An American in Paris
One thing that immediately struck me about Pere Lachaise is the amount of graffiti – I have visited many cemeteries over the years, and although people often leave flowers and little paper messages at many famous graves, it is very rare to find them defaced.
Definitely the most shocking was that of Jim Morrison, where the graffiti covers not only his monument, but all the neighbouring graves as well. Are the perpetrators not aware of the disrespect they are showing the other deceased and the distress this must cause their living loved ones?
James Douglas Morrison was born in Florida on December 8, 1943. A bright child, by the age of 15 he was identified as having an I.Q. of 149, and was an avid reader of the works of authors such as Nietzsche, Ginsburg, Joyce, Balzac, and the French Symbolists. He was also in the habit of sneaking out of his house at night to go to sleazy downtown bars to listen to blues musicians.
In the early sixties he moved to Los Angeles and studied at the film school at UCLA. During his spare time he would go to Venice Beach, where he began to experiment with drugs and met Ray Manzarek. Together they created The Doors, named after Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors Of Perception”.
Jim’s heady material and electric performances quickly gained them a loyal core of fans, and within six months they were regularly performing at Los Angeles’ most important rock club, Whisky a Go-Go. It was during this time that he met Pamela Courson, the woman whom he would refer to as his “soul mate”.
One night, in 1967, the president of Electra Records dropped in at the club and signed the band, on the spot, for ten thousand dollars. Their first album, “The Doors”, was released and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, and the single “Light My Fire” was a smash hit.
Their second album, “Strange Days”, consolidated their success, and they became myth makers, singing about sex, doom, revolution and death. Jim, a charismatic and dynamic performer, became every girl’s dream and every boy’s self image, and found his picture on the cover of practically all the teen magazines in America.
However, he was also becoming notorious for his drug taking and fast living and by the time The Doors’ third album ‘Waiting For The Sun’ came out, his popularity had begun to wane as his fans watched him become drunker and fatter.
In 1969, Jim was arrested after a concert in Miami for “lewd and lascivious behaviour” and this sparked a nationwide ban on the group, resulting in exclusion from 16 states. Their next two albums were not as well received as the earlier ones and by 1970 their future looked uncertain.
Disenchanted with fame, Morrison headed for Paris with Pamela, probably looking for sanctuary in the home town of Arthur Rimbaud, his most powerful literary influence. He hoped to find renewed inspiration to write fresh poetry, but unfortunately this goal was never achieved: he remained uninspired and became severely depressed.
The circumstances of his death have always been shrouded in mystery, but it has been alleged that it was indirectly caused by Pamela, who, probably doped up herself, allowed him to snort up a large quantity of heroin, which he believed to be cocaine. Having never previously used heroin, this sudden inhalation led him to hemorrhage internally which sent his body into a state of shock and caused the heart attack which killed him: his body was later found in the bathtub. He was just 27.
Jim was buried in Pere Lachaise, in the cheapest coffin available. Witnesses reported that the funeral was a miserable and piteous affair – the procedure of putting Jim in the ground reportedly took just 10 minutes, no priest or minister was present and no prayers were said. Agnes Varda said a few words, then everyone left in a hurry and never returned.
A few months later the cemetery officials erected a black shield inscribed with the strange French spelling of Jim’s last name: “Douglas Morisson, James 1943-1971”. This was stolen soon afterwards, as was another one erected in 1973. The grave then stayed unmarked until 1981 when a beautiful white bust, sculpted by a Yugoslavian fan, was erected. This bust was well loved until it started to be defaced by over-zealous fans – the nose was cut off and it became covered in paint and graffiti. Eventually, in 1988, it was stolen and for another 3 years the grave once again went unmarked.
Finally, Jim’s parents erected a stone monument bearing the ambiguous Greek “KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY”, which can be translated in a number of ways depending upon the context: “Against the devil himself”; “Against the devil within”.
Jim has now been dead for longer than he lived, and his grave is now almost a pilgrimage destination. What attracts so many people to spend entire days here in a manner that is not common at other dead rock stars’ graves?