By Fred Mills
“I swear to God, I don’t wanna hear no talk about no Constitution” (alt title: “When I Was Back There in Seminary School”):
Forget that namby-pamby “the day the music died…” AOR radio crap… on Feb. 25, 1969, The Doors recorded an hour-plus song called “Rock Is Dead” during the tail end of sessions for their epochal/flawed/controversial/misunderstood/chart-topping album “The Soft Parade” (which, full disclosure, blew my 14-year old mind, as I had no reference points… this was not the “Hello I Love You” that had guided my pubescent teen trying-to-connect-with-a-chick bumblings of the previous lovin’ summer, that’s for sure).
True believers such as moi were certainly not privy to RID back in the day, as it only started surfacing in bootleg form, and in various fractured iterations, until (if memory serves) the mid ’80s, and even then, probably only on cassette among my fellow underground of tape traders. At that point, only Echo & the Bunnymen were probably willing to go on record as being Jim Morrison & Co. fans, such was the tarnished, classic rock legacy of the band.
And then Oliver Stone arrived, stage left.
His March ’91 Morrison biopic “The Doors” needs no introduction, and I will not lay out any arguments fo’ or agin’ it here, other than to note that it heralded the proverbial Third Coming of St. Jim – the Second Coming being, of course, when “Rolling Stone” magazine put out their classic revivalist issue proclaiming, “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, and He’s Dead!” on the cover in the ’80s. (I have a tangential story about Matthew Sweet relating directly to that RS issue I’ll share with anyone privately, btw.) So as these journo things go, in the fall of 1990, I was the music editor of a Charlotte alt-weekly, Creative Loafing (RIP), and my editors agreed that it would be awesome if I could do some deep research on the Stone film for a subsequent high-profile piece to hit when the movie arrived in the spring – and maybe, just maybe, we could scoop the clueless clowns at the local daily.
Oh boy, did we ever. And oh boy, did I get more than I was looking – bargaining – for.
I was already plugged into a certain u-ground scene due to the fact that for close to about a decade I had been scribbling for shitty rock rags left and right; the free recs were the draw, of course, and then somehow I realized I actually enjoyed running my mouth to a captive (i.e., print fanzine) audience. Plus, when I was back there in my seminary school classes, I learned I could petition my audience with, not necessarily prayer, but at least provocative propositions. So here we are in late 1990, and I’m making a few casual inquiries among my indie rock contacts – at the time, I have no clue whatsoever as to how to reach out to an actual Hollywood film production – and, meanwhile, I’ve begun haunting the Charlotte library and commanding their microfiche machines in order to locate and then print out vintage Doors stories and reviews. (Yes, I still have those and all my Doors research files in a box in the attic. Probably severely faded by now. I’ll keep you posted.)
And then – the proverbial key turned in the lock. At the time I was also a longtime contributor to indie bible Option Magazine, and upon seeing my query, my editor there told me, “Oh yeah, I know the guy who worked with Stone as his screenwriter on the film. Here’s his number, tell him I said for you to call him.” With that, I was on the horn with J. Randall Johnson (looking him up at IMDB, I don’t have time to put in links on this)
Long story short: Randy provided me with a coupla hours’ worth of details, anecdotes, and (presumably still) off-the-record stuff about putting together the film, working with Stone, and of course navigating the cultural and financial minefield that is all things Doors. More important, though, is how he opened up multiple doors (see what I just did?) that gave me access well beyond what we at the paper had ever considered might be possible. In short order, I was talking to Doors manager Bill Siddons, who in turn connected me with the publicists for both Robby Krieger and John Densmore (the latter was working on a book to come out next spring as well, so he was motivated; the former was working with Eric Burdon at the time so probably less motivated, but he indicated he had some solo irons in the fire, so….). Multiple interviews with principals went down, with plenty of off-record shit uttered along the way – for some reason, I had passed the smell test and was in the circle of trust, and when they said, “Please don’t quote me on this part…” I promised I would respect the request. And I still do. I’ll leave it to my kid as to what he wants to do with all my interview cassettes once I’m gone, of course, but those tapes are sitting in my garage right now.
One thing that you might assume would have stayed off-record, however, was never designated as such. Somehow I was also put in touch with the Lizard King’s old drinking buddy, veteran filmmaker Frank Lisciandro, who was also preparing a Doors-related photo book, so he was probably inclined to talk to the press. That was a memorable evening over the NC-to-LA phone line, with plenty of terrific Morrison and Doors anecdotes, plus a particular nugget: Due to drugs and alcohol, Morrison was impotent for the final couple of years of his life. No one had ever gone on the record at that point regarding the sex god’s issues, aside from veiled comments over the years about Jim’s “issues” related to booze. I duly printed the quote, although naturally there was no way to independently verify such details; by that point, in 1990, Pamela Morrison was long gone, too, so I really could only take Frank’s word. But if anyone knew the truth, he probably did, so I stand behind my reporting, such as it was.
As an aside:I tried my best to nail down Ray Manzarek (RIP) for an interview, but around that time he had already had his falling out with Oliver Stone and was not interesting in pimping the film in the least. If memory serves, Danny Sugarman (RIP) was repping Ray at the time, and he was definitely no help – in fact, he was a total dick, blowing me off twice for interviews I’d arranged separately with him, but I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, dick or no dead dick.
Somewhere along the way, in the middle of all this, Doors cover band The Back Doors came to Charlotte and played the 13-13 Club. Yeah, of course I went.
At any rate: the movie arrived in the multiplexes, Val Kilmer got his props and his drubbings, Creative Loafing had its cover story that circulated through our multiple cities, and my story even got picked up by other cities’ alt-weeklies. Thanks to my many fanzine contacts out in the hinterlands, I also published extended versions (“director’s cut”) of my story in a national music magazine and overseas mags in Spain, Germany, and Australia.
Yeah, in one form or another, I got paid about 6 or 7 times – I sure didn’t go out and buy a Ferrari in the aftermath, but I did pick up a few Doors bootleg discs.
I busted my ass for at least 3 or 4 month working on a band that was massively important to me. In the research process, I started having Jimbo dreams, and if I could have found a pair of leather jeans someplace, I probably would’ve put ’em on. Somehow my wife and my friends put up with me throughout it all, although I have a vague memory of rooms clearing every time I would cue up “The End.”
What I did NOT subject them too, though, is the sonic and poetic anarchy of Morrison’s “Rock Is Dead,” a 64-minute disjointed – yet fascinating – traipse through the history of rock ‘n’ roll, though the eyes and ears of JM. As I made many, many contacts within the Doors collector community during this period, I was able to acquire a relative high-generation of the entire, unbootlegged tape. It reportedly was provided to me following one of my higher-profile Doors camp contacts giving me the thumbs-up as someone who could be trusted not to circulate it. And I never have.
It’s on the just-released 50th anniversary, 3-CD / 1-LP deluxe edition of “The Soft Parade” (on RHINO ) in all its bizarrely beautiful, derangedly riveting glory, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants an unvarnished, never-officially-released glimpse into the vaunted Morrison id. Casual fans, well… not so much. But then, if you’ve read this far, and if you love “The Soft Parade” as much as I do, or even almost as much as I do, you’ll dig it. Petition your local indie record store with prayer to make sure they stock it.
Check it out at the Spotify link below. Break on through.