WEIRDLAND: The Straight Dope, Iconoclast Jim Morrison

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Straight Dope, Iconoclast Jim Morrison

It's 1969, and the world is on fire. When rock music reporter Tom Bean gets a tip that something is fishy about the death of The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, he investigates and gets a beating for his troubles. That sets him on a race to stay one step ahead of shadowy killers targeting Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison as he tries to save their lives. Fast-moving and noirish, this historical novel is based on actual FBI and CIA operations of the time, including the implausibly named but entirely real Operation CHAOS, which tried to disrupt opponents of the Nixon Administration. Dain Dunston gives us a rock & roll novel in the tradition of Nick Horby, Don DeLillo and Jennifer Egan. The Straight Dope takes us on a tour of the world of rock, chasing the action from San Francisco to New York, London and Paris.

“Nearly 50 years after they died, the members of the 27 Club still haunt us. In this page-turner of a thriller, Dain Dunston's young reporter tries to stop their killers. Can peace and love win out?” — Charles McNair, The Epicureans. "Probably you're thinking it's implausible that the CIA wanted to kill four counter-culture rock stars in the 1960s. The Straight Dope is a trippy ride into the what-if of the weirdest part of the American 20th Century, when Manson really did hang out with the Beach Boys, Hunter S. Thompson really did ride with the Hells Angels... and the Feds really did regard rock and roll as a threat. This thing is so good I had the munchies after the first chapter.” — Neely Tucker, The Ways of the Dead. Source:


The night I met Jim Morrison my pen ran out of ink. I was on the corner outside the Carousel Ballroom at Market and Van Ness. There was a line of kids waiting to see Janis Joplin play her last gig with Big Brother and the Holding Company and I was making a note about the scene. I didn’t write much about the L.A. bands and I didn’t know much about him. All I knew was – and it was now confirmed – that Jim Morrison was trouble. "Who the fuck are you?" asked Morrison. "I’m Tom Bean. From the Chronicle." He swayed on his feet and stared at me and then his eyes softened. He reached a hand out and put it on my shoulder. I drove home the long length of Geary Boulevard, trying to remember if I knew any songs in praise of redheaded girls. Morrison: "You ever think about what it’s like to be human? Like birds. They don’t know why they fly south, they just do it. We do things and don’t know why we do them. It’s all like a cosmic game, you know? Let me buy you breakfast."  He surprised me. He looked remorseful and ashamed. Morrison’s idea of lunch was the first bar we came to on 5th Street. It was called The Shillelagh, a dark Irish bar filled with Teamsters who drove the Chronicle’s trucks and men from the Typographical Union. Morrison astonished me by saying he loved Rilke, and quoting him. "Love is never understood; and what we lose in Death is not disclosed." So, if song gives holiness and joy, I asked, why leave the band? Why shut the door to that? For the first time since the encounter at The Shillelagh, Morrison stopped talking. For a moment, the whole world seemed to stare into his glass. The bar was silent and a small black and white TV reran silent footage of the riot at San Francisco State.


I kept my head down and did what I was told and before I knew it, we were halfway through 1969 and it was the Fourth of July. I stood in the bleachers with my sister’s family and waved our big American flag as choppers from the Naval Air Station flew overhead and colorful floats rolled down the street front of us. There was a bagpipe band, with grown men in kilts, and the Shriners with their funny hats. There were lots and lots of bored-looking teenagers dressed as clowns and hoboes. Excited dogs in circus garb trotted along behind them. And then came four F-4 fighter jets trailing red, white and blue smoke behind them. I waved the flag higher and wider and thought, oh, it’s great to be an American. It turns out that J. Edgar Hoover was already keeping dossiers on the Doors, on Janis Joplin and on Jimi Hendrix. I would have laughed this off six months ago. In fact, when first Morrison said it, I did laugh. But after hearing what Bob had to say, I was beginning to wonder. I told him about my conversation with Morrison the previous December. Federal officials harassing local officials who in turn were harassing promoters. The Doors are finished. The Miami bust gave the bureau everything they need. Morrison was shy. To call a guy up and say, I wrote a poem, and read it, that wasn’t easy. On a stage in front of ten thousand people, you weren’t nearly as exposed. You wore a performer’s mask. But with one person, there was nothing to hide behind. You were exposed and I could hear his voice crack with the tension of self-evaluation, as if he feared I would judge him and, given who I was, I might have. Instead, it made me want to encourage him. He ended on the last little stanza, if that’s what it was.

Morrison started his rant: "Music is an art but it’s also a business. And if the business suffers, the art disappears. Think of it as a global distribution system. People like bananas. To grow bananas takes big farms and lots of little men running around in Central America. To bring bananas to your store takes trucks and trains and ships and then more trucks. That five-cent banana you cut up on your corn flakes costs a penny to grow and three cents to transport. In the same way, that Rolling Stones ticket people think is unfairly priced reflects tens of thousands of dollars of transportation, equipment and stadium rental. You wouldn’t ask your grocer to give you a banana for free. Why would you ask The Rolling Stones to give you a concert for free? The fastest way to Hollywood is over the hills on La Cienega. Things like oil wells in the middle of a city. They are a nice metaphor for this reptilian hump of post-war sprawl that pumped the brains out of human beings and repackaged them as daytime game shows and bubble gum music. What got me were the signs, the endless billboards that line the road through the oil fields and were plastered to every vertical surface when you got down to the flats, the miles of gridlock paved with identical cinderblock Monopoly building. Air-Conditioned polar bears promising It’s Coooool Inside. Fly Now, Pay Later, We Try Harder. Signs for clean used cars and dirty books and Girls, Girls, Girls. 

L.A. is a psychotic ant farm grinding itself to dust, and I realized that the little Mustang was the only sky blue I was going to see on this trip. Whatever’s the opposite of rose colored glasses, that’s what I had on. San Francisco was going to hell and L.A. was showing the way and this state I used to love is sinking under the weight of a million tract houses and a billion diminishing dreams. By the way, I hate that prick Jean de Breteuil." (Jean de Breteuil was a heroin dealer who did try to steal girlfriends away from both Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger.)

The cab turned right at Norton Avenue, a nice tree-lined street of Spanish style bungalows with white stucco walls and red tile roofs. It stopped across from a modest 1930s garden apartment and de Breteuil strolled up to the bougainvillea-draped steps of the unit in back. It wasn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find a big rock star and it didn’t seem to be the kind of place de Breteuil would want to hang out. But there were six mailboxes on the front corner and when I took a close look, the name on the last box explained it all: Pamela Courson, Morrison’s girlfriend. I went back to the Plymouth and sat there. What the hell was I going to do now? What if Morrison was in there? Would Morrison kill him in front of his girlfriend? Should I bust in and break it up? I ran through the actuarial tables on what de Breteuil might do next. Pam was a friend of his and, I presumed, a lover. Was he stopping by to say hello or maybe treating her to a hit of fresh product?

PARIS JUNE 24, 1971

I had the idea that a profile on the rock star turned poet in Paris would work for the New Yorker, so I met Jim in his apartment for an interview. Pamela Courson (his girlfriend) was back. And from the way he talked, it seemed like things were complicated between them. Morrison introduced us but it didn’t feel right. It felt tense, like they’d been fighting and after she offered tea but didn’t make any, Jim suggested we go for a walk. The Count is back, Morrison said as we walked through the tree-lined Place des Vosges, surrounded by red brick mansions over an arched arcade. "He has Marianne Faithfull with him, so Pam moved back in with me." He looked embarrassed, as if having to explain this revealed a failure of will on his part. Morrison stared at the cloudless sky. A distant 707 was cutting a crystalline trail from east to west. He lit another cigarette, inhaled and coughed. "Did you know they offered me a role in a movie? Opposite Robert Mitchum. But I would have to go back to L.A. and I can’t do that yet."

Bean: So what’s the deal with Pamela?
Morrison: I made her promise to stop seeing the Count and she says she’s going to get off the junk. But she’s not ready yet. I can see that. It’s not like trying to quit smoking. What I’m doing is, I’m trying to help her control it and slowly cut it down. I don’t want her scoring from that creep and I sure as fuck don’t want her scoring on the street. A woman shouldn’t be out there like that. Scoring dope is a man’s job. The Count is dealing this fluffy pink Chinese heroin that’s super strong. Pamela calls it cotton candy. The thing Oscar Wilde said, 'All men kill the thing they love,' but I won't. I want to try her dope. Look, how can I help her if I don’t know what she’s going through? So I said I would do some heroin and then she couldn’t tell me I didn’t understand her, and then I could try for her health and mine and the health of the relationship. —"The Straight Dope: A Novel of Sex, Death and Rock & Roll" (2018) by Dain Dunston

Anger, hostility and irritability are frequently observed among patients with unipolar depressive disorders. Approximately one third of depressed outpatients present with “anger attacks,” sudden spells of anger accompanied by symptoms of autonomic activation such as tachycardia, sweating, hot flashes, and tightness of the chest. Depressed patients with anger attacks are significantly more anxious and hostile and they are more likely to meet criteria for avoidant, dependent, borderline, narcissistic, and antisocial personality disorders than depressed patients without anger attacks. German-American philosopher Paul Tillich characterized existential anxiety as "the state in which a being is aware of its possible nonbeing" and he listed three categories for the nonbeing and resulting anxiety: ontic (fate and death), moral (guilt and condemnation), and spiritual (emptiness and meaninglessness). According to Tillich, the last of these three types of existential anxiety, i.e. spiritual anxiety, is predominant in modern times while the others were predominant in earlier periods. Tillich argues that this anxiety can be accepted as part of the human condition or it can be resisted but with negative consequences. In its pathological form, spiritual anxiety may tend to "drive the person toward the creation of certitude in systems of meaning which are supported by tradition and authority" even though such "undoubted certitude is not built on the rock of reality".  —Anger: The Unrecognized Emotion in Emotional Disorders (2016) by David H. Barlow

"Jim Morrison was the nicest guy you ever met in your life. He would charm your pants off and often did with the ladies. That's what they didn't capture in the Oliver Stone movie--he was portrayed just like a drunk and a jerk. He was a cool guy and he was really fun to hang out with. He was too sensitive as an artist. Hopefully one day they'll make another film and show the real side of Jim Morrison." —Robby Krieger

-What would blow Jim’s mind the most about today’s music? -Patricia Kennealy: “How artificial, stupid, boring, trivial, shallow and talentless it is. He’d hate it. Today, nobody wants to actually criticize anything, heaven forbid. But then, there’s really nothing creative there to criticize. It’s just commercial, record-company-generated trash.”

Jim Morrison kept his life very compartmentalized, to protect his own privacy and that of the people he cared about. The vultures who have been strip-mining Jim’s life and legend to this day, as Danny Sugerman, sensationalist writers and such, have chosen to go with lies. They prefer their own, utterly erroneous take on it. Morrison was one of the great iconoclasts of all time, one of the great image-breakers. He’d hate what people have made of him. He'd hate to have been made an icon. Also people project their unsavory fantasies and wish-fulfillment trips onto him, and he doesn’t deserve it. They did it when he was alive, and a million times more so since he’s been dead. He was a beautiful, courteous, generous, humorous, loving soul. I’d say that’s their loss, but really the loss is, tragically, Jim’s. Per the stipulation in his will, which also stated that they were not yet married, Pamela Courson inherited Jim's entire fortune, yet lawsuits against the estate would tie up her quest for inheritance for the next two years. After Pamela received her share of Morrison's royalties, she never renewed contact with the remaining members of The Doors. Even though Jim and Pamela had their grievances, he always provided for her. Pamela would usually take long trips to Europe when they had their breaks, and spent huge amounts of money on those extravaganzas. 

She loved Yves Saint Laurent, Nudie Cohn, and she had a very big interest in vintage fashion. Pamela always seemed to get what she wanted no matter what! When she caught Jim with Judy Huddleston at a motel, she managed to get Jim out of that motel room by making a scene. As Queen of the Groupies Pamela Des Barres recalls, "Pam was a tough chick." I took Pamela Des Barres' tour in Los Angeles and she told the story about the erotic back bend she was doing for Jim when Pamela came home and threw her out. Des Barres said that regardless of what other women say of their affairs, Pamela Courson was the only woman Jim loved madly. Jim felt that he couldn't live without Pamela. The Lizard Queen (Pam) was an elusive creature at her core who was completely contradictory. Patricia Kennealy, on the other hand, was someone who did not get the kind of attention that she wanted in Jim's life and so, when The Doors' film came out in the early 90s, Patricia saw it as her opportunity to rewrite history and punish the dead for their roles in her inherent unhappiness. Although surely she knows the core of the truth of things, Patricia has lied for so long about the whole deal that she probably believes quite a bit of her own stories. 

Ginny Ganahl, who worked in the Doors' office, said that people referred to Patricia Kennealy as "The Potato", and this was sprung from her sour attitude when people saw her around town looking for Jim's company. I think that Jim at first was drawn to Patricia's intelligence and talents as a writer, but that after a while, her possessive aggression and demands for time and attention became too much and that he was civil but wary of her. Patricia stalked Pamela Courson as well, and despite her assertations that Pam was an airhead, she was never anything besides cordial to her. It just strikes me as very convenient, when in 1987, for the book "Rock Wives", Patricia was far more honest, saying in essence that she and Jim had a fling but that it was never a serious one. “Jim had a continuing love relationship with Pamela,” Paul Rothchild remembered: “Pam was the nice sweet girl next door, a vision. They were the classic fighting couple. And they couldn’t live without each other. Jim took her to to the wall mentally over and over. Pam would challenge him, she would drive him crazy because he loved her and she loved him. She was able to stand up to him.”—by She Dances in A Ring of Fire Tumblr


Dain Dunston said...

Thanks for finding my book! Nice to see it got noticed. I love the pictures you posted, illustrating the clips.

Elena Weirdland said...

thanks for stopping by, nice to meet you, Dain! your book "The Straight Dope" is a very absorbing look at the 60's most iconic rock legends and the intriguing possibilities of their sadly shared fate. Keep up the great job!