Month: April 2017

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 9 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 9 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In the conclusion of our interviews, Frank reveals the truth about Jim’s move to Paris, his final days in America, the letter Jim wrote Frank shortly before his death, his thoughts on how Jim died, and summing up the Morrison legacy. 

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

THE MOVE TO PARIS

What about Jim’s ill-fated trip to Paris. Did he ever discuss that with you in any sort of detail?
Oh yeah, definitely. We discussed this quite a few times, actually. He didn’t have to do any kind of sell on me at all. I encouraged him to go, because I had lived in Paris for a time during my wayward year in Europe and I thought it would be great for him to do that. And we planned on me joining him over there at some point, either for a visit or to work together if he was able to put together a film project.
The main reason he gave for going to Paris was that Pam wanted to go there and live. He had completed his contract with Elektra, and he wanted to do some writing over there and he also was taking HWY with him to show to some French film people that he had met previously—Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy—to get their feedback and opinions as a way to maybe find some funding to make films.
There were multiple reasons and objectives for his going. Pam was there and he wanted to be there with her. There were filmmaking opportunities, and he wanted a place to write where there wasn’t a constant demand for his time. It was such an obvious solution that I thought, “Why did it take you this long to do this?” [laughs].

Interesting, because most of the books written about Jim have him terribly depressed before he left for Paris…
I don’t understand this talk of being depressed and despondent at that time; not at all. He was more quiet. He wasn’t getting drunk as much in public as he did before. He wasn’t going out to clubs as much as he did before. And I think he was enjoying that.
Jim had a very positive experience making the L.A. Woman album. In fact, when I look at all the photos I took at those sessions I see a happy, or at least very content guy. I don’t see an angry person at all.

Jim during the L.A. Woman recording sessions.

I honestly see a person who is finally at peace with himself and I see someone who is having a great creative experience with his mates and enjoying the experience. He was really liking the idea that they were doing it outside of the Elektra studio, and in their own studio with a guy [Bruce Botnick] who wasn’t a tyrant like Paul Rothchild certainly could be.
All of that was very much to Jim’s liking. He was really at his friendliest and at his most open at that time. Once Paul Rothchild left the scene, he was in good spirits. I think he saw Paul as a father figure who could be as demanding and dictatorial as his own father. Jim wanted to be himself and he knew that with Bruce he could do just that. Plus, they were making a rock & roll record with a strong backbone of blues and Jim loved that.
With that said, I will warn anyone reading this that I am probably the last person that you would ask to psychoanalyze someone [laughs], but when it comes to this depression stuff before Jim left for Paris, I can honestly say that I didn’t see it, and it just wasn’t part of his character at that time of his life.

In our book, Friends Gathered Together, there’s a photo of Jim getting ready for a game of football right before he left for Paris…
Right. Well, during that time in early ’71, late February, we got together to play football in Manhattan Beach. And this is another thing, if you look at the pictures from that day, he had his long hair and his beard but he certainly wasn’t overweight. So you have all these stories about Jim being vastly overweight when he left for Paris, and it’s just not true. Look at those photos of him at the time. He might have weighed more than he did during his “Twiggy” period, but he was not overweight at all. And we had a really good time that day; just a really, genuine fun time.

Jim laces up his sneakers for a game of football with friends in Manhattan Beach, California. He would leave for Paris two weeks later. (Photo by Kathy Lisciandro)

At that time, Jim just seemed happier. He seemed lighter about everything. It was like he finally had some freedom to really do whatever he wanted, and what he wanted to do was go off to Paris and be with Pam. He really seemed enthusiastic about the possibilities of what he could do with the rest of his life. The possibilities could have ended up being music, it could have been films, it could have been poetry, or any combination of those things. The important thing—and the reason he was so relaxed and easy-going—was because he was free from any obligations that may have been keeping him from pursuing his own journey.


“I was with him right up until he left and we were talking about everything that was going on with him and why he wanted to go to Paris. Jim acted with the full knowledge of his lawyer, Max Fink. There was little doubt in Jim’s mind that he was going to win on appeal and he told me that on a number of occasions. He wasn’t running away from the Miami trial or fleeing the country; that’s just not true.”


Were you with Jim on his last day in the States?
Yeah. We didn’t spend the whole day with him but we definitely made plans to go to the airport, have a drink and say goodbye. Kathy and I drove our car to LAX. I think we picked up Jim and Babe, but we may have taken two cars. Alain Ronay joined us there as well.
We got to the airport early, so went to the bar and had some drinks. We talked about what Jim was gonna do in Paris. Alain was giving him suggestions about things to do when he got there, and since Kathy and I had been in Paris a year or two before, we were giving him names of people and told him about the places we really enjoyed visiting. You know, all that kind of last minute chatter between friends.
And then in typical Morrison fashion, Jim missed the plane! [laughs]. They didn’t announce his flight in the bar or they didn’t announce it loud enough or we didn’t hear it because we were all talking or it was a combination of all of that. At one point, we looked at our watches, saw what time it was, and rushed over to the gate, but the plane was already on the runway and wasn’t gonna come back.
So Jim had to spend another night in L.A. I don’t remember how he got to the airport the next morning; whether he took a taxi or what, but he left that next day and he was gone, and we never got to see him again.

The fact that he nonchalantly missed his plane that day would seem to fly in the face of those who claim that Jim was fleeing to Paris because he was frightened by the Miami verdict. Any truth to those rumors?
No, absolutely not. I’ve heard people say that and it’s just not true, and I was with him right up until he left and we were talking about everything that was going on with him and why he wanted to go to Paris.
Jim acted with the full knowledge of his lawyer, Max Fink. He was not escaping the country. His famous words about that whole legal situation—and I heard him say this to me and to other people—were that “if you can’t be free in one place in the world, then you’re in prison everywhere.” What he meant was that if he left the United States and wasn’t able to get back in, it would be the same as if he was already in prison.
Jim was determined to finish the legal process. He fully understood that the judge in the Miami trial had acted improperly dozens of times throughout the proceedings and that the verdict was going to be thrown out on appeal. There was little doubt in Jim’s mind that he was going to win on appeal and he told me that on a number of occasions. He wasn’t running away from the Miami trial or fleeing the country; that’s just not true.

THE PARIS MYSTERY

Jim’s time in Paris has become a mystery because of all the various stories that have come up over the past 40 years or so; but the only known contacts that Jim made with anyone in the States was the letter he wrote to his accountant, Bob Greene, and the phone call that John Densmore is said to have received from Jim. Did you ever hear from him during his time in Paris?
Yeah. I think we have the only known letter that Jim ever hand wrote to anybody. Other people claim that they have handwritten letters that Jim wrote, but no one has ever produced one.
I wrote him a letter in May 1971 saying that Kathy and I were coming to Europe in July; that we were renting a car and we were going to Eastern Europe. We were going to visit our friend—Eva Gardonyi in Hungary—and we were going to tour around France, Italy, and then go to Greece. I told him that we were going to be traveling around Europe for a few months and that we were picking up our rental car in Paris, and that he and Pam were more than welcome to join us for parts of the journey or the whole thing if they wanted to.
And Jim wrote back saying that he was glad to hear we were coming to Paris and a bit about their experiences on their trip to Morocco. It was a friendly, upbeat, two-page letter. He wrote about losing his passport and credit cards in Corsica or Morocco; I can’t remember which it was. The letter was written on the stationary of the hotel that they had moved to for a period of time because something kept them from getting back in their apartment for a week or two. This was the same hotel—under an earlier name—where Oscar Wilde died. The same Oscar Wilde who once said, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”

The letter that Jim wrote to Frank and Kathy in May of 1971, inviting his friends to come stay with himself and Pam at their place in Paris.

Anyway, I told Jim that we would be arriving in Paris in the middle of July. He gave the impression in his letter that he would love to see friends from the States. And he asked us to please come and stay with them. He didn’t really say whether he was going to go with us on our little journey, but he was anxious for us to get there. He didn’t sound like he was trying to hide from anybody at all; it was just the opposite.
So we had a good feeling from his letter. It was no different than how he normally interacted with Kathy and I—friendly and always positive. He was a positive force in our life and I think that we were a positive force in his. I don’t remember exactly when we got his letter, but I’m pretty sure that it was in June or maybe late May. Jim died on July 3rd and the rest is history.

Knowing how Jim lived his life, were you shocked when Bill Siddons called you on that 4th of July Weekend to tell you that Jim had died in Paris?
None of us had high hopes that Jim would live for a long time, simply because we felt that the risks he took were too dangerous. The risks that we personally saw him take and the risks that others reported were just too many. Things like strolling around the parapet on the roof of the 9000 Building on the Sunset Strip, the drinking and driving, jumping out of windows, falling out of windows, all of that stuff.
The safest place for Jim to be was actually on the road with the Doors because there were people around him to keep an eye on him. But when he was on his own, he could be doing anything. So, no, it wasn’t like the shock of a child dying, where you find yourself saying, “How could this have possibly happened to such a young, innocent child?”
Jim was a guy who took major risks with his life. Jim acted as if he believed that if you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. He was always testing barriers; and it was something that none of us could understand.
So, when we heard that Jim was dead, were we shocked? Not so much shocked as immediately saddened and grief-stricken. I don’t recall being angry at him; it was really hard to get angry with him. The people I know didn’t express anger. Maybe the Doors were angry, because the band was over, I don’t know.
The rest of us were just grief-stricken. I lost a very close friend and we had plans to do things together; plans that were discussed and on the table. Michael McClure had plans to do things with Jim, too.
The grief of losing my friend was way greater than any kind of disappointment, and the fact that Jim died so suddenly and without any closure made accepting his death even more difficult. His death was like what’s reported by folks who lose an arm and have the sensation that the limb is still there; that they can still feel it. That’s the closest thing I can equate to how I felt when Jim died; that same sense of loss, futility and emptiness.

There are quite a few theories about Jim’s death, did you ever get involved in that parlor game mentality or try to find out anything?
Well, I’ve read stories and I’ve heard stories over the years. I read the so-called first-hand account written by Alain Ronay which was published in an Italian and a German magazine. He contends that he was there and that he knew what happened. Then again, I spoke with Mrs. Courson—Pamela’s mother—who told me what Pamela told her over the last few years of Pam’s life, which contradicts what Alain Ronay wrote.
This was a private conversation, so I don’t feel comfortable repeating it and I never have written about it or told anyone in the press. What I will say is that if what Pamela told her mother was true, and if I understood what her mother told me, then it would contradict the major points of Alain Ronay’s version of events.
But there are other people who claim to know the truth, too. Some have said that Jim was found unconscious in a club or that Jim died in a club. Then there’s the fire department’s report, the medical examiner’s report, what Bill Siddons has to say, and before you get done you’re more confused than when you went into it. I’ve talked to Bill, I’ve talked to Mrs. Courson, I’ve talked to people in Paris, and I truly don’t know how he died.

Frank and Kathy arrived in Paris in mid-July on their pre-planned trip to visit Jim and Pam. This is Frank’s photo of his close friend’s grave, taken merely days after Jim’s death.

What did you find out in regards to Jim’s death and the possible causes?
I do know for a fact that Jim was seeing a doctor while he was in Paris, as well as seeing a doctor while he was in the States, for an asthmatic condition. The typical treatment in his condition was one of those inhalers, which are easy to overuse. He was also taking Marax And when combined with alcohol, this can lead to severe respiratory problems.
[Editor’s Note from our book Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together: Marax is no longer available in the United States. The key ingredient in Marax, “Ephedra,” had long been linked to a high rate of serious side effects and deaths and has been banned by the FDA within the U.S.].
The fact is that Jim was having trouble with a lingering respiratory illness and he was seeing a doctor for that condition in the short time he was in Paris. Now that’s not my attempt to contradict all the other stories and theories that are circulating; but these are facts that many people don’t even consider.

The most common theory has to do with a heroin overdose, and there are people who claim that Jim told them that he used heroin before he left for Paris…
Anything is possible when it comes to Jim, but he certainly didn’t die from a needle overdose because he hated anything to do with needles. I don’t even know how doctors and nurses got blood out of him, ya know.
I’m sure that if Jim wanted to try heroin, he could’ve snorted it or smoked it. It was nothing that we ever discussed, so I just assumed that he didn’t show an interest in ever trying it. There’s been a lot of talk that Pamela was some sort of heroin junkie. I don’t know that for a fact; I only know that from hearsay. She never started cooking up in front of me, I never saw any marks on her arms, and I never heard her or Jim ever talk about heroin at any time; so I don’t have any first-hand experience to conclude that Jim died a heroin death.
I do know that a lot of stories that I’ve heard from people about me are totally made-up and completely untrue. So why should I take any stories about Jim or Pam as gospel. This is truly the first time that I’ve heard that Jim claimed that he used heroin. I don’t know the person to whom he said it, and I tend not to believe it.

Likewise, in our book, Babe Hill admits to taking nearly every drug known to man with Jim, but he categorically denies that Jim ever used heroin; at least while in the States…
With the exception of Pamela, there is no one who spent more personal time with Jim than Babe. And anyone who says they were around Jim as much as Babe, is just not being truthful. I think Babe would have seen heroin use by Jim. Heroin was definitely around—although it wasn’t as in the open as smoking pot or doing lines of coke—so Jim could have definitely gotten some, but I just don’t think he would have hid that from Babe or me.
But here’s the problem I have with this line of questioning. It’s almost as if we’re saying or assuming that he did die of a heroin overdose and I’m saying that I don’t know how he died. The coroner’s report does not list Jim’s death as an overdose and I don’t think you can buy a medical examiner’s report just because you’re a famous rock star from the States. I do know that he was having serious respiratory problems; serious enough to see a doctor in both America and in Paris and he was on medication for that.

But that’s just not as “rock & roll” as a heroin overdose with plenty of conspiracy theories on the side…
That’s right, it’s not. It’s apparently more fun and cool to say or to believe that he died of an overdose because there’s something illegal, sinister and sleazy about someone dying that way.
How Jim died might be interesting fodder for smaller minds to dwell on, but the point I try to make when this question comes up is that it really doesn’t matter how Jim died in the grand scheme of things. Jim could have died a dozen different ways during his life; he could have been hit by a truck, or fell out a 20-story window, or overdosed on some opiate. What difference does it make and why are people so intrigued by such things?
       How Jim died is immaterial to his literary legacy and his performance legacy and his overall creative legacy that was left for all of us to enjoy. The details of his death are merely footnotes; but many people seem to want to try to turn his last minutes into the centerpiece of his life story.

LAST WORDS….OUT

What is the one thing that you most hope that people will take away from this interview, in terms of how Jim Morrison is perceived by people in the future?
Jim Morrison was a young man, only 27 years old when he died, so he didn’t have a whole lot of life experiences, nor did he have a whole lot of life wisdom that you gain with age. But he was an enormously talented, gifted guy who—through the arts and crafts that he practiced—wanted to give something back to humanity; to his fellow man.
He was a young guy who was struggling to break through all the barriers that are imposed on us in our culture as a way to stop us from being different, outside the norm; as a way to stop us from being visionaries and artists.
When artists reproduce something that’s already been done—some people may call that art—but that’s not the kind of art that I’m talking about. I’m talking about a guy who was serious about his creative expression and was exploring new areas, new places and new visions.
That’s how I hope that people will see Jim. He was an artist working in several disciplines and trying to advance his ability to use the tools and materials of those different disciplines in ways that pushed the accepted boundaries of those crafts.
I want people to see Jim as a poet, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a filmmaker and as an essayist, rather than as just a rock & roll star. Because I think that’s how Jim saw himself; as a person who was struggling to master these different art forms and to use them as a way to communicate.


“The fact is that 90% of what I hear about Jim Morrison strikes me as being totally wrong; absolutely and totally wrong.”


And what would you say to people who are trying to get a closer glimpse into Jim Morrison through all the books that have been written about him?
None of us who knew Jim knew him completely. Those of us who did know Jim well can only tell you about the part of Jim that we knew. And to complicate the matter, there are people out there who make comments about Jim and tell stories about him who didn’t know him at all.
These are people who met him in a bar for an afternoon, people who casually ran across him for five minutes, people who really didn’t know him, but these are the same folks who endlessly speculate as to who Jim was or make up stories about him because they want to pretend that they really knew Jim Morrison.
The stories that I’ve told in my book, An Hour For Magic, are about incidents that I experienced first-hand; they are not made-up or speculative. The same goes for our book, Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together, where Jim’s other friends are not making things up or being speculative.
Now some of the things we’ve talked about in this particular interview include my opinions and speculation—but I’m doing my best to be accurate and only report on the Jim Morrison that I knew, who I spent time with and collaborated with.
People should use judgment and even skepticism when it comes to things that have been written about and/or said about Jim Morrison. If people don’t want to accept what I’ve said in this interview, that’s fine. I’d much rather them be skeptical than blindly accepting.
The fact is that 90% of what I hear about Jim Morrison strikes me as being totally wrong; absolutely and totally wrong. And yet people repeat these things and tell other people and it’s just endless. I’d like for people to have a healthy sense of skepticism about anything that anyone, including me, has to say about Jim Morrison.
If you seriously want to know who Jim Morrison was—and still is—you can find him in his poetry and observations, you can find him in his lyrics, you can find him in his films, and you can find him in the performances of his songs. That seems like enough research material to get a good picture of the guy and what he was doing.

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 8 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 8 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 8, Frank recounts the making of the An American Prayer album, cataloging Jim’s poetry and getting it released to the masses, and photographing Jim Morrison at work and at play.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

JAMES DOUGLAS MORRISON, POET

Let’s move on to a subject that I know is very close to your heart, and that’s Jim’s poetry. There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to his poetry, so hopefully we can clear up some of those misconceptions. But first off, how did you become the one who has served in some sense as the “guardian of Jim’s poetry,” and is that term accurate?
If you’re using the term in some sort of legal sense, it would not be accurate. If you’re using it in the sense that I have had a strong admiration for Jim’s poetry and that I’ve helped to organize and transcribe his notebooks and loose pages of poems and worked to get his poetry released, then you could say that.
My respect for Jim Morrison, as a poet happened when Jim released his first two books of poetry. Those collections were what pushed me to become a fan of Jim’s poetry. As I said before, I wasn’t a big fan of the Doors music; not that I disliked it, I just had other musical tastes. And I had read Jim’s poems before he released his poetry books, but somehow when those books came into my hands I realized something very important and that was that Jim thought of himself as a poet.
It was at that time that I realized that his professional and personal intention was to be a poet, and from what I could tell, he was a poet. Those first books made me prize the poems and the poet very, very highly. And from that day on, I was convinced.

You’re talking about the poetry books that were released while Jim was alive, correct
Right. One was titled The Lords: Notes on Vision and the other one was The New Creatures; both were self-published in very small editions by Jim at the same time in 1969, but they were two completely separate books. “Look where we worship” is the first line in The Lords. There are many, many memorable and beautiful lines in those books.

Original copies of Jim’s self-published writings.

What were the differences between those particular books and why did Jim put them together as separate books?
Well, The Lords: Notes On Vision evolved from his observations and studies about vision, and about photography. He writes about [Edward] Muybridge and the famous experiments that were done with stop-motion photography. He writes about cinema; he discusses mass hysteria; all the things that he was interested in that he had kept notes about and made observations about. That’s The Lords.
The New Creatures was more of a book of poems, which starts with “Snakeskin jacket/Indian eyes/brilliant hair.” It’s a book of poems, whereas The Lords was more of a book of observations.

Simon & Schuster combined Jim’s first two self-published work and released them together in 1970.

Jim self-published those books…
Yes, but about a year later, they were published together by Simon & Schuster as a single book, The Lords & The New Creatures, and that happened while Jim was still alive. And that’s still in print today.
How it all came about, as I remember it, Jim sent these poems to his friend, the poet, Michael McClure, and Michael told him to publish them himself. So Jim found a printer, produced the manuscript and had them printed. He picked out the kind of paper he wanted; how he wanted it presented and all of those kinds of things.
Jim printed 500 copies of each book and the day those books came out, I can say without reservation that Jim was as happy as I had ever seen him. He was extremely proud of those books and he was very generous in giving them out to people.

Was that all of Jim’s poetry that was published during his lifetime?
Jim also self-published two more works after that. One of those was An American Prayer, which was published in a very small format (see photo above). Jim said that he wanted it to be small enough to fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans [laughs]. He had the idea that you could carry it around and pull it out anytime you wanted.
He also self-published “Ode To L.A. while thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased” at the time of the Aquarius concerts. These are the four works that Jim published while he was alive.

But you were also instrumental in getting the two posthumous books of Jim’s poetry—Wilderness and The American Night—published in the late Eighties/early Nineties. How did those projects come about?
Those were two collections of Jim’s poetry from his notebooks and loose pages, most of which had not been published previously. Those that were published previously were in small magazines or underground newspapers.
The whole thing came about through my getting to know Pamela’s father, Corky Courson, during the making of the An American Prayer album in the late Seventies.

AN AMERICAN PRAYER

Let’s talk a little about that album, An American Prayer. What were the origins of that project and how exactly did you come to be involved with it?
I was invited to participate in the making of that album by the Doors and Corky. John Haeny was nominally the producer although all of us essentially produced that album.
At that first meeting the idea of making an album of Jim’s poetry was discussed; based on the two sessions of Jim’s recorded poetry. Jim recorded his poems in 1969 and on his birthday in 1970. I had been at the 1970 session so I knew the poems, and I had been collecting his published poetry after his death. So Corky and the rest of them understood that I had a keen interest in Jim as a poet, and that I also had material that I had recorded—things like Jim telling the “dead Indians” story.

So what was the initial thought in terms of how that album was going to be structured?
The first discussions were along the lines of “what should be in it?” and “how should we put it all together?” and “would Elektra be interested in it?” Those kinds of discussions. We soon found out that Elektra would be interested in the album, so then we had to figure out a structure.
My idea was to present it like a movie; to shape it like we were doing a movie. And since Jim didn’t really read the various poems in any particular order, I thought it would be a good idea to put the sequence of poems together in an autobiographical way. To start it with Jim’s birth and go right through to the end with “An American Prayer,” which is really sort of requiem.
They all liked that idea, so I transferred all Jim’s recordings to 16mm audio stock and I began cutting it like I was cutting the soundtrack to a film. I worked on it like it was a film without visuals. I was living in Santa Barbara at the time and I had a film editing room there because I had my own production company and was making films.
So every other week, I’d drive down to L.A. and present the next section of poetry to the group. These sections were rough cuts with music that I had grabbed from various sources to act as a guide. I arranged the poems in a loose chronological order, mainly because I couldn’t think of any other way to do it.
The group liked the flow and structure, and the process seemed to be working well. And when the band was figuring out the music, we would move bits and pieces around to make it all fit together.
While that was all going on, Corky Courson and I were becoming friends and we often would find ourselves on the same side of issues when it came to the preservation of Jim’s poems and words; not wanting to cut lines or words. We were in agreement and on the same side of things, in terms of wanting to keep the poems as pure and as intact as possible.

Were all the recorded poems on that album from the 1969 session or were they from both sessions that Jim did?
That’s a hard question to answer accurately off the top of my head. I think that a majority of the material came from the ’69 tape which we refer to as the “Elektra Tape,” versus the “Village Recorder Tape,” which was the one we recorded on Jim’s birthday in 1970.

Jim recording his poetry on what turned out to be his final birthday on December 8, 1970.

Knowing that Jim wanted to keep his poetry separate from his work with the Doors, did you have any reservations about what you were doing with the American Prayer album?
Well, I didn’t come into the project having any options. They were doing this album the way they were doing it—meaning the Doors were supplying the music behind Jim’s spoken words—and I could either be a part of the project or not be a part of the project.
But it was going to be a Jim Morrison album; it was not going to be a Doors album and that was already set in stone by Corky Courson. He had set the parameters and I could either accept them or not, and within those parameters I saw that it wasn’t all that different than a poet reading his poetry with a jazz trio playing behind him, and that’s always been an acceptable practice of presenting poetry.
But in answer to your question, yeah, I had my reservations about it initially. I thought that the purity of Jim’s voice and the purity of the poetry might be better served without musical accompaniment, but, on the other hand, I also believed that Jim’s poetry would have a much better chance of getting public exposure if the three remaining Doors were involved in the project.
In retrospect I believe that it was the best job that we could have done at that time to make a poetry album that had a chance of national exposure. I don’t know if we would have gotten the same reviews and airplay if we had released an album of Jim reading his poetry without any musical textures.
And the album did get national exposure. It even made the Billboard Charts. It won a Grammy nomination for “Best Spoken Word Album” and it won the Netherlands equivalent of the Grammy—the Edison Award—that year. There were some really good reviews, and in the end, the album garnered national exposure for Jim’s poetry, and that was very important to both Corky Courson and I.

What do you think of that album now?
I think the fans and the public appreciated it and they appreciated the music as well. I personally think that the Doors did a very good job in creating music that fit the poetry. What they really did was write a movie score for a film that had no visuals, so I’m thrilled with the end result.
But, at the same time, I’m also anxious for the release of Jim’s poetry recordings in their purest form; the way they were originally recorded. I would love to take all the poems that Jim recorded in those two sessions and the poems that I recorded at the Norman Mailer benefit [May, 1969], with Robbie playing guitar behind him. I would love to be able to put all that material together and put it out on a CD.

Let’s talk about the poetry books that you did help get released, Wilderness and The American Night. Did you push to make those projects happen?
Well, several years after the An American Prayer album, Corky Courson told me that he was thinking about publishing some of Jim’s poetry and I told him that I’d like to be involved in any way that I could be of help.
He had no experience with publishing books, while I had already published my first book, An Hour For Magic, so I could help there. Plus, being a film editor and a filmmaker, you have to understand the process of collecting material and sifting through it all in order to start a project, mold that project, and create a finished work.

So, yeah, I pushed for it. I wanted to do it. The Coursons accepted that Katherine and I would also handle the editorial work associated with the project. I told the Coursons in the bluntest way possible that we could do the best job for them and that we deserved a shot at it. They gave us that shot, the books were published, and they were very successful.

During that time, and since that time, you and Kathy cataloged all of Jim’s personal notebooks. Can you give us a taste of what’s in them?
Well, there’s several notebooks devoted exclusively to the Miami trial. I don’t know if I’d describe it as extensive, but there are several notebooks where Jim wrote about the trial during the time of the trial. There are the type of observations he published in The Lords: Notes On Vision. There’s lots of very interesting material in those notebooks and there are lots and lots of pages.
We transferred everything in those notebooks to the computer and used a software program to analyze it all; to help find the similarities and any redundancies and sift all that out. So I have a very good overview of everything he wrote.

In terms of the Miami trial notebooks, do you recall anything that was especially interesting?
Everything is interesting. Jim’s observations on the judge. His observations on the witnesses. His observations on the people in the gallery. His observations on the jurors. Everything from Jim’s unique viewpoint as both the perp and the victim [laughs], because he was both the perp and the victim. It’s all very interesting and it should be published, perhaps even along with a complete transcript of the performance itself so people would have that context to refer to, as well as some photographs.

Why do you think these projects are so slow to come around?
I don’t know. Since the Coursons and Katherine and I published Wilderness and The American Night, nothing else has come out. Why? The American Night and Wilderness both sold very well and went into translations in other countries. They’re still in publication today, but nothing came out after that.
It frustrates me to think that people are asking, “Is this it? Is this all he did?” I’m here to tell you folks that this is not all he did; there’s more. When we began cataloging all Jim’s material, I didn’t realize how many notebooks there were. I didn’t realize how much material there was.
I also didn’t realize how much polishing of his work the guy did. He was a craftsman of the highest degree. He not only practiced his craft, but he polished his craft. He polished it and polished it and polished it; just like any good craftsman does.
These notebooks are full of Jim Morrison and just the handling of them gives you a sense of the artist. This guy, who might not have been able to splice a piece of film together, but, oh man, could he ever splice a sentence together beautifully.

CAPTURING JIM ON FILM

We haven’t really delved into the extent of your documentation of Jim and the band through your photography. Can you give us an estimate on how many photos you have of Jim and/or the Doors and can you estimate how many of those have been published over the years?
Between late 1967 through 1971, I took somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 photos of Jim and the Doors, of which less than 300 have been published. I also took photos prior to the start of the Doors; of Rick & The Ravens.

How did your relationship develop with Jim, when it came to you photographing him?
After years of looking at these photographs and choosing which ones would go in a book or which ones would be right for a magazine, I’ve come to the conclusion that when Jim and I were getting to know each other and becoming friends in 1968, he was a little more aloof and maybe a little more uptight or tense when I aimed the camera at him.
But as we got to know each other better and he got to understand my way of doing photography, he changed—maybe he trusted me—and so we had eye-contact and dialogue happening.
Jim was a different person around the time of L.A. Woman. He was really relaxed and pretty loose and I can see within the images of Jim during that time that he just wasn’t carrying around this burden of whatever it was that he was carrying around in the earlier years. So I see a much more relaxed Jim Morrison when he was recording L.A. Woman and I was shooting that session.

How did this photographer/subject relationship work? Were you hired as a photographer to shoot these things or were you more of a friend who always had his camera with him and Jim was open to letting you shoot whatever you wanted whenever you wanted?
I was asked to make photographs on several occasions. One was the Critique TV show and one was the Northwest Tour that included concerts in Seattle and Vancouver. Those were instances where they specifically asked me to make photographs. There might have been a few other times, but those are the two that stick out in my mind at the moment.
Then, because I was the kind of photographer that I was—a documentarian—I tended to carry my camera around with me a lot and I would make photographs of whatever appealed to me in a variety of situations. So I had the opportunity to take these photographs because I had the camera, and, more importantly, I had the access.

As you know, the band’s online record label released the Aquarius performances a while back and I know that you took some amazing photos at those gigs…
For that show I was asked by the record company, Elektra, not by the Doors, to take photographs because they needed something for the album cover. The irony of that concert situation is that Chip Monck was hired to do the lights for the Aquarius shows. Chip Monck is famous for his work at Woodstock and is well-known for his work as a lighting director. And he decided that for the Aquarius shows, the lighting would be red and blue and that the stage would be dark all the time [laughs]. This is not a wonderful choice for a photographer; and especially back in the Sixties when film-speed wasn’t all that fast.
I should add that I asked a friend of mine, Bill Daugherty, who was the best young photographer that I knew at the time, to help me with the Aquarius shoot. In fact, I should probably start labeling all the photos from the Aquarius session with both of our names because I can’t tell which ones Bill shot and which ones I shot anymore.
Anyway, we had a very hard time at the Aquarius because the lighting was so piss-poor—good for the performance, but piss-poor for a photographer—so I ended up submitting a photo that Elektra liked which was the band shot from behind, with Jim being furtherest from the lens and all the guys are in a sort of silhouette with their back to the camera. It’s a striking shot, a striking image, and it’s colorful because the lights are coming at you.

Frank’s photo from The Aquarius concerts that became the album cover for The Doors’ Absolutely Live album.

The record company liked it a lot, but the marketing people hated it because there was no image of Jim from the front. So they took a photo of Jim from another year, from another concert, and plastered it over my image of the band. And that’s what the cover of Absolutely Live looked like, which pissed me off to no end. And it made me realize that the aesthetics of record companies are often dominated by their marketing department, both for the content of the album and its packaging.
They couldn’t do that to me now, because I make sure that no one can in any way tamper with any of the photographs that I submit for publication. You cannot crop it, you cannot put anything on it, you cannot do anything to it or with it. You can publish it, that’s it. You can’t even spread it over two pages in a magazine or a book, if there’s a seam in the middle. I’m trying to protect these images because I believe they are historical documents.

Over the years that I’ve been following the Doors and Jim’s life in a variety of ways, what I’ve come to appreciate when it comes to your photo library is not the concert photos, but rather the candid off-stage Jim Morrison. Do you have a lot of those types of photos that remain unpublished?
Well, the archives are filled with thousands of photos, as I said. But a lot of those are not publishable because of lighting or maybe they’re very similar to ones that were published—literally a photo-strip of nearly identical photos.
With that said, there are photos that haven’t been published because I haven’t found the right place or project to publish them. Hopefully I’ll be able to publish them in the future, and hopefully a lot of them will be the kinds of photographs that you’re talking about; the kind taken in an informal, off-stage moment. I think one of my problems was that I would get distracted. I would take a couple of pictures of Jim and then I would get distracted by other things that I would see that might make for interesting photo-compositions.

During a break from the Miami Trial in 1970, Jim’s closest friends took Jim to the Bahamas to get away and do some fishing. Frank took this photo of Babe, Jim, and attorney Max Fink celebrating an impressive haul.

For instance, there was this one time where I was scouting locations for a movie that I was doing and Jim was happy to tag-along, but I took only one picture of him that entire afternoon. At one point, he happened to be in one location that I was photographing and he happened to be at a good angle and I took one photo of him while we were out there. That photo’s never been published, but I could have taken a hundred photographs of him that day. I didn’t take advantage of those times because I just thought he was always going to be around, ya know.
I could have documented Jim more strongly, especially in those moments when he wasn’t the performer or the recording artist, if I wasn’t so casual about it. But I wasn’t thinking that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take more photos of Jim.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 9

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 7 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 7 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 7, the conversation moves into Jim’s personal and professional interests outside The Doors, his growing disenchantment with his music career, his favorite bands, his sense of humor, and Frank’s candid opinion of the controversial Oliver Stone film.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

 THE CHANGELING

Jim obviously had an amazing amount of leadership qualities, but, at the same time, he was a creative being who sought isolation like most artists do. And there would seem to be signs that he also felt some alienation from the people who wanted him to be a leader of some kind of youth movement. Did you see any of that dichotomy?
I think that’s a very insightful and aptly phrased question. Artists need to be somewhat isolated and hermetic to be able to synthesize and then symbolize human experience so that it becomes universal.
Jim was lucky in that he was able to have a large audience that wanted to hear from him, so I don’t think he felt alienated from his audience in the early years of the Doors. However, I did get the feeling that he felt a sense of disappointment that the “movement” that he had become part of after his rooftop experience in Venice—that is the movement of music and art and the re-establishment of an American Renaissance in the arts—had been co-opted by the media and by commerce.
I believe that it all went sour for him. I don’t recall any specific words that he said to bolster that belief, but I had the strong feeling that he felt a sense of loss for that initial Summer Of Love movement when it wasn’t about business, but when it was about artistic freedom and community and peace and saving the planet.

That echoes the whole Woodstock phenomenon in 1969. While many see that as the height of the hippie movement, in hindsight it actually served as the death knell in the sense that business and industry saw what was happening and it quickly became all about monetizing that large movement of people.
You’re exactly right, and even the people who made the Woodstock film eventually became marketeers themselves. I knew some of those guys when they were working on that film, because we worked near each other and we exchanged ideas. I could see how they were constantly traveling between these two worlds—one having to do with what they accomplished by putting on a festival that had such an impact on the culture; and the other world where they were figuring out how they were going to make money off it. I think Jim found himself in that world with the Doors after a while and I think it made him a little uncomfortable.

Did Jim ever talk about leaving his music career with the Doors behind, or did he bounce back and forth about what he wanted to do from time to time?
He said it out loud more than once to unreceptive ears that he was tired of continuing his music career the way it had become. He said this in interviews in various ways, and he said it to me on more than one occasion specifically, that performing in big arenas—the size that the Doors had begun playing in—was something that wasn’t enjoyable to him.
I don’t recall him ever saying specifically that he wanted to give up music, but by the time we had finished making HWY, I could see that he was really wanting to head in that direction. In fact, he was talking to people about being in films. He was talking to Michael McClure and Hollywood agents about writing a screenplay for one of Michael’s books at the same time that we were working on the editing for HWY. He was really, really interested in film at that time and more so than he was in his music career.

Jim performing at The Aquarius Theater in July of 1969.

And because of his contractual obligation with the Doors, he expressed disappointment that he couldn’t do what he really wanted to do at that time, and that was develop a career in film. On top of that, you had people screaming out in these huge arenas for him to sing “Light My Fire” and the other hits which was something that really bothered him. Perhaps a psychiatrist or a psychologist would say that what happened at the Miami concert and other concerts that followed were about as overt a demonstration of where his heart was a person could give.
In my presence, he did talk about the fact that he just didn’t enjoy performing anymore. He did suggest that he would enjoy performing if they could do it in small clubs again, where he first felt the magic, but he didn’t want to do the large venues anymore.
With that said, I wasn’t involved in the band meetings and Jim was very discreet about what went in those closed meetings. One thing about Jim Morrison was that he didn’t talk out of school.

So Jim didn’t really talk to you about what was going on within the group?
If I saw Jim after one of those meetings, I’d say, “How’d your meeting go?” and he’d say, “Fine, whaddya wanna do now?” [laughs]. I mean he just didn’t share private information or gossip.
Sometimes he’d express some frustration over things like wanting to stage a free concert or to lower ticket prices, but I wasn’t privy to those Doors meetings. These were his business dealings and I didn’t pry; because it wasn’t my business. If he wanted to share things like that with me, fine, but he rarely did.
Jim was very discreet about different things in his life. I didn’t need to know about Pam’s shop. I didn’t need to know about what was going on between him and the other Doors. I didn’t need to know about his extra-curricular affairs. When he let me in on something or asked me for an opinion or asked me to collaborate with him on something it meant a lot, because I knew how rare that was for Jim.


“People have been making up stories about Jim Morrison for more than 40 years. All of us, who were his close friends, all have the same remembrances of Jim being discreet. There are so many stories about Jim you hear from people who have suspect motives and even less credibility.”


That’s a side of him that you won’t see in any of the books where Jim comes across as someone who poured his heart out to anyone who happened to be in the room…
There’s definitely a disconnect there and it’s because people have been making up stories about Jim Morrison for more than 30 years. All of us, who were his close friends, all have the same remembrances of Jim being discreet. He was just rather smart in not saying things to people who didn’t need to know about them.
There are so many stories about Jim you hear from people who have suspect motives and even less credibility. Did they actually know Jim Morrison? I’m reminded of the communication experiment in Psychology 101 where one person tells another person a story and then he repeats it to someone else and so on down the line. By the time the story gets to the fifth person it’s a complete jumble that has nothing to do with the original story. And, in the case of Jim, you can see what has happened.
There are folks telling Jim Morrison stories who met him once or twice and maybe had a drink with him. My advice to those interested in Jim is to believe very little of what you hear and/or read.

Let’s talk about some random things for a minute. What were some of his interests? What about sports? Was Jim a big sports fan?
Oh yeah. He was definitely into boxing; especially Muhammad Ali’s career. He thought there was something really special about Ali; we all did. We always tried to catch the heavyweight championship fights on the biggest screen we could find around town. Jim followed football too. Babe was a big football fan, so that was just another thing those two had in common. I like football, but I’ve always been more of a baseball fan; Jim never showed much interest in baseball. He did follow football though and the Rams were a big favorite in L.A. back in those days.

What about Jim’s taste in music?
At parties, he would want people to put on either Elvis or the Beach Boys. Those were the two he always asked for, but he also really loved Miles Davis. He thought Miles Davis was this far-out, genius dude who kept pushing the envelope and reinventing himself. And that was the period when Davis was doing albums like Bitches Brew [released in 1969]. I’m an enormous fan of Miles Davis’ Fifties stuff, like Kind of Blue, but Jim was into Miles’s Sixties stuff in a big way.
Jim really did like jazz and talked fondly of it. We went to the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach to see some shows and he really appreciated the jazz acts there.
As for the more rock acts, I remember this one time we were driving around and Dylan’s song “If Dogs Run Free” from his latest album, New Morning, came on. And it was funny that this amazingly abstract, jazzy song with almost spoken poetry was on the radio.
I remember Jim smiling and saying, “Only Dylan could get that played on the radio.” The song is brilliant in some ways, and it’s ironic too; and Jim was honoring Dylan’s power as an artist that he could make something so out of the mainstream and still get it played on a rock station.

Jim also really liked the Rolling Stones. He wasn’t really into the Beatles that much. He was more into the bluesy style of the Stones than what the Beatles were doing. He never talked about either Pink Floyd or Zeppelin; at least not with me, and we talked about music all the time.
He did like Cream and we were all knocked out by Disraeli Gears. I don’t remember exactly what he said about it, but I do remember him making numerous remarks about how much he enjoyed that album.

Elvis shown performing in Miami in September of 1970. Jim, Babe and Frank attended the concert during a break from Jim’s trial in Florida.

But Jim really, really loved the Beach Boys, and he loved Elvis. We even went and saw Elvis in concert in Miami during a break from Jim’s trial. It was Elvis during the dreadful period, ya know with the giant martian collars and scarves. We went to see the show and we all enjoyed it immensely. Maybe some people might find it strange that Jim was a huge Elvis and Beach Boys fan, but Jim heard something in their music that he enjoyed.

Anyone who saw the Oliver Stone film would never think that Jim loved a group like the Beach Boys. He was such a dark, morose character in that film. What are your thoughts about the Stone movie?
I found it to be intolerable. Oliver Stone did not know—or maybe he did not want to know—who Jim Morrison was; and he did not come close to capturing the essence of Jim. The film never presented the quiet, sensitive, extremely intelligent human being that Jim was off and on the stage. He wasn’t frantic and manic as he is portrayed in this Hollywood movie.
Jim had a sensational sense of humor and that is what is entirely lacking in the Stone film. The guy was absolutely hilariously funny and he would make himself the butt of jokes. That’s one of the things that all Jim’s friends remember most. Jim never recited his poetry in normal everyday conversations as he’s shown doing in the movie. I never saw him utter a line of his own poetry, unless in front of a microphone.
Now, because of this movie, Jim is going to be remembered as some guy spouting poetry that doesn’t make any sense. The poetry doesn’t make sense because Stone edited different poems together, and he took everything Morrison said out of context.


“Jim walked into the Doors office one day and said, ‘I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ It was a comic line he used. Oliver Stone took that episode and gave it some deep, dark spin that was totally bullshit. The film is fiction, bad fiction, and a fantasy from the twisted mind of Oliver Stone. Bottom line: the Jim Morrison I knew is nowhere present in the Stone film.”


I never saw Jim lock someone in a closet and set the room on the fire. I couldn’t even imagine him doing anything remotely like that; this was absolutely not in his nature or personality. He was not a violent person. If Jim needed to get back at you, he would do it with words, and he could be devastating that way.
Then there’s the famous scene where Jim declares that he’s having a nervous breakdown. Jim walked into the Doors office one day and said, “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.” Jim used to say that line: “I’m having a nervous breakdown” to get a laugh. It was a comic line he used, like when he’d have an idea, he’d say, “I think I’m having a cerebral erection.” Stone took that episode and gave it some deep, dark spin that was totally bullshit.
And there’s that scene in the Stone movie that shows us on the roof of the 9000 Building on Sunset Blvd. shooting a sequence for our film, HWY. I was there with the film crew, but Pamela was not there, Ray and the other Doors were not there either. Stone’s film is filled with these inaccuracies and errors. Jim didn’t contemplate jumping from the roof of the 9000 building and killing himself. We were just shooting a scene for HWY. Oliver Stone’s version of that event is total and complete fiction.
And that’s what people have to remember: the film is fiction, bad fiction, and a fantasy from the twisted mind of Oliver Stone. Bottom line: the Jim Morrison I knew is nowhere present in the Stone film.

You mentioned Jim’s sense of humor. What can you tell us about that part of Jim’s personality?
Jim liked to re-tell jokes and he often did tell jokes. This had mixed results, as with any of us who aren’t professional joke tellers. But he was the first one to want to tell a joke that he had heard; he loved the idea of getting people to laugh. Maybe it was the performer in him. And Jim loved to laugh. He was always ready to laugh at a joke, or a story, or a funny incident that happened. And he was not shy about laughing at himself either.
He was a funny guy; he was humorous. He didn’t mind making a fool of himself, and he would play the fool for the entertainment of others when he was drunk, or he would play the innocent fool when he wasn’t drunk.

Jim Morrison having a laugh on tour in 1968 as manager Bill Siddons looks on.

Let me just say that if you’re around someone who was as spontaneous as Jim was, or as well-known as Jim was, a lot of funny things would happen to you and around you. I do recall the times that Elmer Valentine, the owner of the Whisky, would invite us to come upstairs to hang out with him. Elmer was a funny guy. As I remember, he was a former cop from Chicago who had come to the West Coast and decided he wanted to be in the nightclub business.
Elmer would say stuff to Jim to goad and provoke him, and Jim would come back at Elmer, and before you knew it the two of them were exchanging witticisms. I would join in once in a while, if they gave me some space and if I could think of something fast enough [laughs]. Elmer was older than we were, he was probably in his fifties back then, but he knew everybody in Hollywood and had been a cop. So he had a vast storehouse of interesting and funny stories to tell and Jim loved hearing them.


“Of all the people that were around us, Jim was often the most light-hearted of us all. Jim was the one who was most inspired by humor and the one most apt to give himself over to humor.”


Jim would wisecrack a lot with people and maybe some people didn’t get it because maybe some of his humor went over their heads. Jim always had a great sense of wordplay; you can see it in his poems and in his observations. The way he can twist something around so that you can see both sides of it; and that’s a form of humor, too.
Sure, there were times when Jim was a bit down or preoccupied, but of all the people that were around us, Jim was often the most light-hearted of us all. Jim was the one who was most inspired by humor and the one most apt to give himself over to humor. Babe is also very funny. Babe loves jokes and telling jokes and saying witty things. Babe is very quick with words, and he and Jim really had great fun times together, just observing people and their behavior and commenting on the human condition.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 8

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 6 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 6 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 6, we learn the untold story of Jim’s movie HWY, religion, shamanism, and his now-famous childhood tale of witnessing “indians scattered on the highway, bleeding to death.”

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF HWY

Let’s go back a bit to when the fallout of the Miami concert began to happen. It was at that time that Jim decided to make a film of his own, called HWY. What do you recall about the origins of that project?
Jim had gotten a taste of filmmaking with Feast of Friends, especially in the editing stages through the fall of ’68 where we would show him scenes and ask his advice on stuff. I think we tied up Feast in the January/February period of ’69, which is when we got the final release print.
Paul was hot to get going on another film project. I wasn’t there at that time because I was working on a film of my own. All during the time that I was with the Doors, I was a hired gun, not a staff employee. So when there was a lull in the activity, I would go off and get a job editing a film or doing camera work or writing, producing and directing a film. And that’s what I was doing after Feast.
       At the end of March of ’69, Paul handed me a xerox copy of Jim’s “The Hitchhiker” and said, “Tell me what you think of this. Jim thinks he wants to work this into a film.” We later published “The Hitchhiker” in the second book of Jim’s writings, American Night, and what Paul showed me was exactly what was printed in American Night.
I would say that it resembles a script for a short film or play or it could be an outline of a short story. I read it and said, “There’s 13 characters and 13 locations, when do we start?” [laughs]. And since this was right after Miami, Paul said, “Well, it’s beginning to look like Jim’s going to have some time, because it doesn’t look like they’re going to be playing too many gigs” [laughs].

What was the original premise of HWY?
What I understand—and, again, I wasn’t there at the time, so this is second-hand information—is that Jim said that he had an idea for a film and Paul said, “Well, write it down.” So one day Jim hands this script to Paul.
The scenario is very mystical and kind of spiritual; very symbolic with overtones of the outlaw tradition of the Old West, and with a strong Billy the Kid influence. It has to do with reincarnation and regeneration, and about killers who return to kill again in another lifetime. It was like mixing elements from westerns with surreal cinema; like making a juxtaposition between those rugged western films of that time, The Wild Bunch, and something Kafka-esque.
So it had all these flavors to it, but it was coherent, it had a unity, it had a beginning, middle and end, and it was really a shining example of something that was unique. I liked it a lot. It was definitely something that had Morrison’s creative fingerprints all over it. The film, HWY, doesn’t resemble that original scenario at all; it only has the slightest reference.

What was the overall plan or foundation laid out for the film?
I don’t know; I wasn’t there at the beginning. After many conversations with Jim, after the fact of the filming, I got the notion that the plan was to film Jim’s script and make a full-length theatrical film.
This project consisted of four people—Paul, Jim, Babe and myself. It was Jim’s script and face on the screen and his money: and it was our sweat and time; some of which we were compensated for and some that we weren’t compensated for. It had absolutely nothing to do with Elektra or the Doors. The only other people who were involved were Fred Myrow who put together some of the music and Bruce Botnick, who recorded the music and helped with the mix. And the guy who did the title sequence for the film.
We had a production office across the street from Elektra and around the corner from the Doors office where we would do the editing and have our meetings.

What was the idea for the first days of shooting on that Easter Weekend in ’69?
We shot most of it in the desert near Joshua Tree National Monument, and other places in and around there. We did quite a bit of hiking with all our equipment to get to these places where we began shooting.
We had only planned on filming the intro of the scenario that weekend, but we also brought our documentary sensibilities with us. So when we saw different things happening, we’d stop the cars, get out and start filming.
We had about half-a-dozen scenes to film out there: Jim coming out of the water, Jim walking down the hill, Jim hitchhiking, Jim killing someone and taking their car, and Jim being on the road. Those were the scenes that fit the scenario. But then we picked up scenes like the dead coyote and the buried car. So we were filming fiction but staying flexible and open like a documentary film crew.
We went out to capture as much as we could based on that original scenario, but in the process of doing that, the story itself changed and became a lot more simple. I don’t know how that happened, I’m still reeling from that experience all these years later [laughs].

Paul Ferrara and Frank Lisciandro filming a scene for HWY on Easter Weekend in 1969.

It sounds as if you’re describing some kind of cinematic stream-of-consciousness…
Well the film might have that feeling at times, possibly because some magical things happened that we didn’t plan for. Like finding that car that was buried in the sand. You could drive around Joshua Tree for years and never find something like that. When we saw that, we were like, “This is perfect. This could be where he spent the night when he couldn’t get a ride.” So we pick him up the next morning as he’s getting out of this car, which made a nice transition. Our attitude seemed to be: We have a story, let’s film the story and if something comes along that might fit the story, then we’ll film that, too, and later we’ll see how it fits together.

So when did the original scenario get abandoned?
Things went left, they went right, they zig-zagged, they went up, they went down. I think that Jim began stretching the original concept of the film because he liked what we were finding to film. He liked the spontaneity of the creative moment, and who doesn’t? That’s a lot more pleasant than having to elaborately set-up a shot and do it over and over again.
Because of that, we ended up shooting a lot of stuff that wasn’t anywhere near the script but was still somehow part of this character’s evolution and journey. It just reached a point where the script Jim had originally written was out the window, unfortunately.

Why “unfortunately”?
Unfortunately, because the characters, scenes and symbols in “The Hitchhiker” script were really quite powerful. But they were out the window; and we found ourselves sailing in uncharted waters and essentially making it up as we went along.
That’s extremely dangerous when you’re making a film, because you can come back with a lot of footage that doesn’t have a prayer of fitting the theme and/or concept of the work; scenes that do not fit in the beginning, middle or end. And footage that’s only “interesting,” which is a curse-word for creative people. But we started down this other path; and the film was now about this guy, this killer, and what happens to him.


“HWY essentially started out with a concrete plan that was abandoned, and we were left to follow this sort of magical ribbon that was unfolding in front of us and then at one point, Jim looked at it and said, ‘I don’t want to shoot anymore. I think we’ve got enough. I like everything we’ve done. We’ll just string it all together and it’s gonna be the film.'”


What were some of the things that you saw happening to this character?
Well, none of the four of us were bashful about throwing ideas around [laughs]. We had one idea where Jim’s character would go into a barber shop and get his hair cut and his beard shaved. And amazingly Jim was going along with it, for awhile. And then the main character was gonna meet a girl who worked in a topless bar, so there was gonna be this topless dancer as the romantic interest; but none of that ever got past the talking stage.
I think we were using what I’d call, “embedded film history.” We had all seen so many films and talked about so many films that we all had these little scenes in the back of our heads that we were constantly pulling out as possibilities. Like the scene in the phone booth when Jim makes the phone call. That’s a classic film noir scene and it seemed to fit the story as it was evolving.
So HWY essentially started out with a concrete plan that was abandoned, and we were left to follow our instincts and this sort of magical ribbon that was unfolding in front of us and we captured all these off-the-wall images and situations and then at one point, Jim looked at it and said, “I don’t want to shoot anymore. I think we’ve got enough.”
We all went, “What? What are you talking about, dude? [laughs]. We don’t have a finished film here.” And Jim said, “Yeah, I like everything we’ve done. We’ll just string it all together and it’s gonna be the film.”

How much was footage was actually shot for HWY?
As I recall we shot about an hour and ten minutes of footage and cut it into a 50-minute film, so there wasn’t a big ratio [laughs]. There was not a lot that was thrown out or thrown away. Anything that was thrown away was usually a duplicate of a better take. We literally shot about an hour and ten minutes total; including re-takes and mistakes. That was it, and we cut it to 50 minutes.

So it became more of a demo reel to a certain extent…
Well, it was going to be a sort of demo from the get-go; a demo reel for Jim as an actor and filmmaker and a demo of the concept and script. Jim even said, “If we can’t film all of it, at least we’ll film enough so that we can find other people to put up the rest of the money, because I don’t know how much I can spend.”
Like I said earlier, the original scenario was for a short form film; but Jim wanted to make a theatrical length film because he knew that a theatrical length film has a better chance of being shown. On the other hand, Jim wasn’t sure whether he could support that size of a project on his own and we had never really done a full budget.
We went out on that first weekend and that gave us an indication of what a 90-minute film could cost. Jim saw that it would be a very costly venture since we were dealing with 35mm where everything is more expensive. And we hadn’t even gotten to the complicated scenes where we’d need a bigger crew to light an interior or lay dolly tracks, or we’d need to hire actors and actresses.
From the beginning, the thinking was that we hoped we could film all of it within Jim’s budget, but if we couldn’t, we’d stop production and put it together as a demo to attract other investors in order to finish it.

So what happened?
What happened was that Jim suddenly had this third thought—which none of us saw coming—and that was, “This film is finished, I like it this way. I see it as a finished film.”
We said, “No way is this fuckin’ done. You can’t be doing this. It feels like you’re pulling the plug on the film.” But Jim was adamant, “No, it’s not that. It’s done, I like it like it is.”

What did the three of you think about Jim’s decision?
I don’t think Paul ever convinced himself that it was a finished film. I don’t know if Babe ever did. But Jim claimed that it was a finished film. I don’t think Jim convinced me of that at the time, but I did become convinced later on that he was right.
Jim was a much deeper person than I was. He was experiencing the film in a different way; there were layers and symbols and themes that I didn’t really grasp. I think he liked this spontaneous, creative guerrilla-style of filmmaking. He loved the fact that we weren’t telling anybody anything; that people couldn’t be passive watchers, that they had to be much more involved to figure out what was going on.

All told, how long did the HWY project go on?
From that first Easter Weekend, it probably went five-to-six months; it pretty much encompassed the middle of ’69. But Jim was gone during various periods; he had to be in Miami, they did the Critique show in April, we did the Norman Mailer benefit in May, there was Mexico in June, and The Soft Parade album came out around July I think, so there was a lot going on during that time.
Then there was the Aquarius shows that were recorded in July, and then they started getting gigs again. And then there was the regrettable bust on the plane to Vegas on the way to see the Stones. So it was a full year with a lot of stuff going on, and Jim just wasn’t around to work on HWY all the time.
I think Paul wanted to shoot a real film with a real production schedule, so there was a bit of disappointment on his part with the project.


Trailer for When You’re Strange, featuring numerous scenes from HWY.


There seems to be a lot of confusion as to who really owns the rights to release HWY. What’s the real story on that?
Jim’s heirs own the copyright to the film. They alone have the right to release HWY, no one else. In fact, Jim gave Paul, Babe and I percentages of the profits of the film—of course, there’s never been any profits [laughs]. But Jim gave us those percentages as gifts and it came as a complete surprise to all three of us. It was a very generous gift and while it has never added up to anything financially, it was still a wonderful gesture on his part.
I would love to see a release of HWY on Blu-ray and DVD with commentary and special features and all of that. The film could be restored to its original 35mm beauty and it would look spectacular. The image would be very sharp, very colorful, very bright, and could be brought back its original quality,  so that people can at least see it as it was intended to be seen.
A proper release would hopefully kill the black market. People who are watching one of these pirated versions think that they’re seeing Jim Morrison’s film, HWY, but they’re not, they’re seeing a poor quality, bastardized version from a work print with a running timecode on it. They’re not experiencing the film as it was intended to be seen at all.

What is keeping it from being released?
I’ve had four different meetings with four major distributors in the United States and the results were always the same: everyone is excited about it, but then it seems to get lost in the shuffle at these big companies. It just never seems to go beyond that initial burst of enthusiasm. I hope that it will all come to fruition at some point in the near future.

INDIANS, RELIGION & SHAMANISM

Probably the most memorable item from HWY is Jim’s telling of the famous childhood experience with the dying Indians on that highway in New Mexico. Was that story recorded for HWY or how did that come about?
Jim’s story of the dead Indians came as a complete shock to me. It was not in the original scenario. It was told to Paul, Babe and I one evening after a long day of shooting. It was something that I recorded; as I recorded lots of other conversations that we were having at that time.
We had the Nagra with us, and we had just gotten some takeout food of some kind and we were just sitting around talking about the day’s events. Jim didn’t tell that story as something to be used for the film at all.
I turned on the Nagra, set it in the middle of where we were, and we just continued talking. I didn’t turn it on for any real reason. All four of us are on these tapes talking about various things, it’s like a gab-fest, and part of that was Jim telling this story about this childhood experience.
After the fact, I thought it would be a powerful thing to put in the film because it gave us a unique window into the main character. It was just another one of those amazing unplanned moments that happened during the filming of HWY. That moment could have easily gone by without it being captured on tape; I just happened to turn on the recorder and at one point Jim told that story. So I decided to put it in the film and Jim liked it being in the film and that’s how it happened.


Listen to the recording of Jim telling the now-famous story of his childhood to Frank, Paul and Babe after a day of shooting scenes for HWY.


What’s your take on the story? Do you think it really happened?
I didn’t know anything about that incident before that first time he told the story and Jim wasn’t really revelatory about it afterwards. I will say that on more than one occasion either Babe or I point-blank asked him, “Is that story really true?” And Jim was very consistent in his confirmation that it was true and actually happened to him.

Obviously that story about death is nothing new for Jim. Throughout his poems and his songs, Jim wrote and sang openly about death, but did he ever discuss religion or anything to do with faith?
Yeah, we talked a lot about religion. I was interested in Zen Buddhism since my early teens and then met a Zen Master in Los Angeles, so I was pretty much into the whole Zen practice of meditation and observing the tenants of Buddhism. It’s a pretty much do-it-yourself kind of thing in comparison with something like Christianity, but it’s very vigorous if you decide to really pursue it.
So I always had that stuff on my mind, and Jim and I couldn’t help but talk about religion and consciousness and spiritual things. In those days different sects and Eastern religions were making themselves known and people were considering them; Hare Krishnas were on the streets and in airports with their drums and chanting.
We talked about Catholicisim at length and he seemed to know quite a bit about it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he might have gone to some catechism classes in his childhood. He definitely didn’t practice any religion though and the closest thing he ever said to me about being in any way conscious of religion was when he would admit that he was a spiritual person.
He was interested in the spirituality that was apparent to the transcendental poets, like Emerson, and he was very conscious of the spiritual view of the universe opened up under psychedelics. But he didn’t attend religion worship. He was not a church-goer and he didn’t express opinions one way or another about any specific religion.
From his actions and his words, he was extremely interested in the psychology and the rituals of shamanism; where the spirit world is entered through ingesting natural substances and chanting and dancing. He was definitely interested in that. Through his writings and what he said, shamanism was a subject of great interest to him.
In fact, Babe, Jim and I met with [shaman philosopher and author] Carlos Castaneda for three-and-a-half hours one day. We had all read The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge [published in 1968] and we asked Castaneda lots of questions. It was just the four of us. Jim was not drunk, he was perfectly polite, and very humble in the presence of Castaneda, who really didn’t know who Jim was. Jim was very respectful during that meeting and it was a great day for him.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 7

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

 

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 5 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 5 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 5, the conversation takes an interesting look at Jim Morrison’s political views, the controversial Miami Concert in 1969, and Frank reveals the true story about another Morrison arrest and trial in Phoenix that many fans may not know about.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison.

 

POLITICS OF THE MIND

When it comes to the portrait of Jim Morrison to the public at large, you hear about the drinking and drugs, the women, etc etc. But he has also replaced James Dean as the American icon of rebellion. However Jim’s political views seem to be a bit of a mystery. Did you and Jim ever discuss the issues of the day and how would you categorize him politically?
Jim was very much aware what was going on in the country at that time. In those days, unlike today, there were many issues that our generation took to heart. And, of course in ’68, we lost Bobby Kennedy, we lost Martin Luther King, and we were deep in the shit that was the war in Vietnam with more of our troops being committed. And the military draft was affecting every young man in the country.
And while I don’t think “The Unknown Soldier” is necessarily a political statement of the time, it was certainly a statement about war in general. A good artist takes symbols of his time and somehow is able transform those symbols into something much more universal, and I think “The Unknown Soldier” is Jim’s attempt at that.
But Jim had his own unique political sensibility. He believed in freedom. Freedom for every body. Freedom from every thing. His sense of freedom went way beyond those freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and within the Bill Of Rights. He thought people should be free to do whatever they wanted to do, as long as they didn’t hurt anybody else.

Sounds like you’re saying that Jim was an anarchist…
We often make the mistake of thinking of anarchists as violently political people. In fact, anarchy has had a history of passivity and peacefulness; the kind of movement that leads to civil disobedience as practiced by Martin Luther King or Ghandi.
I would say that Jim was an anarchist, a humanist and probably a pacifist. It’s easy now to see that Jim was an anarchist in his beliefs of personal freedom; he was a humanist because he accepted everyone and believed that all human beings deserved to be treated with dignity—all religions and races were equal to him; and I think he was a pacifist because we lived in an age where the line was drawn between those who believed war was the answer to solving problems and those who felt that war was never the answer.

Were there any specific political issues that seemed to be most important to him?
Jim didn’t talk a lot about the overall political situations, but if there was ever a situation between cops and kids in the streets—like there was many times on the Sunset Strip in those days—without hesitation Jim would side with the kids.
We had very repressive law enforcement in Los Angeles County in those days and we all spoke out about that and Jim no less than any of us. I mean the cops would beat on the kids because the club owners and the restaurant owners didn’t want the kids congregating in the streets; and as far as we knew congregating in the streets was our right.
Jim was definitely into human rights and the rights of the young people in those kinds of situations. I didn’t ever see him espousing conservative points of view about anything. He definitely wasn’t a born-again or politically conservative Christian, so he didn’t express those points of view.


“Jim was much more interested in the politics of power through the lens of psychology. His main concern was that the media should not have control over our lives; that was the strongest political statement he ever made, and, at that time, people didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”


Would you describe it as more of a “live-and-let-live” philosophy?
That sounds too simple minded for such a deep guy. Look, we emerged from the Fifties—a repressive era that promoted patriotism, consumerism and the family—into the Sixties with the bright hope and fresh start of the Kennedys. And when that was shattered, people were very angry. Most of us didn’t trust LBJ at all, because we felt he was getting us further and further mired in the terrible disaster of Vietnam.
Whatever political discussions I had with Jim about the war in Vietnam, or about the local crime enforcement situation in Los Angeles County, or hippies being busted for taking off their clothes and bathing in a public fountain, or events like the killing of the students at Kent State, Jim was always on the side of the underdog. He was always on the side of the people who were being terrorized by the establishment. In every situation that I can think of, where things like that happened, Jim’s position was always for the underprivileged or the victim. 

You seem to paint a pretty political portrait of Jim…
Well, he wasn’t much into talking about “politics,” as we tend to do today. He was more into the politics of who controls the media and who controls the public mind. He saw beyond local politics—much more than I did.
Jim was much more interested in the politics of power through the lens of psychology. He might be astounded with the way that all the news is spun by both political parties these days. It just wasn’t as blatant back then. I don’t know if he’d be shocked by or confirmed in his own view of human nature.
However I don’t think he would ever define himself as a conservative, a liberal or a libertarian or anything like that. He was more interested in what was going on in people’s brains, and how to keep the flow of information free; the power and freedom to get information and to think what you want and act on those thoughts.

While there are songs like “The Unknown Soldier” and “Five To One,” Jim didn’t really seem to put a lot of political issues into his songs…
Well, you forgot about “Peace Frog,” which is definitely a protest song. But, no, you’re right, he wasn’t a Jerry Rubin-styled activist. His interest was promoting and somehow achieving a different kind of freedom, and I think people mistake what that really means.
He was definitely for freedom of speech and freedom of association and all those other rights that are supposedly guaranteed in our country, but he wasn’t going to go on like a San Francisco activist screaming the word “fuck”on the Berkeley campus to prove that free speech included the right to any word.
He was more interested in whether you could truly think what you wanted to think, and whether the media was beginning to control the thought patterns of society in some kind of horrible way. His main concern was that the media should not have control over our lives; that was the strongest political statement he ever made, and, at that time, most people didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.
It’s only today that we can see how that has come true and how the different channels spin and distort the same news story to confirm their own particular point of view. And because of the power of broadcast media we give up our own individual thinking and beliefs in the face of this onslaught of supposed facts. I think Jim saw that coming, as did many other thinkers and writers, and this was one of his “political” concerns.

And the ultimate irony is how that type of spin has impacted his own life story and turned it upside down to the degree that it’s nearly impossible to find any truth…
[Laughs] Well put. That’s absolutely right. I think he would be amazed at what has been said about him over the years, I really do. He warned it could happen and it happened to him.

In terms of politics, there’s a picture in our book, Friends Gathered Together, of Jim at some sort of rally. Do you recall where, when and what that was about?
Yeah, it was in Venice [Beach]; near Venice High School in 1970. As I remember it, it had to do with student rights at Venice High School and a general culture clash between the whites, blacks and Hispanic students. There were some anti-war protestors there as well, but I remember the center of it being more of a civil rights issue. We didn’t take part in the march, we were just in the area to have lunch and we decided to check it out and I took some pictures.

Jim looks over a pamphlet during a community protest in Venice Beach. Frank, Kathy and Jim were having lunch in the area and just happened upon the activity.

It was Jim, Katherine and I, and I remember afterwards we went to a little bar and, this is so funny, I remember this conversation. I remember we talked about the space program conspiracy that was just starting to make some noise at that time. You know, the stuff that the moon landing was staged and all of that. Both Jim and I, knowing about film and special effects, were saying how it could have been staged and presented to the world.
But we didn’t make that leap to the conspiracy theory. We had a laugh about it, and imagined how some government agency could try to get away with that. It was the kind of conversation that leads to ideas for a film script or a book: imagine what would happen if some government agency is ordered to cover up a screw-up on the moon… [laughs].

MIAMI: THE CONCERT & TRIAL

Whatever his political leanings, Jim found himself in the midst of a morality-based legal battle because of the infamous Miami Concert. I know that you weren’t at the show, but did Jim ever discuss that performance with you or admit anything or was he embarrassed by it?
I wouldn’t say that he was embarrassed by it, but I’m sure that the audio tape of the performance made him wince [laughs]. But he didn’t seem to be embarrassed by it, per se. He did say to Babe and I that to the best of his knowledge he did not expose himself, although he also said he was too drunk to remember. He said that he might have put a finger through his zipper, so that it might look like a penis.

When he was ultimately arrested and put on trial, what did he say to you about that situation and what was going through his mind at that time?
I don’t know what was going through his mind, and even if I did, I probably would not have understood half of it [laughs]. Obviously, Jim’s biggest personal concern at the beginning was whether or not the state of Florida would be able to lock him up and put him away.
He knew that he wasn’t well-liked by many of the morally righteous people in the state, so he did fear being incarcerated. But I don’t like to use that word “fear” because people read too much into it. More often than not, he would blow the whole thing off by saying, “Well, if that’s gonna happen, we’ll deal with it when it does.”
The thing about Jim, and something that I really respected about him, was that he faced his life experiences with two feet on the ground. He wasn’t a guy who worried about the future; he dealt with life as it came.

Certainly he had concerns with the trial though…
On the one hand, he thought about his safety and well-being with possible incarceration staring him in the face. On the other hand, I think he saw the potential disaster for the Doors, because of all the cancellations of their gigs that came soon afterwards. So while he might have been somewhat relieved because he was not enjoying performing like he did in the earlier years, he also felt an obligation to the other band members and people in the Doors organization who depended largely on him for their own livelihoods.
And that’s a pretty big weight to have on your shoulders, especially when you’re a guy who’s happy slipping through the cracks of the universe. He was the foundation for this major super-structure that the Doors had become and when that fact became clear to him—and I guess that it must have occurred to him early on in their career—he definitely felt the burden of it psychologically.


“Jim Morrison was 25 years old at [the Miami incident]; he wasn’t this mature older guy in his 40s. Here’s the thing, when you get married, have children, etc., there’s an accumulation of responsibilities that build upon you in a gradual way. It’s not a sudden thing that explodes on you in the span of eighteen months as it did with Jim and the success of the Doors. Suddenly there was this structure that he had to carry around and support, and I just don’t think he was old enough or mature enough to handle it.”


With that said, wouldn’t Jim have been smart enough to realize that his personal behavior did impact other people that were around him? Or was he that selfish in that he was going to do what he wanted to do and not care if other people are caught up in the aftermath of his actions?
Those are interesting questions, and I’m certain that he knew that his behavior at the Miami concert was a little extreme; if not a lot extreme. I think that whole episode made Jim realize that there were powers out there who were not going to easily accept the Living Theatre kind of presentation, and that when there are young people in the audience that kind of behavior was not going to fly in many communities.
The whole thing did make him realize that he really was a vital part of this super-structure and that there were obligations and responsibilities drawing on him. But, then again, Jim Morrison was 25 years old at that time; he wasn’t this mature older guy in his forties.
Here’s the thing, when you get married, have children, etc., there’s an accumulation of responsibilities that build upon you in a gradual or evolutionary way. It’s not a sudden thing that explodes on you in the span of eighteen months or two years as it did with Jim and the success of the Doors. Suddenly there was this structure that he had to carry around and support, and I just don’t think he was old enough or mature enough to handle it and, within that context, it’s not overly surprising that something like Miami would happen.

You mentioned The Living Theatre. What do you think Jim’s obsession was with that group?
I would not call it an “obsession”. The Living Theatre was a theater group—call them experimental, call them avant-garde—whose stage performances attempted to manifest some of the same kinds of things that Jim wanted to do with his audiences. The players were trying to involve the audience in a ceremony and/or ritual, and get them hooked into taking part in the performance; even to the extent of inviting audience members to join them on stage. Some of their performances, the ones I am aware of, were all about a blending of the artistic and the mystical; it was about breaking down the mind/body barrier through verbal confrontation.
Jim went to see the Living Theatre several times at USC a week or so prior to Miami. I went to see one of the performances as well; it was amazing what those people were getting into. This was a strip-you-down-and-build-you-back-up-again kind of theater performance, and it was really groundbreaking stuff in 1969.

A short video of a “Paradise Now” performance by The Living Theatre  in 1969. Jim attended multiple performances just like this only a week before his infamous Miami Concert in which he clearly mimicked some aspects of this performance.

 

Would you say that The Living Theatre was the sole root cause of what happened in Miami?
No. But you can surmise that Jim’s appreciation of the Living Theatre led to some of his over-the-top behavior that night. Another possible contributing factor was an argument.
Jim and Pam were going to Jamaica right after the Miami concert (along with the other Doors and wives), but, at the last minute, they had an argument and Pam decided not to go, and Jim missed his airplane to Miami. Then, in order to get to Miami close to the starting time of the concert, he had to take a series of connecting flights. And he was drinking the whole way there.
So instead of Jim getting to the concert in time for maybe a little dinner or a rehearsal or some relaxation, he arrived very late for the show. And he was confronted by an audience that had been waiting for him in a stinking, sweltering venue. And he’s drunk.
On top of that, the auditorium is not what the Doors were told it was going to be. Bill Siddons is fighting backstage with the promoters, who had removed all the seats and illegally sold twice as many tickets. So Jim arrives to find this going on, too.
With all these factors weighing on the situation, it’s no longer concert time for Jim. It’s Jim being drunk, pissed off, and wanting to get it all off his chest. I’m not trying to make excuses for the guy, I’m simply trying to list and consider the circumstances that were going on in and around that particular concert.

But that’s the interesting thing that the Stone film and countless books end up doing with the Miami concert. They turn this one evening into a cathartic episode for Jim as a way to portray it as some sort of defining moment of his life, where he wants to destroy his career with the Doors; rather than one especially bad day in the context of 27 years…
It has always been my feeling that it wasn’t Jim’s objective to go out onstage and attempt to ruin his music career and the careers of his band mates. That’s not what it was about. There wasn’t a plan or some sort of conspiracy going on.
If you listen to the tapes, Jim is ranting about how the promoters squeezed all these people in there and he’s giving the audience hell because they put up with that. He sounds like a guy in a bar who has had too much to drink and is trying to vent his feelings. So he’s all over the place, and clearly not in control. On the audio tape he seems frustrated, angry, disappointed, rejected, and a lot of other things, and he takes it out on the audience and the band.
Miami wasn’t about Jim breaking any laws. Miami was a case of a terrible performance in a crowded hall for which the audience should have gotten their money back. It was about breaking the code of ethics between a performer and an audience. Jim did not give five percent of his best that night, but from what I know, there was no conscious attempt to destroy the career of the Doors. People can argue that it could have been subconscious, something that had been building, but we’ll never know.

Was he fed up with his music career at the time of Miami?
Fed up? No. But, by 1969, I think he was already thinking about other things he wanted to do with himself. By the time of the Miami concert, he had already self-published two of his poetry books and he had filmmaking on his mind. Not fed up; but surely Jim wasn’t one hundred percent dedicated to the band at that point in time.

THE AIRLINE INCIDENT

Later that same year, Jim found more legal problems with another arrest that happened because of an incident on an airplane on the way to Phoenix to see a Rolling Stones concert. Unlike the Miami incident, you were with Jim when he was arrested this time. What can you say about that episode?
It was Jim, Tom Baker, Leon Barnard and I. Leon and I didn’t get busted. Leon was sitting next to Tom and I was sitting next to Jim, with Jim and Tom in the aisle seats. In those days, it was just four seats across on a plane with the aisle in between.
This bust occurred just after a series of airline hijackings had happened, so the rules were very strict. If you interfered with the job of any airline personnel, even a stewardess, it was a federal offense.
This is a story that I’ve never talked about in my books and I’d rather not talk about it now. I will say this much: it had to do with people who get on an airplane after having too much to drink and then the airline serves them more to drink, and then the airline wonders why these people get unruly.

Actor and Morrison friend Tom Baker, who was arrested with Jim after becoming unruly on a flight to Phoenix in late 1969.

It was a matter of Jim and Tom wanting to be fools because they were drunk; wanting to be children because they were drunk. And wanting to be in competition with each other which they did all the time. So they said some inappropriate things to the stewardesses and then they started throwing ice at each other.
There was an accusation that one of them tried to trip one of the stewardesses when she was walking down the aisle. I don’t remember that actually happening. I doubt that one of them would have tried to trip a stewardess, because neither Tom nor Jim was mean-spirited.
But this was the kind of trouble that Jim would get into when he was inebriated and there was someone else like Tom who was also inebriated who could provoke Jim into doing stupid things. Just dumb things like walking around the ledge of a tall building or hanging out a window of a hotel. Tom would say things like, “I bet I could jump down to the third story balcony and not get hurt, bet you can’t Jim.” Ya know, that kind of thing that young, healthy males get into when they’re inebriated and challenging each other.

Jim gets cleaned up for his court appearance in Phoenix in 1969. He was acquitted of all charges.

It sounds like that airplane incident was a case of some Animal House type of humor that was just in the wrong place…
Exactly. The wrong place for that kind of behavior. That kind of behavior would surely have been acceptable in a local bar, at least for a little while. Before the bartender finally says, “Take that shit outside.” But being on a plane, they got busted for it.
I mean they were disturbing the stewardesses, they were starting to disturb some of the other passengers. Not to the point where any of the other passengers said anything, but I even said to Jim, “Cool it, man,” because we already had a warning, ya know [laughs]. But they didn’t cool it, or Tom didn’t.
I think Jim started to mellow out, but Tom was very much unbridled. He did what he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. When Tom Baker was drunk, he really didn’t know any boundaries. I know there are people who had problems with Tom, but on the other hand, he was a wonderful guy. He was very creative and very talented. But when Jim and Tom were together and they were both drunk, it was a disaster.

During the trial, apparently the stewardesses confused Tom and Jim or something, right?
Yeah, I even testified at the trial. What had happened was that on boarding the plane, Jim took Tom’s seat and Tom was in Jim’s seat. And at the trial they were identified by their assigned seats and that’s why it was thrown out of court, and ultimately neither one of them suffered any consequences from it.

Did that incident end their friendship?
After that Jim said, “I gotta stop hanging around with Tom,” but Tom didn’t want to stop hanging around with Jim [laughs]. There was actually another incident some time later that broke up their friendship where they came to blows as I remember it. Basically, when the two of them were thrown together it was always a crisis waiting to happen.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 6

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 4 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 4 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 4, the wide-ranging topics include Jim’s stage persona, his lack of interest in money, and his love life.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

SHEDDING THE SKIN OF THE LIZARD KING

Let’s talk a little bit about Jim Morrison the performer. Jim himself said in one of his later interviews in regards to his Lizard King persona or his stage act that “just because you play a villain in a western doesn’t mean that you’re that person.” But you don’t hear about quotes like that, because it would shatter the myth. Do you think that the Jim Morrison onstage was the real Jim Morrison?
Ya know, it’s funny, we don’t have this kind of problem if we talk about someone like Huey Lewis. There’s nothing wrong with Huey Lewis, but we don’t try to psycho-analyze his stage behavior [laughs].
But in answer to your question, I think Jim assumed a stage character and embraced this character that he had in his mind. His stage persona was the character he played. And when it worked he really did hold the audience in the palm of his hand. He could not only entertain them, but also scare the bejeezus out of them and get them on a whole other consciousness trip.
I can say that Jim actually grew in stature onstage. His motions were different, his demeanor was different and his voice was different. He was acting a part. There was something about being onstage that forced him to assume a persona that wasn’t his own. Maybe there was a fear or insecurity that forced him to become someone else. Maybe it was simple stage fright, maybe it was his role in the script he had written for his stage act. Maybe it was in the tradition of shamanism. Who really knows why?

Did Jim ever talk to you about being disgruntled or tired of performing with the Doors?
We know that Jim didn’t like playing in the larger arenas. He told me that countless times and he’s also on the record saying that he wasn’t interested in being a jukebox and pushing out the same twelve songs every show.
He was a creative person, so, of course, he wanted to do different things. He tried to do the songs differently in little ways during that last tour [in 1970], but there were still limits on what he could do.
Two instances where I saw him perform that were extraordinarily different were the 1969 PBS/Critique performance and when he and I were in New Orleans and he got up onstage at a little club and did some blues songs without being introduced or anything.
At the Critique performance, Jim demanded a lot of himself and he delivered. He was very expressive and it was really powerful. At the club performance in New Orleans, he didn’t play Jim Morrison the Rock Star or Jim Morrison the Lizard King or Jim Morrison the Shaman. He was just Jim Morrison the Blues Singer and he really enjoyed being able to just get up and sing with the great voice he had developed by then.
So who was the guy onstage? It depended on the stage and the night. There was a different Jim Morrison on the stage in Miami in 1969 than on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968. We have the film and can see what kind of performer he was at the Hollywood Bowl, and he was a pretty damn good performer that night. And while the Hollywood Bowl is a fairly big place—when compared to a club like the Whisky—he was still able to create his magic; like he did with his performance of “The End” that night. But a year later, they were playing bigger and bigger places like they did in Miami.

Jim and Robby share a laugh between songs during the taping for the PBS/Critique public television program in 1969.

MONEY BEATS SOUL

You mentioned the “restrictions” Jim felt in regards to his music career and a lot of recording artists find that professional ritual of write, record and tour to be the antithesis of being on a creative merry-go-round. For someone like Jim, who seemed to have a need to create, this had to be unbearable at times…
And the fact is that this ritual, as you call it, is about selling albums, selling out concerts, and, bottomline, making money. I can tell you without hesitation that Jim really didn’t have a lust for material possessions, because it was not his goal to make money with his art. The money he did make with the Doors, he would spend on a shop for Pamela or making a movie like he did with HWY or buying drinks and dinner for friends.
I would have loved to be in on some of those meetings where the guys in the band would have discussions with their financial advisors about where to invest their money, I mean it must have been hilarious. The other three guys were apt students about money and finance; and wanting to learn how to do it and be wise about it. And I’m sure that Jim went along with the group decision most of the time, although all the time thinking: this is not my trip.
I remember at one point he said to me, “We now own a walnut orchard in some place in central California,” and the way he said it, it was like a total mystery to him. It seemed like he just went along with whatever the other guys wanted to do about investing their money, because he just didn’t seem interested enough to spend time thinking about it.

There are numerous stories about Jim’s financial irresponsibility, and yet Jim talked of wanting to be a filmmaker where he would need to put together a budget and be fiscally responsible…
Well, the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of filmmakers who are blatant about spending the producer’s money [laughs]. But we were not extravagant with HWY, no matter what kind of figures have been tossed around. There was nothing we did or talked about that was extravagant. Probably the biggest amount of money was for Fred Myrow to write the score and for the film lab fees.
When you make an hour-long 35mm film, the lab will get a big chunk of the budget. We weren’t really getting paid anything to work on HWY. I think I was making maybe a couple hundred a week. Paul was making a little more than me because he was on a day-salary shooting the stuff, but being the editor I was on a weekly salary.
We took a station wagon out to the desert, and we had Jim’s car—the Blue Lady—with us. So we had two cars with the gear and that was it. Pam’s shop, Themis, cost a lot more than that film cost, that’s for sure.

LOVE STREET

What about Pam? Did you and Kathy spend any time with Jim and Pam?
Yeah, we spent time with Jim and Pamela; but it was infrequently. I can remember only two occasions when it was just the four of us together. There were probably other times, but I remember these two instances off the top of my head where we went out to dinner together.
I’d really rather not talk about Pam, because, in all honesty, I didn’t know her enough to form any sort of opinion about what she was like or who she was. She was either jealous of the time that Jim chose to spend with Babe and Paul and I, or she was totally indifferent toward us; take your pick.
She was friendly enough with me, and I had some short conversations with her over the years. I even stayed at their house one time and she was perfectly friendly to me when we were together, but I can’t say that I knew her.

Pamela Courson

Would you say that Pam was truly the only real relationship that Jim had during the last five years or so of his life?
The only constant and enduring relationship, definitely, but it was a long and stormy one. There was a certain part of Jim that he dedicated solely to her; and he dedicated his books to her.
But, again, I just didn’t know Pam well enough. I don’t think I even ever took a photo of her. I have photos of John Densmore’s first wife and of Robby’s wife and of Ray’s wife; but I never ever shot a photo of Pam. I took pictures of her shop, Themis, but not of her; she just seemed to disappear from my view-finder, and, for me, that speaks volumes about how much someone is trying to avoid being photographed or not.
I can say that when Jim talked about her, it was always in praise of her or about what a great job she was doing with the shop and what a great concept she had and what great clothes she was bringing in. Jim was very supportive of her. I think she was about three years younger than Jim, so, at her age, there could have been a bit of shyness. I’m sure that Ray and Dorothy knew Pam a lot better than I did. In retrospect, I would have liked to have tried to get to know her better.
Some folks might think that I would have photos and memories of Pam, and that I’m hiding something. But it’s not like that. Sure, I’ve heard stories about Pam from other people, but I dismiss them. I try to talk about only what I personally experienced, and not repeat gossip.

Looking out the window of Jim and Pam’s Love Street house in Laurel Canyon in 2015. One can imagine Jim sitting here and looking out this window as he penned the lyrics to “Love Street” and the memorable line “there’s the store where the creatures meet.”

Did you get in touch with her after Jim’s death?
I only saw her once or twice after she returned to the States and we barely said hello to each other. I found her to be tremendously sad after Jim’s death, and I just didn’t feel that I should intrude on her grieving. So that is the extent of my recollections of Pam, let’s move on to another subject.

Outside of Jim’s relationship with Pam, there are of course hundreds of stories of Jim’s womanizing. Is that part of the myth?
No, that’s not a myth. Look, yes, Pam was the main woman in Jim’s life; no doubt about that. There was a consistency to their relationship that far, far transcended any other relationship that Jim had with any other woman.
And while Jim was also extremely discreet about the women he was with, when he and I were out somewhere I saw how he attracted women. Sometimes he left with a woman, and sometimes he didn’t. But the fact is that Jim and Pam had an “open” relationship, and Pam would go out with other guys.
Throughout it all, however, their relationship endured. They were together when I came on the scene in late ’67, and stayed together until Jim died. She was a fixture in Jim’s life and there’s something to be said for that. Through all the ups and downs and other companions they both had, they stayed together. No other woman had anything close to the relationship with Jim that Pam had. Now can we move on to something else?

Just one more somewhat related question. What about Patricia Kennealy? What do you know about Jim’s relationship with her?
She contacted me at some point to tell me that she was going to establish herself as this, that, and the other thing, and she wanted me to know because she was sure that I knew who she was. But I never met her in my life and I never once heard Jim talk about her, but like I’ve said, Jim was pretty discreet about the women in his life. It was only when I was going through his poetry notebooks that I found a few vague references to her.
I did know who she was back then, because she was the editor of Jazz & Pop magazine and she used a photo of mine on the cover at one time. But as far as I know I never actually met her.
So, anyway, she came out of the woodwork some years back and started saying, “I’m Jim’s wife,” and ll that stuff about the witch wedding, blah blah blah. So I listened to her for a little while, but when I asked her some questions she got a bit hostile. And she would get hostile with everyone, and it reached a point where if she thought you were aligned with someone who was on the wrong side of her fence, then you were all condemned. No matter who you were [laughs]. So I just gave up after a while and stopped all communications with her.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 5

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 3 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 3 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 3, our conversation not only addresses Jim’s family, but also a little known fact about the song “Wild Child,” and a lengthy dialogue on Morrison’s drinking.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

THE MORRISON FAMILY

Surely, as close as you two were, you both discussed your families. What did Jim ever say to you about his parents or his siblings?
He wouldn’t talk about it. He didn’t talk about his family. We knew that he had a family, we knew that his father was an admiral in the navy. He talked more about his brother and sister than he did about his mother and father. I really didn’t know much about either of his parents, either Steve or Clara, because he just didn’t talk about them.
He did talk about moving from place to place when he was growing up, but it was always more about his journey rather than his family. He never said anything like his parents were mean to him or they were strict with him or they beat him or anything like that. He did express a great deal of affection for both his sister and brother, but he just didn’t discuss his parents. He didn’t express any hostility about his parents either. He just didn’t talk about them.

What about Jim saying that his parents were dead in that first press release? Why do you think he did that?
Based on what I know now, I think the situation with his parents was a complex one because by the time he had graduated from UCLA, I believe that he saw himself as an independent person. And because of that, he didn’t want their support, didn’t want their advice and didn’t want their help. But the problem is that everything Jim did, or his sister did, or his brother did, or his mother did, was reflected in his father’s service record. And Jim being the considerate person that I knew him to be, I think him saying that his parents were dead might have been a way to distance himself—and even protect them—from his anti-authority, rock & roll fame.

Did Jim ever see his parents when you knew him?
As far as I know, from the time the Doors first played The London Fog to the time Jim died, he never saw either one of them. And I was with him in San Diego, near where his parents lived, a couple of times but he didn’t go to see them either of those times; it was just something that was off the agenda.
He had his own personal reasons, but I don’t think they had anything to do with hatred or disdain for them. From all the conversations that I had with Jim over the years when we were together, you would think that I would have come away with some sense of hostility towards his parents, if there was indeed some. But I never ever got that from him and I think it would have come up in some way, but it never did.

THE NEXT WHISKEY BAR

In terms of Jim’s childhood, there have been studies done about children who constantly move from place to place in their formative years that suggest that some of these people go on to create personality masks as a sort of defense mechanism to help combat the sorrow of continually leaving friends behind. Do you think that type of thing could explain the different versions of Jim that are described by different people?
Jim was a chameleon at times, but I think there were basically just two sides of Jim: the sober Jim and the drunk Jim. I really think he was two people when you break it down like that, and most people outside of his circle of friends tended to see the Jim who was inebriated. It was rare for Jim to be onstage or in public places without taking a drink.
And I know this for a fact, that Jim could get drunk on one or two drinks. But then he would keep on drinking. He was an alcoholic, so he had an alcoholic personality and he had a sober personality. Looking back, I can clearly see that he was two different people.


“I’ve heard stories about things he did with other people, but it didn’t happen with his close friends. I can only tell you what I know first-hand from spending a lot of time with the guy over the last years of his life. There were times when I saw him get drunk and obnoxious, but a vast, vast majority of the time he was more playful and just social when he was drunk.”


How did the “drunk Jim” tend to manifest himself?
When Babe [Hill] and I were out with him and he was drunk, I could still see the sober Jim in there. But I also saw how he interacted with other people when he was drunk. I think he trusted Babe and I enough not to build a wall of hostility around himself; a wall that he did have in place for other people at times.
There was definitely another guy inside of him that came out sometimes when he was drunk; a guy who was very, very different from the sober guy. The sober Jim Morrison was such an appealing dude, and such a gentle and considerate person, that it was hard to believe that he could become somebody else when he drank.
However you also have to understand that this “drunk Jim” wasn’t always this hostile guy. Sometimes he was absolutely hilariously funny when he drank, sometimes he was charming and witty, and he loved to play the fool for laughs at times. But there were other times, when he was drinking, where he could become really obnoxious and rowdy.
I’ve heard stories about things he did with other people, but it didn’t happen with his close friends. Maybe he was more comfortable with us, or… I don’t know why. I can only tell you what I witnessed and what I know first-hand from spending a lot of time with the guy over the last years of his life. There were times when I saw him get drunk and obnoxious, but a vast, vast majority of the time he was more playful and just social when he was drunk.

Former Doors manager Bill Siddons, pictured with a fan, at a book signing for our book, Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together, on the Sunset Strip in 2015. Siddons was interviewed extensively for the book.

The Doors manager Bill Siddons once told me that Jim loved to push people’s buttons. Were you ever on the receiving end of that?
I could be in complete denial about this, but I don’t remember him having a go at me like that. Maybe he did, but if he did I haven’t carried it around with me to cause me to question our friendship. He seemed to have a respect that he extended to Kathy and I.
He even borrowed our line that he used at the end of one of his songs, “Wild Child”: “remember when we were in Africa” [laughs]. We used to say that line all the time in conversations, “Oh yeah, remember when we were in Africa.” I guess Jim heard it enough and liked it enough to give us a wink and put it in one of his songs.
But back to my premise here. Jim was a guy who was two different people; one was the sober person and one was the drunk person. It would be impossible to be with Jim as much as I was and not see both sides of him. If you didn’t want to be with the drunk Jim, you would have to set your clock to certain hours of the day to be with him.
But I just never felt that he was playing games with my head at all, never. I never once felt that way, but I did see him manipulate or try to use a situation to screw with people. But then again, from my experience, these were usually people who had it coming [laughs].

Any people in particular?
People like Tom Baker, who was the biggest button-pusher of anyone I ever met, including Jim. I mean Tom would provoke people in any situation at any time to try and get a rise out of them. I got along pretty good with Tom, but he was obnoxious a lot of the time. He would just keep pushing people’s buttons until he found the one that would trigger you to react, and he would do it with Morrison. And Jim would do it back to him. I’m sure that Jim did that kind of thing to people like John Densmore too, because Densmore was an easy target for Jim. But it wasn’t his normal MO with people.
It’s a complicated thing to talk about, because I spent many a time with Jim where he would be the nicest guy in the world; whether we were with a bunch of college kids at a houseparty when we were in Atlanta, or when we had dinner at Laurence Harvey’s house with the cream of the Hollywood elite; and us dressed up like hippies.
The other thing about being with Jim was that I was never his bodyguard or his mother. I was an associate and a friend. My attitude was: If he gets into trouble, I’ll jump in and help him, but I wasn’t spending my time wondering what Jim was doing or keeping my eye on him. I was doing my own thing: meeting people, having interesting conversations, and doing what normal people do in social situations.

Video Clip of Tom Baker and Nico in Andy Warhol’s 1967 film, I, A Man.

When it comes to Jim’s drinking, I guess the difference is how that is depicted in the Stone movie or in the various books. There seems to be a sensationalistic twist that comes from those presentations that makes one wonder how anyone could be friends with a person like that…
Jim is not a sympathetic character in the Stone film. He’s not a sympathetic character in the stupid Stephen Davis book, and he’s not a sympathetic character in No One Here Gets Out Alive.
Jim could turn the charm on and off, as most of us can. When he was drunk, he probably turned it on and off to a lesser degree, but he still could and did.
I just think alcoholics are too complex to really try and pin down; they’re too slippery. Anyone who engages in substance abuse spends a lot of time reconstructing reality for themselves, so how can you really know who a person really is when they’re always reconstructing their own reality.
I believe that a lot of the answers to the questions of who Jim was are contained in his poetry. But it’s hard to get a clear image through his poetry because there are always like three or four mirrors working. But there are some rather direct lines that he wrote as well, like “I drink so I can talk to assholes/This includes me.”

Did Jim ever discuss his drinking with you?
No, and this is the thing that people just don’t seem to understand when it comes to what was happening back then versus this new-found awareness today where we consider alcoholism a disease and we have twelve-step programs and interventions. It seems incredible to some people that no one got Jim into a program of some sort.
Yes, AA did exist but it was not on our radar screen. I don’t know anyone who said to Jim: “You are a classic alcoholic and you need to go into one of these twelve-step programs.” I know that I never said that to him.
Here’s the thing, we were all in our twenties. We all thought we were going to live forever; even if we got hit by a truck, we were still gonna live forever. So what’s to tell somebody?
Everyone was using legal and illegal substances in those days. Some were just using and others were abusing, in retrospect. But it was widespread in the USA and it was incredibly widespread in the culture that we all lived in. I didn’t know anyone who hung around with us who didn’t use something; the least thing you did was smoke cigarettes and drink beer.
There were no warnings on a bottle of whiskey that said: “drinking the contents of this can contribute to insanity and/or death at an early age.” As far as I know, and maybe someone will contradict me, but as far as I know no one ever said to Jim: “Stop drinking. You’re an alcoholic and you need help.”


“Jim honestly thought he was going to live forever. I remember one time in the Doors office, Kathy said to Jim, ‘You really don’t expect to live very long, do you?’ And I’ll never forget Jim’s face, he was literally shocked to hear somebody say that. He didn’t equate his risky behavior with the fact that it could shorten his life.”


It’s interesting, because earlier you said that you were amazed that Jim never asked for help from anyone in the film school to improve his editing skills, so it begs the question whether Jim just didn’t know how to ask for help for anything, including his drinking. Did he know he had a problem?
How do we ever know just how much knowledge someone else has about their own self? There’s no way to tell what Jim knew or didn’t know. Did he know that he was an alcoholic? I don’t know. Did he know that alcohol was dangerous? I don’t know.
He was smart enough to know that alcohol can get you into trouble with the law. It’ll get you into trouble with cars. It can get you into trouble in any number of ways.
I think he knew the risks that he was taking with alcohol, but I’m not sure that he—and I know that none of us—knew the extent of the risks. As I said, we were in a time of our lives—and alive in an era—where we honestly thought we would live forever; no matter what we did.
No one thinks they’re going to die in their twenties. Maybe because you have too strong a life force and too much energy to ever think any other way. I don’t think he thought his drinking was a serious problem. I don’t know if a doctor ever talked to him about it. If one did, Jim never mentioned it.

Did his friends know just how much Jim was supposedly drinking?
At the time, I don’t think any of us knew he was drinking every single day, but he was drinking a lot. I mean, some people bought him alcohol for his birthday. I never did, so that story about me bringing him a bottle of Irish whiskey to the poetry recording on his last birthday is entirely false. John Haeney, the recording engineer, brought the bottle and he freely admits it.
On another one of his birthdays, another person who shall remain unnamed, bought him a gallon of Courvoisier. Jim loved Courvoisier but you don’t knowingly buy an alcoholic something like that for their birthday. But we just didn’t understand what alcoholism was back then, and we didn’t realize that someone Jim’s age could be an alcoholic.
In hindsight, I think we were uninformed, dumb, naive, unsophisticated—all of us—because none of us said, “Jim, you gotta stop, dude. You gotta stop now.” But it wasn’t because we were in awe of him, it’s because we just didn’t know that alcohol could be considered to be a serious issue for someone so young.

Jim relaxing with friends in his hotel room during the 1970 tour. This is the Jim Morrison all his friends remember most.

Was there any thought among his friends that Jim would die so young?
None of us really believed that he’d make it to 40, simply because of the risks he took, not because of his drinking. And I think some of us were hoping beyond hope that he’d at least make it to 30. All of us thought that, except Jim.
Jim honestly thought he was going to live forever. Jim showed absolutely no fear of death. I remember one time in the Doors office, Kathy said to Jim, “You really don’t expect to live very long, do you?” And I’ll never forget Jim’s face, he was literally shocked to hear somebody say that. He just had no concept about it all. He didn’t equate his risky behavior with the fact that it could shorten his life.
The contradiction was startling, but, at the same time, it was kind of encouraging that he felt that way. After all, if you believed that he knew what he was doing, that he was smart and capable, maybe he knew something that none of us knew. It was like, well, if he thinks he’s gonna live forever, maybe he is [laughs].

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 4

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 2 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 2 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

In Part 2, Frank and I discuss the early days of The Doors, the band’s first gig on the Sunset Strip, working on the group’s 1968 documentary Feast of Friends, and filming the Hollywood Bowl concert.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly continuing one of our conversations about Jim Morrison.

THE OPENING OF THE DOORS

Ironically, by 1965, Ray and Jim had formed a band called the Doors. Were you around them at that time?
That was a great summer. I was hanging out at the film school and I was hanging out with friends in Venice. Ray had a house there, so I’d go and watch them rehearse sometimes because we were still hanging around that summer.
And later I saw the Doors at their very first performance on the Sunset Strip, I think it was the early part of ’66. All of the film students went to the London Fog on that first night.

And what was your initial impression of them onstage?
Well, I thought Jim was terrible. For the most part, he was still pretty darn shy, so he kept his back to the audience; he really did. I just didn’t think he could sing very well. Shows you how much I know about discovering new musical talent [laughs].
A few years later, after we became friends, I told Jim about my first impression of him at that first show, and I said, “I thought you were terrible that night.” I remember he gave me a look that seemed to suggest that he didn’t like the word “terrible” [laughs].
But then I told him he had improved tremendously and that he was like a Frank Sinatra crooner who could also sing rock, and I asked him, “What changed?” He just said, “I just kept practicing and I kept practicing, practicing, practicing.” And obviously he had been doing something to improve. If you listen to their first demo and then their first album, there is such a difference and you can hear it. But they rehearsed a lot and they played a lot, too. I guess you can’t really help but improve if there’s the will and the talent, right?

21-year-old John Densmore, 22-year-old Jim Morrison and 20-year-old Robby Kreiger during their early days at The London Fog, where they had a residency from late February to early May, playing five nights a week, honing their sound and creating songs. Two weeks after being let go by The London Fog for not bringing in customers, they became the house band at the most prestigious club on the Sunset Strip, The Whisky-A-Go-Go. (photo by Nettie Pena)

 

But before the band became stars, you and Kathy went off to Africa with the Peace Corps, right?
Yeah, but before we went off to Africa, we spent four months in Peace Corps training, and by late ’66, we were back in New York for a few weeks before we would head off to Africa, and the Doors were playing at Ondine’s in New York City.
We invited Ray and Dorothy to have dinner with us at Kathy’s parents house and then we went with them to Manhattan and saw one of the shows at Ondine’s. And from what I saw that night, Jim had already improved a great deal. I could see that this was a whole lot better than what I saw at the London Fog.
Jim had the full-on rocker guy thing going, but you could tell that he had been drinking or that he was on drugs or something, because he was kind of erratic at that performance. They put on a good show though and the audience seemed to like them, and we were delighted that we got to see them at a really nice club, and then we were off to Africa.

Even though you saw the improvement in Jim’s performance that night, did you have any sense that he was soon going to be a superstar?
No! Not at all. But while we were in Africa, Ray sent us a press clipping about the band because we were corresponding with him while we were there. So we were kind of astounded to read this press clipping talking about their first album and “Light My Fire” being a Number One hit. We couldn’t believe it.

I assume because of your friendship with Ray and Jim that you eventually became a big fan of the band though…
Well, let me say that I appreciated their music, but I was not a confirmed fan. I wasn’t secretive about it or anything. I was pretty open about Dylan being a demagogue to me, and that there were other bands and artists I was much more into. I liked a lot of the Doors’ music, but I just had different musical tastes.

When did you realize that the Doors had really broken through in a big way?
After a year in Africa, we were ready to come home. We went from Togo to France where we stayed for about a month before we came back to the States. I was looking for a job in the French film industry. And one day, we were walking down the Boul Mich and we saw the Strange Days album in a record store; must have been sometime in the later part of ’67. We were thrilled for them, especially for Ray, who we considered to be a close friend.
Anyway, we came back to California and found an apartment in Santa Monica, got in touch with Ray and Dorothy, and we went to see the Doors at The Shrine Auditorium; must have been at the end of ’67. That might have been the first time that I photographed the band onstage. I had my camera with me and started taking pictures. And that’s the first time that I saw that they were a big American band. They had top billing that night [over the Grateful Dead], and there was a light show going on and it was really cool.
Meanwhile, around that time, a friend of mine who was at the film school with me, Jim Kennedy, had managed to get a job at a production company and he got me a job there, too.

Jim onstage at The Shrine Auditorium in December, 1967.

FEAST OF FRIENDS

So you were working as a film editor, but at what point did you get professionally involved with the Doors?
The first real job I had with them—the first real paying job with the Doors—was when Paul Ferrara asked me to be one of the camera operators at the Hollywood Bowl concert which was in July of 1968. Paul had been shooting stuff on tour for several months for what was to become the Feast Of Friends documentary, and the Hollywood Bowl concert was to be the culmination of all that.

Is that the beginning of how you ultimately got involved with the documentary?
I probably was the only guy that they knew from film school who was actually working in the film industry at that time. So they asked me to come down and look at all the footage, and asked me what I thought.
Then Ray asked me if I would consider editing it all, because that’s what I was at that time; a film editor. I’m sure Paul could have done it, but Paul was busy shooting both stills and film for the band and he was busy with his acting career; so he was probably too busy to sit down and really focus on editing a documentary.

What was your first reaction to all the footage that you were presented with? Was there any semblance of what they were wanting to do with it all?
They shot all this footage, but there was no form or rhyme or reason to it all. So they asked me to try putting it all together and I gave up my day-job to do it, because they had an enormous amount of footage to get through. And back then, you were dealing with 16mm film; so it was a very hands-on process that took hours and hours to do.
I just had to go through everything from scratch and organize it all, and find out where the negative was, then put together a work-print from the neg, and then synch up the work-print, which is a tough enough job, but it’s really tough when things aren’t shot with a slate. You have to eyeball it and that took a tremendous amount of time in those days; even today, it takes time.
What we had was a lot of footage where Paul and Babe Hill were just shooting things. Paul knew what he was doing, he was really good at shooting, but they wouldn’t give him any money to hire anybody else and that’s how Babe got pulled into it, because he was Paul’s friend from high school.
So Paul showed Babe how to use the Nagra tape recorder and he went around collecting sound; sometimes it was synched, sometimes it wasn’t. What I ultimately had to work with was a very large and interesting collection of very dynamic images and scenes that didn’t seem to have any solid core or theme.

But when you were brought into the project, they had to have given you some sort of overall philosophy or direction of what the resulting film was supposed to be, no?
It was supposedly a film about the Doors in America. It didn’t even have a title at that time. They had a moviola machine for editing in the backroom of the Doors rehearsal studio; what would later become known as the Doors Workshop, where Vince Treanor was busy making these monolithic sound systems by hand.
So they hired me to edit all that footage into something, and I was put on the Doors payroll and began working on Feast Of Friends, and it was at that time that I began doing more photography of them as well.


Was there room for you to do any photography, since Paul was already doing that for the Doors?
Paul was doing fabulous photography for the Doors, including the album cover for Waiting For The Sun. Paul and I were friends from back at UCLA, and we were closer back then because in addition to the film school, we both took photography classes through the Art Department at UCLA, and were in the same class together for two semesters.
So I think Paul enjoyed having me there, because he knew me and I wasn’t someone from the outside, and he knew I could do what they needed me to do. He also knew that I could shoot film and photos, but maybe Paul was kind of protective of the “stills” stuff when it came to the Doors, because he knew that photography was my strong suit and he never really encouraged me to do any photography with the Doors if he was around [laughs].

Back to the Feast Of Friends documentary. So you’re saying that there was no outline or plan for the film when you began the editing process?
I never saw an outline, I never saw a plan, I never saw anything written down. If there was one, it was completely out the window by the time I came on the scene [laughs].
With that said, there are two ways to make a documentary film. There’s the gathering of the evidence, but you can do that without a formal plan. I mean, it doesn’t look like D.A. Pennebaker had much of a plan when he did the Dylan film [Don’t Look Back]. He went to London with Dylan, but he didn’t know what was gonna happen. He brought back the footage and put it all together.
Then there’s the other kind of documentary film, where it’s somewhat scripted to where you have an overall sense of where you’re going to go with it. So there are different ways to approach it, and each are equally acceptable.
But, in answer to your question, no, I never saw any kind of outline or plan, and certainly when I was putting it together, everything was open. I mean Paul and I literally invented scenes, based on the footage, or lack thereof. I’d say, “Look how these shots work together,” and he’d say, “Let’s add this.” So, yes, we collaborated at the beginning of the editing, but Paul was busy with other stuff; he was wanting to be an actor and had an agent and was going on these road trips with the Doors. He just had multiple things going on at the time.

Did you ever get a sense of how the seeds of that film project were planted?
When it comes to Feast Of Friends, I think that Paul had kind of enthused the Doors into doing this project. It was Paul’s enthusiasm about it, and the fact that both Ray and Jim were interested in film and had some money to do something about it. So Paul got to be the filmmaker, and he brought me in to try and put it all together as a creative film editor.

Despite the randomness and incomplete footage you had to work with, there are some amazing scenes and sequences that were shot and put together. Can you go through any of the thought process that you went through during the editing?
Well, for instance, there’s the sequence for “Moonlight Drive” which came about because I just loved how so many of the shots were in shadow; heavily shadowed with spotlights. So I began gathering all those types of images together from the various concerts and started putting it all together with the song, because we didn’t have a soundtrack.

What about Jim’s involvement in the project? Did he show much interest or get involved with the editing process?
Jim was embracing everything about Feast Of Friends. He was enthused about it, he was helpful and he enjoyed watching things when I was cutting it. He wouldn’t have made a good editor though, because he could find something to like in almost every shot. Like when we were working on HWY, it was hard to cut things out because he liked everything [laughs].
But Jim would see things that I didn’t see sometimes, and he’d point things out to me. He would make suggestions, especially when it came to the nuances of a song that was being used. Like with the “Moonlight Drive” sequence, he would say, “No, the rhythm of the song is too fast, you need to speed up the images to match it.”
Did he come to me with full ideas for scenes or anything like that? No. But he did have a real interest in what I was doing and what the ultimate result was going to be. I also think his overview of the project itself was different than mine. I think his idea was that we would release this film and it would get to an audience that had never seen a Doors concert before. We did have the hope that it would be shown at some film festivals and maybe on PBS, and that it would help promote the band, and Jim was definitely onboard with that.

THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL

There seems to be this idea that Feast Of Friends had this huge budget behind it, but with the multi-camera set-up and sound recording that was involved with the Hollywood Bowl concert, one would think that maybe 70-75% of the entire budget was blown on just that one single concert?
I think you’re about right, but I wouldn’t say “blown”. The Hollywood Bowl show was the only time we had sync-sound for the entire concert, because Elektra had the mobile recording truck there. Paul [Ferrara] and I were the two main cameramen, and they hired three other people to shoot from three other cameras; one of which was a slo-mo camera.

One of those other cameramen was Harrison Ford, right?
No. I seem to remember that he was involved; he might have been a film-loader, but not a cameraman.
The shoot at the Bowl was a very stressful experience. We had to deal with the regulations of the Bowl in terms of filming, Elektra had their recording truck there to make sure all the sound was working, so I was pretty focused on what I needed to do which was to shoot 16mm film, and try to shoot a few stills which I also did.
My camera was the one right in front of the stage to Jim’s left. So much of what people have seen of that concert came from my camera; all those close-up and profiles of Jim at the microphone.
The big problem was that Paul’s camera wasn’t in sync all the time, and he had the best vantage point. He was squarely in the front-center shooting straight down to the stage, so he could cover the whole stage. Whereas my job was to shoot Jim in medium close-up and follow him around, and shoot Ray and Robbie whenever I could. But Jim stayed at the microphone pretty much the whole time that night, so I didn’t have to try and follow him, except when he danced and I’d pull-out to a wide angle and try to keep him in view.

Jim eyes Frank’s camera at the Hollywood Bowl concert on July 5, 1968.

What did you think of their performance that night?
Do I think they gave a good performance that night? I have no idea, because I didn’t see it, ya know what I mean? I was so focused on what I was doing that the whole night was a blur. But that always happens, even when I’m just shooting stills at a concert, you’re so in the moment of what you’re doing, you can be oblivious to the bigger picture, so to speak.

The major criticism about Feast Of Friends coming from a new generation of fans seems to center on the fact that, other than the Hollywood Bowl performance of “The End,” there were no full performances in the film…
Well, that’s because it wasn’t a concert film and was never supposed to be. I remember talking to Ray and Paul—this is before Jim got involved at the editing stage—and they were saying that the film was about “The Doors in America in the Sixties during the time of upheaval, revolution, war,” and all of that stuff. That’s what the film was supposed to be about.
And it starts out with the Hells Angels following this limousine with a long-haired guy inside of it who has the Hells Angels as bodyguards. He’s like a rebel leader in that sense, and then you have the limo arrive somewhere and a girl reaches in the window and grabs the crotch of this new leader. I mean the irony and the absurdity of that juxtaposition of realities was very appealing to me [laughs].
But, look, I only had the footage to work with that I had to work with. I did put the voiceover of the guy talking about the Vietnam War during the scene where the band is on the monorail. That was an attempt to put them in the midst of the Vietnam War, but I’m not so sure that people even got that, but that’s what that was about.
My thought was that it was the Doors in America in the Sixties, so that’s what I tried to do, but it reached a point where the Doors didn’t want to spend any more money on the film, and then it came down to the producer’s bottom line, “try to put it together as soon as possible and we’re done.”


Did you ever approach them about trying to flesh it out with additional footage?
Well, I put my ideas on the table, whether through talking with Ray or Jim or Paul; I think I came up with the name of the film, Feast Of Friends.
But you have to realize that, at the time, these guys were the Number One band in America; they had other things on their mind. This film was a very, very small part of what was going on with them. They didn’t have time to spend on this little documentary film. I mean, Ray would pop in every now and then and look at a scene, but after the Hollywood Bowl was shot, I don’t think any cameras were turned on again.

What about the amount of footage that hasn’t been seen. Outside the fifteen-minute Hollywood Bowl performance of “The End” at the end of the film, that leaves about 30 minutes of footage that was used. Any estimates on how much overall footage exists?
Other than the Hollywood Bowl footage, I would estimate that we used a ratio of about 8-to-1 or 10-to-1.

So maybe four hours of footage that wasn’t used at the time for “Feast”, but probably most of that footage has been re-purposed over the years, including actual scenes you cut for “Feast”…
I like that word, “re-purposed” [laughs]. I don’t know how much was used in those video projects. People have sent ‘em to me, but I don’t look at them. From what little I have seen there are definitely shots from Feast Of Friends and they are cut together in ways that don’t have any context.
Then again, Ray’s a better filmmaker than that, so I suppose if I were to sit down and look at those video projects without prejudice, I’d probably find them to have a little more coherence. I will say that, at one point in the past, I got a little pissed off about not getting credited for any of the work that I did or for the scenes that I had originally put together for Feast that were appearing in other videos without any credit to me.


“I can remember that day as clearly as any from those days. Jim stood there listening to us present our case, and in the end told us to go ahead and complete [Feast of Friends]. He would handle the other guys in the band.”


As for the film itself, what is your most objective take on Feast Of Friends?
I haven’t seen it in at least a half-dozen years and it’s hard to take yourself totally out of the equation and look at it from a completely objective point of view. Surely, it could have been a better film. Certainly, it could have had a little bit more cohesion.
Then again, with Feast Of Friends, we were trying to use new forms of filmmaking and that was certainly one of the reasons that we structured it without a beginning, middle and end. It was supposed to be a visual representation of the Doors in America in a way that reflected the Doors music, which was anything but ordinary from a musical standpoint.
Sure it could have been a better film if it had a bit more budget and if it had a little more organization and planning done at the beginning perhaps. But that’s all hindsight. Paul was carrying all the weight of that project on his shoulders until I came along and I think he was more than willing to pass some of that weight onto my shoulders. I think he needed to have someone else involved on a professional level.
By the time Jim got involved and showed an interest in the film and became somewhat protective of it, the guys in the band were seeing that they had spent $40,000 on it and decided they didn’t want to put any more money into it; and that was almost the end of the creative process, because they wanted to pull the plug and leave the film unfinished.
In the end, Paul and I went to Jim and asked that we be given enough money to finish the editing and do a sound mix and at least make a release print. I can remember that day as clearly as any from those days. Jim stood there listening to us present our case, and in the end told us to go ahead and complete the project. He would handle the other guys in the band.

Sticking with the film stuff for a minute, there are stories of Jim being courted by the Hollywood industry, but that he torpedoed any chance of that by alienating producers, directors, agents and actors with a cocky attitude towards filmmaking that many Hollywood veterans felt he had yet to prove…
I just didn’t see that type of behavior from Jim in those situations. Jim was much more passive than actively hostile to people. So rather than become abusive or cop an attitude, he’d get drunk and screw it up that way. And that was his way of ducking out of situations that frustrated him.
I think he had a problem with authority and perhaps people with strong fathers do. That’s one of the things Jim and I had in common; we both had strong fathers. So we both shared this kind of On The Road attitude about authority figures.

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 3

 

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
Print Edition Available Now on Amazon, as well as all ebook platforms

 

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 1 of 9)

The Calm Calculus of Reason (Pt. 1 of 9)

A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro
By Steven P. Wheeler

Jim and Frank pictured at The Lucky U on December 8, 1970. Celebrating what sadly turned out to be Jim’s 27th and final birthday.

When it comes to the life of Jim Morrison, there are very few people who are acknowledged as true friends of the man known as The Lizard King. The three Doors have made their opinions known many times over the past 40 years through documentaries, interviews, and—in the cases of the late Ray Manzarek and John Densmore—through their own writings.
Yet outside the band’s immediate circle, the number of people who could be called Jim’s closest friends and confidantes can be counted on one hand. Pamela Courson, Babe Hill and Frank Lisciandro are the best known; yet only one of them is available to talk about it. Pamela died in 1974, a mere three years after Morrison; while Babe Hill has rarely discussed Jim on the record over the years. Not to mention that his whereabouts today are nearly as mysterious as Jim’s death back in 1971.
Lisciandro not only attended the UCLA Film School with Morrison and Manzarek prior to the formation of The Doors, he also later worked with Morrison on both of Jim’s film projects—along with Paul Ferrara and Babe Hill. First as the film editor for Feast of Friends (which only received its home video release in 2014, 45 years after it was originally made) and also on Jim’s personal film project, HWY (which will hopefully be officially released sooner than later after decades of stops and starts).
A filmmaker and a successful photographer throughout his career, Lisciandro’s personal library of Morrison and Doors photos are unrivaled in terms of quantity for the simple reason that he was a personal friend of Jim’s and had access to shoot not only candid personal moments, but he also toured with the band on several occasions and shot countless pics of the band onstage, backstage and on the streets. He was also one of the cameramen at the Doors’ celebrated Hollywood Bowl concert on July 5, 1968.

Since his friend’s untimely death in 1971, Lisciandro has balanced his own film and photography careers with helping Jim to achieve academic respectability as a poet and getting Morrison’s poetry into the mainstream marketplace. To that end, Lisciandro was not only instrumental in organizing and cataloging all of Morrison’s poetry notebooks and loose pages on behalf of the Estate.
Not only was he a co-producer of 1978’s An American Prayer album (the posthumous release featuring Jim’s spoken word poetry with musical backing from the three surviving Doors), he was the driving force behind the release of two Morrison poetry books to the public—Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume 1 in 1989 and The American Night: The Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume 2 in 1991.
With the 1981 release of the blockbuster biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive and the cartoonish Oliver Stone film, The Doors, a decade later, Lisciandro has also found himself battling the purveyors of the seemingly endless string of Morrison Myths by balancing these hyped portrayals of his friend with modest, yet revealing projects of his own. In answer to the Danny Sugerman/Jerry Hopkins book, which he refers to as “Nothing Here But Lots of Lies,” Lisciandro published the photo-journal An Hour for Magic sharing many of his photos and revealing personal stories of his own first-hand experiences with Morrison.


“The stories that have been made up about Jim Morrison outweigh the facts by so much that I don’t know where to begin to mend the fabric of truth because its been so torn apart.”


Lisciandro also released another photo-book in 1991, Morrison: A Feast of Friends, as a counter to Stone’s cinematic portrait. This time featuring images and some quotes from interviews that he conducted with Jim’s friends and colleagues without the editorial slants and sensationalism favored by far too many Morrison authors and biographers.
Cut to 2013 when Frank and I went back through the entirety of the lengthy interviews he first conducted back in 1991 and we released these historic documents in the book, Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together, which is still the #1 Rated Morrison tome on Amazon. The book is available in both print and on all e-book formats.

Throughout it all, Lisciandro is not blind to Morrison’s faults, noting that he “never tried to paint a halo on the guy,” but he has managed to bring Jim Morrison the Man a little further from the shadows. Still, one has to wonder if it’s even possible in this day and age to reveal the real Jim Morrison in the face of the mythological icon that has been created and sold time and time again over the past four decades through a labyrinth of rumors, speculation and distortion which too many unsuspecting fans are willing to accept as facts. Myths and lies that are now sadly spread even further and faster with the internet and social media.
As Lisciandro noted in our own 1991 interview for an expose I was writing about the Oliver Stone film: “The stories that have been made up about Jim Morrison outweigh the facts by so much that I don’t know where to begin to mend the fabric of truth because its been so torn apart.”

 

Culled from more than a dozen interview sessions, what follows is the most in-depth and lengthy discussion of Jim Morrison that Frank Lisciandro has ever taken part in. This extensive interview also serves as a valuable addition and fascinating addendum to our book, Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together.

Frank Lisciandro and yours truly discussing Jim Morrison in the proper setting.

 

Frank Lisciandro at UCLA Film School in 1964.

Born and raised in New York, Frank Lisciandro discovered photography and journalism at a young age, and would pursue those avenues in a variety of ways throughout his professional life. After a stint studying photojournalism at Michigan State, Lisciandro caught the “wander-bug of youth” and took off to Europe with some other kindred souls in 1961. It was during this period that the teenaged Lisciandro began to look at his lifelong love of images and reporting in a different way, and discovered a new passion: filmmaking.
Upon his return to the States, he worked for six months to get some money together and began researching various film schools. While NYU had a top-rated film school, Lisciandro wanted to get away from New York. One film school on his list was located at the University of California Los Angeles; the allure of sunny Southern California cinched his final decision.
With that, Lisciandro headed west and began classes at UCLA Film School in January of 1964, the exact same time as another anonymous transfer student from Florida State University by the name of James Douglas Morrison…

 

THE UCLA FILM SCHOOL

Let’s start things off at the UCLA campus back at the beginning of 1964 where you would first meet Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison. Back in those days, the UCLA Film School was supposedly more about experimental or avant-garde filmmaking versus the cross-town film school at USC, which was more about helping students learn the Hollywood philosophy and get them jobs in the feature-film industry. Is that an accurate description?
At UCLA, you weren’t discriminated against if you wanted to make Hollywood films. Although most of us didn’t like Hollywood films as much as we liked European films. There were some at UCLA who were into the Wild Bunch mentality—the Clint Eastwood shoot-em-up Westerns that were around at the time.
But there were a bunch of us—like Manzarek and I—who loved the Japanese films, the Italian films, and the French films that were coming out in the late Fifties and early Sixties; and by the time we were at UCLA, these New Wave films were in full flower.
We were all excited about the future of film. It was truly a time of renaissance of form and format. But there were still people at UCLA who just wanted to make the traditional Hollywood kind of films, whereas people like Manzarek, Jim and myself were caught up in the new wave of filmmaking. That doesn’t mean only the new wave of the European filmmakers, but the new wave that was beginning to happen in the States at that time. People like John Cassavettes were doing it with breakthrough films like Shadows that was made before I went to UCLA. We were all very aware of all that and excited by the possibilities.

What about the experimental filmmakers. Was there a sizeable Godard influence at UCLA?
People like Jean-Luc Godard were as experimental as you could possibly be, but their way of doing experimental films was doing it within a theatrical film format. So they weren’t like the shorter experimental films coming out of America. Godard was experimenting with the very essences of what theatrical films were about. We were looking at that and saying, “Whoa, he’s doing street photography with hand-held cameras, and he’s improvising and yet he’s using actors, and the stories are kind of cool, and look how he’s cutting this all together.”
We were thrilled by that. We wanted something different in film and this was about as different as you could get. So, yeah, we paid some mind to the experimental filmmakers. I first got into that back in the art house theaters in New York, especially during my last year in high school when I used to hangout in Greenwich Village and I used to see these weird, crazy experimental films.

How was the system set up at UCLA? Did the school encourage collaboration with fellow students or was it more about making your own films?
Within the school, we were always working on our own projects, but we were always talking film with each other. The emphasis of the school was not to do a collaborative project, but to do your own project with the help of your classmates.
The most important part of the under-graduate program was the “Saturday Workshop Project” and you had to be there a year before you could get into it. You had to first get through Editing 101, Writing 101, Cinematography 101, and the rest of the basics, and when you got all of those done, you moved through the advanced Editing, Writing and Cinematography courses and if you got through those, you were ready for the Saturday Workshop; which was your first 16mm-sound production.
Funny thing was that it was money out of your pocket because you had to buy the film and have it processed yourself and, ironically, the University then owned your film. That actually ended up being a good preparation for what happens in the real world of filmmaking [laughs].

While attending Florida State University in 1963, Jim Morrison appeared in this FSU recruitment film. The following year Jim would come west (as he would later sing, “the west is the best”) to continue his education and pursue his degree in film at UCLA in the Theater Arts Department. Contrary to Oliver Stone’s factually inept film, The Doors, Jim did indeed graduate with his degree in the summer of 1965.


Since you and Jim arrived at the same time at UCLA, did you collaborate with Jim in the Saturday Workshop?
Jim was in the same Saturday Workshop class that I was, but we weren’t in the same section together. Oddly enough, I was in the same section as Warren Entner, who became a singer and songwriter with the Grass Roots.
Anyway, each class section had five or six people in it, and on each Saturday one of us would shoot our project which we would organize during the term and decide who would be the camerman, who would do this and who would do that. So we would write these short films, direct them, produce them and edit them, and then present them at the end of the year. It was sort of like the “thesis” project for the undergraduates.

You’ve talked about sharing a certain philosophy of film with Ray, did you know him well during that period?
I met Ray soon after I started classes at UCLA. I think that he had already been at UCLA for like six months or so. Ray did his Saturday Workshop a semester before me. He was older than most of the rest of us; he was a graduate student.
But, yeah, I got to know Ray and Dorothy very well and after my first semester at UCLA, I went back to New York and married my high school sweetheart, Katherine [who would later become the Doors secretary], and brought her back with me to California. We found an apartment in Ocean Park about three or four blocks from where Ray and Dorothy were living.

Ray and Dorothy in a scene from one of Ray’s UCLA student films in 1964.

We had other friends, but since Ray and I were both film school guys, and we were a couple and they were a couple, we spent a lot of time together. We’d go see movies together, we’d have dinner at each other’s house, we’d goof around together. And during that time Ray was playing with Rick & The Ravens. So Katherine and I would go see them play; whether it was in Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica. We got to know Ray’s brothers, too. We were all friends. It was a really close relationship; I thought so anyway.
And Ray also did his Screaming Ray Daniels act, in which he just did a solo blues thing at clubs; which was good too. I mean, Ray’s an incredibly talented guy. He can play, he’s inventive, he knew the blues, he knew lots of different musical forms, he’s a smart guy and he was always entertaining. So we loved hanging out with him and Dorothy.


“Jim and I knew each other, because we came to UCLA and started at the same time. We sat next to or near each other in class, and he was friends with Ray, so when Kathy and I would have dinner at their place, once in a while Jim would be there too. It was more of a ‘hey man, how ya doin’’ kind of thing back then.”


What about Jim? Were you close at that time?
I knew Jim a little bit. I knew a lot of the guys who Jim was around during that period, but a lot of those guys were single and liked to go to bars and drink a lot. At that time, I just didn’t have the time or money to go to bars and drink a lot, and I was newly married. So I wasn’t really part of that crowd socially. There was John DeBella, Felix Venable, Phil Oleno. Those were the guys who were closest to Jim at that time of his life.
I did know Jim, because we had classes together and the classes weren’t that big; the entire film school was like 120 students. So Jim and I knew each other, because we came to UCLA and started at the same time. We took all our beginning classes together. We sat next to or near each other in class, and he was friends with Ray, so I’d see him over at Ray’s at times. Ray and Dorothy were feeding Jim sometimes, so when Kathy and I would have dinner at their place, once in a while Jim would be there too. It was more of a “hey man, how ya doin’” kind of thing back then and we would talk about different stuff.

How would you describe Jim in those days?
Well, let’s be honest here, when you’re in a classroom, you’re not really focused on some other guy in your class. Maybe you notice if a good-looking girl sits next to you [laughs], but, no, I didn’t go out of my way to see what this Jim Morrison guy was up to, ya know?
But I had a handful of conversations with him either in class or around the campus. He seemed to me to be rather quiet. He was very enigmatic. In those days, I used to talk a lot about Zen Buddhism, psychedelic experiences, music, film, and photography. Whereas Jim was interested in things like Jungian psychology. I just wasn’t interested in that. I had a whole psychological and spiritual thing going on with Zen. Our conversations were more like, “Did you see the Stones on Ed Sullivan last night? Yeah, man, weren’t they great?” Or “Did you go see the latest Godard film? Yeah, what did you think?”
So when it comes to Jim Morrison at UCLA and what he was really like, I’m not the guy to ask. I was too interested in trying to become a filmmaker and trying to keep up with the rest of the film students. I mean there were some amazingly talented people in that school. Plus, I was recently married, which was a whole new thing for me, and the war was going on and I was trying to figure out how to keep from being drafted, ya know. I didn’t have time to pay attention to Jim or anyone else besides Kathy and myself and our future plans together.

Based on what you observed of him at UCLA, what did you think of Jim as a potential filmmaker?
I was actually one of the few people at the film school who thought his final film project was brilliant; but then again I thought that everybody’s was good. I’m just one of those people who knows and appreciates how difficult filmmaking is, so when someone takes the time and effort to create and produce something like that, I have an appreciation for it. Needless to say, because of that, I may not be the most discerning critic [laughs].
I did feel really bad for Jim because his film kept breaking in the projector when he presented it at the end of the year in the screening room. He had to keep going back to the editing room and repair the broken parts and bring it back and try again. The poor guy was just not lucky and he was not technically gifted. He couldn’t seem to splice two pieces of film together.

Jim’s love of film continued until the day he died. Here he is having fun during the 1968 tour.

What about his overall creative abilities…
Did I know that he was a creative guy? Yeah, I thought he was a creative guy, but I also thought he was a terrible film technician and that he should have tried to overcome that, because that’s what you’re supposed to do in film school; learn a craft as well as practice the art form.
He could have asked anybody there to help him. I thought somebody like Dennis Jakobs who had been at the film school for a thousand years, and was friends with Jim, could have helped him. I would have helped him if he asked me, Ray would have helped him, Paul Ferrara would have helped him. There was no reason why he couldn’t have asked someone to sit with him for a half-hour and show him how to do it properly. But as far as I know, he never asked for help and no one did help him with the physical editing and it was a disaster.
But it was obvious to me that there was a brilliant eye there and possibly a unique and strong filmmaker based on what we did manage to see of his film. I can’t say that I really understood what he was trying to do with the concept of his student film, but I thought there was a brilliance and a uniqueness in his use of visuals.

During that time at UCLA, among the students, were the conversations always about film? Or were there other communal interests you all shared?
Aside from talking about film, we were also always talking music because music was so important at that time, too. I mean Dylan went electric and then suddenly everyone went crazy. The Beatles were happening and the Stones were happening at the time. That was vital to us. Music and film were the common ground; not just for Ray and I, but all the students in the UCLA Film School.
I remember that the first Van Morrison album with Them knocked everybody right down to the ground. Nobody could get up from that one. And Ike & Tina Turner were really important and a really hot act. It was obvious at that time that a transition was happening. Whether it was made by the Beatles or the Kinks or the Stones or Dylan; it didn’t matter. Music was just incredibly vital to all of us.

Van Morrison and Them released their influential debut album, featuring future classics “Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night” and “Mystic Eyes,” in the early summer of 1965. With the popularity of the album on the UCLA campus, it’s little wonder that Van Morrison and his Irish rock band would have such an influence on Ray Manzarek and Jim. Perhaps this album was the ultimate impetus behind Jim and Ray deciding to form a band a few months later. Something worth considering since Manzarek has said that if there were no Them, there would be no Doors. Ironically, on June 18, 1966, a year after Morrison and Manzarek graduated from UCLA, the Doors and Them—featuring the dueling vocals of Morrison and Morrison—would share the stage at the Whisky-A-Go-Go jamming late into the night. The magic that evening has often been recalled by the members of the Doors and Van Morrison when discussing their career highlights.

The dye would be cast in the summer of 1965 when Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek would decide to form a band together after a chance meeting on the sands of Venice Beach. Manzarek hears the proverbial “choir of angels” go off in his head as the shy Morrison recites the lyrics of a song he’s written called “Moonlight Drive.” The rest is history, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet…

The Calm Calculus of Reason – Pt. 2

Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together
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