WEIRDLAND: "Summer with Jim Morrison", "Last Summer"

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Summer with Jim Morrison", "Last Summer"

Jim Morrison, the starving boy from Venice Beach, the rock god, became something else, a male Norma-Jean. He belonged to the Romantics: Coleridge, Wordsworth, Goethe, Chopin, Liszt... Jim Morrison was one of those. He struck me as being, unlike his fellow students at the Film School, a basically serious character. Morrison, lacking much money, was an accomplished book thief. In my first conversation with him, the talk turned to Metempsychosis and its central axiom: that all thought is remembrance–Jim used the word anamnesis–a recollection of what was in the mind. “Translation is something women are real good at. Everything will come out in English sometime. One day the truth will come out and it will all be in English. And it will all be translated by women,” said Morrison. The next time I saw him he wasn't lugging library books into the stacks. He was sitting quietly with his girlfriend Mary Werbelow in one of the Film School screening rooms: Bungalow 3-K7. This class was conducted by a character named Brocow, who achieved eternal fame by inventing a little metal rod for an editing machine called the Moviola. 

There was also the tall, gaunt figure of a man named Arthur Dewitt Ripley: This was the man whom Andrew Sarris once called “One of the most bizarre and mysterious silhouettes in the American cinema.” Ripley had directed the cult film noir The Chase (1946) and died before Jim had a chance to meet him. So Jim asked me about him. Ripley was a man of great emotion and great personal beliefs. And while he had witnessed great disappointment and tragedy in his own life, he never betrayed the slightest cynicism or despair toward any of his students. He believed that the Motion Picture was an Art that could be ranked with the highest examples of any other form. “Ripley once discoursed on the idea of actually achieving a double retrospect. You can see it used in John Brahm's The Locket (a 1946 film noir). Ripley himself used the retrospect device in A Voice In The Wind.” “What was A Voice In The Wind all about?” Jim inquired. "Maybe one of the greatest dark films ever made," I answered. Jim said: “I would like to have talked to this man.” Jim gave me an old copy of Film Culture, the issue that contained Andrew Sarris' first notes on the Auteur theory. I found that Sarris said it was impossible to overlook Ripley. Which he promptly did in his book The American Cinema, 1928-1968. I never forgave him.

I had seen Anatahan (1953), and this film gave me the first clue to what others later divined about Jim. What some said was his incredible dependence on women. Anatahan was Josef Von Sternberg's last film, with a rewarding sequence: men making advances on the one sole woman left on their island, and the look of ecstasy on her face—that single sequence that had so impressed Jim. I had, at that point, a small room in Venice, California, right above the Kickapoo Logan Company. It was half a block from the beach. The rent was thirty-five dollars a month, a sum impossible to imagine in today's inflationary times. “Hell, you can sleep on the roof," I said to Jim. His girlfriend Mary had abandoned him for professional dancing, and he moved in with me without a single coin to his name. 

Venice Beach was not like it is today. Back then, it was a place, caught in a time warp. In those days, the air was warm and delicious, with a cool sea breeze that came directly from the beach into the room. It was a slow time, unhurried, leisurely. In those days we had time for anything. Not like today, when life is full-speed ahead, hurtling all of us and everything else towards whatever the hell? The food cost just $20 each month for both! According to, in 1960 70% of families were single income households and the minimum wage was $1/ $8.35 today. Median family income was $5,620/ $46,927 today and the average income was $6,691, or $55,839.93 today. The federal minimum wage is today $7.25, whereas the median family income is $29,930.13 and the average family income is $46,119.78

Sitting in my room Jim Morrison pondered his career options: “Either I write lyrics for Rock and Roll songs,” he said, “or I write cheap paperback novels, like westerns about Billy the Kid.” I said I had written a four hundred page novel about an archaeologist dying slowly by the ruins of the largest colonial mansion in America. It got me Third Place in the Samuel Goldwyn contest. I had worked as a film assistant for Roger Corman too. Jim had been without a method, just drifting. Now he had a method: the concept of a trajectory toward a certain way of life that almost corresponded to Jim's notion of male sexuality: a long, slow, rhythmic development, then a sharp peak upward. Finally, a sudden and abrupt descent. One day he just packed himself up with the clothes on his back and a new notebook in which he had been writing the poetry that later would become the incendiary lyrics of The Doors' songs. He bumped into Ray and Dorothy Manzarek on the Venice West boardwalk. I saw Jim change. I thought he was much more interesting before he was a Rock Starthe exact moment when he signed his contract with Elektra Records became the beginning of his downgoing. When Jim introduced me to Pamela, they were both living up in Laurel Canyon, near the Market. It was a wooden house stuck up against the mountain side. I remember, when Pam answered the door, seeing Jim propped in an easy chair focusing on a book, they struck me as suited to one another. It was quiet, up there in the canyon. You could hear the hum of insects. It was like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel. Chandler had written in The Long Goodbye (1953): "There is no trap so deadly as the one you set for yourself." I thought if Jim could actually escape that trap. I remembered one time when the three of us, Jim, Pam and myself, were in a car and she put her head on my shoulder. Was this just an unconscious gesture of friendship or was it to inspire a jealous Morrison response? Jim remained inscrutable—but he probably was jealous as hell. Jim, having grown up in the Fifties, was an adept of mystery novels and pulp magazines.      

Herbert Gans, who wrote the masterful sociological study The Levittowners (1965), lived in Levittown, N.J. to conduct his research. His account of early suburbanites as generally content with their lot, differs starkly from the critiques of popular writers. Not only did Gans reject those critiques, he came to the opposite conclusion: "that suburban life has produced more family cohesion and a significant boost in morale through the reduction of boredom and loneliness." Gans was quite cutting about intellectuals who condemned suburbia’s "little boxes" and mocked their inhabitants as feeble. Even Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (1963) she described housewives feeling cooped up in city apartments and suburban ranches alike, and saw the birth of the suburbs as, in fact, "a limitless challenge to the energy of educated American women," with abundant opportunities for civic innovation and leadership—which women too often rejected to focus on the family. Despite the urban hype, the share of Americans living in urban neighborhoods actually dropped from 2000 to 2014. 

Jim Morrison, believer in the consolidation of the matriarchy system in America, distanced himself from the archetypal male-centric writer that Jack Kerouac had represented. Kerouac had written his opus On the Road in April 1951, and when he was done his second wife Joan Haverty tossed him out of their New York City apartment for being a bum and a bore. Kerouac's relationships with women were mercurial; as Dennis McNally put it: "One of the central myths of Jack's life was of Dostoevsky's wife and her unflagging support of her husband, of the duty of the untalented to support the creative artist." Kerouac saw no reason to question his chauvinist attitudes towards his women. They were there to fuck him, feed him, fawn over him, and then hopefully fade into the background. Unfortunately, few modern girls could put up with this for more than a few months, which shows just how far the women of the Fifties were from Madame Dostoevsky; the juices of feminism were starting to simmer.

“Nietzsche is one man who has never disappointed me,” Jim said. “Women aren't fools, though. Nietzsche said once they are the loveliest swans in the world.” Jim understood clearly that the Apollonian principle was Aristocratic, a dream realm. And the Dionysian was the Democratic principle, the state of intoxication. He just laughed at Philosophy Professors who wrote about Nietzsche. Like Walter Kaufman's chapter of his Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, about “Nietzsche's admiration for Socrates.” “It's nothing but a lie,” Jim said. “It's not true.” I waited. “That lousy Sophist,” Jim declared. “What an old ugly pederast. Socrates lurking in Greek law courts so he could pick up enough gift of gab to con innocent young men into the sack! They should have killed that fucker decades before the hemlock.” Jim wasn't fooled by Kaufman. “He taught Plato a skeptical philosophy and utterly ruined him. Why? Because Socrates wanted to kill off the Greek religion – another Sophistry – a lawyer's rhetoric. And what happened? That poor bastard Plato takes a trip to Egypt. Ever read The Egyptian Book Of The Dead? It's nothing but a primitive form of the ‘allegory of the cave’, i.e. the love of the dead. Pure nihilism! These philosophy teachers – they can get rid of ‘God’, but they can’t get rid of Socrates? Why, it’s ridiculous.” Jim often favored the German culture over England's. “I never knew an Englishman I didn't despise," he said, "or an Englishwoman I didn't love.” He thought the class structure and behaviourism had ruined England: “It's a shopkeeper’s mentality. Survival at any price.” Jim exempted the Irish, the Scotch, and the Welsh.

“Numbers are a hallucination,” Jim sniffed. “Some dude used algebra to prove that nobody could fly. The truth will come out some day about these fucking Pythagoreans.” “Then, what is the truth?” I asked. He was silent a long moment. “Man, it's Pound’s economics that’s going to insure his place in American history.” He could be pretty funny at times. “How do you figure that one, Jim?” He smirked. “Well, in fifty-sixty years this whole set-up is going to collapse.” “You really think so?” “Everybody's gonna lose their money to a bunch of crooked politicians and white-collar criminals. You'll see. And then these guys, let’s call them economists, they're all gonna say finally, ‘Well, Pound was right!’ And Social Credit will come in." “Well Jim, ya’know Pound was in the nuthouse at Saint Elizabeth's hospital for twelve years.” “So what?” “Well, there’s this charge of Treason.” He cocked his head and gave me a sharp glance. “No.” Pound's transcripts had been censored. “Well, they're all in the Library of Congress. The OSS made wire recordings and the transcriptions are in the Library of Congress. I went up there from Arlington, one time, and read them.” “You did?” “Sure. And what the fools don't realize is that Pound is a hero and should’ve been given the Congressional Medal of Honor!” "How do you figure that?" “It's all in code! The broadcasts! It's in cypher! You just gotta know how to figure it out. He was broadcasting troop movements and such over the radio. Pound was a spy for the government and he oughta be decorated." He concluded, “Everybody else thinks you’re a communist or whatever. Actually, you're a patriot.” “Well, who contacted Pound?” “Roosevelt.” Silence. “Just read Ezra’s Selected Poems”. “So Pound was doomed – unless he played ball with the Government. Of course, he could have stayed right here in America, but that's what makes him such a hero. He had guts, alright. He took the packet and went over there and made the broadcasts according to code.” “Well, why didn't all this come out at the trial?” “Because, by 1946, when the troops arrested Pound, Roosevelt was dead, and Truman didn't know anything about it." And there he had me. “Well, why didn't Pound say anything after they put him in the nut house, Jim?” “Because the U.S. Military put him in that cage in Pisa and he got sunstroke and went bonkers. Maybe later on he realized this was a case of state security. It's as plain as day.” Those broadcasts did get published and I have a copy and from time to time I try to find the cypher.

“Orson Welles... could he have directed a film about Billy the Kid?” I asked Jim. “Welles directed a film called Touch Of Evil. And that’s one of the best American films ever made,” Jim said: “The amazing part about being an American are the endless possibilities. The idea of the frontier, though closed, has entered the national consciousness and cannot easily be erased.” “Ralph Waldo Emerson is our greatest thinker,” Jim said another day. “Read that essay called The Over-Soul. That’s a good one.” "How does it go, Jim?" And again, I was treated to a bit of his phenomenal memory: “Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence. The most exact calculator has no prescience that somewhat incalculable may not balk the very next moment. As with events, so is it with thoughts. When I watch that flowing river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me, I see that I am but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look up and put myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien energy the visions come.” He was the young Nietzsche’s favorite American philosopher. It's not really surprising that Jim knew Emerson by heart.

Jim Morrison could be oddly patriotic. “Dostoyevsky said, the Russian hates freedom. Those fuckers wouldn't know what to make of it. Like a primitive man under an open sky gone crazy from the light. The Politician, one of the two examples of the ‘secular Priest’, becomes the consummate actor of our day,” Jim said. “What's the other example?” “The Psychiatrist. According to Freud, the future of illusion needed secularization.” I said: “Your Mr. Pound said that Rome was destroyed by its Rhetoriticians.” “The Rhetoriticians took over when the Romans lost their Poets. Rhetoric is just another word for politics,” said Jim: “Politicians are too shrewd to be neurotic, by and large. Greed so wonderfully concentrates a man’s mind.” All this while the Vietnam War was raging. —"Summer with Morrison: The Early Life and Times of James Douglas Morrison, A Memoir" (2011) by Dennis C. Jakob

Last Summer (1969) directed by Frank Perry was one of a handful of counter-culture movies that were released in 1969 along with Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Haskell Wexler's docudrama Medium Cool and experimental film HWY: An American Pastoral (by Jim Morrison, Frank Lisciandro & Paul Ferrara). Last Summer is adolescence viewed through a doggedly nihilistic prism, being at its heart an existential parable on authenticity, dread, and the concept of morality as a choice, conveying the darker aspects of American disillusionment in the late '60s. The story's dominant figure is Sandy (Barbara Hershey), a pretty girl who claims to possess a high IQ. Two boys wander into her life: Peter and Dan, when Sandy has rescued a wounded bird that will die if they don't remove the fishhook stuck in its throat. Last Summer's screenplay by Eleanor Perry is based on an eponymous novel by Evan Hunter, whose writing credits appeared in the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Birds (1963). Time magazine reviewed the film as an "enormous debt to J.D. Salinger," adding that Burns's performance as a quintessential outsider was "exactly the kind of kid Holden Caulfield wanted to catch in the rye." New York Times critic Vincent Canby called the screenplay "tough and laconic." Source:

There was a continual stream of enigmatic secrecy which both Jim and Pam fostered. The same applied to their domestic lives together. True, we as the public would hear about the rows, the fights, the outrageous behaviour, but was this part of ‘the act’ part of the Jim and Pam show? Jim needed trusted friends and Babe Hill, who had been a construction worker, was one of his closest ones. Jim Morrison hated Pam taking heroin, verified by Tony Funches, his bodyguard. As Pam often said, alcohol was Jim's favourite drug. He didn’t mind cocaine or an assortment of pills, but heroin was a no go for him. Paris was awash with it in the summer of 1971. The city had become the central trading point for the white stuff and the cut percentage on the street was unusually pure– somewhere in the region of 86% pure. Pam liked to be on the edge as much as Morrison did. She was no shrinking violet. The demure Pamela Courson was in reality a human firecracker. Even Morrison said she was the cat to his mouse. Perhaps the fact that she simply did not do what Jim wanted was the kind of response he needed. For years men had wanted to be Morrison and girls wanted him between their legs. Pamela’s great power was that she could stand up to him. Whatever her hold was, it was extremely strong, that old chestnut of a reason: love. Morrison may well have slept with other women and betrayed Pam’s trust, but he also loved her. Together they had starved in Los Angeles, often walking back at night from The Doors gigs because Jim had spent his share on booze. When the first real pay cheque had come in, it was Pam with whom he had shared the Chinese feast. Every other girl lusted after Morrison the idol, the sex god, the pathfinder. Pam, however, got to see all the weaknesses, all the insecurity. Pam stated that they did not have sex on his final night. Actually she said they didn’t have sexual intercourse – they could have indulged in some sexual activity and then Morrison, having taken heroin as opposed to cocaine, became too lethargic to continue. —"Mr. Mojo Risin' ain't dead" (2011) by Ron Clooney

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