Music Feature

Lizard King, Reclaim Your Throne

Brian Ahnmark
Dear Jim Morrison:

I hope this letter finds you well, although I wonder where this letter will find you (I'm guessing not heaven). I suppose I could cling to that fantasy I had as a teenager, making believe that you had faked your death and slipped away incognito to some remote land. I used to read into those final lyrics of “Wild Child” - “Do you remember when we were in Africa?” - as a secret code from you to me, a winking acknowledgment of your escape from the suffocation of fame. At one point I had a theory that you had spent 27 years in the limelight, and after 27 years in hiding, you would reemerge. I was sure of it. But that never happened. Now I just feel old thinking that my “theory” failed 13 years ago.

I wanted to wish you a happy birthday, since you would have turned 67 on December 8. I can't imagine you got many cards or well-wishes this year, or any year, for that matter. Turns out December 8 is remembered more for that whole John Lennon assassination, and you get lost in the shuffle.

But not by me. For the past 11 years, I've listened to all of The Doors' albums in sequence on December 8. It's my way of saluting your talent and celebrating your life. But that's not why I'm writing.

I wanted to let you know that on December 9, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the state Clemency Board unanimously voted to pardon your 1969 conviction on misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure and open profanity. You remember the incident in question, don't you? Actually, you always said you didn't remember the May 1, 1969 performance at the Miami Dinner Key Auditorium, on account of the drunken stupor you dragged onstage that night.

Allow me to job your memory. You showed up, late and beyond wasted, to a ramshackle seaplane hangar stuffed to twice its capacity on a sweltering Miami night. You were possessed and disturbed and fresh off a performance by the Living Theatre, a controversial production in Los Angeles that attempted to dismantle the barrier between performer and audience, featuring nudity and anti-authority rhetoric.

I've heard the tapes. You and the boys never really made it through a single song. What you delivered instead would go down in rock and roll infamy. It was part rant, part indictment, part revolution, part resignation.

“You're all a bunch of fucking idiots!” you bellowed during “Five to One,” spitting fire at the hordes. “Letting people tell you what you're gonna do... Maybe you love it. Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the shit!” You simulated oral copulation on guitarist Robby Kreiger (or intently studied his fretwork, depending on perspective). You carried a lamb on stage and casually pondered... um... making a ewe of her. You asked the crowd if they wanted to see your cock, then waved your shirt in front of you like a bullfighter's cape. You invited audience members onto the makeshift stage. You threw a cop's hat into the crowd, got hurled off the riser yourself, started a massive conga line – all in about 45 minutes.

Oddly enough, there was no uproar after the show. In fact, you signed autographs and joshed around with the police once the rafters had cleared. It wasn't until days later that the local media in Miami catalyzed the witch hunt, prodding local politicians into action. There was even a “Decency Rally” at the Orange Bowl, organized by local high school students. A sham circus trial resulted in your conviction and subsequent self-exile to Paris during the appeals process. There you died at age 27.

The state of Florida has had blood on its hands ever since. Your performance was profane, sure. But of the hundreds of photographs taken during the concert and of the dozens of witness accounts, there was never a shred of proof that the alleged exposure took place. Florida's thirst for your crucifixion directly contributed to the end of The Doors, and the end of your life. Worse, they made you outcasts in your beloved America, as the band was forced to scuttle an entire tour as city after city canceled your shows.

With the unanimous vote in favor of your pardon last week, Governor Crist and the Florida Clemency Board finally placed guilt squarely upon the deserving shoulders of the lynch mob.

“What I do know is that if someone hasn't committed a crime, that should be recognized,” Crist said before the vote. “We live in a civil society that understands that lasting legacy of a human being, and maybe the last act for which they may be known is something that never occurred in the first place. It's never a bad idea to try to right a wrong.”

Happy birthday to Jim, right?

Or is it?

I wonder what you would think of this. Patricia Kennealy, your confidante/partner/Wiccan witchcraft wife (?) raised quite a fuss arguing that your criminal record should be expunged, suggesting that you would have ripped the pardon to pieces in protest of being forgiven for crimes you didn't commit.

My initial gut reaction? You would've hated the very concept of a posthumous pardon. You are Jim Morrison – erotic politician, Lizard King, loather of authority, inciter of riots, reverend of rabble-rousery. In a sense, Miami was a trophy, your crowning achievement, a beacon of the reckless disobedience you always tried to inspire.

But I realized that my old high school brain was trying to sweeten something bitter that I realized a long time ago.

Jim, you were broken.

You tried to start a revolution. You failed. You tucked tail. You ran.

I hear it now when I listen to Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman, my favorite Doors albums. I remember reading an assessment of your final recordings in which the writer expressed admiration that you had harnessed your frayed, weathered voice by the age of 27 – while crooners like Sinatra sang for decades before capturing that tone.

Right. It's amazing what raging alcoholism and an utter disregard for life can do to one's throat. On “Roadhouse Blues” and “Maggie M'Gill,” I can hear the strain that was never there before. On “Been Down So Long” and “L.A. Woman,” you have so little left to give. But what you had, you gave. Until you gave out.

I think differently now. I think you'd be pleased to see justice run its course, even if it's more than 40 years too late. I think you'd get a belly laugh out of the fact that there were dozens of letters sent to Crist protesting his plan to pardon you – still stirring up the shit after all these years, eh Jim?

I think of your poetry, bits and shards scattered around my memory from various books and performances:

“I am not mad
I am interested in freedom...

End w/fond goodbye
& plans for future
Not an actor
Writerfilmmaker
Which of my cellves
will be remember'd

Goodbye America
I loved you

Money from home
good luck
stay out of trouble”

Just in case you're in Africa, Jim, I wanted to let you know that it's safe to come home.