Friday, December 11, 2015
The Doors, circa 1969. From left: John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison. [Elektra Records - Joel Brodsky, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]
They say these things happen in threes.
First it was Jimi Hendrix, who died in September 1970. Mere weeks later, Janis Joplin was dead as well. The following summer, Jim Morrison, the demented genius behind the musical group The Doors, joined them, completing the trifecta. Three legendary musical talents snuffed out within a nine month period, all at the tender age of twenty-seven - a bizarre coincidence. Less coincidental was the fact that drugs and alcohol played a role in all three deaths.
My cousin Vern (an obvious pseudonym) feels personally responsible for Morrison’s death. He may very well be right. And after you know the story, Esteemed Reader, perhaps you can decide for yourself.
Vern grew up in North Miami Beach, not quite old enough to be in the vanguard of the Generation o’ Hippie Freaks, but old enough to have worn a Nehru jacket back in the day. One summer, after spending a few weeks with us in New York, he returned home with an armload of LP’s in which was represented groups as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Vanilla Fudge, and Dr. John. That was when he introduced me to the music of The Doors.
Of course, anyone who listened to Top 40 AM radio in early 1967 was already acquainted with The Doors, thanks largely to their hit “Light My Fire,” which for the purposes of the format had been chopped down to about three minutes. (To hear the full seven-minute version of the song you had to listen to FM radio, where album-oriented rock music stations with deep-voiced DJ’s and high fidelity stereo sound were beginning to get popular - or you had to buy the LP.) Vern had all of The Doors’ albums and delighted in reproducing Jim Morrison’s trademark scowls.
Vern saw Jim Morrison’s scowl - and a whole lot more - at what has since been dubbed “The Miami Incident,” the infamous concert in Coconut Grove on March 1, 1969 in which Morrison reportedly exposed himself. That show was going to be trouble no matter how you sliced it: There was standing room only, the seats having been removed; there was no air conditioning; the band was an hour late showing up; and Morrison was both pissed and pissed-off - three sheets to the wind and angry. That there would be a whipout of the Lizard King’s Ding was not foreordained under these circumstances, but given Morrison’s increasingly erratic behavior, it’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is that there wasn’t a full-blown riot.
Morrison was subsequently arrested and convicted on several charges including indecent exposure, but died before his appeal was resolved. He was pardoned posthumously in 2010; unto this day his bandmates continue to deny that he exposed himself at that concert. But Vern knows the truth... because he saw it with his own eyes.
Asked by the Miami police to testify at Morrison’s trial, Vern had been horrified at the prospect of having to help convict one of his musical idols. Because he was a minor at the time, he could not be compelled to appear at the trial - and his mother, my redoubtable Aunt Marge, rendered the matter moot by exercising her veto power. Morrison was convicted, but it was not an ironclad case without Vern’s eyewitness account. An appeal would likely have been successful.
On such little matters do the heavy wheels of History turn. For Vern is convinced that had he testified, Morrison would have not only been convicted, he would have seen no point in an appeal. Which would have meant serving six months at hard labor in Florida’s notorious prison system.
Jail time. Hard time. Who knows but that that might have been the catalyst for Morrison’s repentance of his evil, dick-exposing ways? He might have turned his life around, given up alcohol and drugs, and eventually gone on tour with Anita Bryant, Jackie Gleason, and the Lettermen (all of whom performed at a “Down with Obscenity” rally shortly after the Incident). Why, he might be alive today, going on Doors reunion tours and generating hit after gospel-rock hit, had Vern done the Right Thing.
But probably not.