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.



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].


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.


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

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