Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Taken for a Ride--by Jim Morrison

In 1969 I was a busy rock critic, freelancing for Fusion in the East, Rolling Stone in the West, and various publications around Seattle. The Seattle Pop Festival came along that summer--plopped down at a site out in rural King County among the dairies and small farms--and I was determined to give it blanket coverage, interviewing as many interesting artists as I could reach.

Among those were the newly formed Flying Burrito Brothers. Southern charmer Gram Parsons and I somehow hit it off--I'll be devoting one or two future postings to Gram--and he agreed to ask Jim Morrison of the headlining Doors to talk to me too.The upshot was that I was invited to join Jim, Gram, Burritos' drummer Michael Clarke, and a shapely young woman in a clinging black dress for a Sunday afternoon ride through the Washington countryside in Jim's not-so-long black limousine...

From the beginning I was outgunned. Jim and Gram were both clearly high on some substance or two... Clarke, seated up front next to the driver, was already only half-conscious... and it was clear that the guy representing the press--me--was to be put on, mercilessly.

Jim began establishing his control before the limo even rolled. First he claimed for himself the jump seat facing backwards, positioning me on the cushioned seat facing him. Next he directed his lady friend to sit on my lap, and Gram to sprawl across the available space to my right. Finally, while I would be allowed to use a small cassette tapedeck to interview him, he insisted on the condition that he could stop our talk at any moment and erase any portion of the interview that displeased him. Too eager to be smart, I agreed, hoping that things would sort themselves out.

We set off about 2 p.m., and for the next hour-and-a-half I faced comically goofy harassment. Jim's ladyfriend (did i ever hear her name?) squirmed around a lot, her perfumed hair, breasts and bottom distracting me greatly, as Jim had presumably intended. Meanwhile, Gram and he kept cracking jokes, sharing a joint and giggling hugely at exchanges only remotely funny. Each serious question I tried to offer was met by a stream-of-consciousness--or do i mean expanded consciousness--response.

For example, when I asked about his Navy family upbringing, he launched into a long rap about "the vast limestone sinkholes in Florida" (his parents were living in that state, I think). This in turn became the theme of our "conversation," with Jim repeatedly grabbing the deck and erasing whole chunks of talk, in order to restate what was becoming his evolving free verse poem about sinkholes and collapsing social structures and doomed civilizations both modern American and prehistoric.

Somewhere along the line, I remember we stopped to buy beer at a ramshackle gas station/store. Since Washington state's Sunday blue laws were still in effect then, the guys had to settle for Cokes. (Of course that set off a round of jokes about things going better with...) Beyond that, and the nameless woman on my lap, and glimpses of a great many cows passing outside, the rest of the ride is pretty much a blur. I just gave up and let it all happen.

By the time we returned to the festival site, most of the laughter had died away. Probably Jim and Gram were as tired of the running gag as I was. The limo stopped and I squirmed out from under the lady and out of the car, clutching my useless tapedeck and mumbling some sort of thank you as they drove off. I stood there a moment, marvelling at my first real experience with rock's new celebrityhood, and then set off to find someone less famous to talk to.

That night, the Doors' performance was a decidedly mixed bag. The band played well, as ever, but Jim seemed less coherent--more out of control. He mumbled through the songs rather halfheartedly and devoted more time to haranguing the dedicated fans crowded down front, who were separated from the performers by a front-of-stage, members-of-the-press area--where I was--encircled by a wire fence; not barbed, but certainly substantial. Jim managed to repeat a few of the poetic phrases he'd worked up during our earlier encounter, but mostly he just kept trying to egg the crowd into "storming the barricades" and "breaking down the barriers that separate us" (and other statements both symbolic and of the moment).

I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting a stampede. But the wire fence held up, and the Doors ended their set--to less applause than Led Zeppelin had enjoyed earlier in the day. (Not to mention that accorded Ike and Tina Turner just previously--Tina and the Ikettes were spectacular, especially seen from a few feet below!) The rock foursome left for... wherever they were due next.

I wrote up the festival for a couple of publications, but chose not to reveal my inadequacies as interviewer. I do remember stating that Morrison on stage seemed to be adopting the pose of doomed hero in some modern-day Greek tragedy, determined to be torn to pieces by his own particular Maenads. (Foolishly pretentious writing; we rock crits did a lot of that.)

And after he did die a couple of years later, and a few times over the many years since, I searched for that scrambled tape cassette--to no avail. I must have just recorded over it, or thrown it away, or...

I prefer to think that one of Jim's true fans rescued it and is listening to it right now, as amused and bemused as I was that Sunday afternoon in 1969.


Peggy said...

whoa, great account of a fascinating time! I have read the interview in the old Helix and that is riveting too...thanks, Mister E!

Anonymous said...

Doors were a fantastic Band and Jim Morrison was their soul. I can't imagine him in a Limo. What a show!!