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


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