WEIRDLAND: Jim Morrison & Pamela, Lou Reed & Nico: Rock 'n' Roll Angst and Redemption

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Jim Morrison & Pamela, Lou Reed & Nico: Rock 'n' Roll Angst and Redemption

Jim Morrison articulated again his belief that rock was dead: ‘The initial flash is over. What used to be called rock’n’roll – it got decadent. It became self-conscious, involuted and kind of incestuous. The energy is gone. There is no longer a belief.’ When asked if he might consider to be bisexual, he answered: ‘I’m hopelessly heterosexual!’ Jim also offered to discuss the merits of ‘alcohol as opposed to drugs’, explaining that ‘getting drunk you’re in complete control up to a point. It’s your choice, every time you take a sip. I guess it’s the difference between suicide and slow capitulation.’ Today, despite the record-straighteners, the kiss-and-tell memoirs from former lovers and friends, the online now-it-can-be-told memories, less is known about Jim Morrison and The Doors than ever before. In the acclaimed 2009 documentary When You’re Strange, the depth of what we don’t know about The Doors is revealed as staggering, almost infinite. Never mind the deeply troubled, irresponsibly generous, irrefutably talented, handsome-as-a-matador-in-his-prime real-life person that was James Douglas Morrison. Never mind the books he quietly read, the sweet love he secretly made, the cronies and the hangers-onhow much he despised them but hated himself more. Pamela Des Barres says that her first thought after hearing of his death was for Pamela Courson. Despite the crack-ups, the freak-outs and hate trips, she still believes that: ‘He was in love with Pamela Courson and that was it.’ 

‘He was Jim fucking Morrison and he was a kid... a child. And of course he’s in this playground and he’s going to fuck around with it, but he was really in love with her.’  One day at the end of June, 1971, walking to the beautiful Place des Vosges, Morrison slumped on a bench and wrote what would be his last poem, ‘The Sidewalkers Moved’. ‘Join us at the demonstration,’ he wrote, thinking back to the Paris riots of 1968, while staring blindly into his own unimagined future. Morrison, like Blake, clearly draws a distinction between what is and what is not possible through the imagination. Like Blake, Morrison glorifies the imagination in his work, arguing that when generate our reality through our imagination, our imagination does not see that reality as fixed; much to the contrary, it allows us to see beyond a fixed set of structures, perceiving our reality, like Blake argues, as infinite. —"The Poet Behind the Doors: Jim Morrison's Poetry and the 1960s Counter-Cultural Movement" (2011) by Steven Erkel

Jim Morrison was used to crazy women, groupies, and hangers-on. Even his girlfriend Pamela was crazy, with her flaming red hair and her refusal to play by Jim’s rules. Jim and Nico began to fight a lot, mostly when they were drunk and high. But often when they were simply having sex. Not like Nico used to fight with Brian Jones, though. Jim would never beat Nico up. They simply ‘enjoyed the sensation,’ Nico said: ‘But we make love in the gentle way.’ Then suddenly it was over. Not when Jim or Nico decided, but when Pam decided. Once Pam had found out where Jim was and who he was with, she began a new affair of her own with a French aristocrat named Jean de Breteuil with apparently permanent access to high-quality heroin, which Pam also now began ‘experimenting’ with. She knew what Jim’s reaction would be when he found out and began thinking about it, in those frozen hours he was always most terrified of right before dawn, during the coldest, darkest moments of the night-day. Jim pretended not to care. Then early one morning, while Nico was still passed out, Jim got in his car and drove back to L.A. and Pamela – as he always did eventually, as he always would. Not even leaving a note behind. 

"City Lights" (from Lou Reed's album The Bells, 1979) isn't only about Charlie Chaplin but about a lost America, the implication being that, in these late modern times, all the lights in the world might not be enough to bring us together. The time has come to call the fathers home from the stale curbstone shores. Sometimes they're bad and Take No Prisoners. But who then do they finally hurt but themselves? And when they give of themselves, they reaffirm what great art has always been: an act of love toward the whole human race. Lou Reed is a prick and a jerkoff. He's also a person with deep compassion for a great many other people about whom almost nobody else gives a shit. I won't say who they are, because I don't want to get too schmaltzy, except to emphasize that there's always been more to this than drugs and fashionable kinks, and to point out that suffering, loneliness and psychic/spiritual exile are great levelers. The Bells isn't merely Lou Reed's best solo LP, it's great art. —Lester Bangs (1979, Rolling Stone)

Berlin isn't my favorite Lou Reed album, that distinction belongs to 1979's The Bells, but to deny that it is among the most important works in his collection would be extremely misguided. Critic Michael Hill pointed out that Reed's album was, "met with confusion, revulsion and anger" upon its initial release. The Velvet Underground's chanteuse Nico would later claim that Reed, "wrote me letters saying Berlin was me." Who exactly Caroline was based on has been conjectured about for years. Was it Nico? Was it Reed's wife at the time Bettye Kronstadt? Caroline is a composite that manifests as a fevered brew of vulnerability, paranoia, suffering and bullying. She is certainly one of the most unforgettable characters in rock history and she inspired some of the most penetrating and memorable lyrics of Lou Reed's career. No one before or since has managed to capture urban angst or the frustrations of addiction, depression, and ultimately redemption better than Lou Reed. Much more than being rock's dark prince, Lou Reed has reminded us for forty years now that there is indeed light at the end of the longest and blackest tunnel.  Jeremy Richey (2013)

Nico just once offered an example of the peyote visions she endured with Jim Morrison: "The light of the dawn was a very deep green and I believed I was upside down and the sky was the desert which had become a garden and then the ocean. I do not swim and I was frightened when it was water and more resolved when it was land. I felt embraced by the sky-garden." Soon after, she started to write a song lyric, possibly her first, titled Lawns of Dawn. Nico told Morrison that she did not know how to compose. She could not follow the mechanics of writing. Morrison told her to write down her dreams, literally, write down the images she remembered. He started by imitating other writers, Celine and Blake, and he realized that they were writing down their dreams. Their affair, a torrid mixture of drinks, drugs, sex, fights and poetry, lasted little more than a month before this Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and drifted down their separate roads. They were tired of each other, were exhausted by each others titanic demands. Aside from the authority she had received from Morrison to compose, and the slanted introduction to English poetry, she kept two prevailing souvenirs of their liaison: his blood in hers, and red hair. —"Nico: Life and Lies of an Icon" (kindle, 2017) by Richard Witts

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