Last July 3, 2015 was the 44th death anniversary of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of that transcendent rock band, the Doors. A month before, after years of planning to visit Morrison’s gravesite at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Eastern Paris, I got to do so and commune with one of the fallen idols of my youth.
I was five years old when Jim Morrison passed away due to a drug overdose in Paris. At that time, I was into cartoons and comic books. Music was still a few years away from engulfing my body and soul that had me scurrying to form my own band. So it stands to reason that while his passing stunned the music world, it registered nary a blip on my radar screen.
Eventually, I discovered music and like many others, I started with the Beatles. After all, they were still popular in spite of their recent break-up. Even as I got into punk and new wave, I kept hearing, reading, and seeing Morrison on radio, rock clubs, magazines like Creem, Rolling Stone, and Jingle that continuously championed his music, and on shirts on those racks at Apple Picker ad infinitum.
Along with Dave Marsh’s “Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story,” the Jerry Hopkins-penned paperback, “No One Gets Out of Here Alive,” the first ever biography about Morrison stared at me from the shelves of National Bookstore and the Rastro in Greenhills. As I had a small school allowance reserved for food I couldn’t afford to purchase it. It was only later when I was heavily into the Doors that I finally purchased my copy of the Morrison bio more than two decades later at a flea market in Greenwich Village in New York City.
It would be in college, 15 years after the Doors’ frontman’s death, when I got into his music and I remember my mother being very much concerned about my listening choices. No doubt, that quote by American author Joan Didion about the Doors being “missionaries of apocalyptic sex” troubled her.
While the lyrics were dark, rebellious, apocalyptic, sexual, Oedipal, cryptic or even dual in nature, as much as I loved their music, I didn’t turn out to be some drug-crazed hippie or a satanic acolyte as many feared the fate of those who listened to rock music. After a while I shelved my musical dreams in favor of life in the corporate world.
That hardly dampened my passion for music as I opened up to other genres. Rock and roll remained my favorite and as I got older, the Doors continued to move up my personal all-time favorite charts. Their anthology, “Legacy: The Absolute Best of the Doors” is on constant and heavy rotation on my iTunes. I have the vinyl and the compact disc as do I of their self-titled debut and “LA Woman.”
Furthermore, while I eschew wearing t-shirts as I am now older and tend to dress more my age, I still own three t-shirts of the Doors. Sadly though, I failed to wear one when I finally visited Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise.
While reading a copy of Rolling Stone magazine many many years ago, there was an article feature the tombs of rock stars from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix to Morrison. I found the picture of the graffiti-covered grave with Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin’s bust as spellbinding as the Doors’ music. That image seared itself onto my brain and I listed Morrison’s grave as one of my “places to visit before I die” for the longest time.
It isn’t even about Mikulin’s sculpture as the bust was decades ago. It was visiting a late rock icon and one whose music I thoroughly enjoyed through the years to this day.
It was our fourth day in Paris when my brothers, children, and I went to Pere Lachaise. We kind of got lost in the cemetery but it was all right because there were all these other famous people interred in this famous burial site. When we got there, there were about 50 other people present. We weren’t able to get within ten feet of the grave as there were steel barriers erected around. There were also three uniformed police officers situated nearby just in case some overzealous fan decided to clamber over the barrier.
Morrison’s grave is perhaps the most visited one in the cemetery that is known for the final resting place of many dead historical figures such as thespians Sarah Bernhardt and Marcel Marceau, classical music composers Georges Bizet and Frederic Chopin to name a few, poets Moliere and Jean de la Fontaine, the medieval lovers Heloise and Abelard, writers Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, and chanteuse Edith Piaf to name a very, very few.
I was a little disappointed because of the barrier. However, according to a cemetery official I spoke with, if there aren’t any security officers around the grave, it would be continuously defaced whether out of respect or for their “15 minutes of fame” as he put it. I replied that I didn’t mind if that was the case.
One woman played music by the Doors although it was respectfully turned down low. Every one spent some minutes looking at the grave while lost in thought. If people spoke it was in hushed and reverential tones. Everyone though snapped their own pictures.
I spoke with a few who were no doubt not yet born when Morrison died. One was from Poland, a couple were from Belgium, a few from Russia, while some from Japan.
The reach and pull of the Doors’ music was far and wide and incredibly, across generations and across oceans and continents. “I think that his (Morrison) music is still powerful today with all the debate about LGBTs, war, and even disaster,” explained the Pole. “My father had an old vinyl album of “LA Woman” and I thought that, ‘hey, what a cool cover.’ So I played it and I have been a fan since that time. Going here is connecting if you know what I mean.”
The woman who was playing “Crystal Ship” is from Russia. “You don’t have to be American to appreciate good music,” she said succinctly. “The man died too young. Think of the music he could have created. He left us a legacy.”
I nodded. Just like his lyrics and songs of which Morrison famously said that if you asked five people what it meant to them you would get five different meanings.
The man would be proud.
As for me? As my family and I made our way out of Pere Lachaise Cemetery on fine spring day in Paris, my son pulled out his iPod and began playing “Break On Through “To the Other Side).” I smiled.
Two generations of Morrison and Doors fans filed out for some snacks at the Pere Lachaise Café just outside the cemetery that too was a shrine for the late singer. The merienda was like rock and roll heaven for us.