Jim Morrison – Hardly a butterfly on a wheel
I’m completely puzzled by the desire to have Jim Morrison pardoned. Who benefits from it and what are the motives behind those seeking it?
Let’s get the crazed conspiracy theorists ideas out of the way first. Some believe Jim Morrison never died in Paris. He faked his death to get out of the music business and escape his notoriety along with avoiding a jail term or a long drawn out appeal process. In the unlikely event that this is what happened, I can see that getting a pardon would be necessary if Jim wanted to return to the States without being incarcerated. He would be 67 this coming week and might well wish to return to the Land Of The Free.
Since the days of the Vietnam War, Paris has provided refuge to a variety of Americans seeking solace in its bohemian bliss. Unfortunately, some of those still there seem out of step with the society that once offered them so much. With old age looming, what better time to go ‘home’.
That’s the most outlandish reason for a pardon and it has to be discounted but if you have a dollar or a pound burning a hole in your pocket then go down to your local bookmaker on Monday morning and put a bet on Jim turning up again if the pardon is granted. Just remember who gave you the tip!
Reality, unfortunately, is far more complicated than that. If, as we have to assume, Jim cannot benefit from this then who can? My knowledge of US politics is poor at best but when one hears of an outgoing governor considering clemency there is a temptation to see it as a way of getting their name in the history books.
Society, like the times, has changed. Politics and music were at opposite ends of the social spectrum but that polarization doesn’t exist any more. Presidents and Prime Ministers want to be rock stars while the rock stars lecture the politicians about morality. What has happened?
When Jim Morrison appeared in court, it’s quite possible that the only knowledge (if any) the then governor had about him or The Doors was the cost of policing their concerts. The judge who sat on the case would probably have had no idea about rock or pop and merely saw Morrison as the antithesis of all he held dear. Now, of course, we know what governors, presidents and popes have on their iPods and even High Court judges admit in the middle of cases to owning such things.
The Doors are, as they always were, cool but now it’s with the law-makers and decision-takers not the kids who rebelled to the music in the sixties. Today, everything and anything is sold to a soundtrack of rock music. Cars, gadgets, even political parties. Rock has lost its power to corrupt, excite or change by itself being corrupted by power.
Jim Morrison, once the outlaw; the shaman; the court jester of rock is cast forever as THE bare chested rock God. Androgynous; asexual; unthreatening. His image is pretty and far from unsettling but above all, it’s caught in time. Like a specimen in a cabinet of something extinct which we can no longer comprehend. He was. He didn’t continue to grow with us like the myriad other musicians with whom we grew up.
Like Jagger; the malevolent magus who showed us the dark underbelly of rock. The Satanic majesty in front of whose performance, the audience brutally sacrificed one of their own is now a Knight of the realm. Morrison was also a middle-class boy but Mick went on to be part of the society he once shocked. That society was epitomised by The Times of London but even it realised that the old order was changing in the latter part of the 1960s.
On July 1st 1967, William Rees-Mogg, its editor, wrote an editorial entitled, “Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel?” While many hold that the leader was a criticism of the law against cannabis in the U.K. at the time, it was, in fact, pointing to a miscarriage of Justice. Mick Jagger had been sentenced to 3 months in prison for possessing amphetamines which had been bought legally in Italy. The leader, and the fact that The Times had seen fit to concern itself with something which many saw as trivial, was a turning point.
Jagger was released on bail and went on to appeal the conviction but it is possible that neither would have happened had it not been for The Times. London in 1967 was a long way from Miami in 1969. Liberal attitudes were sadly lacking in the America of the late sixties. New York and San Francisco may have been hedonistic hotspots but the rest of the US languished in a dull conservatism, reminiscent of the dour Pilgrim Fathers. London had no such hang-ups.
Oddly when The Doors played there, in 1968, they were listened to and treated like artists with a message. Jim didn’t have to resort to the histrionics of Stateside performances to get attention. The audience sat and watched; and took it all in. Morrison was an unfettered talent, lost without any guidance and seeking excess. He wrote the book on the self-destruction of rock stars and sadly too many read it and took it to heart. There is of course another, underlying, question. Had Jim’s ambition run dry? Did he replace talent with excess in a confused effort to rekindle that which he had lost or had he come to the realisation that he had nothing left to say?
When you can no longer entertain or inspire, what are you left with? Is it just shock? On stages like Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium, were we just seeing Morrison play out his own tortured loathing of himself and his audience? If only he had been able to truly grasp that and sell it back to the world, Jim’s legend would have continued to grow. Look at Roger Waters and “The Wall”.
Pink Floyd built a physical wall between themselves and their fans. The Doors had massed ranks of police. One wonders if he would have learnt anything from the Punk explosion where raw aggression and violence to and from the audience became itself the subtext of performance.
So where does this leave us? If Jim Morrison’s conviction is wiped from the record books does it change what he was? The answer, of course, is no. It certainly can’t build on his legend. If anything it may only tarnish it. Morrison, the king of shock-rock, sanitized and airbrushed into being the purveyor of pop ditties and adolescent angst-ridden poetry.
I’m astonished that The Doors are letting this happen. I’d like to see crowds outside the Governor’s office protesting at the fact he might grant this pardon. How many man-hours have been taken up by this and how much will it cost? And what does it matter?
Switch on the TV any evening after 9pm and you’ll hear far worse than Jim Morrison ever uttered. You’ll see real nudity and often explicit sexual acts. Every night, the News carries disturbing, sometimes harrowing and often shocking images right into our living rooms.
You cannot look back on past times and past convictions and re-write history. If you’re going to do it with Morrison then you have to continue back through the ages. Every black activist who was jailed on trumped-up charges in the Deep South, for trying to claim their basic human rights, must be pardoned. Anyone persecuted for their religious beliefs before these times of tolerance, or homosexual jailed before the laws were changed must also have their convictions quashed.
The problem is where do you stop? Let’s pardon all those involved in the Salem Witch Trials and bury their remains in consecrated ground. It all seems so easy and is such a simplistic concept but times will change again. Maybe not in ten or fifty years but if we ever return to a prudish society, will the lawmakers then have the right to re-establish Morrison’s conviction?
It will never matter whether or not Jim Morrison exposed himself. He didn’t need to. Mass hysteria probably meant the audience believed he did, regardless of the facts. Let him rest in peace and leave the myth and legend intact.