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Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison

Lead singer for the rock group the Doors, Jim Morrison (1943-1971), personified the mind-bending, uninhibited lifestyle of the 1960s, in his brief but brilliant career.

Like few bands other than the Beatles, the influence of the Doors has eclipsed the generation that first carried it to fame. Like the band, its leader, poet and visionary, Jim Morrison, continued to inspire fascination. Morrison has become a legendary figure, both in rock music and in popular culture, fueled to prominence by a score of books and articles, as well as by a major motion picture, The Doors, that recounted the musician's brief but tumultuous life.

First Creative Outlet in Film

Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida, on December 8, 1943. His father, a career Navy officer, was transferred from base to base during his son's childhood, but, by his son's early teens, the family had settled in Alexandria, Virginia. After finishing high school in Alexandria, Morrison took several classes at St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida State University before pulling up roots in 1964, and heading for the West Coast. By 1966, the 22-year-old Morrison was enrolled in film classes at the Universtiy of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) but a friendship with fellow student Ray Manzarek would sideline any plans he had of becoming a film maker.

While the two young men had known each other only casually as fellow students, they ran into each other one day by accident, on a Venice beach. As Manzarek later recalled in an interview for a television show transcribed on the American Legends web site, Morrison "knew I was a musician. I knew he was a poet…. So he sat down on the beach, and he dug his hands into the sand…. And he began to sing … in this really haunting kind of voice. It was soft-a soft but powerful voice…. I thought-Wow. Those are great lyrics. And he continued the song, and I thought this is one of the best Rock & Roll songs I've ever heard….As Morrison was singing, I could hear the things that I could play behind it."

The Doors

Manzarek, an organist, along with Morrison, guitarist Robbie Krieger, and drummer John Densmore decided to form their own rock band to put those songs to music. The young men decided to call their group the Doors, a name inspired by a quote from nineteenth-century English poet William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite." As Morrison was fond of saying, "there are things known and things unknown and in between are the Doors."

Although his new lifestyle as a rock musician was a radical break from growing up in the uneventful fifties or life as a college student, images of his past, particularly his childhood, haunted many of Morrison's works, including his poetry and song lyrics. In Peace Frog, recorded on the album Morrison Hotel, he recalls an event from childhood, singing of "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding/Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind." Imagery involving Native Americans would surround Morrison even in adulthood; in fact he was nicknamed "the electric shaman" by fans hypnotized by Morrison's on-stage energy and powerful charisma. His growing relationship with girlfriend Pamela Courson would also inspire song lyrics; the couple lived together in a somewhat loose relationship, from 1966 on, although they never married.

Meanwhile, a long-term gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go on Hollywood's Sunset Strip allowed the Doors to develop their stage presence, and it eventually drew the attention of talent scouts searching for new recording acts. Not the least of the group's attractions was Morrison, who sang in a husky baritone, wore skin-tight pants, and went even further than Elvis Presley had in incorporating sexually suggestive movements into his on-stage performances. With lyrics like "Come on baby, light my fire, " Morrison held young women enthralled.

Band Signed with Elektra

Although they had signed a record contract with Columbia, the label showed little interest in the new band. In 1966, their luck changed when the Doors were offered a recording contract with Elektra Records. They accepted, and, under the management of Bill Siddons, released their self-titled debut the following year. In Morrison's Elektra biography, released in conjunction with the group's debut album, he stated, "I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order…. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom-external revolt is a way to bring about internal freedom. Rather than starting inside, I start outside-reach the mental through the physical." Such ideas reflected the attitude of a generation raised under the repressive conventions of the 1950s and rebelling against what they viewed as unwarranted hostilities of an older generation in Vietnam. Morrison and his message tapped a very large nerve.

The Rise of the Lizard King

After the release of The Doors, the group went back into the studio and cut Strange Days, which also came out in 1967. Other albums would include Waiting for the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970), Absolutely Live (1970), and L.A. Woman (1971). Morrison, caught up in Native American lore and the images of the American deserts, dubbed himself the "Lizard King" and wrote several songs, including "Celebration of the Lizard, " in reference to his reptilian alter ego.

Caught up in a wave of popularity, the young band found itself carried into a new world, where drugs, alcohol, and sex played a major role. Morrison, whose status as a celebrity had begun almost overnight, found it difficult to handle the change: his growing dependence on alcohol would dim his talent in the years that followed, and the superstar status made him believe he was immune from normal authority. In one instance, an altercation with a police officer who accidentally attempted to arrest the star for loitering backstage during a concert in New Haven, Connecticut, resulted in Morrison's arrest while on stage after the rock singer began antagonizing the police posted in the concert arena.

Concert in Miami Sparked Controversy

On March 1, 1969, Morrison and the Doors were booked for a concert at Dinner Key Auditorium, in Coconut Grove, in Morrison's home state of Florida. Late for his scheduled flight to Miami, Morrison waited in the airport lounge, drinking heavily, until the next flight was called. When he missed the stop over flight in New Orleans, he again spent the time in the airport bar. By the time Morrison arrived in Miami, he was barely able to stand. During his performance before thirteen thousand screaming fans, Morrison, totally inebriated, exposed himself briefly, to the audience. Nothing was done until pressure from disgusted Miami-area residents forced local police to issue a warrant for Morrison's arrest. The singer, who had been vacationing out of the country, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and returned to Miami, where he went on trial on August 12, 1970. Found guilty of a misdemeanor for profanity and drunkenness, he was sentenced to six months hard labor, although the sentence was stayed, while his attorney appealed the conviction. Morrison would not live to see the outcome of that appeal.

Trial Served as Coda to Life

After the trial in Miami, Morrison's life grew more chaotic, his relationships with band members more strained. His fifth-a-day drinking habit continued unabated, and he began to consider leaving the group to return to film studies. Searching to recover a sense of himself, he went back to the poetry that he had loved while a college student. In 1970, he published his first book of verse, The Lords [and] The New Creatures, which had been privately printed the year before. During an interview with Tony Thomas of the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC), despite the toll drugs and alcohol had taken on him, Morrison presented himself as an insightful student of life, philosophy, and modern culture: "When I was in high school and college, " he noted, "the kind of protest that's going on now was totally unheard of. At that time, to be a teenager, to be young, was really nothing, it was kind of a limbo state, and I think it's amazing, just in the last five years. What's happened is young people have become increasingly aware of the power and the influence that they have as a group. It's really amazing."

On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in his bath tub, by his girlfriend. The cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, although an autopsy was never performed. He was buried at the Pere-Lachaisse Cemetery, in Paris. His death was kept secret until after the funeral, to eliminate the crowds of saddened fans that would likely have attended.

Further Reading

Hopkins, Jerry, The Lizard King: The Essential Jim Morrison, Collier, 1993.

Kennealy, Patricia, Strange Dreams: My Life with and without Jim Morrison, Dutton, 1992.

Riordan, James, and Jerry Prochickey, Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison Quill, 1991.

Rocco, John, editor, The Doors Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, Schirmer, 1997.

Crawdaddy, January 1968; April 1969.

Down Beat, May 28, 1970.

Rock, September 27, 1970.

Rolling Stone, October 2, 1969.

American Legends Home Page,http://www.americanlegends.com/morrison (March 15, 1998).

The Doors' Home Page,http://www.thedoors.com (March 15, 1998).

"Morrison, Jim, interview with Tony Thomas, May 27, 1970, " http://gyoza.com/frank/html/05/Morrisonspeak/html (March 15, 1998).

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Morrison, Jim

Jim Morrison

Born: December 8, 1943
Melbourne, Florida
Died: July 3, 1971
Paris, France

American singer and songwriter

Lead singer for the rock group the Doors, Jim Morrison was the poster-boy for the mind-bending, outlandish lifestyle of the 1960s in his brief but brilliant career.

First creative outlet in film

James Douglas Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida, on December 8, 1943. His father, a career Navy officer, was transferred from base to base during his son's childhood, but, by his Jim's early teens, the family had settled in Alexandria, Virginia. After finishing high school in Alexandria, Morrison took several classes at St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida State University before pulling up roots in 1964 and heading for the West Coast. By 1966 the twenty-two-year-old Morrison was enrolled in film classes at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but a friendship with fellow student Ray Manzarek would sideline any plans he had of becoming a filmmaker.

While the two young men had known each other only casually as fellow students, they ran into each other one day by accident, on a Venice, California, beach. Manzarek, an organist, along with Morrison, guitarist Robbie Krieger, and drummer John Densmore, decided to form their own rock band to put their songs to music. The young men decided to call their group the Doors, a name inspired by a quote from nineteenth-century English poet William Blake (17571827): "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear as it is, infinite." As Morrison was fond of saying, "there are things known and things unknown and in between are the Doors."

A long-term gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go on Hollywood's Sunset Strip allowed the Doors to develop their stage presence, and it eventually drew the attention of talent scouts searching for new recording acts. Not the least of the group's attractions was Morrison, who sang in a husky baritone, wore skintight pants, and went even further than Elvis Presley had in incorporating sexually suggestive movements into his onstage performances. With lyrics like "Come on baby, light my fire," Morrison drove young women wild.

The rise (and fall) of the Lizard King

After the release of their first album, The Doors, the group went back into the studio and cut Strange Days, both of which came out in 1967. Other albums would include Waiting for the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970), Absolutely Live (1970), and L.A. Woman (1971). Morrison, interested in Native American lore and the images of the American deserts, dubbed himself the "Lizard King" and wrote several songs, including "Celebration of the Lizard," in reference to his reptilian alter ego (another aspect of one's personality).

Caught up in a wave of popularity, the young band found itself carried into a new world, where drugs, alcohol, and sex played a major role. Morrison, whose status as a celebrity had begun almost overnight, found it difficult to handle the change: his growing dependence on alcohol would dim his talent in the years that followed, and the superstar status made him believe he was immune to normal authority.

On March 1, 1969, Morrison and the Doors were booked for a concert at Dinner Key Auditorium, in Coconut Grove, in Morrison's home state of Florida. During his performance before thirteen thousand screaming fans, Morrison exposed himself briefly to the audience. Nothing was done until pressure from disgusted Miami-area residents forced local police to issue a warrant for Morrison's arrest. The singer, who had been vacationing out of the country, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and returned to Miami, where he went on trial on August 12, 1970. Found guilty of a misdemeanor (a minor crime) for profanity (vulgar language or behavior) and drunkenness, he was sentenced to six months hard labor, although the sentence was stayed (postponed) while his attorney appealed the conviction. Morrison would not live to see the outcome of that appeal.

An early end

After the trial in Miami, Morrison's life grew more chaotic, his relationships with band members more strained. Searching to recover a sense of himself, he went back to the poetry that he had loved while a college student. In 1970 he published his first book of verse, The Lords [and] The New Creatures, which had been privately printed the year before.

On July 3, 1971, Morrison's girlfriend found him dead in his bathtub. The cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, although an autopsy was never performed. He was buried at the Pere-Lachaisse Cemetery in Paris, France. His death was kept secret until after the funeral to eliminate the crowds of saddened fans that would likely have attended. Morrison's grave remains one of the most visited sites in all of Paris.

For More Information

Dalton, David. Mr. Mojo Risin': Jim Morrison, the Last Holy Fool. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Densmore, John. Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. New York: Delacorte Press, 1990.

Hopkins, Jerry. The Lizard King: The Essential Jim Morrison. New York: Collier, 1993.

Kennealy, Patricia. Strange Dreams: My Life with and without Jim Morrison. New York: Dutton, 1992.

Riordan, James, and Jerry Prochickey. Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison. New York: Morrow, 1991.

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Morrison, Jim

Jim Morrison

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Hard rock, mysticism, lyrical poetry and theatrics merged in the music of Jim Morrison and the band he fronted, the Doors. During the groups existence in the late 1960s, critics were sharply divided in their opinions of its worth. Some dismissed Morrison as a mediocre, self-indulgent vocalist who sold out to the demands of the pop music market as soon as his group became popular. Others praised him as both a powerful singer and poet and believed that the Doors unique sound represented a brilliant fusion of jazz, rock, blues, and pop sounds. Today the Doors music remains popularand influential, and it seems obvious that much of the controversy surrounding the band arose from the contradictions inherent in Morrison himself. As Toby Goldstein wrote in Feature, his life was filled with the events of which legends are made. No mere rock singer, he was both godlike and pompous, sensual and piggish, never existing on a middle ground.

Morrison was born into a family with a long history of career militarists. His mother stood passively by while his stern, authoritarian father ordered the children about. After leaving his family, Morrison would claim that both his parents were dead. In 1964 he headed for the West Coast to study film at UCLA. Once there, he felt a great sense of release which he later described as the feeling of a bowstring being pulled back for 22 years and suddenly being let go. Besides his film studies, he delved into poetry and philosophy, particularly the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and William Blake. Classmates recall Morrison as a brilliant student, but before long he drifted away from school and into the Venice Beach culture, where he dropped acid freely and worked on his poetry. One night on the beach he met Ray Manzarek, a classically-trained musician Morrison already knew from his art classes at UCLA. He mentioned to Manzarek, a pianist in a local blues band, that he had written some songs, which Manzarek asked to hear. When he sang those first linesLets swim to the moon/Lets climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening/That the city sleeps to hideI said, Thats it, Manzarek recalled. Id never heard lyrics like that to a rock song before.We decided to get a group together and make a million dollars. Manzarek enlisted a jazz drummer, John Densmore, and ex-jugband guitarist Robbie Krieger to complete the group. The Doors name came from the title of Aldous Huxleys study of mescaline, The Doors of Perception, and from a William Blake quote, There are things that are known and unknown; in between are doors.

The newly-formed group practiced for five months before debuting at a Sunset Strip club called the London Fog, where each member made five dollars on weeknights and ten dollars on the weekends. Their strange new sound was too much for the clubs owner,

For the Record

Full name, James Douglas Morrison; born December 8, 1943, in Melbourne, Fla.; died July 3, 1971, in Paris, France; son of George Stephen (rear admiral in the U.S. Navy) and Clara Clarke Morrison; married Pamela (died 1974). Education: Attended St. Petersburg Junior College, 196162; attended Florida State University, 196263; attended University of California at Los Angeles, 196465.

Vocalist, songwriter, poet, and filmmaker. Founding member (with Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robbie Krieger) of the Doors, 196571. Author of poetry books, including The Lords and the New Creatures, Simon & Schuster, 1970; The Bank of America of Louisiana, Zeppelin, 1975; Wilderness: The Writings of Jim Morrison, Villard Books, 1988; and of film scripts, including Feast of Friends, 1969, and Highway, 1970.

who let them go after four months. The Doors were on the verge of disbanding before they found their next gig, at the Whisky A-Go-Go. There they began to build a following. As they added more original songs to their repertoire, Morrison developed into a sensually powerful, extroverted stage performer. His intensity is revealed by musician Jack Ttanas description of a slow night at the Whisky, when he and Morrisons wife Pamela were the only people in the audience. Ttana recalled, Hes into When the Musics Over, and he comes to the part where he freaks out and throws the mike stand on the groundand he really did it. Even more than that. And they went offstage and Pam said, Whyd you do all that? And Jim said, You never know when youre giving your last performance. On another night at the Whisky, Morrison went into an Oedipal improvisation during the song The End, shrieking, Father, I want to kill you Mother, I want to [piercing screams]. This was too much for the Whiskys owner, who promptly fired the group. Jac Holzman of Elektra records had been in the audience that evening, however, and he offered the Doors a lucrative recording contract with his company.

The Doors, released in 1967, rapidly sold over one million copies, and skyrocketed the band to fame. This album, with its hit single Light My Fire, contained all the elements of the classic Doors sound: Morrisons rich imagery and preoccupation with sex and death, Manzareks classical/rock keyboards, Kriegers versatile guitar work, and Densmores energetic, jazz-influenced percussion. A Disk Review writer called it hard rock with slippery, psychedelic overtones and summarized Morrisons message: To become more real, to become a better person, cut your ties to your establishment past, swim in your emotions, suffer symbolic death and rebirthrebirth as a new man, psychologically cleansed. Strange Days, also released in 1967, was one of the first concept albumsand certainly the most subtle, noted Michael Cuscuna in down beat.Amid the minor-key songs of loneliness and alienation was a raucous sexual shout, Love Me Two Times, a song which breaks the solemnity of the album, and points out a Doors anomaly, wrote Terry Rompers in Trouser Press. Only they could play pure pop and still make a deep poetic statement on one side of an LP without skipping a beat or losing their commitment to either genre.

At the height of their popularity, the Doors played to hysterical audiences in every major rock palace in the United States. Morrison believed that these shows were more than mere opportunities to promote his hit songs. To him they were electronic musical rituals, designed to reveal his innermost fantasies and to whip the audience into a purifying frenzy. His skintight leather clothes and the predominance of reptiles in his lyrics led to his being known as the Lizard King, and in Not to Touch the Earth, he proclaimed, I am the Lizard King. I can do anything. Morrisons original fans, however, felt that he had done little of note since breaking out of the underground. By the time the Doors third album, Waiting for the Sun, was released in 1969, the national mood of liberation and psychic exploration that had contributed to the Doors popularity began to crumble. Many began to see Morrisons emotional angst as somewhat absurd and overblown.

The singers excesses were all too real, however. He was drinking heavily, and was arrested several times for disorderly conduct. When he realized that numerous policemen had been sent to cover a Doors concert in New Haven, Connecticut, Morrison began baiting them from the stage. He was arrested on charges of obscenity, but was later acquitted. The group was banned from auditoriums in Phoenix and Long Island after Morrison allegedly incited his audience to riot. I always try to get them to stand up, he explained later, to feel free to move around anywhere they want to. Its not to precipitate a chaos situation. How can you stand the anchorage of a chair and be bombarded with all this intense rhythm and not want to express it physically in movement? I like people to be free. Law enforcement officials took a dim view of Morrisons sentiments, however. He was arrested again in March 1969 after a concert in Miami where he was said to have committed lewd and lascivious acts onstage. After a two-month trial, he was convicted of drunkenness and exposure. That incident exacted a heavy toll from the band. Court costs were immense, numerous concert dates were cancelled, and the Doors, creatively drained, nearly disbanded.

Instead, they went back into the studio to record three more gold albums by 1971. Most music critics reacted favorably to these efforts, particularly L.A. Woman, which Lester Bangs called in Rolling Stone the supreme statement from an uneven, occasionally brilliant band and R. Meltzer considered the groups greatest album. But Morrison, disillusioned with life as a rock star, left the United States for an indefinite stay in Europe. After traveling through Spain, Morocco and Corsica, he settled in Paris, where he began to write poetry and screenplays once again. He died suddenly and mysteriously on July 3, 1971, at the age of twenty-seven. Official reports stated that he had suffered a heart attack while bathing, but because his body was seen by no one but his wife, a legend has arisen that Morrison is not really dead and will someday return. His tomb is in the Poets Corner of the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, near the graves of Balzac, Moliere, and Oscar Wilde. The significance of the Doors should not be underestimated, stated Lester Bangs. Jim Morrison was one of the fathers of contemporary rock.

Selected discography

The Doors, Elektra, 1967.

Strange Days, Elecktra, 1967.

Waiting for the Sun, Elektra, 1968.

The Soft Parade, Elektra, 1969.

Morrison Hotel, Elektra, 1970.

Absolutely Live, Elektra, 1970.

The Doors13, Elektra, 1970.

L.A. Woman, Elektra, 1971.

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine, Elektra, 1972.

American Prayer, Elektra, 1978.

Sources

Books

Dalton, David and Lenny Kaye, Rock 100, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.

Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, McDonald, 1987.

Hopkins, Henry and David Sugarman, No One Here Gets Out Alive, Warner Books, 1980.

Jahn, Mike, Rock: From Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Quadrangle, 1973.

Miller, Jim, editor, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock, Rolling Stone Press, 1976.

Williams, Paul, Outlaw Blues, Dutton, 1969.

Periodicals

Crawdaddy, January, 1989.

down beat, May 28, 1970.

Feature, February 1979.

Jazz & Pop, October 1969; October 1970.

Melody Maker, August 3, 1968; October 10, 1971; March 11, 1972; October 20, 1973.

Rolling Stone, October 26, 1968; July 12, 1969; August 23, 1969; April 30, 1970; October 1, 1970; January7, 1971;May 27, 1971; January 25, 1979; October 6, 1988.

Stereo Review, April 1979.

Trouser Press, April 1979; September-October, 1980.

Village Voice, January 8, 1979.

Joan Goldsworthy

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"Morrison, Jim." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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