Frank Lisciandro on Père Lachaise and Jim Morrison

Acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, writer and producer

Frank Lisciandro is a key figure in the history of The Doors. He worked as an editor on the Doors’ documentary, Feast of Friends, as a co-filmmaker on Jim Morrison’s film, HWY, and published three books:

Frank first met Jim Morrison in 1964 at the UCLA Film School. They subsequently became friends in 1967, and remained so until Jim’s death in 1971. As a photographer and intimate friend of Jim, Frank’s photographs are an unequalled visual portrait of Jim during those years.

For an in-depth discussion on Frank’s friendship with Jim, see this excellent interview by Steven P. Wheeler, The Calm Calculus Of Reason: A Conversation with Frank Lisciandro.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to ask Frank about his thoughts on Père Lachaise and why he thinks Jim continues to fascinate after so many years.

I have not been to Père Lachaise for more than 15 years. I lived near Paris for awhile in the early 90s, and I would visit the grave once or twice a month accompanying friends or visitors. On some days, the setting was quiet and almost reverent. At other times, especially in early July, the scene at the grave was a circus. The often-unsocial behavior did nothing to honor Jim; and it robbed others of their moment to honor him.

Jim’s poetry and music will live on. Every few years a new wave of young fans discovers the music of The Doors and the words of Jim Morrison. They immediately recognize that Jim had pertinent things to say about the issues confronting young people as they mature and seek a path through a wilderness of contradictions and rules.

Once the literary/academic world accepts that James Douglas Morrison was one of the most important writers of his time, his published works will gain renewed interest. Fans and the curious will continue to arrive at Père Lachaise for years to come to visit the poet they studied in class.

Jim Morrison was unique in American culture: a singer, songwriter, performer, poet, and keen observer of the process of vision and art. The world will continue to celebrate him and enjoy his works.

I look forward to returning to Père Lachaise. And I hope to exhibit—in Paris and/or somewhere in France—my photographs of Jim Morrison and The Doors again. It has been almost 20 years since my work was last shown in France. If there’s a gallery, museum or festival ready to host a showing of my images documenting the last three years of the performer/poet’s life, I’m ready to participate. Frank Lisciandro, October 24, 2012

Update

Serge Gainsbourg’s house

A vibrant street art homage

Serge Gainsbourg (1928–1991) was one of France’s most notable singer/songwriters. The façade of his house—5 bis, rue de Verneuil—remains a vibrant graffiti hot spot 21 years after his death. He lived in the house from 1969 until his death in 1991.

Gainsbourg is buried in Montparnasse cemetery.

Serge Gainsbourg’s house in Paris

What’s inside

In an exclusive interview by Lisa Robinson for Vanity Fair, Gainsbourg’s daughter, the singer and movie star Charlotte Gainsbourg, gives Vanity Fair an exclusive tour of his Left Bank home.

Sixteen years after Serge Gainsbourg’s death, his small, graffiti-covered Paris house is almost exactly as he left it—crammed with mementos of his poetic, nicotine-and-alcohol-fueled, sometimes scandalous life as France’s most adored singer-songwriter, lover of Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot, and friend to countless taxi drivers and policemen.” Vanity Fair, 2007

Serge Gainsbourg’s house in Paris, 2012

Photos of the interior:

For more photos of the façade:

Updates

In July 2013, the façade was repainted by artist Anthony Lemer:

September 2013

In September 2013, tours of the house were announced but were cancelled shortly after. Le Parisien and Le Figaro reported that Charlotte Gainsbourg, sole owner of the home where Gainsbourg lived from 1969 up to his death in 1991, has called off plans to allow tours of small groups of the house.

Charlotte had no comment. The report in Le Parisien states that the change of heart is possibly due to the poor health of the family friend, Jean-Pierre Prioul, who was going to lead the visits.

“Jim’s last walk” by Alain Ronay

Paris Match N°2187*

April 25, 1991

Forty-one years ago today on June 28, 1971, Jim Morrison, Pamela Courson, and their friend, Alain Ronay, took a day trip to Saint-Leu-d’Esserent, 55 km north of Paris, less than a week before Jim died on July 3.

Twenty years later, Alain Ronay published his story in the weekly French magazine, Paris Match. Included were two photos taken on June 28. These are the last known photos of Jim.

In the article, Ronay discusses his friendship with Jim and Pam and the events that transpired the evening Jim died. The publication of Ronay’s story coincided with the release of Oliver Stone’s movie, “The Doors”, and the 20th anniversary of Jim’s death.

SEE ALSO Last photos of Jim Morrison

I’ve known about this article for some time. You can read bits and pieces of it here and there on the internet. But I never saw it or read it in its entirety. I recently purchased a copy on eBay to finally see it with my own eyes. In case you haven’t seen it already, please find below scans of the article in its entirety.

Inexplicably, the photo credit for page 3 reads “…Morrison, vocals (standing, center), John Densmore, drummer (standing, left), Ray Manzarek, keyboards (seated, left), and Robby Krieger, guitar (seated, right)…” Huh. At least they spelled everybody’s name correctly. See Rock Threads: 1970 magazine photo-spread for more information on this photo.

SEE ALSO Le jour où Jim Morrison a fait une halte à l’auberge… (Le Parisien, 2006) (in French)


* April 25, 1991, 13 French francs, 1,047,000 copies

A dire situation for Père Lachaise

The following article is a translation of Chaque jour, des œuvres sont volées au Père-Lachaise. Callebaut, Corinne. Le Figaro. Web. 13 June 2012. Translated from French.

Every day, artwork is stolen from Père Lachaise

The cemetery, one of the most visited sites in Paris, has only 12 guards. Not enough to combat looting by funerary art enthusiasts.

Two angels fly out of Père Lachaise. This could be the beginning of a beautiful story if it weren’t based on two bronze cherubs belonging to a grave in the heart of one of the most prestigious Parisians cemeteries. For the last couple of years, the necropolis faces theft of funerary artwork of all shapes and sizes. In 2007, six noteworthy busts disappeared within a couple of days. “There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t see artwork disappear”, bemoans Régis Dufour Forrestier, president of the Association of Friends and Enthusiasts of Père Lachaise (APPL). “The most common are the medallions, marble plaques, stained glass, even flower stands, and then, all of a sudden, we notice an entire statue was removed!”

With 400 members, the APPL is one of the most invaluable allies of the cemetery curator, Martine Lecuyer. They inform her of significant disappearances, suspicious behavior and loosened bolts. “We have guards, mainly at the entrances and near famous graves, like Jim Morrison’s” explains Ms Lecuyer. “But it is physically impossible to cover the countless alleys in the cemetery. Furthermore, with the thousands of tourists that visit daily, the task is even more difficult. Some don’t hesitate to leave with ‘a small souvenir’ that they take from the graves.”

Thomas Couture, Division 4

Indeed, the largest nature reserve in Paris, and one the most visited sites in the capital for the famous people buried there, has only a maximum of 12 guards at its disposal. When in doubt, for vehicles in particular, the guards don’t have any other alternative but to call the police. For this reason, some thefts take place during the day. Like the life-size bronze statue of the dancer Serge Peretti that was literally ripped of its pedestal. “For this statue, it was easy to act rapidly because the family noticed it very soon”, continues Ms Lecuyer, “but most graves rarely have visitors, and some none at all, because the family has disappeared. We learn about disappearances too late. This makes administrative procedures difficult because legally, only the heirs can press charges.”

Serge Peretti’s grave 2012 © parismojo.fr
Serge Peretti’s grave 2012 © parismojo.fr

No inventory, no database

Moreover, when police investigate, then encounter another problem. “Without a database or photos of the artwork, our course of action is limited”, explains Bernard Bobrowska, police superintendent for the 20th arrondissement. “An inventory would give us the means to identify and find these objects on the market”.
And yet, it doesn’t exist.

In 2007, after a series of signifiant thefts, the Paris city government appointed a chief cultural heritage officer. “It should be my principle task”, agrees Guénola Groud, who holds this position. “But the cemetery has other urgent issues: saturation in terms of space, natural degradation, dilapidating graves. These are also priorities.”
It is also a sign of the times that keeps Père Lachaise alive.

[photo caption, top] Thomas Couture’s grave (above) is located on a main path in Père Lachaise. The two cherubs (below) disappeared last November.
[photo caption, right] Thomas Couture’s grave before the two cherubs were stolen.

Related articles

Update

April 13, 2015
TwLucyOnTheMoon tweeted yesterday that “Serge Peretti finally has a new statue, but the epitaph has disappeared!”.

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Multimedia concert “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds” by Melodic Vision

A journey through the history, mystery and music of Père Lachaise cemetery

Do you ever wonder what a concert in Père Lachaise would be like of music by musicians in Père Lachaise? I do. I like to wander around Père Lachaise listening to my Père Lachaise playlist on my iPod. But I frequently wonder how extraordinary it would be to experience the music collectively with a live concert.

Playing instruments is permitted in Parisian cemeteries by special permission, so why not a concert every June 21 for France’s annual Fête de la Musique for example? Who better to perform than Melodic Vision.

About Melodic Vision

Melodic Vision is a production company co-directed by two Boston-based artists that specialize in combining sound, imagery, and stories. Their productions include, but are not limited to, art films, museum installations, documentary shorts and a multimedia concert, entitled “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds: A journey through the history, mystery, and music of Père Lachaise cemetery”.

Curious to learn more about this production, I contacted co-directors, violist, Rebecca Strauss and photographer, Susan Wilson, who kindly replied to my questions.

Q&A with co-directors Rebecca Strauss and Susan Wilson

You both have fascinating backgrounds. How did a photographer and a violist come together to co-direct Melodic Vision?

Susan specializes in photographing musicians, and Rebecca hired her to photograph a group she was playing viola with, the New England String Ensemble. Within six months of that shoot, they were collaborating on projects that paired music with projected images. “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds” was the second of these projects.

“Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds”. What a great title.

Thanks. We thought so too!

When, and how, did the idea come about?

Susan had long been interested in the art and history of rural garden cemeteries, and had even written and illustrated a book about one in Boston.

These Boston area cemeteries had been inspired by Père Lachaise, so the two of them traveled to Paris to photograph, research, and experience the original. And Susan (and now Rebecca) is madly in love with Paris and France. Susan also speaks French and is a wonderful tour guide for Rebecca who doesn’t speak a word of French. (She speaks Spanish though.)

Could you tell me more about the multimedia aspect of the performance?

The slide show contains about 400 images, which are projected on a large screen above the musicians. They are all stills, which dissolve slowly from one to another. Most are just images, but several include explanatory captions, especially in the beginning of the program.

The order is roughly this: overview of Paris by day, with all the predictable landmarks, statues, foods, etc; enter Père Lachaise, and do a tour, learning about its history; then the section begins where we highlight brief stories, along with historic images and grave shots, of the musicians along with their music.

Lastly, the beauty of the place in general is shown, with other monuments, gardens, walkways, and a few quotes. People both laugh and cry in the course of the show. There is no narration behind the show—only the music played by the live musicians.

What musicians are featured in the performance? How did you make your selection?

The program includes music by Chopin, Rossini, Grappelli, Piaf…. Our selection was based on music that we could perform with a string quartet and flute quartet with flute. Some pieces we had to arrange and others were originally written for the combination of instruments we had.

Jim Morrison is one of the most well known musicians in Père Lachaise. Do you include music by The Doors? If yes, what song do you perform?

Yes, “Light My Fire”. We thought about including “When the Music’s Over”, but we felt we needed to represent many, many musicians and composers, so we had to eliminate it.

Who would you say are your favorites musicians in Père Lachaise?

Susan’s are Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. Rebecca’s are Lalo and Chopin. Violinist Julie McKenzie’s is Stéphane Grappelli. But we really do love them all!

What did you learn about the musicians in Père Lachaise that you didn’t know prior to this project?

So much that it’s impossible to relate it all. We were surprised to learn how many of them died so young, how many of them knew and inspired each other (especially in the 19th century), and that Maria Callas’ ashes were stolen, returned, then removed to be scattered in the sea.

The musicians

Julie McKenzie on violin, Rebecca Straus on second violin, Dimitar Petkov on viola, Suzanne Polk on cello, Lisa Hennessey on flute.

Melodic Visions, Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds, Rehearsal
Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds rehearsal

“All of these people are professional musicians who play with a variety of the finest ensembles and orchestras in Boston. We chose people who were friends, were excellent players, and who were in love with the project idea.” Melodic Visions

Feature image: Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City. All photos courtesy of Susan Wilson