Memories of Morrison

by Jac Holzman

I dragged my tired tail off an American Airlines 707 in the late spring of 1966 to greet Los Angeles at 11:00 PM Pacific Time, 2:00 AM New York metabolism time, and dashed for the Whisky A Go-Go where Love was performing. Love was one of the great underground rock acts of L.A. - in fact, the only good unsigned act when I began foraging for new groups on behalf of Elektra in the mid 60s.

The Whisky A Go-Go was a dark and cavernous club, not unlike the black hole of Calcutta, but with a cover charge. Near the entrance to the stage stood Love's lead singer, Arthur Lee, who, being numero uno on the underground scene, was enjoying his celebrity by granting his imprimatur to a new group he found worthy. I had never heard of this group, but I stayed through Arthur's set and into the Doors'.

Morrison made no impression whatsoever. I was more drawn to the classical figurings of keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and was attracted to the leanness of the music. The lead singer seemed reclusive and tentative, as if preserving himself. There was nothing that tagged him as special, but there was a subtle invitation to 'play', if you were willing to do so on his terms. It was only later that I sensed Jim's 'game'. I was being tested to see if my interest was real or ephemeral. The Doors had been loosely signed to Columbia and then, after a string of broken promises, let go. It was a real downer.

Clearly, I chose to play, because I kept coming back every evening for the entire week, and on the fifth night, Morrison really moved out in front, and on The Alabama Song and The End it all came together - so much so that I immediately offered the group a contract and went through the agony of a summer trying to nurse them toward signing it, which did not occur until several months later.

My memories of Morrison are distinctly different from my memories of the band, because although on record they were totally integrated, in life they were really two entities - Ray Manzarek-Robby Krieger-John Densmore, and Jim Morrison, separate and apart.

Jim and I were never really close friends, but there was a fundamental trust between us. He sensed that I would serve him and the band best by not being a part of the entourage, by preserving my objectivity, and by being available as needed 'in the clutch.'

During the making of the famous first album I would come by the studio most every evening, after things had well settled in. The band was playing in the large open studio space of Sunset Sound, with Jim in an isolation booth to prevent voice leakage onto the instrumental tracks. It was a perfect metaphor.

By the standards of 1966 the sessions were expensive. I had signed the group for an advance of $5,000 - high in those days - and lavished almost another $5,000 in recording costs, but it was clear from what was happening musically, under the superlative guidance of Paul Rothchild and Bruce Botnick, that important music was being made. I slipped into that studio during the middle of The End, becoming totally caught up in that transcendent moment. As the song came to its end, and the final notes shimmered into silence, the tension in the control room was palpable. God forbid anybody knock over a mike stand or make a noise. We knew magic when it happened.

Morrison was extremely well read, thoughtful, funny, and an absolute devil. He is the only guy I ever knew who could hit a police car - drunk and without a driver's license - and get away with it. There was, in him, an inherent boyish innocence not unlike that of Andy Hardy, who hits a baseball through the Parish window and because of an inner glow is forgiven. And Jim's friends would forgive him most anything. His demons were so near the surface that to call Jim on behavior you would not tolerate in anyone else was to feel you were adding more pressure than he could handle.

I remember sitting with Jim in a bar near the Elektra studios just schmoozing about life and how he wanted to be remembered as a poet - how this rock 'n' roll thing had gotten far beyond his ability to control the public's perception of him. He was acutely uncomfortable, hiding behind unkempt hair, a thick beard and an excess of avoirdupois. With a mischievous snicker he talked about the great joy in life of being "out there - on the very edge", and suggested that to spend that evening trading drinks with Jim one-on-one might be an appropriate way for me to do some edge testing. Knowing Jim was trying to suck me into something that was only going to lead to trouble, I replied, "Jim, being on the edge is terrific. The trick is not to bleed."

Jim was different with everyone, as if he was somehow matching his psyche to yours. I have seen him range from beatific to horrific - smashing a studio IBM electric typewriter with an emergency fire axe, binging our office manager to tears, wondering what SHE had done to HIM - which was in fact nothing. Jim's anger seemed to come in fits, and once the explosion had occurred, a nervous calm took over. The great danger of Jim's anger was that you never knew if it was real, or whether he was putting it on. But you just didn't take those chances.

To get sucked into Jim's entourage, however, was to trade your turf for his, with both of you losers. Besides, I had seen an unsettling side of him. If you adored Jim, as did his lady Pam, he could and would put you down with heartless cruelty and withering sarcasm, toying with you like a cat toys with a ball of yarn. The same if you wanted something from him. He made you jump through hoops. Jim's gifts were his to give, but only on his terms.

At the conclusion of the sixth and final album under our agreement, Jim and I talked about re-signing. To re-sign the Doors, you addressed each of the constituencies discreetly - the lawyer, the manager, Jim and "the boys". Jim listened to my well reasoned argument, his face showing no emotion. And when I had finished, he said, "Jac, make your best offer, and we'll compare it to CBS's." For someone who had been so close to the group, to think that they were even entertaining leaving the label, although perhaps unrealistic, was excruciatingly painful. Jim said it all with a straight face, walked away, looked at me over his shoulder and gave me that smile. I still don't know whether he was teasing or serious. But we did sign the group for an extra album, which became L.A. Woman.

So many memories, escaping with Jim from the Long Island concert at which the Doors played with Simon and Garfunkel, crowds jostling the car and pounding on the windows, with Jim sitting in the back seat, unbelieving yet loving every minute.

Jim drunk and almost unable to come onstage at the Fillmore, getting into a fist fight with his manager and wildly swinging the heavy microphone stand - out of control and out of his world.

The famous "young lion" black and white photography session with Jim at his most feline, appearing to posture outrageously, and the camera capturing the essence and the depth of his sexuality. Two years later, when Jim was more bloated, someone looked at those pictures and asked, "Did he ever really look like that?" And the answer was "Yes, once for twenty minutes."

When all of the Rashomon aspects of the Doors are dissected ad nauseum, one powerful memory lingers and it is more in my heart than in my mind. On February 15, 1968, the doorbell rang in my Los Angeles home. It was the evening of my son Adam's tenth birthday. There was Jim, now a star, shifting uncertainly from foot to foot, clutching an erratically wrapped present for my musically inclined son. He came in, sat quietly with Adam, and showed him how to play the kalimba, an African thumb piano. They sat there for an hour, fully absorbed - two children in their own world.

Copyright 2002-2008 by Jac Holzman/

The life and times of Jim Morrison of the Doors, explored through original articles, exclusive interviews, special features, his creative influences and legacy, and other resources.
The life and times of Jim Morrison and the Doors explored thorugh articles of the era
Memories of Morrison