced The Beatles and Elvis Presley to the nation. Ed Sullivan requested two songs from The Doors for the show, "People Are Strange", and "Light My Fire". The censors insisted that they change the lyrics of "Light My Fire" from "Girl we couldn't get much higher" to "Girl we couldn't get much better"; this was reportedly due to what could be perceived as a reference to drugs in the original lyric. Giving assurances of compliance to Sullivan, Morrison then proceeded to sing the song with the original lyrics anyway. He later said that he had simply forgotten to make the change. This so infuriated Sullivan that he refused to shake their hands after their performance and told Morrison they would never play The Ed Sullivan Show again. Morrison retorted, "Who cares, we already did".
In 1967, Morrison and The Doors produced a promotional film for "Break On Through (To the Other Side)", which was their first single release. The video featured the four members of the group playing the song on a darkened set with alternating views and close-ups of the performers while Morrison lip-synched the lyrics. Morrison and The Doors continued to make music videos, including "The Unknown Soldier", "Moonlight Drive", and "People Are Strange".
By the release of their second album, Strange Days, The Doors had become one of the most popular rock bands in the United States. Their blend of blues and rock tinged with psychedelia included a number of original songs and distinctive cover versions, such as their rendition of "Alabama Song", from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's operetta, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The band also performed a number of extended concept works, including the songs "The End", "When the Music's Over", and "Celebration of the Lizard".
In 1967, photographer Joel Brodsky took a series of black-and-white photos of Morrison, in a photo shoot known as "The Young Lion" photo session. These photographs are considered among the most iconic images of Jim Morrison and are frequently used as covers for compilation albums, books, and other memorabilia of the Doors and Morrison. In 1968, The Doors released their third studio LP, Waiting for the Sun. Their fourth LP, The Soft Parade, was released in 1969. It was the first album where the individual band members were given credit on the inner sleeve for the songs they had written.
After this, Morrison started to show up for recording sessions inebriated. He was also frequently late for live performances. As a result, the band would play instrumental music or force Manzarek to take on the singing duties.
By 1969, the formerly svelte singer gained weight, grew a beard, and began dressing more casually — abandoning the leather pants and concho belts for slacks, jeans and T-shirts.
During a 1969 concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Morrison attempted to spark a riot in the audience. He failed, but a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Dade County Police department three days later for indecent exposure. Consequently, many of The Doors' scheduled concerts were canceled.In the years following the incident, Morrison has been exonerated. In 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist suggested the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Morrison. See also Miami incident.
Following The Soft Parade, The Doors released the Morrison Hotel LP. After a lengthy break the group reconvened in October 1970 to record their last LP with Morrison, L.A. Woman. Shortly after the recording sessions for the album began, producer Paul A. Rothchild — who had overseen all their previous recordings — left the project. Engineer Bruce Botnick took over as producer.
To be continued...