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.


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

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