|Circus Magazine Interview
by Salli Stevenson - October 13, 1970
When I sit back and read the Circus Magazine article, I still remember what Jim sounded like when he answered my questions. At least I thought I did until I heard the CD. There were nuances and inflections that came back clearly that I had forgotten with the long stretch of time. What was not so clear, and where having the words in front of me helped, was what was said when all of us were talking. That's where it helps to have both the written word and the CD. I hope you are able to enjoy both of them.
~Salli Stevenson, September, 2003
I must add my hearty recommendation of hearing this interview as opposed to just reading it. While the transcribed interview is very enjoyable, listening to it taking place is a sheer delight. One gains so much more of a sense of who Jim was by the thoughtful, serious or playful way in which he participates. So enjoy the interview, and then do yourself a big favor and get it on disc.
Time: 4:00 pm / Place: Doors Office, Rear Patio
SALLI: Has your earliest visualization for your life, your career, your music, been in any way realized?
JIM: Could we start with something lighter?
SALLI: Sure ... Your latest album (Absolutely Live) has received some rather harsh criticism, not only because it was another live album among many released, but because of the lack of polish attributed to it by many critics. How did it come about and why the seeming lack of practice?
JIM: The "Live" album was condensed from about 24 hours of taped concerts that we did over approximately a year's period of time, starting with the Aquarius Theater in 1969, and we thought we might have one that night. We did two sets and we thought we had one then, but when we listened to it in the studio, we found that it didn't really add up to a very good album. It was a...a good evening, but on tape it didn't sound that good. So we recorded, oh, seven or eight other concerts and listened to all of it and cut it down and I think...a...that it is a fairly...a..true document of what the band sounds like on a fairly good night. It's not...it is not the best we can do, and it's certainly not the worst...a...It's a true document of an above average evening. I like that long one, The Celebration .... I think it's not a great version of that piece, but I'm glad we went ahead and put it out, because I doubt if we would have ever done it on a record otherwise.
SALLI: Why is that?
JIM: Well...it...it's a couple of years old and if we had done it...well, we tried to do it at the time we were doing Waiting For The Sun, and it wasn't a...it just didn't seem to make it in the studio, so we used one piece out of it, Not To Touch The Earth, and if we hadn't of put it on a live album, I think we would have just shelved it forever, so I'm glad that, even in the imperfect form, that it exists. I think it's better than if we'd never done it.
SALLI: Was there a lack of practice, before you did the album?
JIM: I think most of it sounds pretty... Yeah. Most of it's pretty professional. There are a few cuts that were done for the first time on stage, that we really hadn't worked with that much, that have flaws in them, but I don't think it's significant.
SALLI: Is there over-dubbing?
JIM: No, there's not. You work for days to get an instrumental track and then work hours to get a vocal. Of course, in a live thing, it's just that one shot.
SALLI: It's been said that you've been on a superstar, super-ego trip. Has this affected you, or your friends, our your relations with the band?
JIM: ....Well...I...a....obviously you don't really talk about those things with people. It's kind of hard to talk about, but I would say...a...I don't think it was that bad...and...a...I never really noticed it too much except for...a...a...when you read magazine articles, but living in a town like L.A....a...you don't notice that kind of thing. People are pretty...a...blaze about things like that.
SALLI: How do you feel about some of the magazine articles that came out. Calling you "Lizard King," and all that?
JIM: Oh, I liked it. I enjoyed it. I thought I was...a...I've always liked reptiles. I've always had a fondness for them. I mean we did evolve from reptiles and I'm...
SALLI: Did you ever have a pet snake?
SALLI: Oh, you missed something. They're really great.
JIM: I like lizards. Snakes...they're beautiful, but I can't really get too near them. They kind of make me nervous.
SALLI: There's nothing in them to make you nervous.
JIM: No...but they're beautiful...the colors. I used to see the universe as a mammoth peristaltic snake, and I used to see all the people and objects and landscapes as little pictures on the facets of their skins...scales...I think the peristaltic motion is...it's...it's a basic life movement. It's...let's see...swallowing, digestion, the rhythms of sexual intercourse are all...and even your basic unicellular structures have this same...
JIM:...Yeah...peristaltic is the best word I can think of to describe them.
SALLI: In view of your evolutionary background. Do you believe in any of the things that are going down right now, like reincarnation and karmic circles?
JIM: No, not really, but since I don't have anything to replace it with, I listen to everything. I don't say no.
SALLI: What is the philosophy that you live by, your primary belief, aside from evolving from snakes?
KURT: (Circus reporter from NY), What about the films you made at UCLA? They never show any of your films there. They show Ray's films. They show the one about the Japanese girl.
JIM: The only film I made there was a film that was questioning the film process itself, so it was a film about film. I had a lot of people watching the film in a room, and then I showed people watching television and then filled the whole screen up with things that were shot off television....A few people liked it and most people were indifferent to it. It didn't survive, because you see, you shoot a film...the film, and then the sound track is separate, and then it costs more money to havethe two, they call it "marrying" the two tracks together into one print, so you can show it in a theater, and it wasn't deemed worthy of being married together, so I never got a copy of it.
SALLI: How did you eventually evolve the whole idea for theatricality in rock? Did it just start to happen, or did you sit down and say we are going to be more theatrical than any other group?
JIM:...Well...initially...I didn't start out to be a member of a band. I wanted to make films, and um write plays, books, and so when I found myself in a band, I wanted to bring some of those ideas into it. We never really did too much of it though.
SALLI: What is your earliest visualization of yourself...the band?
JIM: I can't answer that, yet.
SALLI: Ok...Miami...what was your state of mind when you went into that?
Jim..........I think...I was just fed up with the image that had been created around me...which I sometimes consciously, most of the time unconsciously, cooperated with. It just...it got too much for me to really stomach and so I just put an end to it in one glorious evening.
SALLI: What is the end result of that going to be?
JIM: Well, I go back.....I had a trial of about six weeks. It was very interesting and the...a..felony rap was dismissed and I'm still stuck with two misdemeanors which could add up to about eight months in jail, but I maintain that I'm.........I'm admitting the charge of public profanity, but...a...I'm denying the exposure charge, and so we're going to appeal that for as...as long as it takes to get it dismissed.....It may take a year or two...I think it was more of a political than sexual scandal. I think they picked on the erotic aspect, because there would really have been no political charge they could have brought against me. It was too amorphous.
SALLI: Was there a subversion charge?
JIM: I think that really it was a life style that was on trial more than my specific incident. I guess that what it boiled down to was that I told the audience that they were a bunch of fucking idiots to be members of an audience...you know...what were they doing there anyway? The basic message was...realize that you're not really here to listen to a bunch of songs by some fairly good musicians. You're here for something else, and why not admit it and do something about it.
SALLI: Did you have a disinclination to perform, or a dissatisfaction...a..How do you explain what appears to be a decline in your musical inventiveness over the last year or so? When you first started out, you were the great revolutionary hope of America, and now the group seems to have mellowed....
JIM: I think that the music has gotten progessively better...tighter...and more professional...more interesting. I just think that people resent the fact that...three years ago, if you remember, there was a great renaissance of spirit and emotion and revolutionary sentiment. When things didn't change overnight, I think people resented the fact that we were just still around doing good music.
SALLI: Do you consider yourself more of a hero, or an idol? There was sequence in the film (NO TITLE MENTIONED) in which they describe idols as something human beings can't touch. Something they put on a pedestal. Marilyn Monroe. Something they can't really become. A hero, on the other hand, is someone that they can relate to, that they can touch, that they can become, that they can reach.
JIM: A hero is someone who rebels, or seems to rebel, against the facts of existence and seems to conquer them, but obviously that can work at moments. It can't be a lasting thing...but that's not saying that people shouldn't keep trying to rebel against the facts of existence...Who knows, someday we might conquer death....and disease and war...
SALLI: Whether you're a hero or an idol, in retrospect, what do you think of yourself as a human being in relation to yourself and to other people?
JIM: I think of myself as...a...as an intelligent...sensitive human being with the soul of a clown...which always forces me to blow it at the...a...most important moments.
SALLI: If you had the whole thing to do over, where would you go. What would you do? Would you become Jim Morrison of the Doors. Would you go into film? It's an idiotic question, because we can never do it over again, but what would you do?
JIM: I'm not denying that I've had a good time these last three or four years and...a...met a lot of interesting people and...a..seen a lot of things in a short space of time that I probably wouldn't have run into in 20 years of living. So I can't...I can't say that I regret it...If I
had it to do over again, I think I would have...a...a..gone more for the...a...quiet...a...
undemonstrative little artist plodding away in his own garden trip.
SALLI: What do you plan to do in the future?
JIM: Oh, I...
SALLI: As far as the band goes?
JIM: Well, we have another album to do. We're gonna...we start cutting it in a couple of weeks, rehearsing and starting to do that album and then...a well a...films have always fascinated me and I guess I'll get into that as quickly as I can, and...a...and...I have another book I want to write, so those are the...
SALLI: How is the book going?
JIM: The one I published? I don't know...a book of poems usually doesn't really...
SALLI: Gross to much.
JIM: Yeah. No. Books of poetry usually don't reach alot of people.
SALLI:....What is happening to music right now...I mean in regard to everything that has happened--in regard to what is happening with the deaths of Al Wilson and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, where do you feel music is going, and why do you think they're burning themselves out like this?
JIM: Well, I guess that great creative burst of energy that happened three or four years ago was...a...hard to sustain and, for the sensitive, I guess...a...they might be dissatisfied with anything except you know "the heights." When reality stops fulfilling their inner vision, I guess they get depressed, but that...that's not ..a why people die.
SALLI: What is your theory?
JIM: They...sometimes it could be an accident...
JIM: Sometimes it could be suicide...Sometimes it could be murder. There are a lot of ways people die...I don't really know.
SALLI: But it would be the immense drive that would perhaps, burn these people out, because of the...I can't even talk today...
RISA: (from New York) How do you think you'll die?
SALLI: What a morbid question.
JIM:...I hope at about the age of a hundred-and-twenty with a sense of humor and a nice comfortable bed. I wouldn't want anybody around. I'd just want to quietly drift off.
SALLI: Let's see your hand.
JIM: Which one...but I'm still holding out for...
SALLI: That's OK. You can put your hand down now.
JIM:...but I think science has a chance in our lifetime to conquer death. I think it's very possible and um...
SALLI: Well, if it did, what would happen to the spirit world?
JIM: Well, they'd just have to fend for themselves. Leave us poor immortals alone.
SALLI: What about the state of America? Where do you think that's going?
JIM: I can't decide whether to be a citizen of the world or to identify with a particular country, but I guess you really have no choice. I think that whatever happens, that America is the arena right now. It's the center of action even with...it will take strong, fluid people to survive in a climate like ours, but I'm sure people will do it.
SALLI: What is the climate, in your concept, right now...in your opinion?
JIM: I think for many people, especially...a...city dwellers, it's a state of constant total paranoia.
SALLI: I can see that, definitely. Is there any advice, just from your own experience, that you would like to give the people in order to be...fluid...in order to counteract what is happening..or counter the paranoia?
JIM: The problem is, as I understand it, paranoia is defined as an irrational fear, but what if the paranoia is real?...Then you just cope with it second by second.
SALLI: If you spend eight months in jail, Jim, what is going to happen to the group during that period of time?
JIM: You would have to ask them, but I would hope that they would...since all three of them are excellent musicians, I would hope that they would go on and...a...create an instrumental sound of their own that didn't depend on lyrics, which aren't really that necessary in music anyway.
SALLI: If the sentence comes up, is it definitely decided that you are going to be going back to jail, or will there be a fine, or what?
JIM: Well...I go back to court on October 30th. At that time, there will be a sentence directed. The maximum would be...a...eight months in jail and a fine; however...a...whatever the sentence would be even if it was...a...suspended and there was a probation of some kind, we would still go ahead and appeal the conviction.
SALLI: Which means you would not go to jail during that period.
JIM: You see the two misdemeanors I was convicted on, the one of public profanity...a..could be very easily done away with, because the Supreme Court has recently ruled that in a theatrical performance, and not just theatrical performances, but in most other situations, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression. That...that conviction would automatically be held unconstitutional. The...a...exposure charge, we're maintaining innocence and...a...since the prosecution didn't come up with any real proof...a...we'll just appeal it and then take it to a higher court. So I wouldn't go to jail immediately....I don't think.
SALLI: I would hope not.
JIM: Me, too.
KURT: Did you see the thing in Rolling Stone, where they had the re-print from some newspaper?
KURT: They had the testimony of some guy who said something about you making indecent exposure, and then they made a misprint and they had a recipe for some sauce.
JIM: Right. I saw that when I was down there.
KURT: That was really nice.
RISA: There was a thing in the Village Voice that was hysterical.
JIM: It was a very interesting trial. I've never seen the judicial system in action. The...a...the progress of a trial from the first day to the last, and I had to be there for every day--being the defendant--and it was fascinating. Very educational. I...I wouldn't have chosen to have gone through the experience, but...a while it was happening, all I could do was...
KURT: What was the Isle Of Wight. Was that right after that?
JIM:...That was during the trial. I flew over there.
KURT: All the English papers said you looked just exhausted.
SALLI: Well, a trial can be an exhausting thing.
JIM: Yeah. I flew over there from Miami. Arrived in London and drove over to a little airport, and we took a small plane to the Isle Of Wight, and then we drove right to...a...the...a...concert. By the time I went on, I don't think I'd slept in about 36 hours. So I wasn't really quite at my best.
SALLI: He was at his apex.
JIM: Yeah. I wasn't at my peak of physical perfection, you know. I don't think it would have mattered that much anyway. The performance probably would have been about the same anyway.
KURT: Was it a good performance, or were they just trying to be downright rotten?
JIM: No. No. Everyone was...a...sat there and listened and applauded like an audience is supposed to do....right?
KURT: No. I mean like Melody Maker and some of the others who were mildly negative.
SALLI: Oh, well. That's the press, and the press can be the [THE TAPE WOBBLED HERE] super shuck of all time.
JIM: Let's put it this way...a...we were not the highlight of the festivities, but we weren't shitty by any means.
KURT: I can just see the magazine cover., "We were shits, etc. says Morrison," It'll be the headline, or the caption. Well, she won't do that.
SALLI: I don't do the headlines, so whatever the headline is, don't blame me. In the...regarding the trial, how did you feel about the outcome and everything. I won't ask, "were you scared?' Anyone facing eight months of jail would be scared.
JIM: No. Actually, I was facing three years and eight months in jail, because the felony would have contained a much longer sentence, but I just didn't let myself think about it...what the outcome would be.
SALLI: Did you have any troubles or hassles with your lawyers, or the opposition, so to speak?
JIM: No, and I don't know...maybe I'll write the story of that trial someday.
SALLI: Make it a play?
JIM: A...ha..it wouldn't make a very amusing play, but it might be a good journalistic exercise...a..one thing that came out of it was that I had a chance to get out of L.A. for an extended period of time, for the first time in about five years. Florida's a beautiful place.
SALLI: Well, you came from there originally.
JIM: Yeah. I didn't live there very long.
SALLI: You lived in Washington, D.C.
JIM: Transient, pretty much all over the country, but it's a beautiful place of unpolluted, more or less...I mean the air and the water and all that...I even had a chance to go down to Nassau for awhile and I even learned how to scuba dive.
SALLI: What about the police? Are they nicer in Florida than they are here? Did they hassle you more there?
JIM: Police are different in every town and every country. I guess some of the greatest police, unless you get on the wrong side of them, are the English Bobbies. They seem to be...a...very civil, gentlemanly kind of cats.
SALLI: They don't say, "Hey! Get in there!" They say, "Would you step inside."
JIM: The cops in L.A. are a...a... different....different than in most towns. They are idealists and they're almost fanatical in believing the rightness of their cause...of their profession. They have a whole philosophy behind their tyranny. Whereas, in most places the police are doing a job, but in L.A. I've noticed a real sense of righteousness about what they're doing, which is kind of scary.
SALLI: Have you been hassled on the road before the Miami thing came up?
JIM: I was busted once in New Haven, CT., during a concert. Other than that. I haven't noticed it. But, when your travelling with a band, they usually give you...oh...I don't know...many people have had hassles...but we're a pretty sedate group...no dopers, or sex maniacs, or anything like that. So we haven't really run up against too much harassment.
SALLI: No dopers at all?
SALLI: Have any of you ever been involved?
JIM: Maybe in the younger days, but not these days.
RISA: How is your sister?
SALLI: I didn't know you had a sister.
JIM: Yeah. I do. I have a sister and a younger brother, also.
SALLI: How did your fame affect them, if at all? You know, people coming up to them and saying, "Oh, you're Jim's brother, or sister," Or do they just keep it quiet?
JIM: I don't think they cop to it, too often.
SALLI: That's something...I take it you don't want talk about it.
JIM: No. I don't mind, but there's not much to talk about it.
SALLI: Could we get back to the other question now? [MORRISON NODS.] Has your visualization matched the actual realization in your music and your life?
JIM: Yeah. I've been...why don't you repeat the question.
SALLI: Has your visualization for your music and your life become reality?
JIM: I'm afraid that would take a long volume of prose to really answer that with any degree of truth or candor, so I think you're just going to have to wait...
SALLI: No! No! No!
JIM:...until I get to work and write down what I really think about that. It's too deep. I wouldn't even want to give a short answer, because I mean that's the most interesting question of all......or vision, or whatever you call it. Then you inject into the bloodstream of reality and a lot of strange beasts are created. That's the question.
SALLI: When do you think you can get around to answering it?
JIM: Well, that's what I'm working on now...in between interviews and things--leave it on--I like interviews, because a lot of times an interview...it's similar to...a...answering questions on a witness stand...a...it's that strange area where you try and pin down something that happened in the past and try and honestly think about what you were thinking, what you were trying to do, and it's a crucial mental exercise, and an interview often will give you the chance to...a...confront your mind with questions which to me is what art is all about. It is a kind of self interview in which you pose yourself questions and try to come up with a reasonable answer. By the way, leave out all of those, "kind ofs." I hate to see those.
SALLI: All of those things.
JIM: Those space fillers. All it does is, if you couldn't think of an accurate answer, you just kind-of-you-know-what-I-mean.
KURT: Yeah but everybody does it.
JIM: I know, but you shouldn't. You should try...a...and...a like doctors, lawyers, scientists, good writers...usually you notice that their conversation is much less vague than you run up against with other people, you know. It may be full of obscurities of its own kind, but trying to be explicit...
JIM:...Accurate. To the point. No bull shit.
KURT: What do you think of groups like the Stooges, Alice Cooper?
JIM: I haven't heard them and I haven't...I've just read a few things about them, sounds great. I like people that shake other people up and kind of make them uncomfortable.
SALLI: Wasn't this what the press turned you into...somebody who was suppose to be an earth shaker...somebody who shook everybody up? But it was more the image, than the person up there performing.
JIM: Actually, I always liked all the things I read, you know. Of course, it was about me. Usually you are most interested in yourself and people you know. But a...they were...a...concentrating on my...a...a...a...progenitive organ too much and weren't paying attention to the fact that I was a...a...fairly healthy, young male specimen, who also had, other than your usual arms, and legs, and ribs, and thorax, and eyes, and nose, and all that, but a cerebellum. Your completely equipped human being with the head and there are other things too...I mean...
JIM: The full equipment.
SALLI: You'll have to forgive me. My head's not together today.
JIM: Me, too.
KURT: Does anyone have a match?
JIM: It's pretty today.
[WE'RE OFFERED DRINKS.]
KURT: No for me.
JIM: No matches. I'm sorry.
RISA: What do you think about love?
JIM: Well, love is one of the handful of devices we have to avoid the void, so to speak.
[NOISE FROM STAIRS AND REHEARSAL ROOM.]
The rest of the guys are getting back from....
RISA: Is there a meeting?
JIM: If there's a meeting, they'll call me. John got married Sunday and went to Baja.
SALLI: That's great for him, and good for his head.
JIM:...and his wife's too. It's good for her a...
KURT: It's probably good for both of them.
JIM: I mean it's a...
SALLI: If that's your bag, fine.
JIM: They had this beautiful ceremony down at the Garden Of Self Realization...outside. It was very nice. The next day, everyone split down to the tip of Baja for a week's vacation and they just got back and they want to have a meeting, and so I guess we're going to have to discuss the future. The group's at a critical point now, the crossroad in a way, but specifically we'll be talking about the new album we have to record in about a couple of weeks, so we'll probably be talking about that.
SALLI: Let's get back to what you were saying about interviews.
JIM: I enjoy them, sometimes, even...even learn a few things, plus I like the interview form. I think it's going to become an increasingly important art form. I guess it has antecedents in the confession box, and debating, and cross examination, and some of the Brechtian plays, because they reflect...
SALLI:...even some of Brecht's plays, if you really look at them, because they reflected a certain period of life and the confession of life?
KURT: The only thing that I can see is that to give an answer, you might say things that while you're giving the answer, you might change your mind. When you're saying something, sometimes, after you've said it, you realize that's not what you wanted to say.
JIM: I guess the thing I like about it...once you say something, you can't really retract it. It's too late. It's a very existential moment. Your's and Kurt's additions to the tape really should have a place in the interview, because then it's more like a dialogue and a conversation. It's less cut and dry. Interviewers usually delete...try and delete themselves, their own personal selves, from an interview and I don't think they should. It's something...more real, if it's a conversation.
SALLI: But that gives it a more subjective view.
JIM: I think that's why a live TV debate, or interview...I guess that's why the talk shows are so popular, is because it's right on the line. Everyone's watching, and you can't run back the tape and do it over. It's there. Whereas, in this kind of thing, with all the editing and all, it's not quite as...
SALLI: How do you feel about people writing plays about you?
JIM: I like those little, small theatres.
SALLI: Have you seen the play?
JIM: I'm going to see it tonight. Ask me after tonight.
Copyright 2002 by Salli Stevenson/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net. Used with permission.