Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Jim Morrison Phenomenon

When I went to Paris in 1981, I got it into my head that I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave. I’m not sure why. It’s true that I loved the Doors’ music in the Sixties. “Light My Fire,” “Riders in the Storm,” “Break on through to the Other Side.”

Who didn’t love a band that got kicked off the radio for inciting kids to riot then? Jim, though—he always seemed to go one step too far. Did he really have to expose himself on stage, drink himself into oblivion, do every drug invented by mankind?

Not to mention write all those dreadful poems.

Anyway, my traveling companions, Pat and Joan, and I set out for Pere LaChaise Cemetery on the Metro. Looking for Jim, we passed but were not sidetracked by the graves most people came to see—Proust, Chopin, Balzac, Collette and Moliere, to name a few. It was a weird place, graves as far as you could see and family tombs that looked like tiny houses set in rows on winding paths so that it seemed like a neighborhood of the dead. We followed signs that said things like, “This Way to the Soul Kitchen,” “This Way to the Morrison Hotel,” or simply, “Jim”—with an arrow. More than one skeletal black cat crept across our path.

The grave—and everything around it—was a mess. Dead and dying flowers strewn on the ground. A smashed cross. Graffiti everywhere, including on adjoining graves. “Sex, drugs & love forever!” “Morta la Bourgeoisie.” “Bientot Jim.” “My only friend.” The usual names and initials people feel compelled to leave wherever they go.

Two women stood, heads bowed—one maybe twenty, the other fortyish. The younger carried a single red gladiola, which she propped against the monument. The older woman took her photo. Then I took their photo together.

“You know,” the younger woman said. “He’s not really dead.”

Just then a cemetery guard came into view, quite official in his uniform and cap, and walked toward us—we thought to chase us away. But, no. He wanted to chat.

“Bonjour,” he said, tamping his pipe. “You are American?”

Pat, Joan and I said, yes, we were.

He leaned toward us, his eyes bright. “Do you know the brand Zenith?” he asked.

Turned out he’d just bought a new Zenith radio and wanted reassurance that he’d made a good choice. The conversation went from there to the Germans in WWII to the relative merits of New York versus Paris (thoug it wasn’t clear whether he’d ever been to New York), to a Roman bath somewhere behind the Pantheon. When we left, he walked with us a ways, smoking and talking until disappeared, mid-sentence, down a wooded path.

That was weird.

But the weirdest thing of all was how, when I got home, it seemed Jim Morrison was everywhere. I’d turn on the radio, and a Doors song was playing. Walking through a tunnel under Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I saw Doors graffiti. I walked into a bar cluttered with pictures of Jim, picked up Newsweek and saw his name mentioned, passed a guy on the street who was wearing a Doors tee-shirt. I stepped on an elevator and heard “Riders on the Storm”—in muzak, for Christ’s sake!

Seriously. Jim was everywhere—and, in time, this birthed a fabulous epiphany, which I dubbed “The Jim Morrison Phenomenon.” Jim was always there. I just hadn’t noticed until the surreal experience at Pere LaChaise put him on my radar.

Over the years, this has happened with all sorts of things.

Which brings me to…Silly Bands.

Early last week I was somewhere, can’t remember where, and saw these flimsy little bight-colored rubber bracelets shaped like animals set on the counter with a sign that said, “$1.99.”

Each, I thought? Then promptly forgot about them.

Until I went to Heidi’s “Personal Best” program at school on Thursday morning, where her dad had a couple of bags of said bracelets to give her as a reward for being so smart. At which point, I noticed that most of the kids were wearing them. In fact, some had so many bracelets on that their arms were half-covered with them.

“Silly bands,” Heidi told me when I asked what they were. (In that duh-implied tone of voice reserved for completely clueless people.)

Suddenly, Silly Bands were everywhere. Just like Jim had been!

I swear, every kid at the Art Fair on Saturday and Sunday was wearing at least one. So when we realized that it was the kids who most wanted to play our groovy Writers’ Roulette game, we went out and supplemented the prizes with….Silly Bands.

We raked in the dough after that. No matter what they actually won—tee-shirts, notebooks, pens, buttons—most of them wanted a Silly Band. Fine with us. They stood, agonizing over which one to take. A red star, a purple dinosaur, a neon yellow duck, a blue boat, an orange car.

“What are those?” a lady asked.

“Oh, Silly Bands,” I said. “They’re all the rage.”

And felt like breaking into a wild rendition of “Hello, I Love You,” just to confuse her further.


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Leila said...

I like your Jim Morrison story. It reminds me a lot of the Baader Meinhof phenomenon, which is also an instance of syncronicity, where one learns an obscure piece of information then sees it again and again in other places. The term "Baader Meinhof" was coined by a reader of the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1986 when she read of the German urban guerilla group for the first time in one place, then read about them again in a completely different source. It has been known as Baader Meinhof phenomenon ever since. Its an interesting story about how language works too. Now you will be seeing "Baader Meinhof" EVERYWHERE!

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alcobaseta said...

I don't know what put the thought into my head to go googling "Jim Morrison images.." Yes I do. I had just seen a movie clip featuring that poster of "where yo' goin' Jimmee?" with chopped off outstretched arms in what I now realise was a prophetic crucifix pose. The movie was shot in the 80s and no doubt that poster was a common sight on bedroom walls of the time.
On hitting "enter" there appeared the very image I was looking for on the extreme top right of the page. Mousing over it I saw the words "..see Jim Morrison's grave. I'm not sure why."
Well I am.. sure why I clicked on it. It sounded like a very evocative story was about to unfold.
I have a stored image in my mind depicting Jim's last moments of this life in a Parisian bath "downloaded" from "the end" scene of Oliver Stone's movie. I know why he used to push things too far.. I don't have an audience of hundreds and thousands but I know well the sense of things being at their breaking point. That is exactly the time to stop but sometimes the evil "Hank" (anyone see "Me Myself and Irene?") steps in.
I wasn't quite expecting the twists and turns that followed when the guard showed up at graveside. Of course this is the reality of life.. you never do.. and maybe that is why I never read novels.
I came away from this novel story however thinking "that was a nice little read.." An American I have just met on the internet described an advertisement that I wrote for his motorcycle mirrors as breezy. "Very easy to read" I thought and the word "breezy" came to mind. Not bad for a blogger.. and then I read "award winning author Barbara Shoup.." well that might explain it.