WEIRDLAND: Riding the crest of the wave: Jim Morrison, Timothy Leary, LSD & the American Dream

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Riding the crest of the wave: Jim Morrison, Timothy Leary, LSD & the American Dream

Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson sharing a moment of tenderness in Muir Woods, outside San Francisco, 1967. Although their relationship was often troubled, Pamela always remained Jim’s sole ‘cosmic mate’. Jim took Pam under his wing, introduced her to pyschedelic drugs and poetry. Although he was not faithful, it was to Pamela he returned, pledging his eternal love. Sometimes when The Doors weren’t playing at the Whisky, Jim went to other bars on the Sunset Strip and ‘sat in’ with the house bands. Pam frequently would go with Jim and for a short while she danced in one of the clubs, until Jim insisted she quit (which delated Jim's jealousy). By then, they were sharing a small apartment in Laurel Canyon. Jim gave his little brother Andy advice— ‘I talked to him about my being slow with the chicks, I just finished high school. Jim said not to worry about it. He said he didn’t get laid until he was at Junior College. He wanted me to feel like I was okay.’

‘We Could Be So Good Together’ was another of many songs Jim wrote about his troubled relationship with Pam. A columnist for the Village Voice, Howard Smith, wrote: ‘There really hasn’t been a major male sex symbol since James Dean died and Marlon Brando got a paunch. Jim Morrison could be the biggest thing to grab the mass libido in a long time.’ Diane Gardiner, The Doors' publicist and Pam's confidant, booked press interviews with Jim at the Phone Booth, the topless bar next to The Doors office. “Jim was interested in strip dancers and how they felt,” Diane said. “He had a real empathy for them. He would go to those places and he would applaud. He’d be a great audience.” Diane also remembered Jim's drunken advances: “Jim had fallen across the bed and he just looked up at me and he said, 'I want to fuck you.' There was that old part of me going, Gee whiz, 'I’d like to fuck you, too.' So I just said, 'Sure, Jim.' I found out he didn’t like women who weren’t feminine. He didn’t like it when women get kind of brash. He thought I was being too mechanized, I found out later. Anyway, we didn’t fuck and he went back out into the front room.” 

Michael McClure, one of the ‘Beat Generation’ poets whom Jim so admired when he was in high school, had written a play in 1965 about Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid (The Beard), and a Hollywood producer thought Jim should be cast as Billy the Kid. Michael McClure said: ‘I knew Jim was a poet and I enjoyed his singing, but I never had seen any of his poetry. I sat down and read his stuff and I was terrifically impressed. These were the poems that appeared in The  Lords and the New Creatures. Later Jim told me they had been sorted out by Pam, who’d edited it down from a much larger manuscript at Jim’s request. He seemed to explicitly rely on Pamela.’ Although Pamela’s sporadic affairs didn’t seem to bother Jim, his sublimated rage came out in other ways—shitty performances, self-negating behavior, and generally abusing himself and almost everyone who depended on him. After Jim's death Jerry Hopkins met Pam over lunch. His impressions were she was "beautiful, fragile, vulnerable, and manipulative".

HWY—An American Pastoral (1969): the script’s atmospheric desert imagery and cast of mythic American hobos and lowlifes seems to have been modeled on the surreal world of Michael McClure’s The Beard. The scenario included a homicidal hitcher, Billy Cooke, murdering whoever picked him up: a homosexual, a sheriff, a pilot who had served in Vietnam. ‘I don’t think the shaman is too interested in defining his role in society, he’s just more interested in pursuing his own fantasies,’ Jim Morrison said: "There's this theory about the nature of tragedy comedy that Aristotle didn't mean catharsis for the audience but a purgation of emotions for the actors themselves. The audience is just a witness to what's taking place on stage." In his autobiography Long Time Gone, David Crosby remembered Morrison as having ‘a masochistic bent; he sublimated it. He’d go out and get monumentally trashed – drunk, high, and really polluted. He did it repeatedly.’

Morrison had written these lines in one of his Paris notebooks: ‘Leave the informed sense in our wake/you be the Christ on this package tour/Money beats soul/Last words, last words, out.’ Later, some biographers would use these lines to support a suicide theory. In November 1971, four months after Jim died, Pam filed a ‘declaration in support of widow’s allowance’, claiming ‘at all times since September 30, 1967, I have considered that I was married to James D. Morrison, and that I was in fact his wife at the time of his death and am now his widow’. Pam had Jim ask Max Fink which states had the loosest laws recognizing common-law marriage. In her court statement, Pam said, ‘Jim reported to me that he learned from Fink that to create a marriage in the state of Colorado it was sufficient if two people stayed together, had marital relations and agreed to thereby be husband and wife, if in fact they thereafter conducted and held themselves out as each other’s spouse. We spent the night at a hotel, had sexual relations and agreed that we would forever after, be husband and wife. We very briefly honeymooned in Colorado and then continued our [the Doors] tour.’ Pam’s statement went on to say that during their relationship, all her living expenses were paid from Jim’s earnings, and she and Jim were given $2,500 in cash each month. 

Lizzie James, from Creem magazine, Autumn 1969: Jim would astonish me each time he gave me a chilling glimpse of his loneliness. At three or five in the morning, sometimes, he called and said, ‘Come and take me away…’ as though it was some winged denizen of heaven he had dialled. At one point, I told Jim, ‘You look like a Greek god.’ He shook his head, laughing with the bashfulness and insecurity of any ordinary guy. He was a stranger, a ‘rider on the storm’ thrown into this world. He was surrounded by an ever-present collection of buddies, gofers, groupies, associates and hangers-on. But when I said that I wanted to be his friend, he put his arm around me in quick acceptance, with feeling in his voice that I seriously recognised to be nothing other than need. After he was gone, I was sorry about nothing except that I hadn’t given him more. For what I did give, which was to plunge my greedy curiosity and eagerness into his mind in thirst for his ideas, had seemed to me no gift at all. But it was clear that it had seemed so to him, because he gave me so much in return – desperately careful in his explanations, because he saw my craving to understand. "The Lizard King, The Essential Jim Morrison" (ekindle, 2014) by Jerry Hopkins

Jim Morrison had a huge stash of Owsley Stanley’s “White Lightning” acid that looked like aspirin tablets, the cleanest LSD in 1966-67. In those early days of LSD and other mind-altering drugs, there was a series of tests on experimental drugs being conducted by the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Center. Of course the tests were strictly monitored, and students were allowed to sign up for only one of them because of the potential dangers of abuse. Morrison was among the first to sign up, and using a series of aliases he signed up for every test!

Timothy Leary went to California and made the rounds of the research community. In Los Angeles he attended a number of parties that were similar to the ones he and Richard Alpert had organized in New York, full of literate, intelligent seekers quietly discussing their trips to the Other World. One night, a sloshed Marilyn Monroe slipped into Tim's bedroom and asked him to turn her on. There were moments when Leary had to agree with Allen Ginsberg: everyone was becoming hip. This was an illusion, of course. Maybe 10 percent were becoming hip, the rest were getting nervous. And one of the focal points of their anxiety was LSD.  —"Storming Heaven: LSD & The American Dream" (2011) by Jay Stevens

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream—a novel written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1971—follows its protagonist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend on Las Vegas to chase the American Dream through a drug-induced haze, all the while ruminating on the failure of the 1960s countercultural movement: “Strange memories—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place... no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant... that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave... So now, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” 

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