The following excerpt is from Roadhouse Blues: Morrison, The Doors and Death Days of the Sixties By Bob Batchelornow available from Hamilcar’s publications.
“My Door Diary”
I clearly remember the moment I fell in love with Jim Morrison and The Doors.
In the summer of 1986, I was seventeen. I lived with my aunt and her family in a dilapidated caravan in a small group of six near my hometown. Since she and my uncle worked almost around the clock, they needed help around the house. I needed to escape from a less than satisfying life situation. One week they took their two daughters camping – probably the only vacation of the summer and certainly not paid for by their work. I doubt they have any benefit. My grandmother gave me some bags of food and some cash to, as she said, “make sure you don’t starve to death.”
My buddies Chris, Mersh, and BT already handed over money to a beer distributor in our small college town in western Pennsylvania, waiting to attack an unsuspecting student: “Will you buy us some beer, man? We’ll give you the rest. It always worked. . . and of course they rarely took money because they were in our place in the not so recent past.
Mersh, the fastest-talkative among our friends, persuaded a student to bring us a barrel, post a deposit, and sign a false name. I don’t remember the exact cost, but the rot we drank that night must have cost twenty bucks plus ten bail. Each of us also stole a jumble of liberated beers, half-empty bottles of whiskey, and stole vodka from various family members, refrigerators in the garage, and older siblings.
That first night we had quite a party, just the four of us and a handful of close friends. No big deal – calm and full of music, singing and the joy of being alive and alone. The next morning, as the sun was sinking below the horizon, I woke up on the couch on the screened-in porch to the familiar sound of “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors.
Slipping through the door, I saw BT standing over a keg – which had mysteriously moved from the fridge outside to now standing in an oversized keg in the middle of the living room – just as Morrison exclaimed that he had woken up to make himself a beer. At that moment, the sunlight pouring in through the windows, the majesty of no adults around, and the sight of one of my best friends pouring himself a beer at sunrise turned me on. I fell in love with The Doors immediately after just digging them for years.
Then (as now) Morrison personified idea rebellion and defying authority, so his appeal to young people – especially men – was about how to live this experience within the constraints of ubiquitous power. For my friends in the 1980s, life was kind of quasi-Footloose Living in a small, conservative town, putting Jim’s perceived hedonism on a pedestal, made us think we were rebels or radicals.
Constantly under pressure from teachers, coaches, and parents (baby boomers who came and went from view, willfully asserting their dominance, and sometimes disappearing altogether), we found the dark gods in The Door. We could imagine Morrison dying for our sins. He was brave where we were weak. By imitating him, we could be anything we wanted, if only for one night in a drunken haze.
Our high school was weird – you had to tell stories about almost everything, including musical heroes. As a result, you were forced to choose between the Beatles, Stones and The Doors and Led Zeppelin. No one was slipping between the teams – one or the other! If anything epitomizes the 80s more, these selections have been knocked down, drawn out fistfights. While I know that was a questionable position, I must admit that I am still not a huge fan of the Beatles – although I certainly understand their importance – and of course I like Zeppelin, but in a qualified way.
But more than thirty-five years later, I still love The Doors, even as that particular memory fades. I doubt BT remembers that morning or the still-cold drink he poured – I haven’t spoken to him since he kicked him out of PA in the early nineties, though I heard from his sister that he does well in the wilds of the Great American West. And I could write a whole book about the individual and collective lives of the people I have portrayed in this short story; as they have broken down and reassembled over the decades.
However, what still resounds is a bright, shining flash in a young life filled with heartache and genuine despair, which, years later, led to the book you are reading. There are countless people who have a connection to a band or performer, book, movie or TV show that has mysteriously changed them.
My love affair with The Doors and Jim Morrison never ended and instead plunged me deeper into trying to figure out who he was and what their music meant to an audience that must be in the hundreds of millions. I think a biographer or historian is often focused on a topic. The great writer Jerome Charyn, one of the greatest authors this nation has produced, once told me, “All my books are really about me.” Roadhouse blues fits Charyn’s sentiment.
I want to understand Morrison and The Doors because I want to decipher my own life and America written down through the ages. But how do you put into words something as big and complex as America, or even a single person? A writer will never truly understand what is in another person’s mind. Even if we spent a lifetime trying, we could never fully unravel their thoughts, no matter what level of deep conversation, analysis, and thinking that takes place. Even then, we only see the masks our subjects want to show or reveal.
My mental model of cultural history is that you take context and influences from every aspect of life to create the most complete portrait of a subject, person or thing. Separating assumptions or legends about life and then trying to add to the body of knowledge is a worthy – and often difficult – task that requires the synthesis of mountains of information. However, there are always gaps to be filled, and that requires questioning, inference, and investigation. To paraphrase my mentor Phillip Sipiora: you don’t need to look for answers, the power lies in analysis.
Objective Roadhouse blues is simple – explore how The Doors became The Doors, rethink their lasting impact on American and world culture, and assess how we traditionally thought about Jim Morrison versus how we might rethink that thinking based on new ideas and interpretations.
For example, there are a lot of funny moments with Morrison – his life was definitely NO all lost and dark or drugs and alcohol. Almost everyone who knew him and published their memoirs said that he loved to laugh and had a few clichéd (certainly not on PC) one-liners that drove him crazy every time he repeated them.
What few have fully grasped is the complexity of individual life. Here is a guy who is clearly relentlessly intellectually curious. He throws around ideas like a toy cat, but sometimes uses his wits to rethink and even manipulate those around him. Morrison has an intense and seemingly grounded worldview. These principles guide him. However, so does his growing addiction to alcohol.
Look at the lyrics, a huge collection of poems, other lyrics he’s written, interviews and performances. This is all in addition to the amazing music he and The Doors have created – completely unique to their era and the present day. No one else sounds like The Doors.
So Morrison lived on and became a creative force, but over time he wished it was in music rather than writing. He attacked fame but realized the cost of his true nature. Then arrests, pressure, addiction. Jim had a vision of what life could become and lived on a trajectory that led to a wicked end.
What I know for sure – because I’ve talked to many, many people about it – is that my love for The Doors and the ever-young Jim Morrison is not unique and will not end soon.
Stop it though. . . All right!