As with nearly every Jim Morrison notebook to come up for sale, the original auction listing makes the unequivocal claim that these pages “were written over the few months in 1971 while Morrison was living in Paris prior to his untimely death on July 3rd.” However, this statement is entirely unfounded.
What do Jim Morrison, American sixties rock star, and Pussy Riot, 21st century Russian protest performers, have in common? Surprisingly, a lot. Both risked their personal freedom to make public statements about freedom, and both paid heavily for their gestures by being persecuted by the reigning authorities.
Let’s start with the outrageous acts of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock collective with about eleven rotating members. They were founded in August 2011, the day Vladimir Putin returned to presidential politics.
On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot went to Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior and staged a protest performance in front of the main altar. This was a Thursday, during the day, so there weren’t many people in the church. Their protest was directed at Orthodox Church leaders support for Vladimir Putin during his election campaign. Four members danced in front of the main altar reciting their “Punk Prayer”, “Mother of God, chase Putin away”. All this lasted less than a minute before they were stopped by security officials.
Later three members were arrested and charged with hate crimes against the Church, the very same Church that suffered persecution under Stalin, so the persecuted became the persecutors. Pussy Riot became a cause célèbre, with Amnesty International designating the arrested women prisoners of conscience. Music luminaries such as Madonna, Sting, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono took up their cause.
Two were later sentenced to two years in a penal colony, with the third getting a suspended sentence due to a legal technicality. Her lawyer pointed out that she was taken away by security before she got a chance to chant. Putin stated that the women had undermined the moral foundations of the nation and got what they deserved. He also won his bid for the presidency.
Rock’n’roll’s first on-stage arrest
Back to the sixties and Jim Morrison and the Doors. On December 9, 1967, in New Haven, Connecticut, Morrison became the first rock star to be arrested on stage. He began to tell the crowd a story that happened backstage before the concert, how he was making out with a girl and he was maced by a policeman who didn’t know who he was.
On stage the police didn’t like the attention and promptly arrested Morrison. He was charged with breach of peace, resisting arrest, and indecent or immoral exhibition. The police called it an indecent performance. All charges were eventually dropped, but this incident was a portent of things to come.
Under the influence
Living Theatre and loincloths
The week before the Doors debacle Morrison attended several performances in Los Angeles by the Living Theatre, an experimental group that still exists today. One of their aims was to attempt to dissolve the wall between them and the spectators. To do this they invited audience participation and often provoked them.
The night before Miami Morrison saw their piece, “Paradise Now”, notorious for a scene in which actors recited social taboos like, “I’m not allowed to smoke marijuana” and “I’m not allowed to take my clothes off” (see 3m50s in video below).
The distinction between actors and audience faded and much of the action took place in the aisles. At the end, the entire cast stripped down to loincloths, formed a human pyramid, and spelled out “A-N-A-R-C-H-I-S-M”.
That night officials cancelled the remainder of their engagement. This was too much even for Los Angeles. Evidently Morrison was greatly inspired and went on to use similar ideas and techniques the next night in Miami.
Miami, my ass
On March 1 ,1969, the Doors performed in Miami, Florida at the Dinner Key Auditorium (1), and what happened that night was not a normal rock concert by anyone’s standards. To begin with, the promoters cheated the band by taking out the seats and overselling the venue, so instead of 7,000 there were about 13,000 spectators packed into what became an oven. Jimbo arrived very late and drunk after having a fight with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, and missing several flights.
Miami, March 1, 1969, Dinner Key Auditorium
Miami, March 1, 1969, Dinner Key Auditorium
Miami, March 1, 1969, Dinner Key Auditorium
Drunk on stage, he invited the crowd to come up and “love his fucking ass”. In between half songs he called them a bunch of fucking idiots who like having their faces rubbed in shit.
At one moment, Morrison moved very close to Robby Krieger’s guitar and got down and watched him play. On the basis of this act he was later accused of simulating oral copulation.
He continued his tirade: “I want to see some action out there… no limits, no laws”. Somebody poured champagne on Jimbo, so he took off his shirt, saying, “Let’s see a little skin, let’s get naked”.
Then he went further, asking the crowd if they wanted to see “it”. He then danced around with his shirt in front of him, much like a bullfighter, saying, “I’m going to show it to you… Did ya see it, did ya see it”.
He was thrown off the sagging stage, now full of people, and led many in the crowd in a huge snakedance. Robby Krieger recalled that it looked like a scene from the movie “The Snake Pit”, where people were rushing around in endless waves.
The rest of the Doors escaped bodily injury as the stage partially collapsed. After the concert the floor was littered with beer cans, wine bottles and clothes, including bras and panties, showing much proof of audience participation. Some had heeded Morrison’s call for no limits.
Whether Jimbo actually exposed himself is still subject to much debate, but at the minimum he did succeed in creating a mass hallucination. Even through not one of the 150 photographs taken during the concert and submitted as evidence at his trial showed him exposing himself, Morrison was later charged with the felony of “lewd and lascivious behavior” and five other misdemeanors: Two counts of indecent exposure, two counts of public profanity, and one of public drunkenness.
The concert had lasted almost an hour, but it was to have a very lasting effect on the Doors and their career. A planned twenty concert tour was cancelled and many radio stations banned their music. One newspaper headline read, “The Doors are closed”. Some say that Miami cost the band almost a million dollars in lost revenue.
Morrison’s charges were reduced from a felony to all misdemeanors. He was found guilty of exposure and profanity and given the maximum fine of $500 and six months at hard labor in one of America’s most notorious prisons. His case was on appeal when he died mysteriously in Paris at age 27 (2).
Taboos become taboobs
Pussy Riot was greatly inspired by a Ukrainian Women’s political protest group called FEMEN, who, on December 9, 2011, demonstrated in Moscow in front of the same cathedral. This was just a few months before Pussy Riot’s ill-fated protest on February 21, 2012.
Now FEMEN is famous for demonstrating topless. They stated, “if we staged simple protests with banners, then our claims would not have been noticed”. They have been proven right. The internet and other media are full of their bare-breasted protests.
Strangely, most of the photos are altered to hide the nipples. Taboos become taboobs. Facebook initially blocked their page out of fears of pornography.
Femen France activists braved the papal crowd to protest against the homophobic policy of the Pope in Saint Peter’s square, Rome. (Source: Femen)
On August 17, 2012, following the conviction and sentencing of the two members of Pussy Riot in Moscow, a FEMEN member protested by using a chain saw to cut down a five-meter Christian cross in Kiev. The group was charged with hooliganism, and three days later the offending member felt compelled to leave the Ukraine for France and found a group there. Now FEMEN has groups in different countries around the world.
Game not over
Now Pussy Rioters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, age 23, and Maria Alyokhina, age 24, are serving their time behind bars, far from family and friends. They said they had no regrets and didn’t expect clemency.
Ms. Alyokhina stated during her closing statement at her so-called trial, “you can only take away my so-called freedom but nobody can take away my inner freedom”.
The most important kind of freedom is
to be what you really are.
Jim Morrison said, “the most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are… There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level… You can take away a man’s political freedom and you won’t hurt him unless you take away his freedom to feel”.
The freedom fight continues thanks to media. Millions of people around the world have seen various Pussy Riot videos on the net. The documentary, “Punk Prayer” has just been premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and the rights have been bought by the HBO Television Channel. The film opens with a quote by Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky:
Art is not a mirror to reflect the world,
but a hammer with which to shape it.
Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Posdorovklin said, “it’s not a film about Russia, it’s about all of us. It’s about the allowable limits of free expression… It’s about pushing the boundaries of allowable dissent, and when you cross that boundary, you get a very severe reaction.”
Many argue that it was the backlash of the Miami concert, the charges, subsequent trial and lack of public support that broke Morrison’s spirit. He was greatly disappointed that the press and public didn’t come to his defense. He told reporters outside the courtroom “the significant issue here is artistic freedom of expression”. Instead of public support, the Doors were banned from the airwaves and concert halls.
Morrison lived in the “land of the free” and Pussy Riot live in a “land of the oppressed”, but their treatment wasn’t much different. Both faced stiff reprisals for their actions. Both were charged and arrested days after the fact, after authorities had had time to think about their “crimes”.
Morrison was never affirmed or really understood for his Miami fiasco.
There was a difference in that Morrison’s performance was an artistic statement and Pussy Riot’s was politically motivated. Pussy Riot was criticized in Russia but embraced outside their country for their actions. Morrison was never affirmed or really understood for his Miami fiasco.
The band got more Stoned when Oliver Stone released his bio-pic, “The Doors”, in 1991. He chose March 1 as the official release date of the film in the United States, to coincide with the date of the infamous Miami concert.
Père Lachaise, rock is not dead
Because of the worldwide publicity generated by the film, thousands of Doors fans came to Paris, where Morrison is buried, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death on July 3, 1991.
Père Lachaise cemetery could not accommodate so many visitors, many of them stoned and drunk in homage, so they had to close. All day the crowd partied outside its historic walls.
No limits, no laws
I was there photographing. I remember one young girl dancing and shaking her long hair for fours, chanting repeatedly Morrison’s words from Miami, “you’re all a bunch of fucking slaves”.
Crowd outside the cemetery walls
Girl chanting “You’re all a bunch of fucking slaves”
Celebrants outside the cemetery walls
Police getting stoned
They tried to set the night on fire
Doors fans breaking on through to the inside
No limits, no laws
The whole day was orchestrated to Doors music and tear gas. The crowd sang, “break on through” as they battered the cemetery Doors with a metal barricade. They shouted “light my fire” when they tried to burn them. Morrison had sung, “try to set the night on fire” and they did just that. Some celebrants used a stolen car to finally break open the main gates.
They were repelled by security, police, and lots of tear gas. Twenty years after his death Morrison sparked a riot to Doors’ music. Much like Miami, the crowd wanted “no limits, no laws”. They wanted to see some action in there. They wanted inside Père Lachaise to “love his fucking ass”. The scene outside looked much like the aftermath of the Miami concert with glass and garbage everywhere.
Freedom and media
The themes that bind all of this together are freedom and media. Both Morrison and Pussy Riot used media to reach their public. Morrison said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind”. Pussy Riot understands the principal very well, posting their videos for world-wide distribution on YouTube.
The freedom man
Jim Morrison sang, “I was turning keys and setting people free… I am the freedom man”. Strangely, Doors music and Morrison’s poetry are not overtly about freedom, but seemingly more about sex and death.
Nothing about Flower Power and The Summer of Love here. Maybe it’s something in the life he led and his example of personal and creative freedom. He stated, “I want the freedom to try everything”.
I have met many Doors fans over the years who have told me that Jim Morrison helps them to feel free, that he somehow gives them the freedom to be or do what they want, to write poetry or paint, start a rock’n’roll band, or to take that new job.
The Croatian artist, Mladen Mikulin, who made the beautiful white bust that adorned Jim’s grave for seven years, said that he saw Morrison as a “torchbearer of freedom”.
Another example would be Monica from Poland. I met her last July 3, 2012, as she stared at Jim’s grave, clutching a copy of his poetry book, “Wilderness”. She told me that he had changed her life. Even though she found his music dark, there is something free in it that helps you to be free, change. She said she couldn’t really talk about it or put it into words.
Perhaps the best way to end is with Morrison’s own words. In a letter he wrote for an interview some months before he died, he signed off with :
I am not mad
I am interested
I received an incredible and unexpected email the other day from Lue Isaac informing me that her brother, Keith Keller, was briefly the guardian of Jim’s first gravestone in the late 90s. So it is with my sincerest thanks to Lue that I share with you this amazing story.
“My deceased brother, Keith Keller, who was a music producer in New Orleans at Chez Flames Recording, died of a broken heart after Katrina. For a couple of months, he briefly had possession of the original gravestone shown in one of the 1972 photos which Breeze Minnis sent to you.
As I understand it, the person who took it off of the grave in the early 70s was a friend of a friend, the identity of either of whom I do not know, which was my brother’s intention. The plaque had been left for a number of years with this mutual friend, who just kept it in storage, I guess.
New Orleans was evidently a spot both of these people occasionally frequented, so it was left at my brother’s studio so that the person who had pinched it originally could pick it up, which he evidently did after a couple of months. It was creepy and spooky having it in the studio, even by New Orleans standards. My brother died without revealing the identity of either person to me. Continue reading “Jim’s first gravestone surfaces briefly in New Orleans, ca. 1998”
Brian Minnis saw on the website that I was looking for past photos of Jim’s grave in an effort to complete the visual history. He reached out to me and kindly offered to scan and share his photos from February 1972. Here’s his story:
American solider Brian “Breeze” Minnis was stationed in Langendamm, Germany for 14 months in the early 70s with the German army at Clausewitz-Kaserne. In February 1972, Brian and a couple of army buddies “jumped on the train and took off across Europe”. He was 20 years old.
“We were in Paris for a visit to the Louvre and Pigalle. We knew Jim was interred there and, being big fans, we had to go to the grave. Thought it would be cool, and we liked him, so we would pay our respects.
I wondered why there wasn’t a better head stone. I thought it was junkie for a man of his means, but with the graffiti, and being 20, I thought it’s Jim, and it’s cool. Right up his alley. We were the only ones there at the time as I recall. His was the only grave of interest to us.
I really don’t remember how I learned about his death, but it had to be from the radio or newspaper. I was a soldier boy then.
I do remember, when we talked to this man at the cemetery, he knew right off the bat who we were looking for, even though we didn’t speak the same language. So that tells me Jim had lots of company then. So the old fellow gave us the paper, situation de sépulture, and off we went.” —Brian “Breeze” Minnis
Brian has been retired for two years and lives in Morrisonville, Illinois. He tries to enjoy every day as much as he can. He hasn’t been back to Paris since, but hopes to come back next spring or summer. And he’s got some great words to live by: “Remember life is short, break some rules”.