WEIRDLAND: The Cold Last Swim, James Dean, Jim Morrison

Friday, May 01, 2020

The Cold Last Swim, James Dean, Jim Morrison

Poet and writer Frank O'Hara was deeply affected by the death of young James Dean in a crash on his way to race his Porsche Spyder in Salinas, California. Just days after the 1955 accident, O'Hara crafted a series of elegies, in one of which a phrase appears that serves as the title of Junior Burke's new novel The Cold Last Swim (2020)The tragedy elevated Dean to icon status for a generation of youth across the country, girls swooning in romantic grief over what-might-have-been (for him and, in their minds, for them), boys imitating the swagger and looks in hope of engendering somewhat more local swooning. This truncated arc, a star just beginning to ascend over 1950s America reverberates to this day. It's reasonable to assume that a work addressing the James Dean phenomenon will also be serious, accretive to the mythology of that moment. 

In the case of The Cold Last Swim, to make that assumption would be a mistake, because here Junior Burke takes an entirely different tack. He imagines an alternate history, one in which James Dean is not killed in that crash because that crash never occurs. We should accept that invitation in the spirit in which Burke offers it. He wants us to enjoy imagining a life not cut short but a life prolonged, breezing past a close-call on a remote stretch of California highway. Burke embeds his story in the Hollywood of the '50s and early '60s, in renown diners, coffee shops, restaurants, and watering holes of that place and time, in period television shows and in California car culture. His cast of characters- mobbed-up record producers, sitcom stars, teenagers who become obsessed with James Dean and leave home, hustlers and head-cases, writers and photographers for movie and music mags, politicians and payola investigators who are not quite FBI agents.

Right off the bat we find James Dean, between filming East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause, being cast in an episode of General Electric Theater (the actual episode aired 12 December 1954) in which, after an altercation during rehearsal, Ronald Reagan is, in an off-script moment in Burke's tale, shot in the chest by James Dean on live TV. What follows is mayhem and coincidence, some characters assuming multiple false names and at times assuming others' identities altogether. The allure of this novel is not so much in the writing, as in the plot, and so it is difficult to address the tale without giving too much away to those who wish to go along for James Dean's ride. Let's just say that in the novel as well as the film Rebel Without a Cause, there's a pivotal scene called the "chickie run" -- Dean and another actor are seen racing stolen cars toward an ocean cliff. Both cars take the plunge, one actor (Burke's Dean rejects stuntmen) failing to bail out in time when his clothing is caught in the car's door handle (as shown in the actual movie). The world comes to believe that the driver killed in the fiery crash on the beach is James Dean. 

Burke's tale is cast in the style of noir, albeit sunny California noir. The writing fits that bill; it's straightforward and plain, almost as bare-bones as if the novel were a screenplay. There are many quick cuts and the myriad characters are moved around like chess pieces. Their trajectories are complex and intersect repeatedly and at times coincidentally, and their scenes don't always engender much in the way of consequence except to move the reader toward scenes that otherwise might not seem reasonable. There's much fun and flashy busyness. Burke's narrative is a whirlwind escape into the speculative Land of What-If. In this regard, the timing of the release of The Last Cold Swim might well be perfect. We can be entertained in Burke's alternate land of the stars and the star-struck just at a time when the real world brakes to a dead stop. Source:

Jim Morrison: 'An Alternate History' by Jim Cherry: In Beat poet Michael McClure Jim Morrison found a kindred poetic spirit and a productive relationship, but not at first. McClure and Morrison first met in New York while McClure was rehearsing his play “The Beard.” Both men were drinking and had an immediate dislike for each other. That hurdle seems to have been overcome by the time The Doors went to play their European tour. Morrison ran into McClure and invited him over to read some of his poetry. McClure was soon encouraging Morrison to get his poetry self-published it. By 1969 Morrison was impressed by McClure’s novel “The Adept” which had themes and settings in common with Morrison’s. They rented an office in a Hollywood building and worked on a screenplay of “The Adept” but because of its lack of cohesion was rejected by an agent, and the two went on to other projects. 

One of the most frequently asked questions among Doors fans, is what would Jim Morrison be doing if he hadn't died? July 3, 1971, 4am, Paris, France. Jim Morrison wakes up after falling asleep in the bathtub after a night of drinking. Morrison wraps himself in a warm robe and goes back to bed. As he gets into bed he’s careful not to wake Pam. August 1971. He comes to the conclusion that although he’s feeling better he can’t recreate the creative burst he felt on Venice Beach six years earlier. Morrison adopts the same discipline he had when working with Michael McClure. Morrison, gaining creative confidence and control, decides to accede to Pam Courson’s wishes that she and Jim have a normal life. He buys an old church in the French countryside that will be renovated into their home. In the meantime Morrison wanting to finish ‘old business’ works on his manuscript of Observations While on Trial in Miami. The book is observational as well as philosophical with a surrealist edge to it and provides a look into the American judicial system of the time. It becomes an underground hit and is considered by many to be one of the last great writings of the 1960’s counterculture movement, leading him to become renowned as author and poet. Source:

Janet Erwin: for those of you unfamiliar with Linda Ashcroft's story "Wild Child", she copied Patricia Kennealy's formula from "Strange Days", and of course she picked up PK's loathesome accusation that Pam let Jim die and ran with it, claiming (in the original, UK version of the book) that Pam told her she let Jim die because the last thing he gasped as he collapsed was Linda's name! She also claims to be the "L.A." of L.A. Woman. I heard Judy Huddleston penned her unreliable book from a mental institution. Judy may have been in a mental institution but Patricia Kennealy certainly belongs in one. Patricia Kennealy is a vicious, truly evil woman, full of rage and hatred towards virtually everyone, even--especially--towards Jim Morrison, the man she claims to love. In fact Patricia Kennealy is incapable of love. She is a sociopath who views other people simply as pawns to be used by her and then discarded when they've served their purpose. She has been exploiting her very brief fling with Jim for years for her own self-glorification, for money, and most of all, I think, for revenge. She has aimed her venomous lies against anyone who made Jim happier and about whom he cared more in his life. Of course Patricia knows Jim didn't want her--that's the real reason she's so angry. If you have read my memoir Ballroom Days then you have seen how she used me and how she used--and continues to use--Jim Morrison. You have also seen that--unlike Patricia--I make no claims whatsoever as to my own importance in Jim's life. You might even have noticed that I don't patronize Jim Morrison, nor is there any rage towards him that is often to be found in Kennealy's "memoir." Jim Morrison was the most considerate and skilled lover I've ever had the very great pleasure to enjoy. He was also the funniest man I've ever known. But then I genuinely loved him, and I still do, and I'm not going to sit by and let Patricia Kennealy slime his memory--and Pamela's--with her venom and her truly colossal ugliness of spirit. 

John Densmore made the comment about Pam using the gravestone money for heroin... and it definitely was a low blow. It seems sadly characteristic of him, however, and if Ray was right about John meeting and falling for Pamela first, it would seem to indicate some very sour grapes on John's part. Densmore and Kennealy should have a lot to talk about. Patricia didn't use my real name because she was afraid I'd sue her for libel if she did. Jim and I had a casual conversation about drugs in February 1971. He mentioned heroin as a drug he'd tried. It was a passing mention of what I assumed was casual use. Patricia Kennealy's letters from Jim were written in July of 1970, when he was apprehensive about the upcoming Miami trial, and before Patricia had harassed him and he'd broken it off with her (which he did when she invited herself down to Miami during the trial). Her claims that he wrote to her in 1971 from Paris--or that there was any communication of any kind between the two of them after February 1971--are lies. Patricia Kennealy left Jazz & Pop in January of 1971, therefore her job with Jazz & Pop would not have prevented her from accompanying Jim to Paris. She simply wasn't asked to go to Paris, nor was she invited to Los Angeles either in December 1970 or in February 1971. She was invited--politely and considerately, for the man was a gentleman--to get out of his life and stay out. She was *invited* to get out of his life several times, and was given every opportunity to do so with her pride intact. Unfortunately, she chose otherwise. Awfully lucky for her the man died when he did; if he'd lived no one would ever have heard of Ms. Patricia Kennealy, except as one of Jim Morrison's many fan stalkers. There are those of us who take exception to her self-serving and ugly lies, as well as the lies and distortions of Jerry Hopkins, Danny Sugerman, Stephen Davis, Mick Wall, Oliver Stone and their ilk. Among the many 'people who were there' and who can still verify that I had a relationship with Jim in late 1970 are the following: Frank Lisciandro, Kathy Lisciandro, Jack Ttanna, Jo Ttanna, Babe Hill (who spent many evenings with Jim and Salli Stevenson) and Sandy Gibson, who was a rock publicist in 1970, and who later produced the 6-hour official Doors radio show in association with Jac Holzman [founder of Elektra Records] called "The Doors from the Inside;" and then, in association with Westwood One, produced the 10-hour radio documentary "The Doors: Setting the Record Straight."

There are also members of the rock press in Los Angeles at the time and who can verify the Morrison-Stevenson friendship. But the only woman who consistently held the royal flush in Jim Morrison's game was Pamela Courson. Pam's police statement, naturally, made no mention of heroin. According to Alain Ronay, Pam said they snorted it the previous night (July 2) and Morrison suffered an overdose. According to Sugerman, Jim discovered Pam snorting heroin and she told him, "It's coke." It depends on who you believe. I choose to defend Pamela Courson from Sugerman's accusations because I don't think he was close to Jim nor Pam. Jim told me he thought Danny was a creepy stalker. I think what happened in Paris was just a tragic accident and Pam was very confused when she recalled her blurry memories from that night. I used to work in the world of N.Y. publishing and it seems Pat Kennealy has been dropped by her publisher due to her bad image and the lack of quality of her last two novels.

Patricia Butler: Pamela Courson had to petition for her widow's stipend to be disbursed to her for a living allowance until the will went through probate, which it finally did in 1974. Pam would say she was Jim's wife while he was still here in the flesh, Jim never denied it- did he? Pamela started using the name Morrison--with Jim's blessing--shortly after they became a couple. This was the name she was known by to everybody in Jim's circle. In fact, Pamela Des Barres also referred to her by the name Pamela Morrison in her book "I'm With the Band." I spoke to Pamela Des Barres about that and she confirmed that that was, in fact, the name everyone used for her. People don't seem to get that, for the most part, people who are misrepresented in sensationalist books don't have any platform to rebut the lies. Take Bryan Gates in No One Here Gets Out Alive. His story about his trip across country with Jim Morrison was completely screwed up in NOHGOA and, because people (very much like Stephen Davis) tend not to take the time to check out this stuff, the misinformation is repeated all over the place for years. When I contacted Bryan Gates for my book, he was still seething mad over NOHGOA and was very anxious to get the correct story out. But if I hadn't contacted him, what recourse did he have?  He can hardly call up everyone who reads NOHGOA and set them straight.  He cannot gather a press conference either. It was the same situation with the guy "in the Florida coffee shop," Tom Reese.  When I talked to him he was still pissed that he'd been misrepresented in NOHGOA. He said Jerry never came any further than his front porch and never seemed very interested in getting the whole story, which is why he changed Reese's name in NOHGOA. Most of the time, the only way these folks have to rebut something that one author got wrong is to try to set the record straight with another author. Jerry Hopkins was a good friend but his book gave birth to more bullshit stories about Jim than any other, because it was the first, and subsequent authors borrowed freely without checking their facts. Manzarek even admitted Sugerman had concocted many tales because the original Hopkins' draft needed more salable points to be published. That's why Stephen Davis's book is so dangerous. When writers simply borrow from suspicious sources without checking out the information themselves, misinformation spreads and takes root. I think it's truly the root of all journalistic evil around Jim Morrison's figure. I knew from my conversation with Davis that his entire goal was to play up the old rumors--the worse the better--with very little interest in doing any new research or checking facts. The whole thing is disgusting. I honestly think Davis should be ashamed of himself. Then again, if he was the kind of person who would be ashamed of himself over this kind of shoddy work, he would be the kind of person not to do that kind of work in the first place. This is why books like Davis's are so very dangerous: many people want to believe the worst, and they'll latch onto anything they can that seems to legitimize their feelings. 

-RiderontheStorm1969: Pam wanted Jim to leave The Doors because she could see what Manzarek and the others couldn't see, or didn't care to see as Jim was their money maker, what being a rock star was doing to him. Pam always urged Jim to walk away from the music industry and focus on the things he truly wanted to do; journalism, film, poetry. Pam got Jim to see a psychiatrist on two occasions and she tended a line of communication between Jim and his family. When "friends" began to disappear after the Miami debacle Pam was one of the few relationships left standing. Paris was a desperate last attempt to possibly stabilize Jim and have him take a break from the band, Jim's drinking buddies, fame and the general insanity that was Jim Morrison's life. Pam may not always come across as a nice person (she had her own issues) but she clearly cared for Jim's welfare. According to friends of Jim and Pam, Jim Morrison's former girlfriends, the other Doors, people who worked for The Doors, former friends of Kennealy and - not that she meant to keep tripping over own lies - according to Kennealy herself: she and Morrison only had a brief fling. Patricia Kennealy is the original stalker. She had been laying siege to Jim Morrison for some time before their "destined" press meeting. After Kennealy stopped hearing from Morrison she went to Los Angeles and tried to stalk, abuse and intimidate him into continuing with her even though he made it clear he was not interested. From what I gather about Kennealy, she probably saw Morrison's fragile state at the Miami trial as some kind of sick advantage while she came up with the twisted mind games she tried to play with him. Kennealy was merely one of many flings for Jim Morrison. Indeed, Morrison's most unfortunate fling, as it turned out. Those who actually knew and cared about Jim Morrison who could offer genuine insights are reluctant to be interviewed by aspiring Morrison "biographers". Kennealy, on the other hand, will take any opportunity in her quest for validation. And that is the the only reason you read so much about her in books. She will blather to anyone who is willing to listen. Most stories about Jim Morrison have been proven to be either false or to be greatly exaggerated. Source:

No comments :