|The Message is Me
by Frank Lisciandro
Of all the many and wondrous things I could tell you about Jim, this means the most to me: he never told me a lie. I don't know of a single instance of him lying to any of his close friends. He was considerate and truthful with us and brutally truthful with himself.
He didn't have to lie because he didn't have anything to lose and he didn't have anything to hide. Not that he never fucked up. He did, and it was in the extreme, as only he could.
If for instance, he got drunk at a party and fell out of a window, he said so. No blame, no excuses, no sob stories, not even a promise to try to shape up. In fact, he would joke about it by putting on his mock serious voice and intoning:
'Well, I sure learned my lesson this time. No more getting drunk and hanging out of windows for me anymore, no siree, Bob!' What he meant was 'Don't expect me not to do this again.'
He was a direct, no bullshit dude and hated being lied to, conned or exploited. He didn't come on like an avenging angel when he discovered that the people he had extended trust to had deceived him. He just stopped trusting them. By the time he left for Paris in March of 1971, the friends he could depend on numbered less than ten.
Jim stopped extending the gift of trust to the members of the press. He claimed that most journalists, critics and reporters used him, so he was justified in using them. He manipulated interviews, and resorted to the most obvious distortions when answering direct questions. He told journalists that he considered the interview an art form, but that was Jim's way of saying that interviews offered him unlimited opportunities to create spontaneous prose poems, vivid slogans and astute aphorisms.
We were at the HWY office, our film production clubhouse, one typical smog-choked L.A. day, doing nothing more than shooting the breeze and deciding what movie would most effectively kill the dead hours of a late afternoon. The phone rang. It was Bill Siddons. 'Tell Jim that the reporter is here for the interview, and that he's been waiting for twenty minutes.'
Jim never knew the time and was usually late to all events and appointments. People took this to be yet another sign of bad manners, but it was just a matter of time sliding by and Jim being entranced by its elusiveness.
'Tell him we'll meet him at the Palms in five minutes.' Jim got ready to roll.
'You coming?' he asked me.
I didn't want to miss the fun, but I knew from experience that reporters resented having anyone else present at their little tete-a-tetes. They were usually jealous about sharing their captive, i.e. subject, with anyone except their Sony cassette recorder.
'Come on and have a drink at least. If the guy's uptight, you can split, or maybe we'll both split, and let him interview himself.'
The Palms was a local bar which sometimes served as Jim's official interview location. We spotted the reporter the minute he walked in. He looked distressed, uncomfortable, wary, and relieved to be inside, out of the bright Southern California sunlight. He was tall, pale and high-strung.
We introduced ourselves, and I went to the bar and brought back three bottles of Bohemia and glasses. The reporter (I'll call him Ted) had never had Mexican beer, but he tried it and liked it. I figured he couldn't be all bad.
Ted loaded a cassette into the tape recorder and slated the head of the tape with the date, time, place and subject of the interview. He asked for the spelling of my name. I told him I was not there to be interviewed and would merely be a passive observer, if that was ok with all parties. Ted said it was fine with him perhaps thinking my presence would make Jim more at ease. The Palms fit Jim like an old rocking chair on the porch fits grandpa. If he was any more at ease, he'd be asleep.
The interview started. After a few questions, I could see that Ted's article was going to be a psychological profile with literary side lines and heavy on the 'whys'. Very intellectual. Jim was going to have fun. Ted was going to have to listen to the tape about 150 times to absorb all of it.
The battle of wits was on. Jim answered the questions with deliberate care to choose the right word. He was composing the text in his head, editing it and then reciting it. There were a lot of great quotes. Ted plunged for deeper and deeper meaning. He wanted to solve, once and for all, the enigma of this rock ' n' roll poet.
In the early rounds, Ted led with a fast combination of Poe, Artaud and Rimbaud. Jim counterpunched with Breton, Burroughs and Blake. Ted jabbed with T.S. Eliot and Hemingway. Jim shot out a quick right with Carl Jung. Ted feinted with Blaise Cendars; Jim jabbed with John Lennon, catching Ted with his guard down. He fought back weakly with Zappa, but Jim pinned him to the ropes with John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke.
I went and got another round of Bohemias.
By the time I got back the tape was on side two and Ted was into incest, patricide, Oedipal yearnings and sex. Jim ignored all of it and suggested a game of pool.
Morrison was only a fair pool player, and I am below average, but Ted was the worst pool player west of the Rockies. A blind-folded fish could have sunk him. Still, he seemed to have lots of fun and he kept putting quarters in the slot. After six games of '8' ball and another two beers the interview resumed.
Jim was warmed up and at his very best. Words and phrases sparkled from his mouth and tingled when they touched the tape. Ted vibrated with unrestrained delight. It was going to be a terrific interview. His editor would love it. Jim provided a thousand great quotes:
'The sensual remorse of early rock'; 'The violent angels of change'; 'Music inflames temperament'; 'All art is essentially intercepted energy'; 'The Doors as Avatars of chaos'; 'Money beats soul every time.'
The words rolled out of Jim faster than Ted could interject questions. Soon two 60 minute cassettes were filled and we'd all had enough.
We took Ted back to the Doors office where Jim gave him a copy of 'The Lords'. Ted was so grateful that he momentarily lost his journalistic objectivity and confessed that he'd always disliked the Doors music because it was 'too dark and gloomy,' But he really loved Jim's lyrics. 'Illuminating' was the word he used. He left promising to send Jim a final draft of the article for approval and shaking his hand in eternal gratitude.
'Let's see what ol' Ted does with all that,' Jim said. 'Wanna bet he makes me look like a yo-yo?'
'A leather clad yo-yo with a sexy top spin and cunning lyrics,' I replied. Mexican beer makes me articulate.
'A yo-yo is a yo-yo is a yo-yo,' Jim declared.
The article came out about three months later. The 4500 words were given a prominent feature space in the magazine. It was a publicist's dream of free ink. Naturally, it was a complete downer to read. Ted had turned a pleasant afternoon of beer, pool and talk into a drunken brawl in a dive on the wild side of Hollywood. He characterized me as Jim's 'drinking buddy.' I thanked my sense of self - preservation that I never gave him my last name. The article tore Jim apart. Ted took quotes out of context, and used answers for questions never posed. It was a slick job of verbal assassination. Sure, the facts were there, but the truth was missing.
Jim was non-plussed. He pointed out how his key phrases adorned the pages in bold faced type.
'You were right,' I told him. 'They made you look like and amplified yo-yo.'
'At least he used most of the stuff I gave him.'
'You're not pissed off?' I was boiling mad.
'I expected it'
'But he cut you up.'
'So, what am I supposed to do? If I say no to interviews, they make up stuff, or try to interview my dog or read my garbage. No thanks. I'd rather give them a shot at me and land a few good punches myself.'
'You're weird, man. I'd want to kill that East Coast jerk if I was you.'
'Ultimately, I came out ahead, right? He quotes me and the quotes look good. It makes Elektra happy, it makes the band happy and we sell more records.
'He called you the bozo prince of pretentious rock.'
'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but. . .'
OK, OK, you're right. But I'd still like to punch him out.'
Copyright 2002 by Frank Lisciandro/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net