Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jim Morrison, Inspiration of My Youth, 40 Years Dead

When I was growing up in Saginaw, MI I essentially did all the normal things a kid would do. I went to Catholic school, I played lots of sports both in organized leagues (baseball, basketball, soccer, football, track) and on the streets and back alleys (hockey, rugby, badminton, etc). That was what I spent most of my time doing. All my heroes were from the world of sports - George Brett, Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, etc. That was my life.

But in junior high I found something else. I found The Doors, and that changed everything. Soon enough I was skulking the halls writing the lyrics of Jim Morrison on my books, listening intently. The Doors were my first musical obsession. They dominated my junior high and high school experiences. I spent hours reading his poetry, but also reading about him - if you caught me as a high school senior you would have found me able to answer virtually and trivia about Morrison - I devoured every detail of his life and work, of his history. I started dressing like him - black pants (because I couldn't find real leather), black t shirt, jean button down, wrap around sunglasses. Even his death was shrouded in the mythical - I spent many hours debating the various conspiracy theories after reading Danny Sugarmen's seminal No One Here Gets Out Alive.

Oliver Stone's controversial film The Doors was released my freshman year of high school, and the impact that film had on me was nuclear. Though the film was scrutinized by the critics, torn apart by the press, for me it was transitory. It was extremely important to me in terms of understanding and interacting with mythology and the mythical realm of rock and roll. While that may seem like hyperbole, that film represented an exemplary view of revolt, of the need for questioning the world around you, that rebel spirit that only seems to flame in youth. My brother LaPorte and I stayed up all night watching The Doors over and over, becoming fired to go out and take on the world. We would be so electrified by these repeated viewings that we would go out in the middle of the night, not really going anywhere, only understanding that we just needed to move.

His oft-critcized poetry was a revelation to me. When I was extremely ill my sophomore year of high school and was off to be in the hospital for weeks at a time, it was a copy of Morrison's The Lords and New Creatures given to me by my friend Bonnie Kahn that stayed on my bedside table. Somehow his words connected me to mystery of the world, the unexplored territories, that I imagined from my bed that kept me dreaming of when I might re-enter the world. But the larger, more important thing was that it kept me dreaming.

But there was another, more important influence Morrison had on me. This was in the pre-internet days, when the only way to to find influential art, music, film, or literature was through a friend, an older brother, a trusted source you might read in an old interview from Rolling Stone. And for me, Morrison was the king of references. He first connected me to finding Arthur Rimbaud's A Season In Hell, which I had to special order from the awful Mall bookstore that only had the NY Times Best Seller list generally. Finding Rimbaud literally changed my life in the most fundamental ways possible. This spark led me to Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine - all the French Symbolists, the group I would later make the focus of my undergraduate studies. It was like a domino effect - he branched me off to Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, all the existentialists. Then he pointed over to the Beats - Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs. It was like a whole world had suddenly opened before me, and invited me to enter and find this great artistic legacy that I am driven by to this day.

Eventually I grew past him. Since he acted as a catalyst for searching, for the endless eternal quest that the artist goes on, it was inevitable I suppose that I eventually move beyond his grasp. I found so much more in myself and in my own artistic spirit through his push. It was Morrison who opened these doors for me (no pun intended). It was Morrison who sent me off to Europe; it was Morrison who gave me the impetus to start writing poetry which led me to a degree in literature; it was Morrison who allowed me to make sense of so much darkness and brooding within me; it was Morrison who was the lightning rod who broke through (again, no pun intended) so much banality to show me that there was a larger world out there for me if I could only get there; it was Morrison who kicked the first dominoes over, that led to me finding my artistic voice, led me to see the world around me totally differently.

Thank you Jim Morrison, for being the inspiration of my youth. I would not be who I am today without your influence.

Side Note: it just occurred to me that from the time of Morrison's death to my discovery of him, is about the same amount of time between Kurt Cobain's death and today. This makes me feel so, so, so old that I cannot even believe it.