|A Gift From Jim
On December 2, 1967 my world was forever changed, although it would take many years to see the full measure of it. That was the night the Doors appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was a naive 16 year old girl growing up in the protected environment of rural America. I have written elsewhere on the naivete which existed in the Sixties - and which simply is no longer possible - but unless one experienced that America firsthand, the following statement might seem a bit exaggerated, although I assure you - it is the absolute truth. When I saw Jim Morrison sing Light My Fire on the Ed Sullivan Show, he scared the hell out of me. He was so powerful a presence, and so strong in the truth of his being, with a stunning charisma that was both mental and sexual. I had never experienced that before, and it felt DANGEROUS. As it would turn out, I wasnt the only one Jim Morrison frightened. It later became excruciatingly clear that he terrified the whole of the American establishment.
But this is the story of how Jim Morrison affected the life of one 16 year old girl, and for me, the danger I felt was really about sex. At sixteen sex was a new experience in my life. And sex was a confusing and dangerous playground during the Sixties, for the truth is that free love came at quite a cost. I have heard many people who werent there express regret that they did not experience the Sixties firsthand, for they see it as one long party, but I can tell you, the Sixties was not for the faint of heart. Those who came of age in the Sixties were a generation brought up in one world, and expected to function in quite another. The ideals and expectations so carefully instilled in us in the Fifties came crashing down with the first strains of Rock and Roll, and finding ones way in the world became a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Everything changed into a great unknown, and sex was at the center of it all. In the Fifties the expectation was that one would fall in love, get married and grow old with their mate. In the Sixties, love was a crap-shoot, and not likely to last the season. What I saw in Jim Morrison that night was a beautiful young man with the power to completely destroy those who loved him. And I think it has become clear that he did just that.
So although in the end, I would find much in the man to love and admire, I ran as fast as I could the other way that night, choosing to keep the Doors and Jim Morrison at arms length for many years. I went on to be destroyed to one degree or another, by loving my share of beautiful young men myself, before finding my own cosmic mate.
Years later, a dear friend re-introduced me to Jim Morrison, promising me that I would find much to admire in him, and he was right. I have come to love and respect James Douglas Morrison in a profound way, for he was a man of many gifts and many admirable qualities, so often and so sadly misrepresented and misunderstood. I have tried, over the 10 months I have been developing Waiting For The Sun, to write this essay on what Jim means to me, because that is after all, the reason I do what I do on my little part of the internet. And although I usually have little difficulty developing content for this website, I have found the words of this particular essay to be elusive. But as a writer friend of mine has said (quoting a writer she admires) Writing equals ass-in-chair. So here I sit on the eve of another anniversary of Jims birth, determined to express at least SOME of the reasons I love this being so.
I always liked the aphorism Question Authority. I believe it was widely misunderstood, in that people ascribed certain expectations of revolt to it. But I realized one day, following a VW bus with the bumpersticker on it in about '66 or '67 that it's meaning was elusive because it was so strikingly simple and clear!
Question. Learn from: neither to emulate nor to dismiss, but to understand, to take what is right and good and useful and to recognize and avoid the pitfalls. And in the process, one takes responsibility for oneself in a very basic way, for if you take responsibility for your thought; for finding what is your own truth, you are free, in the only way one can truly be free.
This is a truth which Jim Morrison knew and lived. He did everything he could to pass this truth along to others. It is in his lyrics and his poetry. He talked about it in interviews, and it was in the example of his life. If those of us who love Jim can take this one gift from the experience, then I believe that Jim will have accomplished a great feat by providing the example.
Jim possessed the most rare and hard-won of human qualities: integrity. He lived the truth and he told the truth. His friends have said that they never knew him to lie. Think about that for a moment. How many people can truly say that about themselves, or anyone they know? And as if this werent enough, Jim was generous, he was kind, he had a wonderful sense of humor; and he loved life. He gave everything he had in each moment of his life. Still it seems wherever you go, you find the myth of Jims darkness perpetuated. Certainly the man possessed his own helping of human weakness, but in my estimation, he was anything but dark. Darkness is ignorance, fear and hatred, and these are not the qualities that Jim Morrison espoused or lived. He was a seeker of the truth, and this is the essence of living in the light. And although he provided many examples which are better recognized as excess and lack of balance, the preceding are just a few of the shining examples he provided which beg emulation.
And of course there is the stunning legacy of his talent. As much as I enjoy the fruits of his labors, I find even more moving the value of further examples provided within his legacy.
When I first started to read Jim's poetry, I felt completely lost. And I find it takes many readings to begin to glean something of what one of his poems will eventually mean to me. But ultimately, the beauty of poetry, as in any art, is in the way a work reveals its meaning over time and through one's continued experience of the work. At some point during my continuing exploration into this amazing man, he shared a unique gift with me - in a clear realization about language itself, and how we misuse it. And although Jim spoke of the importance of being explicit, the example of his work and his interviews proved even more profound to my own experience. We are very sloppy in our use and interpretation of words. We often say not quite what we mean, simply because we are too lazy to find the word which best expresses the subtleties of our thought. We ascribe our own meanings, based on our own prejudices, onto the words of others. It's a wonder we can communicate at all!
This is one of Jims gifts which I personally treasure - an appreciation for the need to be explicit; to choose words carefully. I wish I could say that I were as vigilant in this pursuit as he was, but I am learning, and in the process I have discovered something truly wonderful. I have discovered a real love for language which I had never known before.
Just as Jims work becomes more meaningful to me over time, so do the examples he provided in his life. And every year, when the anniversary of his birth approaches, and I find myself reflecting on the power of his existence in this world, I always find something wonderful about him which is so relevant to my experience at that time. These are the gifts Jim brings me on this, the 59th anniversary of his birth. I hope to share the gifts he gives me for many years to come.
7 December 2002
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