40 Years On

It’s been a hot, sunny day in Paris and I found myself wading through a myriad images of Jim Morrison, stretched and contorted over every imaginable body shape.

There were still the cool rock chicks and the posing guys hoping that mimicking the image would give them the undeniable aura and presence that Jim possessed … but they were not alone. In equal number were the dispossessed middle aged. Crisp, new T-shirts, emblazoned with Doors images, forced over bodies once lithe and young; now fighting gravity and the excesses of beer.

Watching these older ‘pilgrims’ was like watching a host returning to a place of ritual in the hope of rekindling its youth. Shared memories and music; a common bond uniting languages.

Throughout the day, they came in procession along cemetery alleys lined with other pilgrims. Part meeting place, part bizarre catwalk set amidst lines of voyeurs. Admiring glances, updated tweets and laid back tokes contributed to a sense of carnival or picnic where the main guest was expected but unlikely to arrive.

What indeed would Morrison have thought of the pantomime being played out on a stage he’d built? The parade was constant. So many languages, looks and styles. The 21st Century Foxes shimmering in their vintage finery, hoping for the part of Pamela when it’s cast but they were few in number. Even scarcer were the clones of Jim himself. I only saw one who could read for the role but his accent was more Liepzig than L.A.

Amidst the throng he stood out. The face was right for a late 20s Morrison as were the hat and top but not the jeans. Clean, light blue denim against the malevolant black does not a rock star make.

There were family groups. In some cases, each adorned with a Doors T-shirt but they seemed to come and drift off all too quickly. Maybe it was the culture clash of generations but most likely it was just another stop on their sightseeing tour.

The crowd itself was good natured. There was little talk of Morrison or his music but lots on recording the event, for YouTube or Facebook and the mini-documentary they were making. It was like watching the world’s paparazzi finding themselves at a site without any celebrities. their predatory nature turned in on itself to look for anything worthy of the lens being triggered.

Whenever a camera was raised it was followed by dozens more. Had something happened or been seen that needed to be documented? Before long cameras and phones were focused on others taking snapshots of the crowd, there to experience an event.

Earlier in the morning, Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger had visited the grave. One mini-doc maker from Australia, captured the moment. In among the sea of bodies, Ray’s face was seen and then Robbie’s before they turned and were lost from shot. It was akin to a glimpse of the rarest animal or bird for a naturalist – Bigfoot briefly walking out of the woods, only to disappear for another how long?

Light relief came from time to time when a fan would vault the barrier to place a flower or joint on the grave, only to be chased away by cemetery security.

For me the day had a sad overtone. It seemed like the last time this would happen. It felt like watching WWWI survivors at the Cenotaph; their numbers dwindling with time until all that’s left is a memory.

For the old, it was a communal experience. A tribal gathering of allegiance to a belief in what so many had once shared. Old rituals of gathering around a record deck to share the latest sound and message of defiance from their icons are lost to the years.

It was easy to see how much has changed from the headphones that gave the young a solitary experience. Alone in a crowd, experiencing an event as if the only one there. So many seemed disassociated, merely dipping into the day before changing the playlist and going elsewhere. A constantly changing soundtrack depending on mood and venue. The sound cushioning them from the world around them.

Fans of the 60s and 70s had long since left their rebellion hanging in the wardrobe and yet they came in hope of finding a way to reconnect with a past that must seem so far away. They paid their respects and went off to a gathering outside a bar nearby. There was poetry and music and a chance to find a temporary home with like-minded souls.

Raucous sing-alongs peppered the afternoon as they sat and watched, enjoying the experience of not quite joining in. There was little interaction outwith groups of friends who’d made the pilgrimage together and when there was it seemed like an absurd game of top trumps.

For someone who’s spent years sitting in corners watching voyeuristically, it was a fascinating insight into social behaviour but I don’t know what to take from it. On a purely personal note, I found my pony tail lost in a gathering of other men in their fifties all sporting them.

A pichet of red wine drunk, it was time to move on to the Bataclan, where Ray and Robbie were playing. The queue had already formed and the odd scalper was touting tickets at 300 euros a pop but I didn’t fancy sweating it for an evening of communal singing.

I left the crowd and walked round the corner to the stage door, far enough away from the main road to hear the soundcheck or rehearsal start. At first, they verged from shambolic to chaotic but eventually seemed to find their stride. When they did get their act together, they were remarkably tight; working their way through “Texas Radio (and the Big Beat)”, “Hyacinth House”, “Crawling King Snake” and “L’America”. David Brock on vocals was surprising good and took on Morrison mantle well.

Preumably happy with their sound, they stopped and I took it as a cue to leave and take in more of what Paris had to offer.

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