I Remember Jim Morrison.
By: Alan Graham.
Countless stories, many of them outrageous, have grown up over the years regarding the reason or reasons why Jim claimed, in his official Elektra publicity biography, that his parents and siblings were dead, therefore he had no past. The real reason, conveniently overlooked for years – perhaps for lack of sex appeal – is that Jim, always willful, was running away from very strict Navy parents who expected great things from him, and to whom greatness meant becoming part of the system they believed in, which was one he had learned to loathe.
It didn’t bother Jim’s siblings, him claiming the family was dead, since they came from the same strict military home and shared an understanding about keeping the wild side dark. They didn’t take it as an insult. In fact, Andy tried to run away from home in London to be with Jim in California, but his parents, with the help of their naval chauffeur, Sid, apprehended him at Heathrow Airport, and brought him home. And when asked about Jim’s statement years later, the Admiral said, “he probably did it to protect the family.”
Unlike the many baseless myths drummed up about him, Jim never treated his family poorly. He just wanted to pretend they no longer existed in his new world. This action ultimately made it easier for him to pursue a lifestyle opposite to their proscriptions – one that was free flowing and creative with no antiquated rules and ideals under which he had to live.
In 1964, when Jim moved to the West Coast to attend UCLA Film School, he hung his potential naval career on the first palm tree he passed on his way into Hollywood. Morrison had always been a literary scholar, ardently passionate about poetry, and drawn to the philosophy of Nietzsche in particular. In film, the budding young student found a new avenue through which to express himself.
After a childhood of strict, repressive parenting, umbilicus soon to be severed, he began to feel the cleansing, first breaths of freedom. There came a great sense of release as the poet began to discover his wings as a filmmaker, “the feeling,” as he put it himself, of a bowstring being pulled back for 22 years and suddenly being let go.”
The 1960’s was an exciting decade for the offspring of the Greatest Generation. This new generation embraced change and openness in direct opposition to their parents’ pragmatism and caution. Jim was to become one of its leaders, pushing for changes, testing the boundaries. From the grave, he has continued to lead, in one form or another, over the past forty years. From the music to his lyrics to his poetry, his greatest love, and fortunately, a strong part of his legacy, if not the greater part.
The Admiral and the Rock Idol
At U.C.L.A. Film School, Jim Morrison found himself. Film was a medium of endless dimension. He decided he wanted to become a director.
Professor Ed Brokaw loved Morrison. In an interview after the singer’s death, he would describe Jim as a genius. Francis Ford Coppola, Carol Ballard, and many more now-famous directors had also attended his classes, but Morrison had much better stuff. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in cinema and fine arts, writing the Admiral a “this is what I’m going to do with my life, Dad,” letter.
Needless to say, he Admiral did a backwards somersault. What, no Naval Academy? No discipline? No Admiral Junior? Jumping Jesus! No son of mine is going to get involved in the Commie, anti-war movie industry! John Wayne movies are fine, but this creative crap is out! How could you study in a field that can’t possibly make you a living? No, film making is not for you! Cut your hair and get a real job. If you don’t, you’ll get no support from me!
Jim lived on the beach in Venice for the next year, scrounging food from a dumpster in the back of a grocery store and sleeping like a rat under an old tarp on somebody’s rooftop. The Admiral searched in vain. He wanted to find his son for one reason only and that was to make him honor his obligation to the draft board.
As ever, Fate would have its mysterious way. Instead of becoming le nouveau realisateur de film extraordinaire du jour (the extraordinary new filmmaker of the day), Morrison became le nouvel idole extraordinaire de roche du jour (the extraordinary new rock idol of the day).
Neither was a fate his father would have chosen for him. Nor did his father have a say. The die was cast.
In 1967, “Light My Fire” was number one in the nation. Morrison finally surfaced, his face peering mysteriously from the front of an album cover. Mrs. Admiral bought two dozen copies, hiding them from her husband (which explains her foreknowledge of her son’s appearance on the Sullivan show). Her first born was famous.
Time Magazine ran an article on The Doors. It was a flattering critique of Jim’s lyrics and singing style. The Admiral’s secretary slipped a copy on his desk with the morning coffee. The naval officer was not amused. It took him three decades to get where he was. Jim had achieved much more in a very short time. Jim’s salary dwarfed his father’s, enraging the materialistic Admiral. “But those aren’t real dollars he’s making,” he reassured himself. “No one could make that much money in one night. It took me 30 years to make a fraction of that and I really had to work hard to do so.” Many sons have died tragically trying to earn their fathers’ approval. The work ethic has its own separate and devastating reality.
The ghost of John Paul Jones entered the Admiral’s Pentagon office. “You realize, of course, that this is the end of your career. Your revolutionary son has made it impossible for you to go any further in this man’s navy. What happened? How did he get so out of hand?”
The Admiral looked directly into the eyes of the first sea lord. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said.
Morrison’s lyrics jumped out of the Time Magazine and stuck to the walls.
“Do you know we are being led to slaughter by flaccid admirals and fat, slow generals are feeding on our blood?”
The Admiral rose from his desk and wiped them off the wall with a dirty rag.
“…Moment of freedom as the prisoner blinks in the sun like a mole from his hole A child’s first trip away from home…”
“…We of the purple glove / We of the starling flight & velvet hour / We of Arabic pleasure’s breed / We of sundome & the night / Give us a creed / To believe…” – Jim Morrison – 1969.