Jim Morrison Lives: The Legacy of the Lizard King

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Morrison was born in 1943, the eldest of three children of a naval officer. As is common in military families, the Morrisons moved around quite a bit. Jim attended three colleges, ending up at UCLA, where he studied film. By the time he graduated, he had more verve than direction. He drifted to the beach at Venice, California, where he took a lot of drugs, slept where he could and wrote lyrics under the Pacific Coast sun. There, he ran into Ray Manzarek, a keyboard player and fellow film student at UCLA, and they discussed forming a band. Morrison told Manzarek that this wouldn't be just any band; they were going to be big. Manzarek didn't know whether to believe him or not — "Jim was just a guy like the rest of us," he says — but what the hell, there was nothing to lose. And so the Doors were born.

Within a few years, the Doors got all the success Morrison had predicted. But he soon discovered he wanted more. He became disenchanted with his Lizard King image, that of the beautiful delinquent in black-leather pants whose audience screamed for "Light My Fire" every time he bounded onstage. Morrison hadn't even written the lyrics to that trademark song; they'd come from Robby Krieger, the group's guitarist. It was the scene, the milieu of outrage, that the fans would come to witness. And Morrison ultimately rejected it, undertaking a self-destructive path, as if to mock his strange glory. He really wanted words and theater. He wanted to be recognized as a poet. Maybe he would have been, had he not quietly died in a bathtub in Paris that July night ten years ago. Of the two experimental films Morrison made, Feast of Friends was generally panned and Hwy, a movie about hitchhiking, was considered an incomplete work. Morrison's one published book of poetry, The Lords and the New Creatures, was issued in 1970 by Simon and Schuster. More than 5000 copies remain in stock.

Though Morrison's life is prehistory to Kelly and her cohorts, they discuss it with great interest. They'll talk about the Doors' songs, too, though with varying degrees of familiarity. "I really do listen to the music," Kelly said. "An old boyfriend got me into it last year. We'd listen to it at his house. The music knocks you out when you're high. Oh yeah, I know 'Light My Fire' and 'The End' best."

Kelly is also heavily into Doors paraphernalia. Buttons that cost two dollars ("We steal them from the mall"). T-shirts and denim jackets emblazoned with Morrison's face. Posters for their bedrooms. Bumper-stickers for cars they don't yet have.

Most of the girls say they love Jim Morrison, but they have no idea why. Yet when Kelly and her friends tick off the names of the other groups they listen to, it becomes clearer why they're so into Morrison.

"Oh, the Who, the Stones, Styx, REO Speedwagon," Kelly said. With the newer bands especially, most kids don't, and many can't, name an individual member; no one personality sticks out from the pack. Even when Mick Jagger's name is mentioned, it's obvious he doesn't appeal to teenage girls today like he did a decade ago. The band might be as big as ever, but Jagger isn't, and that's the point. Mick Jagger, at thirty-six, is too old for them; his nine-year-old daughter, Jade, is just a few years younger than some of Kelly's friends. Jagger himself is as old as some kids' parents. Not Morrison. The Jim Morrison the girls fall in love with, the one in the pictures, is about twenty-five and always will be.

After the attraction of a face that spells pure sex and the sultry voice that goes with it, there's the air of mystery that surrounds Morrison. "You know, nobody saw his body," Kelly said. She glanced out the window of the bus as it rolled toward the beach and then turned to her friend Harry. "I heard that Morrison might be living in Brazil. Or maybe it was in Africa."

"When I want to play games with someone's head, I tell them that Morrison might not be dead," said seventeen-year-old Harry, who was wearing a worn white T-shirt with a picture of Morrison and the words Morrison Lives! written in red.

"Yeah," added Harry, "only Pamela saw the body." To these kids, it is a great thing that nobody close to Morrison, aside from Pamela, his wife, saw the body. It makes for a very good story.

Furthermore, "Pamela O Ded three years after Jim died," Harry noted. "So now there's no one alive who saw his body."

"Harry knows everything about the Doors," Kelly said. She lowered her voice: "I broke his heart in eighth grade."

"He's probably over it," a friend said.

"I don't think so," Kelly answered, shooting a glance at Harry.

"Ray Manzarek said if anyone could pull off disappearing, Morrison could," Harry continued. After he'd carefully arranged his beach blanket, Harry took a snapshot out of his beach bag. "I took this picture of Manzarek at Rock Ages, a rock & roll flea market." Kelly grabbed the photo. It was clear from the impatient look on her face that she had no idea who the guy was.

"I have a picture of Morrison's grave at home," Kelly said. "My sister's friend, Leslie, visited it last summer."

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