Anne Morrison Chewning is a guardian of some significant rock ‘n’ roll history, held in a highly-secure, climate-controlled vault in Los Angeles: The Jim Morrison Archive.
Her brother, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, died 50 years ago; he was just 27. But he left behind boxes filled with journals, poems and handwritten lyrics of what would become hit songs.
There’s Morrison’s passport and family photos, and a drawing he made of his younger sister when he was about 18.
Chewning has now put much of what she found in the vault into a nearly 600-page book: “The Collected Works of Jim Morrison” (Harper Design). Along with lyrics and journals, the book includes poetry by Morrison never before published.
Growing up, Morrison seemed destined to be a poet, which Chewning didn’t think was a good idea. “No!” she laughed. “Who thinks their brother can make it as a poet, you know?”
Morrison suddenly became famous in 1967 with The Doors’ first hit, “Light My Fire”:
It happened so fast Chewning didn’t even realize who she was hearing on the radio: “I got a package from my mom, it was just an album, an album cover. And I opened it up, and the front was my brother, front-and-center. And so, I knew then that he was Jim Morrison of The Doors.”
Correspondent John Blackstone asked, “How surprised were you?”
“Awestruck,” she said. “I mean, who would have guessed it?”
Morrison had just graduated from film school at UCLA when another graduate, keyboard player Ray Manzarek, invited him to form a band. (Manzarek.)
Blackstone met the two remaining members of The Doors, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, at Sunset Sound, the studio where they recorded their first album in 1966.
“So, ‘Light My Fire’ was recorded in here, in this room?” asked Blackstone.
“Yes, it was,” Krieger said.
“And it’s been downhill ever since!” laughed Densmore.
Well, not exactly. From the late ’60s to the early ’70s, The Doors released hit after hit. They sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You,” their second #1 hit:
In live performances, Morrison (usually dressed in leather pants) could be electrifying and unpredictable. He was arrested twice for his exploits on stage, including a conviction for indecent exposure during a concert in Miami.
“Alcohol came into the picture,” Densmore said.
Drugs, too. On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of the apartment where he was living in Paris. The official cause was heart failure, but there was no autopsy.
Blackstone asked, “Would The Doors have been The Doors without Jim Morrison?”
“No,” Krieger replied. “For one thing, he came up with the name! You know, he read a lot of poetry. Blake, who said, you know, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, then, you would see things as they really are, infinite.’ And Jim was the kind of guy who would know about that stuff. So, he came up with The Doors. Really? I thought it was a dumb name! I didn’t get it!”
“What kind of musician was Jim Morrison?”
“Well, he wasn’t really a musician; he was more of a word musician, magician,” Krieger said. “You know, he could plink on the piano a little bit. But those first songs he came up with, he actually heard them in his head. It was like a concert being played in his head.”
Densmore added, “He said to me that he thought of melodies to remember the words. So, that’s really a gift.”
Morrison wrote many of the band’s songs – but not “Light My Fire.” “That was my song,” Krieger said. “I wrote those words, most of ’em.”
Densmore said, “The poetry book should have, ‘Our love become a funeral pyre,’ which was the one line Jim added to Robby’s song.”
“Well, the other line he added was, ‘Try to set the night on fire,'” Krieger said. “Because at the end, I was just goin’, Come on, baby, light my fire. And he says, ‘Hey, let’s change it to Try and set the night on fire.‘”
“Nice!” Densmore said.
Turns out that was a line Morrison had written sometime earlier in a notebook as part of a poem. In fact, he wrote on everything. “Yeah, you know, envelopes and napkins – he’s the classic writer you read about, right?” said Chewning.
One of the pages she found seemed like a message from her brother, which inspired her: “Plan for book.”
“I thought, ‘He wanted to do it,'” Chewning said. “So, I guess we can do it, you know? So, that’s when we started.”
One thing fans will discover is, under the dust jacket, the cover is embossed with the name James Douglas Morrison. “Because Jim published a lot of his own things in that name,” Chewning said.
Blackstone asked, “Do you think Jim would have been happier, in some ways, being ‘James Douglas Morrison, poet,’ rather than ‘Jim Morrison, rock star’?”
“Well, sometimes – he spoke of it himself a couple ways. And he said maybe he wouldn’t have minded to have been just a poet in a garden, you know, in a little house. But then he also said, ‘The past few years, I’d never have met so many people and done so many things without being in the band.’ So, I think he was of two minds.”
In Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Morrison’s grave is in what’s known as the Poets’ Corner. Fifty years later, it remains a place of pilgrimage for fans.
Krieger said, “I thought after the last album, and then Jim passing away, I thought, ‘Nobody’s gonna care about The Doors two years from now. It’s all over.'”
“It’s like some psychedelic dream we had years ago; we’re still in it!” laughed Densmore.
BOOK & AUDIO EXCERPT:
For more info:
- “The Collected Works of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts and Lyrics” by Jim Morrison (Harper Design), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon and Indiebound
- The Doors (Official Website)
Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Carol Ross.