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Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre
A Biography of the Doors
By Mick Wall
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2014 Mick Wall
All rights reserved.
This is the end ...
Jim, alone, not in a bathtub but on the toilet, head down, trousers around his knees, found just like his hero, Elvis, would be six years later, arms dangling lifelessly by his sides, brains fried. Gone before they'd even broken down the door to get him. Overdosed on heroin. China white. The kind Paris was awash with that summer. Jim, alone, as always, surrounded by people.
He'd been predicting his own death for months, of course. Janis had gone the previous October, Jimi just two weeks before that. "You're drinking with the next one," Jim would only half-jokingly tell friends. Except that Jim didn't really have any friends. Certainly not Pamela, with her hell-red hair and her smack and her new boyfriend, the Count ... or Ray, with his touch-the-brave-sunlight trip to the public and his needy please-Jim-just-forme shit to your face ... or John, that asshole, always with the long hard looks and the judgmental eyes ... even far-out Robby, his mind blown by the acid and the permanent midnight, all mumbled passive-aggressive bullshit. Robby the secret businessman ...
Where were they now, hey? Now that Jim didn't need them anymore? Or said he didn't, anyway. Standing up suddenly on the dance floor at the Rock and Roll Circus, loudly declaiming his crappy, drunken poetry while all around the models and gangsters, the dealers and pop stars, the street trash blown in by the Paris summer wind sat writhing in the shadows, laughing behind their hands, waiting for fat old Jim Morrison to shut the fuck up and sit back down again. Or fall over. Again. Whichever.
Poor old Jim, alone in Paris, surrounded by all the people he thought he'd left behind in sun-shitty L.A. Same eager faces happy to hang out, listen to his bullshit, then see him home safely when he was too shit-faced to do it himself. Crazy, fat man Jim, best friend to all the waiters at Café de Flore hovering over him like flies, as he guzzled his brandy, his whiskey, his beer, and his endless wine. Big-bearded Jim, out of breath climbing the steps to the Sacré-Coeur, out of luck lounging in his borrowed apartment waiting for fucked-up Pam to come home from the Count's, then sick of waiting, grabbing a taxi to Rue de Seine, staggering toward the red neon sign of the Rock and Roll Circus, waving hi to the blonde cloakroom girl, who always gave him the same smile even as her eyes swooped past him toward whatever was coming next down the street behind him. Tiptoeing down the narrow steps into the darkened basement of the club, the DJ in the glassed-off booth always — always, man! — playing the Stones, ever since the night Keith walked in with his knife and his entourage, gave him the gypsy eye, and let him know it was all cool, baby.
Worst thing about the Circus, man, having to walk past the Count's private room on your way down into the club ... the one with the floor cushions and incense and pot smoke and the same old hippie in robes, strumming the sitar ... the chicks all droopy-eyed and creamed on smack and Tuinals and cheap fizz. Jim couldn't make that scene, man. The only time he went in there was with Pam or to score for Pam. Jim preferred to grab a table or stretch out on one of the couches in one of the vaulted corners of the club, looking for his new friend Sky Eyes, half Apache, half US Army deserter. Sky Eyes had been out there, man, Vietnam, man. Killed a cop as a kid and was given the choice: jail forever or five years in Nam. Sky chose the army and he did good, man. Part of the elite force. Killing gooks for fun. Then with less than two years to go — the old switcheroo! He'd skied it to Amsterdam. But why, man? "It wasn't my war, man," was all Sky Eyes said.
The first time Jim saw Sky Eyes he was dancing barefoot at the Circus, his shirt off, some chick's red lipstick daubed across his face like war paint, long dirty hair hanging down to his waist. Man, what a beautiful sight! "Hey, man!" Jim told him. "I'm going to write a song about you!" Jim with his bags of notebooks and pens, his postcards and newspapers and his pockets full of francs, not here for the sights or the poetry or any of that horse-shit. Here like all the other American draft dodgers and dropouts because there was no extradition treaty between France and the United States, so if the shit went down in Miami he wouldn't have to go home to jail if he didn't want to, and Jim really, really didn't want to, man. Fuck that shit. Jim had watched that day at the bail house in Miami as one black after another got sent down for shit that made what Jim did look like kindergarten stuff. Jim knew he was doomed, man. But that didn't mean he was gonna kneel and pray for it in some roach-infested shitbox in Miami, man.
By then the Circus was like Jim's second home. "He came in all the time," remembers Patrick Chauvel, then a twenty-one-year-old war photographer working part-time at the Circus as a bartender. "I'd got back from Vietnam a few weeks before, and I was saving up money to get back out there. Or maybe to Northern Ireland, where everyone said the next war was going to be." The first time Jim showed up, it was a big deal. But that had been weeks before, and now he was "just another regular, really. A nice guy to speak to when sober, a monster when drunk." And Jim was always drunk.
It must have been two in the morning when one of his staff went to complain to Sam Bernett, the manager, about a stall in the ladies' bathroom being locked. People were banging on the door and shouting for whoever was in there to hurry up, but it had been nearly an hour, and nothing. Sam should do something!
Wearily Sam made his way up the steps to the bathrooms. It was not the first time someone had locked themselves in, but usually it was in the men's. He knocked, he banged, he shouted. Suddenly he feared the worst. Drugs — cocaine, heroin — were part of the lingua franca at an all-night dive like the Circus. It was the same for the trannies, homos, and whores at the Alcazar next door. These places were tolerated without police interference. As long as nobody died in them.
Sam called for two of his men to break down the door. That's when they found him. Jim, alone, zeroed out on the john, big belly hanging out, foaming at the mouth, face blood-spotted and gray, head down.
Sam spun on his heel and ordered his staff to clear the bathrooms out, make sure the clientele were informed they were closed for the rest of the night. Panic took over as Sam tried to find a doctor — someone discreet — who could come and give an opinion. But it didn't look good. "That guy is dead," said someone who said he was a doctor, another regular patron of the club. "He's not dead, he's just fucked up," said one of the two men who had broken down the door. Sam decided to call the cops. "No police," they told him. "Not here. It will mean the end for the club."
Then what? "We take him home ..."
Sam watched as Patrick helped the two men lift the body out of the stall, wrap a blanket around it as best they could, and try and drag it up the steps, toward the back of the cloakroom, where a staff-only door led to the back passageway of the Alcazar next door. "But the body was so big, so heavy," says Patrick. The guys carrying the body kept falling over and dropping it. Like a scene from Laurel and Hardy if it hadn't been so macabre. "C'était horrible!" shudders Patrick.
The important thing was to avoid a scandale. After Patrick helped half-drag, half-carry the body out through the connecting corridor from the Circus to the Alcazar and onto the street, there was already a car waiting at the curb, a big Mercedes. "Yes, it was a strange thing to find oneself doing," says Chauvel now, nervously, from his Paris home. "But I'd just come back from Vietnam and I'd seen a lot of weird things. I helped put the body in the back of the Mercedes, then went back inside the Circus. They wanted everything to look as normal as possible."
Once the silent, heavy body had been shoved awkwardly across the backseat, the two men got into the front of the car and drove off through the hot Parisian night, gliding toward Le Marais, the picturesque Jewish quartier where Jim and Pam had stayed these past few months. Seventeen Rue Beautreillis, third-floor apartment. This time of night it only took fifteen minutes. But then there was the added hell of trying to get the body up the several flights of stairs. And what would have to happen next when they got it there.
Back inside the club the regulars at the bar talked about it, despite Sam telling them to keep their mouths shut. There were lots of patrons who, like Sam and Patrick and Dominique and Sky Eyes, had grown used to seeing Morrison at the Circus in the small hours and knew he would score drugs sometimes, usually for Pam, he said, though lately who knew? It didn't take much for young guys like Patrick and his American pal, Cameron Watson, who was DJing later that night at La Bulle, to come up with their own theories. "I heard that the guy he was used to getting drugs from had changed, been arrested or something," says Chauvel. "So Morrison got involved with a new guy that night and the heroin wasn't the same at all. It was a lot more pure and Jim didn't know. And he overdosed." When, later that same night, Watson muted a record he was playing to announce out of the blue, "Jim Morrison died this morning," nobody at La Bulle knew what to make of it. They merely shrugged and carried on dancing.
Back at the Beautreillis apartment, Pam, so far gone on her own pure-as-the-driven-snow Chine blanche she could barely stay awake, didn't know what to do, to say, as the two heavyset guys unloaded Jim through the door and dropped the body thumping onto the floor. She'd been through this trip before, of course, or versions of it, Jim passing out all fucked up on some poor bastard's floor, but this was different. Even Pam, in her heavy-lidded, barely there state, could dig that. Still, how bad could it be? Jim would sleep it off, as usual, and then what? She was more worried about who these fucking guys were. What did they want? Money? Her smack? Was this a fucking rip-off, man? Inside, she began to panic. Tried giving them orders, but when they looked at her and she caught their faces — dark, heavy, neutral — she backed off and went into her little-girl-lost act instead. It had always worked before, it would now ... right?
"What's wrong with him?" she slurred, trying to sound cool.
They ignored her. Spoke among themselves, heavy, meaty French accents. Then one of them went into the bathroom and began running the tub.
"What are you doing?" she said, almost laughing, like this is a big put-on, right? "What's going on?"
They ignored her, began undressing the body roughly, boots first, laying them by the door, as if he'd just stepped out of them. Then the jeans and the off-color T-shirt, one of them, the more nervous of the two, noticing the surprisingly gray hairs on Jim's chest and pubes.
As they ran the hot water Pam finally came alive. She screamed, flew into the bathroom after them. Jumped in and lay on top of the body as the tub began to fill, screaming his name over and over. "Jim! Jim! Jim!" Pulling at his hair and his eyes, trying to somehow get through, so they could both wake from whatever this dream meant.
The men looked on with distaste, then pulled her struggling from the bath. The water was too hot now anyway. Then they began telling her what she must do, over and over until the junkie whore seemed to get it straight in her head.CHAPTER 2
Ray of Light
Ray Manzarek was the first member of the Doors to become fully awake. To see what was going on, what might someday be. Ray, who really knew the name of the game, who made Jim a star and kept him there, floating in the night sky, forevermore. Ray who was the ringmaster, the whip hand, the real seer and sage of the Doors. Ray who would never be able to let go, not even as the audience began throwing chairs at the stage, as Jim hurled his mike like a spear through the hearts of the crowd, as Robby rolled his transcendentally meditated eyes and John threw down his sticks and vowed he would "never play with that asshole again." For Ray, who would rewrite the story again and again after Jim's death, it became not the end of a shattered career but the beginning of a new religion.
Ray, who made the whole thing up, man. Kept the train on the tracks. Kept playing through it all, hunched over his keyboards like a mad professor crooning over his microscope. Ray, who cared so much there wasn't enough room for anyone else to care at all.
When I last spoke with Ray, just a few months before he died, toward the end of the conversation he said, "I wouldn't be surprised if I got a postcard or a phone call tomorrow from Jim, saying, 'Hey, man, I'm back!'"
I had been prepared to put up with his Doors hagiography until then. It was a trip hearing Ray Manzarek of the Doors talk about "the sacrament" of LSD. The "hot nights on Sunset where anything seemed possible suddenly." But when he gave me the Jim-might-not-be-dead shtick I was surprised, then disappointed, then faintly disgusted. He was insulting my intelligence. He thought I was there just to write another meaningless chapter in the bible of the Doors, the one that ends with Jim dying of a heart attack in a bathtub while his loving girlfriend sleeps peacefully in the next room. Then I realized, no, he wasn't putting me on. Ray was simply doing his job, the same one he'd been doing faithfully for more than forty years. Feeding the fire that kept him and the remaining members of the Doors and their dependents warm these many winters, keeping the myth alive for each successive generation of teenage existentialists so that they might keep buying into the whole dark fairy tale. Ray had been the old wise man, the witness — relating this fable for so long he had actually come to believe and embrace it himself. In fact, this was always the way Ray had told himself the story, from the moment he first set eyes on his old college buddy Jim, moving through the sea mist toward him on Venice Beach that hot, stoned afternoon in the nothing-doing summer of 1965, so acid-scorched and beach-combed skinny he barely recognized him as the same pudgy weirdo he'd been on head-drooping, mumbling, smoke-this terms with at UCLA.
"Jim was supposed to go to the naval academy, and didn't do that," Ray explained earnestly when I spoke to him for a piece in Classic Rock magazine in 2012. "Well, if he wasn't going to do that at least he could go and study something that would prepare him for the diplomatic field. Jim was going to be groomed, as his father saw it, as an ambassador. Perhaps an ambassador to the Court of St. James's would have been the ideal position for Jim Morrison to occupy, according to his father. Jim Morrison instead goes to the film school at UCLA and becomes an artist. That's what I did too. I was supposed to be an attorney: Counselor Manzarek. Instead I went to the UCLA film school ... very serendipitous."
So in an alternative universe, I asked, there's Mr. Manzarek the attorney-at-law and there's Mr. Morrison the foreign ambassador?
"Yeah, and our paths could have still crossed, you know? Being proper gentlemen, we could have gotten together at some point."
Yeah, maybe. And then again ...
Raymond Daniel Manzarek Junior was born on the South Side of Chicago, on February 12, 1939. Ray, for whom everything had retrospective meaning, would explain that he was an Aquarius born into the Age of Aquarius, an idealist born into an age that defined itself as a utopian age of forward-thinking nonconformity and freedom. "Very serendipitous." He also liked to point out that his moon sign was in Sagittarius, as was Jim's rising sign. And that he was born in the Year of the Rabbit, the lucky sign in the Chinese zodiac. Mostly what Ray liked to tell you about himself was that he was a smart, educated, music-playing, art-loving humanitarian who believed in the good of man, and none more so than in himself. As Ray would make clear in his beautifully written autobiography, Light My Fire, self-doubt did not rank highly on Ray's long list of personal attributes.
As Ray tells it, his father, Ray Manczarek Senior, came from hardworking Polish immigrants — Ray Junior would later drop the c from the family name. A tool and die maker at the local plant, Dad was a good union man who raised Ray and two younger brothers, Richard and Jim, to be upright American citizens. School was the Everett Public Elementary School; school lunches were cooked and eaten at home. They were the kind of family who sat together around the table every night for dinner. Who discussed things. Hopes and dreams and how to make them a reality, the way the two previous generations of Manczareks had strived to do. It was a typical upwardly mobile, mid-1950s American childhood, with trips to the beaches of Lake Michigan, school visits to the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, nature walks, picnics, football at Soldier Field ...
Ray's mother, Helen, was the musical one of the family. She had a wonderful singing voice, would treat the whole house to it every day. Helen would be the one who really encouraged her eldest son to learn to play when she persuaded Ray Senior to buy a carved-wood upright piano. Ray Junior was seven and greatly put out when his father took him for his first piano lesson. It was a Saturday morning, a time when normally he would have been at a Saturday morning movie, catching up on the latest adventures of Flash Gordon. Instead he would now spend those precious hours in a dusty old room with an ancient European tutor, learning Beethoven and Bach.
Excerpted from Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre by Mick Wall. Copyright © 2014 Mick Wall. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: Locked,
1 Paris, 1971,
2 Ray of Light,
3 Souls of the Ghosts,
4 Hands upon the Wheel,
5 Give This Man a Ride,
6 Swimming to the Moon,
7 Sexy Motherfucker in Black Pants,
8 Driver, Where You Taking Us?,
PART TWO: Unlocked,
9 Suck My Mama,
10 Young Lions,
11 Winter of Love,
12 Jimbo Rising,
13 Dog Without a Bone,
14 Out on the Perimeter,
15 Hit Me, Babe,
PART THREE: Broken,
16 The Thin Raft,
17 Can You Give Me Sanctuary?,
18 The Witching Hour,
19 Killer on the Road,
20 La Mort Blanche,
21 The Calm Calculus of Reason,
Epilogue: Stoned Immaculate,
Notes and Sources,