On June 29th BBC Radio 2 aired an hour-long programme dedicated to Jim Morrison, examining the legacy left by the iconic rock star and exploring the many facets of the man worshipped by fans and hated by the Establishment. So was Jim Morrison god or devil?
Jim Morrison was, quite simply, a dynamic front man for one of the most influential bands to emerge in the late 1960s. In his own view he was a poet first and a rock singer second, with his passion for poetry providing a major influence on the band’s music. Freely admitting that he didn’t play any
musical instruments, he would sing his poems a cappella working with the band’s musicians Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore in an organic process to create their songs.
Fiercely intellectual, a philosopher as well as a poet of the counterculture, an innovator and film maker, Jim – as well as his bandmates – explored the depths of the psychedelic experience with Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore
also becoming interested in eastern mysticism and meditation in their bid to
“cleanse the doors of perception” – the band named in homage to William
As well as exploring Jim’s creativity and influences, the programme inevitably examined the dark side of his intellectuality and his battles with his inner demons, leading to excessive drinking, drug taking and the hedonistic lifestyle which inevitably took their toll. A turning point was reached after his 1969
conviction for alleged indecent exposure, profanity and drunkeness with the
accompanying sentence of 8 months hard labour, (appealed against and eventually overturned in 2010).
Jim had become a sacrificial lamb; the Establishment wanted to bust the perceived ‘rebel, anarchist, communist hippies’ with the son of
a high-ranking Admiral in the US Navy apparently leading the way. Ray Manzarek described a particularly fraught period for the band where every concert would be accompanied by the narcotics squad on one side of the stage and the vice squad on the other. “They would have the warrants already filled
out with our names”, Manzarek said “they were just waiting for an offence to
happen”. Simply stated, Manzarek said that Jim Morrison and The Doors had “gone into a psychic realm not allowed in Christian America”.
Jim’s decision to leave America for Paris was an effort to retreat from celebrity and concentrate on his poetry in a place that had a long cultural association and tolerance of poets and artists, allowing free rein to their imaginations.
We know that his stay at 17 rue Beautreillis was destined to be a short one, but whatever the truth of the events of July 3 1971 Jim Morrison remains a cultural phenomenon, his poetry and lyrics providing resonance and meaning across successive generations.
Biographer Jerry Hopkins points out that on the 40th anniversary of Jim’s death,
the events and gatherings at Pere Lachaise cemetery and elsewhere will be
reported on worldwide, testament to the creative gifts, influence and genius
which the legendary Jim Morrison left behind.