Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic
Long before he growled “Light My Fire,” Jim Morrison probably had to learn how to start a campfire.
The Cub Scout uniform worn by the future Doors frontman back when he was growing up in California in the 1950s is part of a new exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. “Break on Through: The Lasting Legacy of the Doors” opens Friday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 7.
“I guess that will blow some people’s minds: My God — Jim Morrison was in the Cub Scouts!’ ” said Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
He’ll attend a members-only reception Thursday evening at the Rock Hall, along with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. Afterward, they’ll perform with their Riders on the Storm band at House of Blues.
Morrison died of heart failure in 1971.
“People have idolized Jim,” Manzarek said. “They think he is that singular Lizard King persona, period.
“But he was a human being. He was just like you and me, an all-American boy.”
Morrison’s father, George Morrison, was an admiral in the U.S. Navy. Before the Rock Hall opened in 1995, Jim Morrison’s parents donated many of his personal items to the museum, including a collection of his report cards.
Morrison “was by and large a really good student,” said Jim Henke, the Rock Hall’s chief curator. “He got mostly As and Bs. . . . It’s not the Jim Morrison you think of in black leather pants.”
The exhibit also features a poem titled “The Pony Express,” written by Morrison when he was 10, as well as his lyric manuscripts for such Doors favorites as “The Wasp,” “Summer’s Almost Gone” and “The Celebration of the Lizard King.”
No black leather pants, however. “We weren’t able to get those,” said Henke, author of a Morrison biography to be published later this year by Chronicle Books.
Morrison “appeals on all these different levels,” Henke said. “He was a serious poet whose poetry is taught in schools. He also was a rebel, a good-looking guy and a tragic figure who died young.”
One door closes, another opens.
In addition to the Morrison items (some displayed previously at the museum), the Rock Hall’s Doors retrospective has artifacts from the other band members and private collectors. These include amplifiers from a legendary 1968 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, stage costumes and the Vox organ Manzarek played on “Light My Fire,” the group’s 1967 No. 1 smash.
“The Vox organ fit in beautifully with the Doors’ music,” Manzarek said. “It was portable, too. At the time, guess who the roadies were — us! At the Whisky A Go-Go [the Los Angeles venue where the Doors got their start] and other gigs, before we could afford roadies, we moved our own equipment. This was a garage band, four guys hauling their own equipment around, playing their music.”
Morrison and Manzarek first crossed paths at the UCLA film school.
“After we graduated, Jim sang some songs to me on the beach,” Manzarek recalled. “I said, Those words are fabulous. I can make great music behind it. Let’s start a rock ‘n’ roll band.’
“Then Robby Krieger and [drummer] John Densmore joined the organization, and we were off and running.”
Doors hits such as “Hello, I Love You,” “Touch Me” and “Riders on the Storm” went on to become staples of the classic-rock canon. The Rock Hall inducted the band in 1993.
In recent years, the surviving Doors have fought in court over the group’s legacy. Densmore and the Morrison estate won an injunction in 2005 preventing Manzarek and Krieger from working together under the Doors’ name. The decision is under appeal.
Manzarek, 68, and Krieger, 61, had been billing themselves as “The Doors of the 21st Century.” They now do business under the Riders on the Storm moniker, with ex-Fuel singer Brett Scallions handling lead vocals. Call them what you will, but they still focus on Doors songs in concert.
“It’s a continuation of the Doors trip,” Manzarek said. “I only wish John Densmore was with us. But that’s his choice.
“These are the guys who played with Jim Morrison. They are live, onstage . . . only for a few more years. Then it’s all over, folks.”
Why only for a few more years?
“I’m going to be dead . . . and so is everybody in the audience!” Manzarek said.
“The future’s uncertain and the end is always near,” he added, quoting the Doors oldie “Roadhouse Blues.”
When the music’s over,
turn out the lights
Manzarek declined to go into detail about the Doors’ legal battles.
“I dropped out of law school to go to film school, OK?” he said. “People who want to preserve and enhance the legacy are harming the legacy by creating all this lawsuit turmoil. . . . Robby and I are just out there playing the music.”
Asked if he holds out any hope for jamming with Densmore again someday, Manzarek replied: “Oh, of course, yes — after the lawsuit is settled.”
The band members “had disagreements among themselves in the past which have prevented them from coming together,” said Doors manager Jeff Jampol. “If they get through those and if they settle their issues, then who knows what the future holds? Everybody is in love with the music. Everybody is proud of the legacy.”
Densmore, 62, could not be reached for comment. He is not expected to attend the opening party for the exhibit, although he did loan drums and other memorabilia to the Rock Hall.
Morrison, whose meteoric career was blurred at times by heavy drinking and drug abuse, had an infamous brush with the law in 1969, when he was arrested for exposing himself during a concert in Miami.
“While he had always been an intellectual rebel, he had always obeyed and respected authority,” Morrison’s father wrote in a two-page letter to the Florida Probation and Parole Commission, dated October 1970. It will be on view at the Rock Hall.
The admiral and his prodigal rock ‘n’ roll son didn’t keep in touch for years. They had a falling out after Morrison’s father advised Jim “to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I considered to be a complete lack of talent in this direction,” Morrison’s father stated in the letter.
He went on to write: “While I obviously am not a judge of modern music, I view his success with pride. Based on my knowledge of Jim through his 21st year, I firmly believe that his performance in Miami was a grave mistake and not in character. . . . Jim is fundamentally a responsible citizen.”
Nine months later, Jim Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathtub. He was 27.
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