Jim Morrison Is Alive And Well And Living In Hollywood
By: Eve Babitz
I know why I loved him. I know why lots of women loved him. But what I want to know is this: Why now, does Oliver Stone love him? A survivors report.
J.D. Souther once told me he spent his first years in L.A. learning how to stand. Jim knew how to stand. He stood pigeon-toed, filled with poetry against a mike with that honky tonk Berlin organ in the background, and sang about “another kiss.”
And there is something to be said for singing in tune. Jim not only sang in turn, he sang intimately – as Doors producer Paul Rothchild once pointed out to me, “Jim was the greatest crooner since Bing Crosby.”
He was Bing Crosby from hell.
In those days, in the 60’s, people in L.A. with romantic streaks who knew music went for the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Paul Butterfield – and for clubs like the Troubadour and the Trip and the Ash Grove. The Whisky, where the Doors flourished, was the kind of place where the headliner would be Johnny Rivers, a white boy who covered Chuck Berry’s “Memphis.” By the 60’s, white boys weren’t suppose to cover soul anymore, but at the Whisky it was still groovy. The Carpenters played at the Whisky.
At the Whisky, the bouncers were bouncers, the management was from New York City and the women wore beehive hairdos long after it was cool. Rock groups who went to college and actually got degrees were not only uncool, they were unheard of.
Jim went to college and he graduated. My friend Judy Raphael, who went to film school, too, remembers Jim as this pudgy guy with a marine haircut who worked in the library at UCLA and who was supposed to help her with her documentary term paper one night but ended up talking drunkedly and endlessly about Oedipus, which meant she had to take the course over that summer.
The Doors were embarrassing, like their name. I dragged Jim into bed before they’d decided on the name and tried to dissuade him; it was so corny naming yourself after something Aldous Huxley wrote. I mean, The Doors Of Perception….what an Ojaigeeky-too-L.A.-pottery-glazer kind of uncool idea.
The Beatles were desperate criminals compared with them. The Beatles only had one leg to stand on – rock ‘n roll. The Doors, though were film majors. If you wanted to make a movie, even if you went to UCLA like Francis Coppola and then to the Rodger Corman School of Never Lost a Dime Pictures, you still weren’t cool. Even Jack Nicholson wasn’t cool in the 60’s. Being an actor wasn’t cool in the 60’s, because all movies did was get everything all wrong. At least until Easy Rider, being in the movie business was a horrible thing to admit.
Of course, Oliver Stone was so uncool he voluntarily went to Vietnam instead of prowling around the Sunset Strip with the rest of his generation. Oliver Stone was such a nerd he became a soldier, a Real Man. He didn’t understand that in the 60’s real men were not soldiers. A real man was Mick Jagger in Performance, in bed with two women, wearing eye makeup and kimonos. Or John Phillip Law, with wings, in Barbarella. Of course, Bob Dylan was even cooler than Mick Jagger, so cool he couldn’t sing. He didn’t bother, and he was so skinny, with those narrow little East Coast shoulders and that face. And he was mean.
Like everyone back then, Jim hated his parents, hated home, hated it all. If he could have gotten away with it, Jim would have been an orphan. He tried lying about having parents, creating his life anew – about what you’d expect from someone who’d lost thirty pounds in one summer (the summer of ’65, from taking drugs instead of eating, and hanging out on the Venice boardwalk). I mean he awoke one morning and was so cute, how could ge have parents?
According to some statistics I recently heard about, the ‘50’s was the decade when the American diet contained its highest percentage of fat – over 50 percent. And these 50’s children, overfed, repressed and indignant, waited in the wings lurking and praying to get nig enough to get the f**k out. Jim Morrison had it worse than a lot of kids. He was fat. And his father was a naval officer.
Then the ultimate dream of everyone who weights too much and gets thin happened to Jim. He lost the weight and turned into a Prince. Into John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Into Mick. I met Jim early in ’66 when he’d just lost the weight and wore a suit made of gray suede lashed together at the seams with lanyards, and no shirt. It was the best outfit he ever had, and he was so cute that no woman was safe. He was twenty-two, a few months younger than I.
He had the freshness and humility of someone who had been fat all his life and now suddenly a morning glory. I met Jim and propositioned him in three minutes even before he so much as opened his mouth to sing. This great even took place not at the Whisky but at a now forgotten club just down on the Strip called the London Fog, the first bar there the Doors played. And there were only about seven people in the room anyway. “Take me home,: I demurely offered when were introduced. “You’re not really going to stay here playing, are you? “Uh,” he replied, “we don’t play. We work. I suggested the next night. And that’s when it happened (finally!) Naturally, I dressed the part – black eye makeup out to there, a miniskirt up to here – but the truth was that I did, in fact, have parents. On our first date I even confessed to Jim that my ridiculous father was on that very night playing violin in a program of music by Palestrina. To my tremendous dismay, Jim immediately expressed his desire to drive to Pasadena. I packed him into my ’52 Cadillac and off we went, but by intermission I had had enough. He whined that he wanted to stay for the second half, but I put my foot down. “You just can’t be here,” I said. “Listening to this. You just can’t.”
Being in bed with Jim was like being in bed with Michelangelo’s David, only with blue eyes. His skin was so white, his muscles were so pure, he was so innocent. The last time I saw him with no shirt on, at a party up in Coldwater, his body was so ravaged by scars, toxins and puffy pudginess, I wanted to kill him.
He never really stopped being a fat kid. He used to suggest, “Let’s go to Ships and eat blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup. “It’s so fattening,” I would point out. I mean really. Jim was embarrassing because he wasn’t cool, but I still loved him. It was his mouth, of course, which was so edible. Just so long as he kept his James Dean smolder, it worked. But it takes a lot of downers to achieve that on a full time basis. And no fat.
Just so long as he stood there in the leather clothes my sister had hand made for him, the ones lined with turquoise satin, trimmed with snakeskin and lizard. The black leather pants, the leather jackets. My sister never thought Jim was that cute, but then my sister was one of his girlfriend Pamela’s friends, and it was in her best interest to ignore Jim, even though, for a month, my sister and her boyfriend lived with Jim and Pamela, and it was almost impossible. “He was always a very dark presence in a room,” she said, “In fact if you asked me today the feeling I got, I’d say it was of a person who was severely depressed. Clinically depressed.” She’s now a psychologist, so she knows.
“He thought he was ugly,” she said. “He’d look at himself in he mirror trying on those clothes, but he hated looking at himself, because he thought he was ugly.”
My sister and Pamela had to fight to persuade him to leave his hair long, because left to his own devices he’d get it cut preppy-short and break everyone’s heart. Even his voice was embarrassing, sounding so sudden and personal and uttering such hogwash in a time when, if you were going to say words, they were to be ironic and a little off center. Jim just blurted things the f**k out. My artist friends found him excruciating, too but my movie friends *who were, by definition, out of it and behind the times and got everything all wrong) loved him. He said what they meant. They might not have understood Dylan – they thought he couldn’t sing – but in Hollywood they loved Jim.
Jim as a sex object and the Doors as a group were two entirely different stories. The whole audience would put up with long, tortured silences and humiliation and just awful schmuck stuff Jim did during performances. He could get away with it because his audience was all college kids who thought the Doors were cool because they had lyrics you could understand about stuff they learned in Psychology 101 and Art History. The kids who liked the Doors were so misguided they thought – “Crystal Ship” was for intellectuals.
Jim as a sex object lasted for about two years. In fact, once he and Pamela became entangled in their fantastic killing struggle – once he finally found someone who, when he said, “Let’s drive over this cliff,” actually would – he became more of a death object than a sex symbol. Which was even sexier.
When Pamela Courson met Jim, he began putting his money where his mouth was. Whereas all he had previously brought to the moment was morbid romantic excess, he now had someone looking at him and saying, “Well, are you going to drive off this cliff, or what?”
She was someone with red hair and a heart embroidered on her pants over the place her anus would be. He was a back doorman, and Pamela was the door. Pamela was the cool one. Everything a nerd could possibly wish to be, Pamela was. She had guns, took heroin, and was fearless in every situation. Socially she didn’t care, emotionally she was shock proof, and as for her eating disorders – her idea of the diet to be on while Jim was in Miami going to court was ten days of heroin. Every time she woke up she did some, so she just sort of slept through her fast. One, when she did wake up, she went with some friends to the Beverly Hills Hotel to see Ahmet Eregun and fainted. Viola, there she was back at UCLA, diagnosed as dying of malnutrition.
Good old Pamela, what a sport. She would take Jim’s favorite vest and write f*g in giant letters on the back in India ink. She would go through Rodeo Drive’s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, piling her arms higher and higher with more stuff, muttering under her breath, “He owes it to me, he owes it to me, he owes it to me.”
Pamela was mean and she was cool. She liked to scare people. Pamela had control over Jim in real life. He made his audiences suffer for that. And I mean, he was so cute, you would. Pamela looked sunny and sweet and cute – she had freckles and red hair and the greenest eyes and just the country girl glow. It was hard to believe her purse was stuffed with Thorazine (that horrible drug they used to give acid freak outs). She wore mauve, and large, soft, expensive suede boots and large shawls, but even her laugh her was mean.
She was so mean, she told Ray Manzarek (the worst nerd worldwide, know to his friends as Ray of the Desert) that Jim’s last words were, “Pam, are you out there?” even though he actually left a note. And she knew that the note would establish forever the literature movie myth of Jim’s Lizard King image. Everyone hated Pam except Jim.
A friend of mine once said, “You can say anything about a woman a man marries, but I’ll tell you one thing – it’s always his mother.” “Mother,” sang Jim, “I want to….aggghhh.” Pamela was more than happy to supply the lip back: “Oh, you would, would you? Well, f**k you!”
I couldn’t be mean to him. If the phone rang at night there was a long pause after I said hello, I knew it was Jim. He and I had a lot of ESP in some kind of laser twisted, wish fulfillment kind of way. I always wished he were there, and every so often, he zoomed in. “The thing that really made people mad at him,” my sister reminds me, “was that he drank. And it wasn’t cool in those days.” “Yeah,” I say, “he did drink.” Of course, I drank, but I tried to keep my drinking with the psychedelia-subscribed boundaries of okayness. I drank Dos Equis, wine and tequila. Jim drank scotch. Scotches.
Adults drank and got drunk and were uncool. I myself drank, got drunk, and was uncool. But I myself didn’t drink, get drunk and become so uncool I flashed an audience in the South. I myself didn’t drink, get drunk and then jump out of windows, get busted, stick my fist through plate glass, show up three days late for an interview with Joan Didion from Life magazine, drunk, unshaven, and throwing lit matches in her lap. But Jim did.
Jim drank, got drunk, and woke up bloated and miserable and had to apologize and say he loved you, the alcoholic’s ancient saving grace. Jim drank and got drunk and then was so uncool he had to walk home.
I never saw him drive – he was always on foot in L.A. He didn’t dare drive himself anywhere. He knew in his worst blackouts to put my diaphragm in and take my contact lenses out.
Jim drank, got drunk, and wanted to be shown the way to the Nest Whiskey Bar. Whereas the Rolling Stones were ripping off Otis and Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry and the cool and hip Buffalo Springfield were riffling through Wood Gutherie and Hank Williams with folkie touches or else trying to achieve soul, Jim was ripping off Kurt Weill, Bertolt, Jean Cocteau, and Lawrence Durrrell. While the Rolling Stones were making it cool to be black and folk rockers were making it cool to be white trash, Jim was making it cool to be a poet. If Jim had lived in another era, he would have had a schoolteacher wife to support him while he sat around writing “brilliant” poetry.
One night I was in the bungalow of Ahmet Ertegun ( this was when I wised up and quit aiming at rock stars and went for record company presidents instead – but cool ones, not Clive Davis. It was the night of the 1971 moon landing and when I came in wearing my divine little black velvet dress, my tan, my blond art nouveau hair, and my one pair of high heels I used for whenever Ahmet was in town, who should be sitting in front of the TV watching the moon landing but Jim, a Scotch and Coke (no ice) in his hand.
Ahmet proceeded to tell a rather gross story about midgets in India, and when he was through, Jim rose to his feet and bellowed, “You think you’re going to win, don’t you?! Well, your not, your not going to win. We’re going to win, us – the artists. Not you capitalist pigs!”
You could have heard a pin drop in this roomful of Ahmet’s fashionable friends, architects from France, artists, English lords, W-type women. Of course, Ahmet was a capitalist pig but still, he did write some Drifters lyrics and produce records and his acts sang in tune. Anyway, everybody was silent (except the moon landing reporter on the TV I until I stood up and heard myself say, “But Ahmet is an artist, Jim!”
I became so embarrassed by how uncool I was, I ran down the hallway and into the bathroom, where I stood looking at myself in the mirror and wondering why I didn’t get married and move to Orange county and what was I doing there.
Later that night he came back and apologized to Ahmet. But it was too late; by then he was too fat to get away with it. The people who were there refused to remember that it had happened. It was one of those tricky nights when Ahmet was trying to make up his mind whether he was going to seduce Jim away from Elektra Records (whose contract was nearly up). Ahmet had lured Mick away from his label the year before, Ahmet bespoke elegance, Cote d’ Azur loafers with no socks, Bentley’s and Rolls Royces. Ahmet knew everybody. Jac Holzman of Elektra was an awkward bumpkin compared with Ahment. Jac was a Virgo, Ahmet the world’s most sophisticated Leo. Ahmet had Magrittes in his living room in New York, his wife was on the Ten Best Dressed list, he’d been everywhere, done everything, and spoke all these languages. Jac liked camping.
Of course, today Ahmet might deny this was going on, but at that time Ahmet never saw a rock star who made money whom he didn’t want. Especially if he could sing in tune. Jim might also have denied anything was going on, or maybe he did notice he was being seduced, maybe that’s why he was so on about the capitalist pigs not winning. But then, Jim was drunk and uncool, so maybe what he said wasn’t about anything. That’s the thing with alcoholics: There resentments are a condition of their disease and not really political at all. A condition of their allergy to alcohol – and allergies mean if you’re allergic to strawberries and eat them, you break out in hives. If Jim drank Scotch, he broke out in f**kups.
But as long as Jim was on foot in L.A. – as long as be was signed to Elektra and in a world where if he fell, it would be into the arms of emergency rooms or girls who knew and loved him – he was, if not okay, at least not dead. There was always somebody around who would break down the door. He could never get away with killing himself in L.A.
Someone in Paris told me that when he met Jim at a party after he had moved there, he looked into her face and said, “Would you mind scratching my back? It itches.” Her arm went around him, their bodies facing as she scratched. Then Jim said, “You know what? I can’t feel a thing.” Which was really humiliating to her, since having your arm around someone who says he can’t feel it is….well, it sound like one of Pamela’s tricks.
Jim burned his bridges in Paris. He got fatter and fatter, drank more and more, sampled Pamela’s heroin and piled up suicide notes on a table in their rooms. Since Jim had rheumatic fever in his youth, his heart was not in condition for what he did to it there – combining insult with f**kups until finally one day Pamela came into the bathroom and Jim wasn’t kidding.
She pulled him out of the tub and there she was – stuck in Paris in early July, forced to put him into a too-small coffin wearing a too-large suit. (Since no one in those days had suits, she had to buy one for him. She didn’t know his size.)
Pamela told me she fled to Morocco with an eighteen year old French count, a junkie who also OD’d on her and died. And then, having worn out her stay abroad, she returned to the West Coast and sued for her share of Jim’s estate until she got it and then, since three years had passed and she was now the same age as Jim when he died, she, too, OD’d and died.
She left behind a VW Bug, two fur coats, and Sage, Jim’s dog. A quarter of the group’s estate was split between her family and his, and her father saved Jim’s “poems” and put them in a safe place in Orange County. The wonderful Julia Densmore Negron who had divorced the drummer, John, was given royalties as a settlement because, as she said, “By 1971 they were worth practically nothing. But they’ve gone up more than 1500 percent in the past eleven years.” Since she was only married to John during the last two years of the Doors, when their records didn’t sell much anyway, sales much have really gone up, but why?
Because Francis Ford Coppola used the song “The End” to make Jim a star in Apocalypse Now, which came out in 1979. And now Vietnam’s about to do it again for Jim.
If, in the 60’s, you were white and political and had noblesse oblige drummed into you (Yale’s big selling point), you might have gone to Vietnam as a soldier, as Oliver Stone did, so you could come home and write a book the way Kennedy did and then be elected president.
Being Kennedy was not entirely uncool, but I knew a guy who went to Yale and then officer school at Annapolis and then Guam and then a ship in the harbor at Saigon (if it has a harbor, I don’t know; it was someplace with a harbor.) And all he did there was drink, and when he got home and went into seclusion to write his book like Kennedy, he couldn’t write it. It was one thing being a World War II hero and writing a book. In Vietnam there weren’t any heroes.
In Salvador (one of the last Oliver Stone movies I’ve ever going to see), he created two sleazeballs who can’t handle women, who are so incapable of having a real life in a real place that they have to slop down to hell, where they are the richest and most powerful people around. And still these guys manage to make victims out of themselves. Stone’s heroes always wind up as victims, no matter how sleazy they are.
It has been rumored around L.A. that Oliver Stone is asking everyone in connection with the Doors movie if Jim was impotent, and it makes you think Oliver Stone doesn’t know much about Jim’s main disease. You’d think he’d at least read up on the symptoms that show up in a person who takes depressants as a cure for depression. Taking Seconal and Tunial and drinking brandy will bring your sex life to a grinding halt. But what I want to know about Oliver Stone is not whether he can get it up or not, but why anyone on the 60’s would join the Army, would go to Vietnam and become part of the war and murder and atrocity, when the action for Real Men was on Sunset Strip, the Lower East Side, and in San Francisco. Why did he join them, and why is he now in love with our Jim?
The thing is, we in Los Angeles have always been willing to give a lot of slack for looks – for beauty – but Oliver Stone doesn’t have any. He doesn’t even like it. His movies are always about horrible men doing awful stuff, horrible men who are too far from their vileness to look beautiful. It’s a though everything he’s done is against the very premise of looks; he can’t even show Daryl Hannah and understand what’s she’s about. His idea of a good thing is a man bellowing about how being stupid is not that bad. (But it is.)
Maybe like Jim’s other nerdy fans, Oliver Stone really believes that Jim was “serious” about breaking on through to the other side, But what does that mean – death, the way it sounds? It meant death to Jim personally, if what Pamela told her neighbor Diane Gardiner is to be believed, if he really died in Paris, his suicide note against a lamp, “Last Words, Last Words, Out.”
By the time Jim left L.A., everyone thought he was a fool; he was fat, getting fatter, and even his fans were unwilling to look at his thingy. He didn’t have enough ideas in his head to keep people interested any longer. Underneath his mask, he was dead. But then, by 1971, who wasn’t.
I certainly had washed ashore, without illusions. Everyone was afraid of Manson (Jim looked like him in his obit picture in the Los Angeles Times), acid had suffered defeat, and cocaine was up for a long, ugly ride. Until Jim died, I had made a living doing album covers – psychedelic valentines for groups I loved, like Buffalo Springfield. I was in France in 1962 when Marilyn Monroe died, and now Jim was in France, dead, and I was nearly twenty-right, unmarried, no future, no going forth in glory, only waking up at 3:00am with free floating anxiety (which someone said was “the only thing floating around free anymore”).
Some said the 60’s was drugs and the ‘70’s was sex, but for me the 70’s was staying home. It was a time when I began to write for a living and though I never wrote movies, they began seeming not that bad to me. Actors suddenly became okay (at least from afar). I began running into women who kept Jim alive – as did I – because something about him began seeming great compared to everything else that was going on. He may have been a film school poet, but at least he wasn’t disco.
People began trying to make a movie about Jim and everyone I ran into who tried either died or would up in AA. They wanted….John Travolta! Casting anyone to play Jim was just totally ridiculous to me.
My incredibly beautiful neighbor, Enid Karl, had two children by Donovan in the 60’s and their son also Donovan, worked as an extra in the Doors movie (the daughter, Ione Skye, is an actress, too, but she was in a play in New York during the filming). The experience left Donovan thrilled, excited and completely on Oliver Stone’s side. (Everyone I talked to who worked on the movie – wardrobe women – actors – was on Oliver Stone’s side. Le tout L.A.)
“In the first scene at the Whisky, I played my father – because I asked. There were four hundred extras, but I got to sit in front and wear a caftan like my father wore. I thought I was going to end up lost in the crowd with a A.D. in front of me and not in the movie, but Oliver saw me and called out from the stage, ‘Donovan! Donovan! And suddenly they put me in the front row.”
Then they gave Donovan a blond wig to wear as an extra in the Ray Manzarek wedding scene, and once he added muttonchops and a moustache he looked so much like Ray’s brother that they let him sit with the wedding party. “The extras were all too young to have been around in the 60’s,” young Donovan reports, “but really, it felt like everyone loved the Doors, and it was happening. You didn’t feel you were on a movie set.”
I heard that once shooting began, Val Kilmer sent around a memo demanding that no one speak to him except as Jim. And than no one was allowed to come with ten feet of him. Plus, he wore a sweat shirt with a hood so he could hide his face. Not at all like Jim, who was all things to all people, like, Marilyn, but how else can a boy stay in character if he’s not actually Jim? (When Dustin Hoffman arrived on the set of Marathon Man looking worn and exhausted because he had deliberately avoided sleep for two nights, Laurence Olivier remarked, “Dear boy, you look absolutely awful. Why don’t you try acting? It’s so much easier.”)
According to everyone, Val Kilmer is supposed to have gotten Jim’s looks exactly right, but what can Val Kilmer know of having been fat all of his life and suddenly one summer taking so much LSD and waking up a prince? Val Kilmer has always been a prince, so he can’t have the glow; when you’ve never been a mud lark it’s just not the same. And people these days, they don’t know what it was to suddenly possess the power to f**k every single person you even idly fancied, they don’t know the physical glamour of that – back when rock ‘n roll was in flower and movies were hopelessly square. And we were all so young.
Credit and Sources:
All text by Eve Babitz for Esquire Magazine March 1991 posted by Dark Star at this link
photos from various pages on tum. Please look at previous posts for credits.