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Pardon me?

Death Makes Angels of Us All
Half-Rehab for Jim Morrison

Dear American People,

Please do not pardon Jim Morrison.

On page 24 of the New York Times, March 7, 1969

Perhaps you remember when the late singer of the rock band the Doors was found guilty of indecent exposure and using profanity in public during a 1969 concert in Miami. Mr. Mojo Risin’ was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $500, but he died in Paris in July 1971 before his appeal could be heard.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist purportedly has received a letter from a Dave Diamond of Dayton, Ohio, requesting a pardon for Morrison and his crimes. Or maybe the e-mail copy of the letter I received is indicative of a hoax, or a publicity stunt. According to the Florida governor’s office, all clemency requests are confidential, and so no official will confirm or deny whether the governor received a pardon request for Morrison.

There are a dozen good reasons to issue the pardon. As Daniel Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins wrote in their Morrison biography, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” accounts of the trial convey the stink of a chaotic “Them vs. Us” affair. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek — who was there that notorious night in Miami — swears that Morrison, ever the bacchanalian shaman, had “hypnotized” the crowd. In his book “Light My Fire — My Life with the Doors,” Manzarek says the drunken Jimbo “created a religious hallucination Except this time the Holy Mother or her crucified son was nowhere to be seen. This time it was snakes! The audience saw snakes where there were no snakes. They saw his cock — and swear to this day that they saw his cock — where there was no cock. The lying dog Jim Morrison had conned them. Had conned us, had conned the whole damned County of the Dead.

“Folks, he never exposed himself… It’s become an American rock ’n’ roll myth. And it’s a lot more fun to believe the myth, isn’t it? So we do.”

But there’s one very good reason not to issue the pardon: For the 15 minutes it will revitalize the Lizard King’s legacy, it will reduce him to a cock ’n’ roll show at a time when his life, music and poetry could speak volumes — and speak in a manner unlike any rock star or poet has since Jimbo left this planet.

NYT April 5, 1969, p. 28

Here’s an alternative idea: Gov. Crist, declare a Jim Morrison Day in Florida. After all, he was born in Melbourne, lived as a teenager in Clearwater and attended Florida State University. Jim wasn’t a saint, mind you. As Manzarek told me during an interview some years ago: “Jim Morrison was a brilliant poet, a brilliant artist and my best friend. But there was a character flaw there, too.” That character flaw was ignited by Morrison’s drug of choice, alcohol. The drunken Morrison could be cruel, stupid, scary. Manzarek theorizes Morrison endured a nervous breakdown as his inner poet battled his inner drunken lout. But the dark personal side of Morrison wasn’t the only side, which is why Manzarek loathes Oliver Stone’s film “The Doors.” “That movie is such a downer,” Manzarek told me. “He didn’t capture the love, fun, excitement and good times of the ’60s. Man we had fun.”

There’s absolutely no reason to doubt Manzarek’s assessment. But Morrison’s art often was obsessed with the Shadow, in the Jungian sense (although Morrison was far more intrigued by Nietzsche than Jung, as well as the poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud). A glimpse of the Doors’ hit songs reveals Mr. Mojo Risin’s obsession with dread, death, chaos, mystery, the shadow side of the human psyche: “The End,” Riders on the Storm,” “The Crystal Ship,” “Celebration of the Lizard,” even “L.A. Woman” and “Light My Fire” (“Our love will become a funeral pyre . . .”). Likewise Morrison’s poetry, published in two volumes during his life, with more poems released in two posthumous collections.

Though Jimbo’s poetry was flawed, sporadic and maddeningly self-referential and therefore obscure, it still rewards exploration. Especially the second posthumous collection, “The American Night.” Morrison’s favorite gothic themes run wild throughout the volume: insanity, night, sex, alienation, reptiles, strangers, exile, his estrangement from and longing for women, America as demon lover and bitch goddess, and death in its myriad guises — sacrifice, assassination, murder, war. Violent images and weird scenes from inside the gold mine of Morrison’s psyche abound. But the word torrents are not always successful as poems. Occasionally a title serves as a signpost and the discordant images form a tangible, fathomable and disturbing vision, as in “ America as Bullring Arena,” “L’America” and “Curses & Invocations.”

The startling apex is “An American Prayer,” the Lizard King’s most powerful, evocative poem, a work more riveting than any of his best songs:

. . . Death makes angels of us all
& gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as raven’s claws.
No more money, no more fancy dress
This other kingdom seems by far the best
until its other jaw reveals incest
& loose obedience to a vegetable law.
I will not go
Prefer a Feast of Friends
To the Giant Family.

“An American Prayer” deserves to be included in any Norton anthology. Want to venture into some psycho-naut exploration with Jim Morrison the metaphysical shaman-poet? Try this: Cloak all the windows and doors of the stereo room in your home. Block every last bit of light. Just before flicking out the last light bulb, cue the Doors song “The End.” Listen to Morrison’s ghostly shamanic call, Manzarek’s alien organ, the serpentine chant of Robbie Krieger’s guitar . . . . When you emerge from this trance several hours or days later, write me and tell me what you saw.

“Jim has a line of poetry,” Manzarek told me. “It goes: ‘Let’s re-invent the gods, all the myths of the ages. Celebrate symbols of deep elder forests.’ Jim Morrison and all of us deserve to be mythologized. We are all those ancient Greek gods come back in the land of America. We are all in a sense gods and goddesses. And Jim was one of the best.”

Rick de Yampert, a frequent contributor to the Notebooks, is a columnist for The Daytona Beach ( Florida) News-Journal. He can be reached at rick.deyampert@news-jrnl.com.

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