Morrison’s Last Days

Published in the LA Times

Riders on the storm, Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born, Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone, An actor on alone
Riders on the storm…

Lyrics by Jim Morrison. The beginning of the last number on the last album cut by the Doors. Superrock group of four that had risen from $5-a-night gigs to $100,000 plus concert fees. Three of them , shy-as-a-rabbit lead guitarist Robby Krieger; soft-spoken but gently ebullient drummer John Densmore and lanky, angular, professional-looking keyboard artist Ray Manzarek, were there in the tiny Elektra Records studio. Listening to “L.A. Woman,” the album upon which “Riders on the Storm” was the last cut.
An air of coolly confident expectation suffused the room—the about-to-be-released album was solid, good, maybe even great. It might pull them back up oto the pre-eminent position in rock from which they had slipped somewhat since their first two gold records, the ones that contained “Light My Fire” and “Strange Days.”
The cut by itself exuded promise—powerful but subdued, as haunting as earlier Doors songs, but more subtle, more palatable musically. Like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” on the new Rolling Stones album, “Sticky Fingers,” with which “L.A. Woman” would be competing on the charts and at the cash register, it seemed to be evidence of what might be a new, more mature musical direction.

Nervous Excitement

So even though talk of disbanding had swirled around and among them, even though Jagger-caliber lead Doors singer Jim Morrison had split for Paris indefinitely before the album had received its finishing touches, hope and nervous excitement was exploding among the three like a “smeared” note from an electric guitar held distortingly close to an amplifier.
It was spring. And they had no way of knowing that before summer settled, Morrison, their supernova nucleus, would be dead like Hendrix and Joplin before him at 27; that they would never see him again.
Weeks before, at a sidewalk café on La Cienega Blvd., he had seemed like anything but the Jekyllesque character the under and overground press had painted him to be. Excessive eating had run him to fat, but that only seemed to accentuate his good nature, his quiet, intelligent conversation.
Brown hair flowing down past his nape, his full beard almost messianic, he was as placid and peaceful in his own ultramasculine way as the gentle, folk singer, Joni Mitchell who graced a nearby table. There was no evidence of the writhing, suggestive, sullen, often guttural, sometimes obscene, maybe drunk or drugged gate attraction. Only three or four too-rapidly finished screwdrivers too quickly washed down with bottles of beer hinted at the demons that were said to drive him.
Later, in the small and cluttered studio below their office on Santa Monica Blvd., where they had decided to cut “L.A. Woman” even that much of the Jeckyll side of Morrison’s coin had vanished. “We had some disagreements,” Morrison said, “with Paul Rothchild, who produced our other records, so we decided to handle this one ourselves, with Elektra distributing, of course.
“Bruce Botnick, who’s been our engineer all along, will be listened as coproducer. We’re recording and mixing here rather than at Elektra because we didn’t want all the corporate nonsense getting in our way. We haven’t been comfortable over there. Here, it’s like being at home, and I think it shown in the music.”

There’s a killer on the road, His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday, Let your children play
If you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die
Killer on the road…

Upstairs, Botnick, Krieger, Manzarek, Densmore, their girls and wives were listening to the 16 tracks recorded separately, now almost mixed, laminated one atop another, of a show-tempo vintage blues cut from the new album entitled “Cars Hiss By My Window.” The sound system downstairs picked up the music and the comments. Everybody liked it, but Morrison was impatient.
He had come to record a vocal track for the title song, and the musicians and Botnick were taking more time with the final mix on”Cars…” Morrison sent out for some beer for himself, a burly, bearded, blond companion we will call “Duke”, a tall, young black drifter wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Coca-Cola-like emblem that read “Cocaine,” and one of countless hangers-on that appeared at the Doors’ office from time to time, this one nicknamed “Mississippi.”
They kept at it upstairs, all but Krieger, who came down to the basement and picked up his guitar. “Mississippi” asked for and got permission to play bass. Another visitor sat own at the drums. They started to play and Morrison picked up a mike and began improvising words. They came easily and right, off the top of his head and to some extent from the depths of his stomach.

A Word Man

Florida-born, once a student at UCLA’s film school, Morrison was a word man as much as he was a performer. Enough of a poet-recorder-analyst and demiphilosopher for a major publishing house to print a collection of his poetry. “The Lords and the New Creatures.”
He lived in the heart of the city, albeit not in dollar hotels, but with scarcely more material possessions (despite the fact that he had to be a millionaire) than would fit into a suitcase or two.
In recent months, he had been sorting himself out, attempting to duck the demons for good, but it was almost impossible in L.A., the city he hated a lot of the time, but sang of in “L.A. Woman”: “If they say I never loved you, you’ll know they are a liar.” Part of the sorting was about what he was going to spend his creative energies on.
At one point he said “The next album may just be the other guys, doin’ their thing instrumentally. Heave blues stuff.” The element of blues is present in “L.A. Woman,” but Morrison’s decision was, finally, to sing once again. And the singing, in turn crooningly soft and stridently fierce, was what brought to him fame and money and also the agonies attendant to both.

Worst Was Over

“All of it came down on Morrison,” said one Elektra official. “The other guys in the group would just split after they’d finished a record and meditate, or play for themselves, compose. Morrison, even though the deal was that he got an equal share in the money, was the superstar. He had to bear the brunt of all the hatchet jobs, all the hype.”
Part of it was brought on by Morrison himself. Molding himself in the early Elvis and Jagger tradition, his movements on stage, his suggestive and incendiary lyrics, moved audiences to frenzy. Recorded in the Doors documentary, “Feast or Friends,” which Morrison and Mansarek (they met at UCLA’s cinema school) had major hands in, even the male members of one concert audience hured themselves through and over a phalanx of police onto the stage to be nearer their idol.
It got to a point where ministers and priests were describing Morrison’s performances as “ritualistic” and “religious experiences” for young people.
As for the sexual under and overtones, “Sometimes they just happen,” Morrison said, alluding to the momentum and mood of the music, among other, similarly strong, more palpable influences on his mind and body. “And sometimes,” he added in characteristic honesty, “it’s just part of the act.”
Sentencing on a conviction for indecent exposure in Florida and a monumental $50,000 bail were still pending as he stopped to stroke a stray dog on Santa Monica Blvd. outside the Doors studio. Inside, the others were still perfecting the mix. “Duke”, “Mississippi,” Morrison and another friends were heading for a bar down the street. There, Morrison ignored the stares of a few longhair haters, played pool and drank more beer. At the Little Club, he switched to screwdrivers, and by the time the place closed, his head was dipping forward like that of a bull pierced by one too many pics.
One of the waitresses got in the car with him as all but “Duke” headed for his place. She was the latest in a long line of chickiesthat had a need to bask in his light, or just spend time in the same room with him. Far gone as he was, his mind was coldly objective as ever. “Duke” had gone off in another car to see a dealer for some grass and something a little stronger.
“He gets his hands on any cocaine,” Morrison said, laughing, “That’s the last we’ll see “Duke” for a few days.
The car pulled up at the Chateau Marmont, off Sunset. “I had to move here,” Morrison said, “because the people at the Continental Hyatt House didn’t like the idea of me swinging off the 10th floor balcony.”
Inside, a quart of vodka materialized, and although Morrison passed it around, most of the clear liquid found its way into his stomach. “Duke” showed up with a lid of grass that was smoked. The tall black drifter wearing the “Cocaine” T-shirt showed up again. Almost 4 in the morning now, five men and one woman floating in a room, an ancient movie unreeling on a TV set with the sound turned down, Mexican music blaring incongruously up from the border or a powerful radio.
“You shoulda seen him after you left,” Mississippi said the next afternoon. “He did a Tarzan act. Got up on the roof and tried to swing into his bedroom window off the rain gutter. He lost his grip and fell two stories on his head. Only reason he didn’t get killed, he bounced off the roof of the shed attached to the back of his cottage. It was outasight, man.”
Girl you’ve gotta love your man, Girl you’ve gotta love your man, Take him by the hand, Make him understand, The world on you depends, Our life will never end, Gotta love your man…

He knew he had to leave, and he did, even before “L.A. Woman” was released and began climbing to a sales level that almost equaled the best of the Doors’ nine gold albums. He left for Paris and Pamela, the girl he had not been able to live with or without for at least two years. They took an apartment together, married quietly, and he tried to kill his demons. He seemed to be Succeeding.

Another Writer

“it was murder,” Pamel told a friend. “It took him two months to shake off L.A. and all the madness.” He was simply another writer in Paris, with nobody making demands on him. He was working on a screenplay and addition poetry. He was drinking much less. He was beginning to be happy, to find himself. But he had punished himself too severely too often. Found in his bathtub, Morrison’s death earlier this month was attributed officially to “a heart attack.”
He was an immensely gifted young man working his way to broader horizons and peace, and he is dead long before his time. And that diminishes even those who hated what he loved and loved what he hated.