|LOS ANGELES FREE PRESS
by John Carpenter - Summer 1968
John Carpenter was the music editor of the Los Angeles Free Press, a weekly underground paper distributed throughout Southern California. Like Jim, he was a big drinker, and this interview stretched over the course of a day, starting with a breakfast which included Bloody Marys, and ending in the Phone Booth, Jim's favorite topless bar. John took the transcript of the tape to Jim for approval. Jim added some clarification, and Pamela took a blue pencil to it, slashing out hundreds of paragraphs in which she felt Jim made an ass of himself. Jim's robust delight in life clearly comes through in the portions of the interview which survived her editing.
JC: How did the cover on Strange Days come about?
JM: I hated that cover on the first album. So I said, I don't want to be on this cover. Where is that? Put a chick on it or something. Let's have a dandelion or a design. The title, Strange Days came and everybody said yeah, 'cause that was where we were, what was happening. It was so right.
Originally, I wanted us in a room surrounded by about 30 dogs, but that was impossible 'cause we couldn't get the dogs and everybody was saying, What do you want dogs for? And I said that it was symbolic that it spelled God backwards. (Laughs) Finally we ended up leaving it up to the art director and the photographer. We wanted some real freaks though, and he came out with a typical sideshow thing. It looked European. It was better than having our fucking faces on it, though.
JC: What place do albums have as art forms to you?
JM: I believe they've replaced books. Really. Books and movies. They're better than movies, 'cause a movie you see once or twice, then later on television maybe. But a fucking album man, it's more influential than any art form going. Everybody digs them. They've got about 40 of them in their houses and some of them you listen to 50 times, like the Stones' albums or Dylan's.
You don't listen to the Beatles much anymore, but there are certain albums that just go on and on. You measure your progress mentally by your records, like when you were really young what you had then, Harry Belafonte, you know, Calypso, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley.
JC: You guys are only working weekends now, aren't you?
JM: No, not really. I think we work a lot. More than most people think. Like after the (Hollywood) Bowl we go to Texas, then Vancouver, Seattle, then jump to the East Coast, Montreal and blah, blah, blah. Take three weeks off in August for the film, then we go to Europe. Man, we work an awful lot!
JC: Do you still read a lot?
JM: No, not as much as I used to. I'm not as prolific a writer, either. Like when, a while ago, I was living in this abandoned office building, sleeping on the roof, you know the tale. (Laughs) And all of a sudden, I threw away all my notebooks that I'd been keeping since high school and these songs just kept coming to me. Something about the moon, I don't remember.
Well, I'd have to make up words as fast as I could in order to hold on to the melody - you know a lot of people don't know it, but I write a lot of the melodies too - later, all that would be left would be the words 'cause I couldn't hold on to them. The words were left in a sort of vague idea. In those days when I heard a song, I heard it as an entire performance. Taking place, you know with the audience, the band and the singer. Everything. It was kind of like a prediction of the future. It was all there.
JC: How did the ending of The End come about? Is the Whisky a Go-Go story true?
JM: I used to have this magic formula, like, to break into the subconscious. I would lay there and say over and over Fuck the mother, kill the father. Fuck the mother, kill the father. You can really get into your head just repeating that slogan over and over. Just saying it can be the thing...
That mantra can never become meaningless. It's too basic and can never become just words, 'cause as long as you're saying it, you can never be unconscious. That all came from up here.
JC: That really shook the Whisky audience up when you did it. Have you ever really gotten through to an audience like the first time you went over and got mobbed and all?
JM: Not like the thing that's in my mind. I think the day that thing happens it will be all over. The End. Where would you go from there? If everyone, even for a split second, became one. They could never come back. No, I don't think it could ever happen, not like it is in my head.
My audiences. . .They usually get pretty turned on. It's like saying at first you're the audience and we're up here and you're down there. Then all of a sudden there you are and you're right there just like us. . .it's out of sight. When they know "You're just like us," it breaks down all the barriers and I like that a lot.
JC: I've heard a lot of talk from friends in England and some of the groups from there, that a lot of hostility will be aimed your way when you go over there. You know, as America's super-sex group and all.
JM: Yeah?. . .hmmm, there's gonna be a bit of hostility, huh? That's a good prediction, yeah, a prediction of the future. There is going to be a little bit of hostility and if there isn't, I'm going to be a little bit disappointed. The more hostility, the better. (Laughs) Opposition is true friendship, ha!
(Knock on the door. It's the maid)
JM: Come on in, we're splitting anyway.
Maid: I'm ready if you are. (Waits) I'm ready if you are. . .I know you like a clean bed. (Leaves room to get cleaning materials.)
JM: I knew this was going to be good, but not that good. Let's split right after we hear what else she has to say. (Laughs)
MAID: Im ready for you if you're ready for me.
JM: Come here for a little peace and quiet and everyone keeps pushing me.
MAID: Is that right? (Laughs) Yeah, just keeps on doin' it. Well, I'm ready or you if you're ready for me. (Hums)
JM: Please, no singing, this is a holiday. I'm on holiday.
(In the elevator)
JC: Where were you living a year ago?
JM: A year ago? At the Tropicana. Yeah, I started that whole scene. Put it on the map. We used to have lots of fun there. Yeah, it's boisterous. Them (the band) was there, nice guys.
(In the street on the way to the Doors' office. Sunset to Santa Monica on foot.)
JM: Man, I really feel good.
JC: You had your album all ready to go and you went back into the studio to add some things, then I hear you left it alone.
JM: Yeah, we didn't do it. I was going to add some poetry where the little space is between the cuts. But who wants to listen to some cat talking? The music is what's happening. That's what they want to hear. Anybody can talk, but how many cats can play music and sing?
JC: It seems strange to walk in L.A.
JM: Yeah, doesn't it man! (Bike rider yells, honks, U-turns) Who was that. It's Babe.
Babe: Where you headed, the office? (Babe goes on ahead on his bike)
JM: He's a happy cat, you know? He's either a genius or really dumb, I haven't found out which. He sure knows how to have a good time. A happy cat.
Oh, there was this chick once, you know, at a concert. She came back stage and said that there was this person that wanted to meet me. She said it was her friend and she was deaf and dumb so I went through the number, you know, drawing pictures, sign language, and it turns out she was putting me on. (Laughs)
JC: I really dig L.A. in the summer. Winters are a drag, but summer's pretty nice.
JM: I really dig L.A. Really a lot.
(Topless bar. Babe joins us. Drinks are there.)
JM: (To Babe) Dig you, big drinker.
Babe: (Indicating a dancer) Can you imagine the babies that chick could have?
JM: That's bad for their tits when they dance topless. Ask any topless dancer. If they lose them it would be like losing your head. . .She doesn't work too hard. Just sort of stands there. . .Bless this house and all that are in it.
JM: (Pointing to new dancer) She's too satirical. She doesn't take anything seriously. I get the feeling that if you spent a lot of time in a place like this you'd corrupt your soul. Corrode it completely. But let's hold off that. Can you imagine bringing your secretary in here? ha!
(If I Were A Carpenter, by the Four Tops on the juke)
JM: If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway?
Babe: No. No. If you were a good natured prostitute I might, maybe. Everybody knows that prostitutes make the best wives, Henry Miller taught us that, right John?
JC: Henry who? (To Morrison) What do you think about what's been printed about you and the stuff you hear back all the time? Did you read the Post magazine thing?
JM: Yeah, I read it. You know, I knew she was going to do it that way. Journalists are people you know, and the chicks. . .she did a number, man. Yeah, if you don't really come on to them, they feel neglected, you know? She ended up doing a number. It was written good, though. You really felt like you were there. It lies a lot of times. I hear things back all the time that I'm supposed to have done.
Hey, Babe, you're gonna be a famous person one of these days and you should learn to hold your tongue. Especially in front of the press. How'd you like to wake up one day, and you've said something off the top of your head and have to read about it the next day, like that's supposed to be where you're at?
The mentality of the writer is like the 'psychology' of the voyeur. Journalists never seem to speak about themselves like other people do. They absorb like a sponge and never really discuss their own psyche. I think that. . .like. . .I think art, which is like beauty, is the revelation of beauty, beauty is an absolute, you dig? And I think it's rooted in a disinterested perception of the real world. Striking an evenness, a balance between object and receiver, like revealing the world with no connotation at all. None, no bullshit.
You know when you've done it, and if you haven't, you are still on the way. But me, if I get something really good, I'm gonna lay it out, do you dig? But a lot of it gets into that "He was standing there on the street step with his eyeball exposed." My perspective when people ask me questions is like I tell them where it's at over and over and over again. Me, me, me. . .But then, that's only part of it, part of the thing; not the whole answer.
There's a little more to it than that. Yeah, like I think that there is a sub-world in which everybody is sleeping. This whole other world that everybody's trying to forget, but which we remember, immediately everybody knows it. But people love the game. The Game. They really dig it and nobody is supposed to admit that it's a game. They won't. If they did, then they would ruin the game.
In the middle of the baseball game, like if someone ran out and said, "It's a game, man, just a fucking game, this is fucked. Are you kidding me? It's just a fucking game." Well, everybody would say "Wow, man, get that fucking clown out of here." They'd go home, eat a big meal, ball their old lady, and then be right there. He who laughs last, laughs his ass off.
Babe: Can you dig that? Do you know what he's saying? I think you're serious, I haven't been able to dig it completely yet, but it's there, I know it's there.
JM: It's weird. People in here, after the initial glimpse, just start going on their own trips, talking, eating, drinking. Do you know what it is? I bet that was the appeal of the brothel. Like the atmosphere, a place for conversation.
Man, this is the place I'd really like to work, only instead of business men, it would be business women, you know, just stopping by for a little drink before. . .I must say, she is my favorite. She's out of sight. . .I think it's a mistake to have their breasts exposed. An error in theatrics. They should be wearing some thin negligee. Mystery. . .
Babe: That's what turns me off to some of the hippie chicks. I guess I'm old fashioned enough to still want some femininity and expect a little mystery. But those chicks in Levis and scraggly hair really turn me off.
JM: I like chicks in Levis. My taste is like whoever approaches me, I think it's groovy.
JC: Sounds pretty exhausting.
Babe: You know what's a groovy word? Bellwether: leader of a mindless crowd. That's what you are, Jim, the leader of a mindless crowd.
JM: Babe, that's what I mean. You got to learn to curb your tongue. I can see what it will be like. John would say, "and then Babe said you know what you are Jim? The leader of a mindless crowd." If you print that, John, I won't kill you, I'll haunt you. They all have minds.
Maybe collectively. . .a crowd together really has no mind. Individually everybody does. They all have bitchin' minds. Like, I bet there's more philosophy in some 16 year old chick's mind than you ever dreamed of in your whole cigarette. Some of those letters to those fan magazines are really lonely and deep and open. Some of them are bullshit. I don't read many, but some that I've read really knocked me out. Really open, sincere. Anyway, you got to learn to hold your tongue. Can you remember that?
Babe: I'll remember that. I'll keep silent like deep water. Whenever I say anything from now on, it will be such a profundity that you guys will just fall out of your chairs.
Waitress: That will be $39.75
Copyright ©2002-2018 by John Carpenter/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net