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.


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.


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

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