THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 23-Jim Morrison, The Doors
About The Goodbye Project:
There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?
I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.
Why? Everything has a story.
And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.
EPISODE 23: JIM MORRISON, THE DOORS
Death makes angels of us all
& gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as raven’s
This is not only a famous Jim Morrison quote, it happens to be my favorite. I always took this to mean that when we die people get up at funerals and say wonderful stuff about us, even if we were total a-holes. Let’s face it, no one gets up at a funeral and says, ‘that guy was a totally nasty person.’ A portion of a scene from my unpublished novel Mourning After (keep in mind, it’s a totally unedited raw draft, there may be errors and things which need clean-up):
“See, this is the thing…” I have no idea what’s in the Kongaloosh thing I’m drinking, but I’m having trouble moving my tongue. “…this is the thing that Jim Morrison was talking about, at least I think so, I think there are people that would disagree with me: ‘Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven’s claws.’ That poem, just that line, death makes angels of us all, I always thought it meant, like…”
I look up at him. His eyes are watching me and only me. His drink has been drained.
“…that when we die, no matter what kind of an asshole we were, suddenly, we’re this great person. I’ve been to a lot of funerals. And a lot of wakes. And let me tell you something, there are some guys out there who died who were total fucks and then you have to sit there and listen to the daughter or somebody say, “oh, he was so full of life,’ or, ‘he had such a great sense of humor’ or, ‘he loved life.’ That last one in particular is my favorite. Everybody who dies suddenly loves life. I went to one funeral once and they said that about a woman who had hanged herself.” I drain my glass. “I think it would be really cool if everybody were just honest. You know, ‘I hated my mother, she was a bitch. She was always mean to me, and she was a petty gossip.’ Or, ‘My Dad was a drunk and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with his beatings anymore.’”
To my surprise, he laughs.
“Nothing, you’re just totally right on, that’s all.”
And then his mouth is on mine, and I am surprised to feel myself responding, and to stick my tongue into his mouth and taste the sugary drink, and his mouth is cold, cold like he just drank a cold beer, and the people in the room are still talking and then, just then, there is one loud, booming voice that startles us and I turn and look and there he is: OTIS T. WREN, the fake “ichthyologist adventurer” who is often at the club.
“Well, it seems there’s been some hanky-panky stuff around here!” He knocks on the wall. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping an eye out for this kind of behavior!”
Two spotlights flash onto a pair of goofy Amazonian masks that open their eyes and blink start to chuckle. “Hey, we can’t do everything as long as we’re just hangin’ around, huh, huh, huh.”
I first heard of The Doors when I was nine and in the fourth grade. One of my classmates—I don’t know why I associate it with my friend Joel Baglia (it might not have been him, you know, that whole persistence of memory thing), but I do. He had drawn the band’s logo on his notebook, and I wondered what it was. Too embarrassed to ask him, I went home and asked my Dad, and he said, “that’s trashy music, you don’t need to be listening to that garbage. It’s bad for you.”
I took his word for it, and didn’t probe further.
What you have to understand is that we were never allowed to have any music in our house except Broadway Shows and Christian Choir Music—possessing anything other than that was taking a huge risk: if you got caught with immoral rock music that was sure to influence you to do drugs or have sex or God knows what else, you were in a lot of trouble.
It was my brother Chuck who finally figured out how to get the stuff in the back door. He just started labeling his cassettes ‘God Stuff’ or something like that, and you’d stick it in the machine and out would come Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” He encouraged me to do it. “Dad’ll never catch on,” Chuck said. “Trust me.”
Dad never did. It’s why I have tons of rock-infused cassettes in my basement to this day labeled ‘Jesus at the Spring,’ and ‘The Olive Branch’ (once I got daring and called one in particular ‘Water into Wine’).
We did this for years, all through high school. But still I never thought to check out The Doors.
Until, in 1992, Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors was playing at Edwards Hall—the campus’ “movie theatre” on occasion. They would show slightly older films and charge students $2, I think, $3 or $4 if you wanted popcorn or candy and a soda. It was a pretty good deal.
I came home from the movie weirdly fascinated: in a way, it had been like watching a train wreck. Here was this man with all this talent, and he destroyed himself. I wanted to know more about him and why he did what he did.
I don’t remember how, but I got my hands on the book No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman (I had the original 1981 printing; there was a 1995 printing and you can get the 2006 reissue here: http://amzn.com/0446697338). I hadn’t had a chance to crack it open and read it, but I was hoping I would soon because Spring Break was coming up about a week later. I didn’t have any plans to go anywhere—there was nowhere to go, really. I had just planned on staying in Rhode Island and maybe going out with some friends.
My father called me to ask when I’d be home for Spring Break.
“Um…I wasn’t planning on coming home,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “where did you think you were going to go? I have the whole week planned for you. There’s lots to do here at the house and I need you to do a bunch of stuff for me too.”
I remember rolling my eyes. Home was a hole. And home was nothing but work. In fact, I can’t recall a single time I would go to my father’s house when he didn’t have me working: paint this wall, we have to build this deck, go through the kids’ closets and get rid of what doesn’t fit them, we need to clean out the barn, et cetera, et cetera. There was no such thing as a “visit,” and your value as a human being was measured on the basis of how much you got done in one day.
I found myself wishing I had some kind of excuse so I could tell him no. At that time, I was in the middle of producing a play for the campus chapter of Phi Alpha Theta history honor society (more on this some other time). The production of Pirates and Queens was a lot of fun—but a lot of stress.
We were one month from opening. It was constant rehearsals, script revisions, making costumes, and doing publicity among other things—on top of my regular academic load, my position at the school’s daily newspaper, The Good 5¢ Cigar, and my job at the URI Security Office, which was practically an overnighter a few times a week—that was killing me. I needed a break. The last thing I wanted to do was go home and do more work.
I was bemoaning this fact to my childhood best friend Kristen, who had lived up the street from me until she moved to Plantation, Florida (near Ft Lauderdale) in 1984.
“I have to go home and do God knows what, clean the house or whatever.”
“F**k him, you’re twenty-one years old, you can make your own f***in’ decisions, good Lord almighty,” she said (Kristen is the original ‘bad girl’ and still is—can’t wait to get into trouble with her again when I move to Florida!). “Why don’t you come down here? My parents will put you up just fly down. We’ll party and go to the beach and stuff. I have to work, but you can sit by the pool all day and read.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I have to go home.”
“Just lie. Say you have to work. You know that with him that’s the only thing that’ll excuse you.”
I hadn’t thought of that—she was right. With Dad, work was really the only excuse that could get you out of anything. And the only job I had was the Security Office, and I wasn’t scheduled to work over Spring Break. He didn’t have to know that.
“What if he finds out?”
“He won’t. And even if he does, what’s he going to do, take you over his knee and paddle your ass?”
She had a point there—I was 21, like she’d said. I could legally go into a bar and have a beer. I was an adult. If I didn’t want to go home and slave, there was no reason I should. With a lump in my throat, I called Dad back and told him I had to work all week. He bought it. Then I went to the Student Union, bought a plane ticket, packed—grabbing my copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive—and off I went.
Kristen and I hadn’t seen each other, at that point, since she’d left in 1984. It had been far too long. When she picked me up at the airport, she had The Doors playing in the car. The song was “The End.”
“It’s the movie soundtrack,” Kristen said as she pulled into traffic. I don’t know what kind of car she had, but it was one of those older, enormous boats that you could fit six people in (it was like a flashback to the time when The Doors might have been on the radio instead of on cassette).
“I just saw this movie last week,” I said.
“You can totally listen to it. We can dub a copy before you leave.” (For those of you who don’t remember cassette tapes, at that time, most people had dual cassette players so you could copy each other’s cassettes or make mix tapes. There was no copy protection—if you wanted to copy a factory-made cassette, all you had to do was throw a little scotch tape over the two square holes that were at the top of the cartridge).
The whole week, while Kristen was at work, I slept until Noon, then sat by her pool and devoured No One Here Gets Out Alive.
When I was done reading for the afternoon, I’d swim, and then I’d listen to her cassette. Because I remembered what my father had said all those years before, I was a little disturbed that not only did I love the music—I thought the lyrics were beautiful, haunting. There was something deeply romantic about them; although I understood that Morrison was obsessed with death, there were certain lines that, to me, didn’t have anything to do with death at all. This section from “The End,” for example: “Desperately in need of/some stranger’s hand/In a desperate land” spoke to the isolation and loneliness I’d felt as a teenager, when it was so hard for me to connect with others.
When Kristen got home from work in the late afternoons, or on that weekend, we went tooling all over the place in her car with the music to accompany us. We went to Flea Markets, the beach, had lunch at some really cool joint in Miami, went shopping, visited Vizcaya.
By the end of the vacation, I felt like I’d been cheated and should have discovered The Doors’ music sooner.
I have many nice memories of that trip—I’d have to say it was one of the most magical vacations I ever had, and I suspect it was because it was the first time in my life I was seriously rebellious in asserting my independence. When I think about that concept, it has an uncanny connection to The Doors as a cultural shift. That period of my life was also three months before I fell in love for the first time and it was a totally devastating train wreck, so conversely, the sun was about to set on the blissful innocence and idealism about love that I’d held since childhood (and you can imagine how much more depth Morrison’s lyrics gained after all of that). It’s why giving away these three books on Morrison is going to be hard, because even if I got them years after that vacation was a distant memory, I associate them with a golden time in my life.
As for No One Here Gets Out Alive, I’m keeping that one. I will more than likely re-read it in the near future.
As for Dad? He never did find out about that trip, and since he passed away in 2008, I’m sure he never will.
I got this at a book sale in the mid-1990s. There is a new edition of this out; you can purchase it on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0859652467
This is an older edition of this book which I found at a tag sale. What’s really interesting is that someone posted photos of this same edition over on Amazon, and took the time to photograph a couple of pages that were written on in red ink. You can see those images here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/0671210440/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_3?ie=UTF8&index=3
If you want to purchase a newer edition of this book, visit here: http://amzn.com/0671210440
This one I bought new shortly after I got back to Rhode Island from the March 1992 Florida vacation—it had just been published a couple of years before, so the bookstores still had it (yes! This was way before the days of Amazon and you still had to buy or order at a book store!) I ate everything in it for breakfast. You can purchase this edition here: http://amzn.com/0679726225
 Jim Morrison, An American Prayer. Baton Rouge, LA: Zeppelin Publishing Company, 1983.