“In that year there wasJim Morrison, from Wilderness: The Lost Writings, Vol. 1 (Vintage Books, 1988)
an intense visitation
I left school & went down
to the beach to live.
I slept on a roof.
At night the moon became
a woman’s face.
I met the Spirit of Music.”
On this day (July 3) in 1971, Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the American rock band, The Doors, passed away in Paris, France at the age of 27. His grave is one of the most visited at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.
We know where he died and is buried, but where did the poet, singer-songwriter, and former film student live? As a child of a military family, Morrison moved around frequently.
In the quote above, which beach might Morrison have been referring to? Florida? Los Angeles? Alameda?!
It’s possible! One of the places he called home was Alameda, California (10 miles/ 16 km east of San Francisco). His father was an admiral in the U.S. Navy and his family was stationed for a couple of years on the island city where they lived in a house on 1717 Alameda Avenue. Between 1957-58, Morrison attended Alameda High School, where he was on the swim team.
For many years, people believed that Jim Morrison donated a sign in front of a park bench that reads, “In Memory of My Dumb Friends.”
However, the urban legend was debunked by way of a plaque on the Isabella Derby Clark Memorial Bench that was dedicated in 2016:
The plaque says, “Donated to the city of Alameda in 1920 by Park Avenue resident Isabella Derby Clark, this concrete bench was designed by Myrtle Maillot. Mrs. Clark was a proponent of animal welfare. The inscription, ‘In Memory of My Dumb Friends’ is a reference to animals and their inability to speak. A pet watering fountain was originally attached to the bench’s east side. The bench was damaged when a palm tree fell on it during a 2013 storm. Citizens, in cooperation with city officials and non-profit organizations, raised funds to repair and restore the bench and to place a street lamp at the site. Poet, songwriter, and lead singer of The Doors, James Douglas ‘Jim’ Morrison (1943-1971) was a frequent visitor to the bench while a student at Alameda High School.”
Sounds like that last sentence just perpetuates the myth now, doesn’t it? Just like how the details surrounding his death remain a mystery, the same could be said about how Jim Morrison lived. Who really knows?
Visiting Père-Lachaise (1995)
Before heading to Paris CDG to catch our respective return flights home, my new friend whom I’d met at our international volunteer project had suggested that we make a quick visit to Père-Lachaise to see Jim Morrison’s grave. Although the idea spooked me a bit at first, I’m glad we went together because I wouldn’t have gone there on my own!
When we entered the cemetery, we were immediately greeted by a chipper groundskeeper who asked us, “Morrison?” He wasn’t wrong, but how did he know? Were we that obvious?
We followed his directions and a few turns later, we found it. The simple tomb was at ground level. It looked like it had just been cleaned and polished. I recall the plaque on it with “James Douglas Morrison 1943-1971” and an inscription in Greek. (Note: The year was 1995. I didn’t have a cell phone with a camera, nor could I Google Translate that epitaph! However, I’ve since learned that the Greek epitaph says something like, “faithful to his own spirit.”)
My 35mm point and shoot camera had stopped working a week earlier and I was disappointed that I couldn’t take a picture. I suppose it was a good thing because I was able to be in the moment.
As I ran my fingers along one corner of the marble border, I recall wondering back then: Would Jim Morrison still be writing poetry and making music if he were alive today?
When I visited the park bench in Alameda recently, I sat and wondered the same thing!
Some things we’ll never know the answers to, but one thing is undeniable: Jim Morrison’s vocals along with that psychedelic four-and-a-half minute instrumental solo in “Light My Fire” is incredible!