Michael McClure Recalls an Old Friend
Originally published in Rolling Stone, Issue No. 88 August 5, 1971

“One of the finest, clearest spirits of our times”

Jim Morrison always wanted to be taken seriously as a literary artist. But despite the vision and intelligence behind the lines in The Lords and the New Creatures, published by Simon and Schuster, and in An American Prayer, published in a limited edition for friends, it seemed that only friends took him seriously.

Michael McClure, the poet, novelist and playwright (The Beard), became interested first in Morrison as a thinker, philosopher and poet. Later, his daughter would help him become a Doors fan as well. Last year, McClure and Morrison began work on a screenplay adaptation of McClure's novel The Adept, and they spent many days and nights together, working and drinking. In the parlor of his comfortable home on one of the upper veins of the Haight Ashbury, Michael McClure leafed through Jim Morrison's words and paid tribute, one poet to another.

"Modern circles of hell: Oswald (?) kills the President.

"Oswald enters taxi. Oswald stops at rooming house.

"Oswald leaves taxi. Oswald kills officer Tippitt.

"Oswald sheds jacket. Oswald is captured.

"He escaped into a movie house."

My concern is that Jim isn't forced into a movie house here at the end. Pam was Jim's editor. I saw the book in manuscript. There were a few poems eliminated before publication. I think most of the poems in Creatures are of equal weight. Some I like very much, particularly the ones that are pure image.

I haven't replayed the songs and listened to the lyrics. Jim was always making up songs in the studio, you know. They should have kept the tape machine running all the time. The musicians would be taking a break, and Jim would grab the mike and sing spontaneously, making up the words as he went along. And the tape machines would be off, and I'd think goddammit, what a waste. Oh, sure, they were serious songs. See, I've known a lot of people in rock, and of them all, Jim was the only person I knew who would sit at the table with you, eating and drinking, and break out into a song, like maybe a Frank Sinatra tune or an Elvis song, maybe something of his own. Or maybe he'd walk into a bar and sing. He was really a singer, Jim - he loved to sing. At concerts, he'd sing for four hours if they'd let him have the stage that long. The same way at your house or at a bar - he'd sing to entertain you or himself. In terms of singing, the man was like more of a singer than anybody else I've ever known. I mean, somebody who sings for his friends has really got it, there's no doubt about it.

The way I got to know Jim was this. I had read a magazine piece about him that interested me. He was discussing the concept of evil in a way that made me feel we shared some insights. So Mitchell Hamilburg, the literary agent, got us together while my play The Beard was playing in New York. Jim was, of course, interested in the theater, and Mitchell knew Jim because he knew Pam, so he introduced us at some bar in the Village and we started talking. Jim was kind of in an angry mood that night about I don't know what - angry, withdrawn - but I liked him right off and sat down and just started rapping with him and did most of the talking myself and felt whatever he was mad about at that moment wasn't any of my karma. It ended up with both of us talking together pretty freely.

Later, we met in L.A. pretty often to talk and drink together. Talking about poetry and drinking were our main connections. I've given up drinking recently. One of the things I felt responsible for was to tell Jim my position on that, so just before he died I'd written him a letter telling him that I'd quit. I think he would have quit, too, in time. I heard some rumors that he'd quit completely several times, others that he was swinging back and forth, but I think he was going to quit, no doubt about it. I think the kind of alcoholism that Jim had was physical, and the way you get rid of it is, you stop. Jim was an intelligent, a brilliant man, and he was obviously not going to go that physiologically addicted route. You see what happens with the American Indian - like, about 95 percent of them lack an enzyme in their liver that makes them physically addictive to alcohol. And there's a typical pattern of drinking that goes with that, and once you realize you're not hung up with some psychological problem, that you've got a physical debility, then you've got to quit. And Jim would've quit, if he hadn't already.
The pressures that caused him to drink? My God, I couldn't tell you about that, could I? I mean, you must've seen a lot of rock stars. As to whether Jim was aware of the seriousness of his addiction - I don't think he'd had time to think about it yet. I think it would call for precisely the kind of thing he did - taking off some time, going to Paris, taking a look at the situation.

Anyway, Jim and I talked poetry and drank in L.A. while The Beard was running there. He was interested in writing a play himself, and he liked mine. Then, a while later, I got a call from Elliott Kastner, a film producer based in London. His idea, which turned out to be unworkable, was to film The Beard with Jim playing the part of Billy the Kid. Jim was already in London, so I flew over. On the plane, I imagined that I saw Blake and Shelley floating through the air above the airport, and never having been to London before, it seemed only natural that they float in the air above the airport, so I landed and told Jim about that and we went out and started going to the Soho clubs, and it was quite a night. The bobbies busted us a couple of times for being drunk and disorderly.

Well, we went screaming through the streets. Finally, we decided to take a taxi up to the Lake Country, and that was when the bobbies busted us a second time, because I guess taking a taxi to the Lake Country is not done ordinarily. That's where Wordsworth and Keats had walked, and Jim and I decided to go and take a walk there ourselves. But we were too loud in the attempt...

Well, I woke up first the next morning, pretty hung over, and started poking around the apartment looking for something to read, and I found Jim's poetry manuscript. I sat down and read it and thought, holy smoke, this is fantastic, and I was just sort of like ragingly delighted to find such a beautiful first book of poetry. When Jim came down later, I told him what I thought, and we talked about it a bit, and he was interested in what to do with it. He wanted to be known as a poet, he didn't want to be. . .in other words. . .Jim was very serious about being a poet, and he didn't want to come in on top of being Jim-Morrison-the-big rock-singer . . .

Later, when the book had been published and the first copies arrived by mail in L.A., I found Jim in his room, crying. He was sitting there, holding the book, crying, and he said, "This is the first time I haven't been fucked." He said that a couple of times, and I guess he felt that that was the first time he'd come through as himself.... I think that any two people who know each other closely probably influence each other. If I influenced him, he influenced me as well. It's hard to have a friend whose work you like where there's not some kind of mutual feedback.
It's perfectly obvious in reading this book that Jim already had his own style and that he was already his own person. As to his potential for growth - well, he started out so good that I don't know how much better he could've gotten. He started off like a heavyweight. I liked the man, you see. My wife liked him, and we both liked Pam. We all grew very close. I liked Jim's complexity, his brilliance. I think he was one of the finest, clearest spirits of our times. His complexity - I mean, he could be a drunken sot, a kind of Keats, a rock and roll star who was so fucking famous it was unbelievable, and his private idol could be Fritz the Cat. Of course, if you're going to be a really fine free spirit, as Jim was, you're going to get busted. It's inverse ratio, there's some kind of law governing that. The crisis that Jim went through was the changeover from being a showman to being a real man, and he made it, I think.

There's that common image of Jim as an androgyne - you know, Jim Morrison the hermaphrodite, the male/female, slender, lovely creature. Well, goddammit, he had the constitution of a horse. As far as I know, he'd never had a cavity in any of his teeth, he was strong as hell, he had unlimited energy. By the same token, he didn't have any sense of stopping anything he'd started, or tapering off...I'll be very interested in finding out what the contributing factors of his death were.

Pam is probably the only person who knows. I learned of Jim's death from her. We kept crossing wires and trying to get calls through, but I'd more or less figured out what it was beforehand. I had a very strong hunch, and I told the guy I had lunch with that day I thought a friend of mine had probably just died. I'm not ascribing it to ESP or anything like that. It just sounded like it - a sudden call from France.

Pam would have to say whether she and Jim were married or not. As far as I'm concerned, terms like marriage are really bullshit. And whether. . .now Pam said they were, and I believe Pam because Jim never said they weren't. The fact is, she and Jim were living together before Jim started working at the Whisky. I remember Pam recalling the first time the Doors got a job. Jim came home with a check - I think it was for $17 - and they thought they'd hit the big time, went out, bought dinner, that kind of thing. . .

Well, I feel a sense of loss. Jim was a person who lived very intensely, so he was very happy and very unhappy from minute to minute. Just as they say love and hate go together, I would say life and death go together. I mean, accompanying a great awareness of death always goes a great sense of life. I know from talking to him that he never expected to live very long. He never said so directly, but I know those were his feelings. Still, he left something of himself with us in his poems and songs. Look at the first poem in Creatures. It's spectacular. I think of it as being a contemporary Shelley poem.

Snakeskin jacket
Indian eyes
Brilliant hair

He moves in disturbed
Nile Insect

Copyright 2002 by Michael McClure/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net

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Michael McClure Recalls and Old Friend