JIM MORRISON: THE LIZARD KING

Photo of Jim Morrison

ORPHAN

Calling his childhood “an open sore,” Jim Morrison told his band, the Doors, that he was an “orphan.” Later they discovered he had a mother after all. The officer’s wife who had raised the boy almost single-handedly was sitting in a front row seat her son, “The Lizard King,” had reserved for her in the Washington auditorium. During the show’s climactic number, The End, he sang “Mother, I want to…” then barred his teeth and snarled “FUCK YOU!” He refused to see her again. Nor did he ever again see his autocratic father, a Navy admiral. “Father?” he sang in The End, “I want to KILL YOU!”

His father, George, the only son of a Methodist laundry owner in Georgia, was a career Naval officer. He had named Jimmy after General Douglas MacArthur, and expected his son to follow his footsteps. Soon after Jimmy was born in the middle of World War II, his father shipped out to fly Hellcat fighters in the South Pacific.  After the war, he was promoted to become the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy.

Due to the Admiral’s career, the Morrisons were always on the move. By age four, Jimmy had already lived in five different places, coast to coast. Since his father was gone for long periods, his mother Clara became the disciplinarian. Jimmy grew rebellious. Returning home from duty, his father, accustomed to thousands of men obeying his command promptly and without question, had no patience with his first son’s insubordination and backtalk. He spared no effort trying to get the boy on the straight and narrow.

In disciplining his eldest son, he used a military “dressing down” approach: he would humiliate the boy to submission and apology. When psychological terrorism became less effective with his precocious, increasingly rebellious son, Admiral Morrison got old-fashioned. He beat him with a baseball bat. Jim also confided to his lawyer that his father had sexually assaulted him, and that he never forgave his mother for allowing it. His mother dismissed the charge as one of her son’s malicious lies. “In spite of his medals,” said Jim of his father, “he’s a weaking who let her [his wife] castrate him.”

The fact that Jim Morrison called himself an “orphan” had more to do with his self-mythology than alienation. A fabulist intellectual and a voracious reader, he gave birth to himself as Nietzsche’s Superman. Every time he performed The End, he became the Superman “breaking on through to the other side” by violating man’s most sacred laws against incest and murder. Rock and roll was the vehicle for this since, of all art forms, it was the wildest and most primal.

Moving from town to town and school to school, though the Admiral’s son never grew close to anyone, he made friends quickly. His classmates found him funny, if scary at times, and elected him president of his fifth grade class. In his school photo that year, clean cut, beaming, in a pressed white shirt, he looked like Jerry Mathers, the Beaver.

At George Washington High in Alexandria, Virginia, Jim made the honor roll with little effort. He had an I.Q. of 149. He loved laying head trips on people, especially teachers. Often late to class, he would tell them he had been kidnapped by gypsies. One time he cut school saying he had to have a brain tumor removed; the principal later called his mother, anxious to know how the operation went.

Jim was a precocious performer, too. He often collapsed and played dead, much as John Lennon had as a boy. His twitching paraplegic impersonation was another favorite bit of his, as it was for Lennon, too. But when running into a pretty girl, Jim played the southern gentleman: he would bow, recite a Shakespearean sonnet, then bow again and take his leave.

His first steady girlfriend at George Washington High, outside the nation’s capital, was Tandy Martin. The pretty and straight-laced brunette had never met anybody quite like Jimmy Morrison. At first, she found him smart, funny and cool. Then he started getting weird on her. One time they were walking home from school in their upper middle class neighborhood of congressmen, diplomats, and generals when Jim unzipped his fly and announced, “Ah’m gonna take a piss on that there fire plug!” Another time, he dropped to the floor of a crowded commuter train, yanked off one of her saddle shoes and drawled, “All ah wanna dooo is kiss yore presh-usss feet!” But Tandy was never so mortified as when he challenged her to kiss the behind of a marble nude outside the Corcoran Gallery on the Washington mall. “Go on, Tandy,” he taunted, “put your orbicular muscle to work. Kiss the gluteus maximus!” Tandy’s mother had warned her about Jimmy from the start. “He seems unclean, like a leper,” she’d told her daughter.

The couple broke up senior year after Tandy accused Jim of “wearing a mask” all the time. Jim broke down in tears, saying he truly loved her. Then he twisted her arm behind her back and threatened to razor her face “so no one else will look at you but me.”

Jim in Virginia, like Janis in Texas, became the nucleus of an elite high school clique that included jocks, the school paper editor, and the class president. Soon his favorite time was not spent with his peers but with visionaries and madmen. While Commander Morrison was busy at the Pentagon, Cape Canaveral, or on the Navy golf course, and Clara at officers’ wives club meetings, Jim was holed up in his basement room devouring Kerouac, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, de Sade, and Burroughs. He quoted these literary outlaws to his classmates and, in response to their befuddled looks, burst out with Dean Moriarty’s hyena hee-hee-hee! from On the Road.

By the age of seventeen, Jim Morrison’s favorite philosopher was Frederick Nietzsche. The idea that God was dead and replaced by the Superman who superseded morality and became a law unto himself, grew to be the cornerstone of his identity. The fact that the manic depressive, bisexual philosopher lived his thoughts to their logical conclusion and died in a glorious syphilitic madness canonized him.

Jim graduated from George Washington High in 1961[1]. To the dismay of his parents, he refused to collect his diploma. Celebrating his own graduation, George Morrison had just been named commander of The USS Bonnie Dick, the largest aircraft carrier in the world, based in San Diego. The Admiral and Clara moved to California with their two younger children. The prodigal son was left behind in Florida to live with his grandparents while attending St. Petersburg Junior College.

“He hated conformity,” recalled Grandmother Morrison, a devout Methodist. “He’d try to shock us. He loved to do that. He’d tell us things he knew would make us feel queer.” He often threatened to bring a “nigger girl” home from college. His room was littered with empty wine bottles. He refused to cut his hair or clean his clothes. And he wouldn’t speak to his grandparents for days.

He started hanging out at The Contemporary Arts Coffeehouse and Gallery run by a gay intellectual, Tom Reece. Jim first appeared on stage here on open-mike night: he performed bourbon fueled stream-of-consciousness poetry while accompanying himself on ukulele. The infatuated Reece encouraged him. Years later, Jim confided to his lawyer (for his obscenity trial) that while in junior college he had had an affair with an older man who was a nightclub owner.

In 1962, Morrison transferred to Florida State University. Free of adult supervision at last, he was determined to “try everything” now. He started experimenting with drugs at FSU. He lost his virginity to Mary Werbelow, a Sun’n’Fun beauty queen who had wanted to become a nun. Meanwhile, he excelled academically, writing scholarly papers on everything from “The Sexual Neuroses of Crowds” to the surrealist paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. He also took to the stage for the first time in a student production of Harold Pinter’s, The Dumbwaiter

After his junior year, Jim saw his father for the last time. His mother insisted he wear new clothes and get a haircut, so as not to look like a “beatnik” on arrival in San Diego. Jim begrudgingly consented. But no sooner did he board the USS Bonnie Dick, than Admiral Morrison sent him to the ship barber for a regulation Navy haircut. Then for R&R he let his shorn son shoot dummies in the ocean with a machine gun.

Thinking he had fulfilled his duty, Jim asked the commander permission to transfer from FSU to the UCLA Film School, among the most radical liberal arts programs anywhere. Permission was denied. Jim, now 21, cashed in a trust fund and enrolled anyway.

His parents disinherited him. Or, as he Jim preferred it, he disinherited his parents.

From now on, he would refer to himself as an “orphan.”

***

Having not seen or spoken with him for more than three years, Mrs. Morrison told Jimmy over the phone how relieved she was to have found him at last. Then she told him how she’d managed to track him down. She had wanted to hire a private detective, she explained, but his father wouldn’t allow it. Finally, Jim’s brother, Andy, brought THE DOORS home one day, saying “You’re not gonna believe it, Mom – it’s Jimmy!”  He put the LP on and the family sat down for a listen. Admiral Morrison stayed buried behind the daily news. The newspaper began shaking when The End began, and more violently during its climax. As for Mrs. Morrison, she immediately called Elektra and was given Jim’s hotel phone number in New York.

After telling her son how good it was to find him alive and well, she pleaded with him to come home “for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner.” “Will you do your mother a big favor?” she added over the phone. “You know how your father is, will you get a haircut before you come home?” Jimmy told her he had a previous engagement at the Fillmore, but would try to get her tickets to his Washington concert.

Days later, there Mrs. Morrison was in the front row of the Hilton concert hall to see her son, the Lizard King. When The End rolled around, Jim turned to the front row and sang, “Mother, I want to…” then barred his teeth and snarled “FUCK YOU!” hHe left for the Ed Sullivan Show, telling his road manager that he never wanted to see her again.  Jim Morrison was to die three years later and, true to his word, never saw his mother or any other member of his family again.

“Hey, how ‘bout fifty or sixty of you people come up here and love my ass!” shouts Jim, the rest of the Doors jamming behind him on Backdoor Man. The audience of 13,000 roars and presses the stage at Dinner Key Auditorium. It’s a dilapidated seaplane hangar. “

“I wanna change the world… Let’s see some action out there! Now c’mon, get on up here. No limits. No LAWS!”

The Erotic Politician was arrested and charged with Lewd and Lascivious Behavior, Indecent Exposure, Open Profanity, and Drunkenness. He did not contest the last charge, conceding that he was” too drunk to remember” if he exposed himself. The Doors themselves insisted that the crowd had suffered a “mass hallucination.” Anyway, Jim had a simple explanation for the entire episode in his home state. “It was a good way to pay homage to my parents.”

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JIM MORRISON:

TRUE TO HIS OWN GENIUS

The legendary star of the Doors called his childhood “an open sore,” and told his band that he was an “orphan.” Later they discovered he had a mother after all. In 1967, she was sitting in a front row seat her son, “The Lizard King,” had reserved for her in the Washington auditorium. During the show’s climactic number, The End, he sang “Mother, I want to…” then barred his teeth and snarled “FUCK YOU!” He refused to see her again. Nor did he ever again see his father, a Navy admiral. “Father?” he sang in “The End,” “I want to KILL YOU!”

George Morrison, the only son of a Methodist laundry owner in Georgia, was a career Naval officer. He had named Jimmy after General Douglas MacArthur, and expected his son to follow his footsteps. Soon after the boy was born in the middle of World War II, his father shipped out to fly Hellcat fighters in the South Pacific. After the war, he was promoted to become the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy.

Due to the Admiral’s career, the Morrisons were always on the move. By age four, Jimmy had already lived in five different places, coast to coast. Since his father was gone for long periods, his mother Clara became the disciplinarian. Jimmy grew rebellious. Returning home from duty, his father, accustomed to thousands of men obeying his command promptly and without question, had no patience with his first son’s insubordination and backtalk. He spared no effort trying to get the boy on the straight and narrow.

In disciplining his eldest son, he used a military “dressing down” approach: he would humiliate the boy to submission and apology. When psychological terrorism became less effective with his precocious, increasingly rebellious son, Admiral Morrison got old-fashioned. According to biographer, Stephen Davis, he beat him with a baseball bat. Jim also confided to his lawyer that his father had sexually assaulted him, and that he never forgave his mother for allowing it. His mother dismissed the charge as one of her son’s malicious lies. “In spite of his medals,” said Jim of his father, “he’s a weakling who let her [his wife] castrate him.”

Moving from town to town and school to school, though the Admiral’s son never grew close to anyone, he made friends quickly. His classmates found him funny, if scary at times, and elected him president of his fifth grade class. At George Washington High in Alexandria, Virginia, Jim made the honor roll with little effort. He had an I.Q. of 149.

While Commander Morrison was busy at the Pentagon, Cape Canaveral, or on the Navy golf course, and Clara at officers’ wives club meetings, the teenage Jim was holed up in his basement room devouring Kerouac, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, de Sade, Burroughs, and Frederick Nietzsche.

In 1962, Morrison entered Florida State University. Free of adult supervision at last, he was determined to “try everything” now. He started experimenting with drugs at FSU.

After his junior year, the prodigal son saw his father for the last time. His mother insisted he wear new clothes and get a haircut, so as not to look like a “beatnik” on arrival in San Diego where the Admiral commanded the Navy’s largest carrier. Jim begrudgingly consented. But no sooner did he board the USS Bonnie Dick, than his old man sent him to the ship barber for a regulation Navy buzzcut. Then he let his shorn son blow off steam by shooting dummies in the ocean with a machine gun.

Against his parents’ wishes, Jim transferred from FSU to the UCLA Film School, among the most radical liberal arts programs anywhere. A few years after his graduation, his kid brother, Andy, brought THE DOORS debut album home, saying “You’re not gonna believe it, Mom – it’s Jimmy!” According to biographers, Hopkins and Sugerman, Clara had wanted to hire a private detective to track her oldest down, but her husband had forbidden it. So she now contacted Jim through his record company, Electra.

Inviting him home “for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner,” Clara pleaded over the phone,  “Will you do your mother a big favor? You know how your father is, will you get a haircut before you come home?” Jimmy told her he had a previous engagement at the Fillmore, but would get her tickets to his Washington concert where he would say his final and fond goodbye to her in “The End.”

Eighteen months later the self-described “Erotic Politician” played at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida, his home state. “I wanna change the world,” he roared drunkenly to the audience of 13,000. “ Let’s see some action out there! No limits. No LAWS!” Then he exposed himself. Allegedly. “It was a good way to pay homage to my parents,” he said afterwards. “

Mister Mojo was arrested for Lewd and Lascivious Behavior, Indecent Exposure, Open Profanity, and Drunkenness. He did not contest the last charge, conceding that he was” too drunk to remember” if he exposed himself. The Doors themselves insisted that the crowd had suffered a “mass hallucination.”

Keyboardist Ray Manzarek added: “He was trying to throw off the mantel of stardom… He found it too heavy. The very thing he wanted was the thing that destroyed him. How ironic. How tragic.”

Now, four decades later, Florida’s lame duck governor, Charlie Crist, has announced his intention to pardon Morrison.

Admiral George Morrison, who died in 2008, had also made his peace with his son. He traveled to Jim’s grave in Paris and installed a plaque in Greek which, in translation reads: TRUE TO HIS OWN GENIUS.


[1] Mama Cass Elliot graduated from GW the year before, and was destined to die only a year after him.

One thought on “JIM MORRISON: THE LIZARD KING

  1. Tom

    I was at the Doors concert in Dinner Key Auditiorium, right near the front of the stage. He did not expose himself. He stood on the stage and said something to the effect of “you people want to see something really different, really special” and “i’ll show you mine if you show me yours” and started to play with his belt. But then the stage collapsed and the show was over.

    Reply

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