July 14, 2010

The theatrical life of When You're Strange is fading away. I've spent months talking about this film. Sometimes, when I least expect it, I get the strangest feeling that I've actually learned a few things on this crazy trip.

Jim's father was a career Navy officer who retired as an Admiral. The Morrison family moved frequently to different naval bases around the country.

Young Jim and his father

Jim's sister Anne told me me how she, Jim and their younger brother Andy took a navy shuttle bus into the base movie theater one night to watch a John Wayne movie. It was around 1955; Jim was maybe 12. At this time it was a requirement on military bases for audiences to stand while the National Anthem played. Jim, half in joke and half in patriotic fervor, stood and started singing at the top of his lungs. He was the only one singing and he sang the whole song.

Jim in highschool

I can see him doing this pretty clearly. I rode on those same military buses as a kid. My father was a Colonel in the Marine Corps. When I was 12, in 1965, I'd already moved 6 times.

The buses were driven by enlisted men in fatigues with really short hair. They'd been instructed to enforce complete silence. On the way to school the boys were seated on one side and the girls on the other. If a kid talked they were made to sit on the other side. The idea was that this would be humiliating, primarily for the boys, and would thereby prompt obedience. I can't remember a single instance where a girl showed anything more than annoyonce in being forced to cross the aisle.

In elementary school the same No Talking rule applied during lunch. Boys and girls were permitted to sit together in the lunchroom though very few did. So, the punishment for talking was having your lunch taken away.

Even at 9 years old I suspected there was something absurdly tyrannical about making a room full of kids eat in complete silence. Once, a small, timid girl cried out at a sudden crack of thunder. The teacher, a clumping, thick-legged woman immediately took her lunch away. The girl sat stricken, fighting back tears. As distraught as she was I knew she was also starving.

I got up, walked over and gave her half my sandwich. The teacher glared at me but did nothing.

An equally rigid set of rules existed at home.

My father's word was law. No one ever contradicted him. My mother, though sympathetic, bought into the chain of command and when push came to shove, which it frequently did, she always sided with the commander.

There was no television in the house. C's on report cards and other infractions brought punishment from my father, usually with the belt to his uniform trousers. One of the worst came after I let a screen door slam.

This kind of discipline is designed with a single purpose; to create absolute obedience. It is the essence of the military. Survival depends on orders being obeyed instantly. Any questioning or hesitation from an individual could result in death or defeat for the entire group.

Naval Order

But, for a child this kind of discipline can crush a soul. Questioning is the essence of Life. It is how we learn to see. It is how we determine our own thoughts, how we develop the personality that is totally particular, special and unique to ourselves.

The struggle against a parent inflicting this kind of discipline is really one of life and death. There is no middle ground. To buy into it even a little means keeping a part of yourself subjugated, voiceless and inferior.

To fight it means standing up in the face of it and declaring, "It is either you or me."

Apparently, this is exactly what Jim Morrison did. 

There is no evidence that Admiral Morrison included physical abuse in disciplining his children. Anne Morrison recalls her father with great fondness and affection.

 Jim on one of his father’s ships

But, Jim swung out of the family nucleus very early. He left home to go to college; first in Florida, then in California at UCLA. When he ran into Ray Manzarek a few months after graduating, he had no money, no job and was living on someone's roof a few blocks from Venice Beach.

He was essentially homeless.

A little more than a year later Jim, Ray, John Densmore and Robby Krieger released their first album as the Doors. Jim's separation from his family was already so entrenched they barely knew he was in a band. Andy found out the Doors had made a record only when a friend showed him the album and said one of the guys on the cover looked a little like his brother, Jim.

Although Jim later claimed he was only joking one wonders how Andy and the rest of the family reacted when they read the way he described them in the album's liner notes:

Bio information on 1st album

Jim took the name of the band from this line in a poem by William Blake. It not only shows what Morrison was reading as a teenager; it also gives a glimpse into what his mind was turning on to. 

Doors of perception

Blake is suggesting if we cleared all the obstacles in our vision we would see life as it is; an alternately fascinating and terrifying mystery. Some of the things that keep us from seeing are the institutions we've set up to provide meaning and order; massive social cornerstones like Government, School, Religion and Family.

Although well-intentioned, each of these can become oppressive; serving as walls against any real self-discovery or awareness. The goal is to see things as they are, not as other people tell us they are. This takes courage. It is not easy to see so openly, and so honestly. It is painful, frightening and in some cases it brings complete alienation.

Perhaps this is why the Doors music resonates so deeply with those who've never felt they belonged anywhere.

It is impossible to know what really went on inside the Morrison family but Jim's exit from it was permanent. Whatever he saw there pushed him out into the void with a vengeance. Home for him was someplace else entirely.

Marrison at the Singer Bowl

As maddening and frustrating as it was to his friends and bandmates, his only responsibility seemed to be total freedom. He plunged headfirst into chaos in every performance. And, having survived, the next night he seemed obligated to go even further.

Jim at the Singer Bowl

This commitment seems part of Morrison's DNA. His girlfriend Pam asked him why he exhausted himself at an early show when he knew he had another one to give in an hour. His response was genuine surprise, "Why not? I might not live to the next one."

Ray told me this story: shortly after that fateful meeting on the beach in Venice, Ray invited Jim to move in with him and his girlfriend, Dorothy. It all went pretty well for a while, with the two of them writing music, rehearsing and playing a few gigs. Then one day Ray looked at Jim's hair and suggested he get it cut.

Jim erupted, screaming at Ray, "Don't you ever tell me what to do!" Though they remained close friends Jim moved out, permanently.

The issue of hair in the military is intense. For the first 17 years of my life I had a crew-cut. It was barely tolerable in the early 60's but when the family moved to California in 1968 it was excruciating. My junior high school was in town, outside the Marine base. I was literally the only one in it with short hair. Kids used to walk up to me in the hall and laugh in my face. Every plea to my father to let me grow my hair was refused. In fact, punishment for my brother and me now started with a visit to the military barber who was instructed to shave our heads even closer.

The ban was finally lifted when I went away to college. I've never cut my hair short since.

But, not every child from a military family goes through this kind of trauma. It takes something more than haircuts and discipline.

Before the Doors made their first record Jim approached a wealthy friend of his father for a loan. The friend told Admiral Morrison of the request and asked his advice. In a letter recounting this event Jim's father writes:

Father’s letter

There is a lot of subtext in these few lines. I'm struck by both men's concern over the length of Jim's hair. But, even more significant is Admiral Morrison's insistence the friend turn Jim down. He was completely oblivious to Jim's gift. The gulf between them was so great he seemed to have no idea who his son was.

The myth of Family is a powerful one. It proclaims that family connections are sacred and should be maintained at all costs. We all buy into this; understandably. Who wants to be an orphan? But, I think sometimes the cost can be too high. I think sometimes maintaining family connections only perpetuates pain and disappointment.

Jim Morrison chose to cut himself loose from them. It could have been an act of supreme selfishness; a childish cry for attention. Or it could have been a statement: I will be what I am, not what you say I am.

In any case, it took balls.

That's one of the things I learned in making this film.

Hi Tom and Co.,
A little late, but wanted to say thank you, Tom, for this writing. And thanks to the commenters, too. We bear witness.
There is a beautiful novel called “Glimpses” by Lewis Shiner that deals with child abuse and the cathartic power of rock n roll. There is even a chapter on Jim, George (his dad), and The Doors. I have no stake in its success; I just thought someone may be interested.
And does anyone know where that first picture, of a very young Jim with his father George (“jim-and-father.jpg”), comes from? A book, a photo agency? It is an amazing image!
Love and Mercy,
Hey Nathan,
Thanks for writing. Yes, a little late but I don’t this subject has an expiration date.
Thanks for the tip on the Shiner book. I will check it out.
I also share your admiration for the commenters.
The photo may have come from Jim’s sister Ann. She and the Morrison estate put out a wonderful book full of photos, like a scrap book with things you could pull out and look at; like a copy of the famous letter written by Jim’s father to him telling him he couldn’t lend him any money because “he had no talent whatsoever…”
I don’t have the name of the book unfortunately.
Ann Onimuss
It’s these small, but really powerful life connections between your life and Jim’s life that add the “magic” and “understanding” to the film. There is a certain richness that comes from living and dealing with similar circumstances. Great blog post.
Warmest Regards,
Ms. Ann Onimuss 🙂
Hey Luke,
Thanks for writing. I get the sense immediately that you appreciated the film on much more than a surface level. Some of your observations are inspiring.
I especially appreciate your take on the anagram. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but now that you mention it, a whole new meaning comes through.
The film intensely emotional on many levels. Some get it, some don’t.
I’m glad you did.
I grew up with a father and family similar in many ways to Jim Morrison’s – not the ‘Great Santini’ type, rather the quiet controlling keep-abuse-a-secret type. I was 5 years old living a short drive from New Haven coliseum in 1967, and all I remember about the Doors back then was the feeling of fear that the hippie-generation brought up in my parents, and how I was supposed to be afraid of everyone who was a hippie – but I wasn’t afraid – I was curious.
The irony and paradox, that JM’s father was a commander on a navy ship off the coast of Viet Nam during the height and demise of JM’s artistic journey – I’m stunned. Stranger than fiction (or arguably paradise).
Strange also, what really hooked me on JM and the Doors was the version of “The End” in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” – the primal cry of core wounds coming out while in the military..
And finally, the film quoted JM’s father 10 years after his son died saying “My son had a unique genius, which he expressed without compromise.” For me, this summed up the gift hidden the father-wound that JM and his father were both working on, and unfortunately working on separately.
ps. I liked the simplicity of the anagram of “Jim Morrison” becoming “Mr Mojo Risin” – I can now hear his desperation and loneliness more clearly.
Hey Cliff,
Great to hear from you after all these years. Glad to hear you are still fighting the furies. I like Pat Conroy but all I can say is that the number my old man laid on me was infinitely more intense than anything I’ve read by Conroy. No disrepect intended. It’s just that the mental abuse deserves as much attention as the physical.
That’s why your Italian motto “sempre lotto” is a bit too close to me to the motto of the Marine Corps, “Sempre Fi,” which I think some have taken to mean It Takes A Big Man To Beat A Little Kid.
My best to you, Cliff.
Hey Kostis,
I read your comment at the beginning of the month and was really blown away by it. I’m sincerely sorry it has taken me this long to respond. I guess I’ll have to stop saying that pretty soon.
Your story about your experience in the Greek Army and the lights going out is sublime. You are a good writer. I suggest you keep doing it.
I’m glad you responded to the film. As far as the circus/animal imagery you mentioned: I think anyone who knows the Doors and their music will agree there is something very primal and Mythical about their music–both the sounds and the lyrics.
That’s why it was such an incredible high for me to be able to put images to some of their classic songs. “People Are Strange” has a sound that is completely unique to American rock music. I always felt there was something of the carnival in it. And, so I went into the archival footage and tried to find shots and images that touched this dark surreal quality.
It was amazingly exciting to do it. I’ve always felt the Doors music is extremely cinematic and pulling up these images was like writing a dream sequence. I wasn’t thinking specifically of Jim as an animal but I like the connection you made.
Certainly he was as unpredictable and spontaneous as a wild creature.
My best to you,
Hello Claire,
Un petit wassup de New York. Always a pleasure to hear from you. I think the Emmys came and went and we got nothing but that’s ok because I never expected to be even nominated.
I think I may be getting into more political things with these posts. Too much stoopit stuff goin’ on in this country right now.
My best to you,
claire Loiseau
Un petit bonjour de Paris…
I really love your writing.
Thanks for all these great posts.
Congrats for the Emmy!
Cliff Page
Tom your comments about Jim Morrison’s family and our own upbringings I find poignent. I remember how we used to discuss the difficulties of our common backgrounds. Getting out from undeer the ogre’s dark shadow is difficult. The childred of the Marines allways had it he worse. (I wonder if you have devloped a tast for the sardonic humor of Pat Conroy like myself.) Morrison did so and eclipsed his father’s renown to his own generation. In Vietnam, only Gen. Westmorlands name was known to the common soldier, but Jim Morrison and the Doors were know by all. It was music like his and others that really united us as Americans, kept us going,gave us meaning in our young lives.
You may also eclipse your father’s reputation in the world you have built. I hope that Steve can also do the same. I still have a fondness for you both. I don’t think at this stage in my life that I ever can, but I still fight the furies. As the Italian phrase goes, “sempre la lotta”. Join me on Facebook, where we can share art and ideas. Seems like yesterday you were just learning to shoot a camera. Cio fratello, and say hello to Steve.
Hi Tom,
After a long wait of nearly three years (is it that long?) since the making of a Doors documentary was announced at the Doors website, I finally got myself a copy of the film three days ago. I watched it 3 times ever since, one for every hot August night in Athens.
Needless to say, I loved every minute! It was a great effort on editing and story telling with a rewarding end, which was otherwise already known (…). Many thanks. The outtake scenes from HWY left me breathless with their stunning quality. It makes me wonder what Jim’s film would look like in cinema, had a clean, restored version been released in theatres. The wide angle shots at the brightly lit desert should look amazing inside a dark theatre. Same goes, of course, for “When You’re Strange” which I’m eagerly waiting to experience in a greek cinema. Any news whether this is happening, Tom? I’d appreciate it.
I won’t start analysing every scene that comes into mind, I’ll only mention a powerful minute, or so, that really impressed me. It’s the moment when after we’re shown shots of carnival and strange faces, a howling tiger appears on the screen and then moves on to Jim’s animal-like behaviour on stage. It was as if we were told that if the world appeared like a circus (a “soft parade”) to Jim, then he percieved himself as the dangerous, unpredictable animal of the show. The “beast caged in the heatr of a city” as he says on Celebration of The Lizard, his epic poem.
This post of yours reminded me the days when I felt like a “caged beast” while I was doing my 9-month military service, which is still mandatory for boys in Greece. It was a period that I got through with a thick skin, lots of humour, lots of sketching and writing and a book by Hank Bukowski to accompany me during lonely long hours of duty. I’ll post a short, Doors-related piece that I wrote when I was stationed at some obscure place near the borders with Turkey:
“Last night I was guarding the armoured vehicles and it was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve ever had, when a sudden, really heavy rain broke out, and it was so loud I couldn’t even hear what the other fellow guy was saying. Anyway, at one moment the lights go out and I call the supervising officer of the camp on the walkie talkie and tell him that the power went off at the west shed of armoured vehicles. He replied.. “er, which one is it, the one that says 1-2-3?”. I explained, then I lit a ciggie and started singing Riders On The Storm. It just felt beautiful, and I thought that most people have no idea where North, or South is.
May 3rd, 2008″
p.s. “When You’re Strange” will keep me good company for a few more nights. Living in Athens during the summer, you cannot help but feel like a beast caged in the heart of a monstrous city that eats you alive during the heat wave,
“but I never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town” : )
Stuart Henderson
Tom, I think you will find this interesting viewing…
About A Film Jim Worked on..
Hey Mark B,
A pleasure to read your comment. More than that; a real boost to see how much you got out of Box of Moonlight. You know, I worked on that script for years, adding, rewriting, tweaking, developing as many layers of ideas that I thought the piece could contain without collapsing.
To hear you quote some of those lines and ideas is really something. And to get the performances. That reading of “Look at that moon!” was entirely Sam Rockwell’s. I had no idea he was going to give it that passion. Actually, the night we shot there was a full moon.
And it’s crazy, because Sam had been preparing for the role for over 4 years. I’d given him the part and then spent all that time trying to raise the money. That’s why it is so amazing to me the freshness he (and the rest of the cast) brought to the film.
What kind of work gets you out to look at the moon down there? I’m trusting my highschool postal code class to assume NZ is New Zealand.
There is a book out there, floating in webspace, that I wrote about the making of the film. It’s called Notes From Overboard. There is some whacked but fact stuff in there you might get a kick out of.
I don’t know nothin’ bout the Oscars. Never have. Never will.
my best to you,
Rai Mechem
Yes, Mark & Elaine, we do all love Box of Moonlight, don’t we? And I agree with you, Mark, about Ratso Rizzo. I will never forgive the academy for giving the Oscar to John Wayne that year, clearly as a lifetime achievement award, when Hoffman clearly deserved it. Just like our Tom needs some noms from them too, doesn’t he?
Charlie M
Ha! This reminds me of a letter my older brother wrote to my dad while he was in college. (’69 or ’70) He said, “If I have to cut my hair, I’m not coming home!” 😀
Liked your comment Mark, especially this part: “No doubt everyone with a soul has a movie to which they always return and for me Box of Moonlight is that movie.”
And I completely agree, b/c it’s mine as well. That sums it up perfectly. It’s the movie that I always watch while curled up in a blanket, my ultimate comfort movie that somehow manages to restore my equilibrium some days. I was hooked in the first 5 minutes of seeing it, late one night on IFC by wild chance on a night I happened to stay awake.
Tom, as much headache as you faced for making it–the financing, musical score, film running out and someone having to drive to Nashville to get more, the craziness of shooting and being weather-dependent for several shots, Box of Moonlight is a beautiful gem that makes my heart smile.
Mark Bird
Hi Tom
I feel very privileged that you should make yourself available to your audience.. and encouraged that their/our comments spur you on to greater things.
I come by this blog by way of my “Fireblade” forum. In writing a tyre review Michelin’s claim that “the tread on their Power Pure resembled an angel” reminded me of you. Well actually it reminded me of the Jesus which appeared on the Billboard in Box of Moonlight. Also Al’s response to the hatchet-murdering preacher when asked if he had found Jesus.. (“why.. is he missing?”)
Anyway I couldn’t resist the opportunity to put in a plug for the most joyful movie I have ever watched.
No doubt everyone with a soul has a movie to which they always return and for me Box of Moonlight is that movie. Actually last night was the first full moon of what I sensed to me the beginnings of a new season here in NZ. Often I am out when all the “workers” are in bed. The sight of the full moon will remind me of the Kid and I will exclaim in Sam Rockwell’s exuberant tone “look at that moon!” and try to harness that joy for myself.
All the times I have watched Box of Moonlight, without even knowing who you are or what you look like I would just shake my head and marvel.”How does he know?” It is all so perfect, so pure, untouched and beautiful. Like Oliver Stone’s The Doors, and Fandango with Kevin Costner and Suzy Amis (Robards Nelson Bush) a forerunner to American Beauty.
The problem with Oscars is that they are awarded retrospectively.. like Dustin Hoffman being awarded one for Rainman but it was for Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy whom I cried my heart out. It takes time for the world to be readied for a new idea and so the Oscar goes to the person who got their timing right rather than the one who went furtherest towards setting the stage.. through their cleansing treatment of the doors of perception.
Anyway this by way of an acknowledgment I wanted to make ever since my eyes were opened.
Best regards
Mark B
PS “Where you goin’ Jimmy?” Just been reading your blog entry about military families, eating lunch in silence, and children taking a stand. Normally I would find that heart-breaking but looking at it through your eyes I see a manifesting of the infinite.. I’ll be buck.
Hey Tom,
I went to your “Films” tab to get the URL to send to someone who wanted to know about your films, and that’s when I noticed you’d updated the page. For those who haven’t gone there, go and take a read. Some great history/info behind each film. I greatly enjoyed reading through each one and finding out some things I didn’t know before.
As always, I love your honesty and willingness to share with us 🙂
Well, great relief fund name! 🙂
That idiotic, stupid, STUPID woman, or as my husband calls her, fucktard!! Ok please leave this sentence out, I had to express it but it’s not exactly “constructive criticism”, I know…
There´s an etching by Goya that comes to mind when considering some political figures and wacko pundits out there, “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. The whole quote is even more interesting, and can be found here:
Then there’s this, too. Watch out:
And have a great week everyone.
Hey Doug,
And finally I come to your comment; the last and yet the first posted.
Yes, I carefully agree with you that the military may have had some constructive impact on Jim. But, mainly I’d have to disagree.
I’m not knocking the military. But to soften this point misses the intent of my post.
The military mentality serves its members very well. It supports a group of devoted men and women whose survival depends on it. These people have agreed to put aside a certain part of themselves in order to help the Group function better. And they are to be commended for it, sincerely.
But, this adjustment is extremely unproductive to people outside the military system and mindset. Freedom of thought and expression cannot survive in that environment. Whatever Jim Morrison may have “learned” from his time under this influence is most certainly countered by his lifelong embrace of everything that was against it.
The two worlds do not go together. To live fully in either cancels the other out.
I believe firmly that Jim’s time “in service” propelled him as far away from it as it possibly could.
Hey Jeff,
Well, “really thoughtful” right back at you. I always enjoy reading your comments. You manage to find an interesting angle of clarity on things that is new to me.
You’re probably right about Jim never feeling at home anywhere. I meant it more that he didn’t feel at home at his family abode.
It is still pretty astounding to me that Jim’s father was so removed from his son’s interest; and the world’s interest in his son. It always seems to come back to that quote from Blake Jim imprinted on: “If the doors of perception were cleansed…”
Meaning no disrespect, but the Admiral’s doors were considerably in need of dusting.
The fact the film exists now on DVD is deeply reassuring. It at least makes me secure in knowing I don’t have to fight anymore to keep people from changing it.
Thanks, Jeff.
Hey Wayne,
As you can see I’m working my way up through the comments from the bottom. Which is too bad really because I was blown away by yours when you sent it in a few weeks ago.
I am deeply touched by the honesty in your words. If I helped inspire them then frankly, I feel good about it. I came from a family where nothing was ever spoken about; even the most horrific, blatantly destructive things. Somehow I came out of there with an addictive need to speak the truth and to hear it.
How inspiring to read your comment. How fucking crazy people are!! Why should anyone care what your hair looks like? Why is the first reaction from most people to anything that even remotely challenges their fragile mental-world-structure one of violence–either physical or emotional?
My sincere admiration, and congratulations to you for keeping your footsteps steady on the rocky path.
Hey Baron,
Thanks for the support on the Emmy nomination. I certainly didn’t see that one coming.
And I have no expectations there whatsoever. What really keeps inspiring me is reading comments from people from all over the world; Japan, Norway, Germany, Spain, France–from people who’ve seen the film on their own terms and responded to it.
Hey Don,
Thank you for taking the time to write such a meaningful, personal and informative comment. I would have responded sooner but I felt that I needed to just let the post sit and let people reveal their reactions. Yours speaks for itself and like Wayne’s, Jeff’s and several others, sustains several readings.
I think the fact that you as a teacher, one who connects with kids, vitalizes and is vitalized by them–and you are a committed Doors fan only just shows how deep the well of their connection is.
You can still be transformed by their music and not feel the need shoot a video of yourself getting drunk at Pere LaChaise.
My best to you,
Hey Chioke,
Great to hear from you. Again, sorry it took so long. I had to let this one settle for a while.
It was incredibly meaningful to see your response.
What the hell, right?
I hope all is well in your immensely productive world.
Hey Renata,
Great comment. No, that’s not my dad in the photo. That’s a still of Admiral Morrison from the film.
I’m glad you liked those two paragraphs. To me, Blake’s idea is the essence of what makes someone a citizen of the world. You leave nationality, family and religion behind and you say, what are the real connections between people? What is the most honest way to see what is really going on me?
How blind and closed-minded people have become. I have become a regular donor to Help Save The Mama Grizzlies By Feeding Them Sarah Palin relief fund.
Hey Rai,
(now I know those two words rhyme).
Yeah, I’m not going to cut my hair any time soon. I don’t believe though that the length of one’s hair has much to do with one’s evolution as a human being. I’ve encountered just as many jerks with long hair as I have with short.
For me, it’s just a way of reminding myself that I was able to at least take a few steps away from that unchosen environment I came out of.
Hey Janet,
Sorry it took me so long to get back. Don’t worry about anything you’ve written here. Clearly you were moved by something and all the champagne slushy did was give it a little nudge.
It sure is interesting to see how many people have such complex relationships with their fathers.
And I’m constantly stunned by all the unspoken stuff. It’s crazy to me that so much never gets talked about between family members. Like the world has some universal Emotion Numbing Device that clicks on when something deeply personal and troubling arises. God forbid, family members should talk about what’s really going on.
I’m glad you liked the post. I enjoyed reading BOTH your comments.
Hey Elaine,
I agree. I think Wayne’s adjustment to how he deals with people’s narrow-mindedness is pretty profound.
I’m constantly amazed and deeply impressed by the tiny acts of kindness and connection human beings give to each other. It doesn’t happen all the time and when it does it is very powerful.
It is an astounding reminder that not everybody wants something from you.
Very interesting to read of your encounters with military men. Certainly, not all members of the military are control freaks. But, yeah; dealing with that knee-jerk expectation from you must have been tough.
Like Les Galantine said, “Equal, right?! Everybody’s equal.”
Except women, according to the Pope.
I greatly appreciate your revelations here.
Hey Martin,
Thanks for those great photos. Wow, they really blew the poster up huge. But they should have chopped down that tree blocking Jim’s face.
Just kidding. Seriously, it is great to see how the film is being presented in Germany. I really hope people get to see it.
Hey Sam,
The simplicity and clarity of your comment touches me deeply. I thought about this blog for quite a while. It has taken a while to come back to it.
Remember: Jon Voigt–“Whatever don’t kill me only makes me strongah.”
Hey Gio,
Thanks so much for writing. I’m really glad you liked the film. I love the comparison to the Sex Pistols in San Antonio. People tend to forget that all this music used to be performed LIVE, with no lip syncing, no computers. I deeply envy those who got to see the Doors live. Everyone I spoke to who had said it was an amazing experience, even when Morrison was less than cogent.
When does the film open in Japan? Are there a lot of Doors fans there? Please feel free to write in again and let everyone know what is happening over there.
Very best,
Hi Tom,
Saw the film in Tokyo today at a screening — wow, well done.
Loved that bit at the beginning where JM is hearing of his own death on the car radio and you flash back through a flurry of images of the band … I thought you captured the chaos of some of the concerts quite well too. (Right up there with that Sex Pistols show in San Antonio from “D.O.A.”…)
Anyway, it seems (from earlier blogs) you got a tough ride from some critics. Just letting you know my review for The Japan Times will be a very positive one.
Stuart Henderson
Tom, I think that you would enjoy reading this issue of Classic Rock…
Take a look…
Wow Tom, that post touched me deeply. If making the film only led up to writing something like that for and nothing else it would still be all worth it.
Thank you.
Hi Tom DiCillo!
I fotographed “When you’re strange” at Berlins Delphi-Cinema today, thought to share, because the poster is handmade.
Beautiful Greetings,
Wayne, I loved your comment, particularly this part: when you have been intimidated or harangued for doing nothing more than being yourself, you tend to be good to others, as if not to pass on the negative vibes to those around you.
Tom, I was thinking about that notion and it struck me that, while consciously or not, you added that theme into Box of Moonlight and Delirious. Human beings who ordinarily wouldn’t connect do so, and reach out to help each other even if it’s outside their comfort zone. (BOM) In the case of Delirious, human beings reach out to help the other, even though the other might be a despised icon by default (paparazzi). But we see a glimpse of how damaged Les’s home life was, and even though he grumbles a bit in the beginning, he reaches out to help Toby when he needs a place to stay.
I like that. So in some ways, even the worst of circumstances can lead to creating something very human, which we can connect to.
Again, great post.
Janet Erwin
Good grief, how embarrassing. I think I set out to talk about my own military father and his strict discipline–and how it was probably in some ways a good thing he didn’t live to see his youngest child (and only son) turn into a long-haired, dope-smoking, anti-war hippie freak in the late 60s instead of piloting jet fighters in Vietnam (Dad died in July 1966) but I seem to have wandered into the tall weeds almost immediately and never got back out.
Moral: just because one’s drinking champagne over crushed ice does NOT mean it can be guzzled as if it were soda, even–or maybe especially–when it’s 100 degrees out and too humid for the %$# swamp cooler to work properly.
Boy, did I have a headache this morning…
Anyway, great post, Tom, and feel free to delete yesterday’s drunken ramble, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything, let alone the topic at hand.
Rai Mechem
“The ban was finally lifted when I went away to college. I’ve never cut my hair short since.”
And for that, I am thankful. You make a much better writer & director than a member of Up With People.
Great post. Is that your dad in the third picture?
In a way we all have to “kill” our parents, metaphorically speaking, to fully become ourselves. Their influence and power on us is by nature so overbearing that a defiant, even violent, rupture is often necessary to break free. Jim Morrison said his family was dead out of a desire to protect them, I believe, but also maybe to give himself the distance and freedom he needed in order to become his true self. This rejection of what they are and represent is of course hard on the parents. The choice of words Admiral Morrison made for Jim’s epitaph (“true to his own spirit”) was very moving because it indicates that he at some point accepted and took pride in the fact that his son had had the inner strength to follow his own path. I think most good parents do that eventually, they come to terms with their childrens choices and even become very proud of them (though they may not express it).
The two paragraphs you wrote below the “Infinite” picture are fantastic material for reflection. I happen to agree completely with what you wrote there, but it’s not something very present in my mind usually. I wonder if we keep, or are kept, so busy with bs in our lives so that we can’t or don’t have to face thoughts like those, which ideally should be much more present in our consciousness and actions. I also agree with you that The Doors music resonates with those who never felt they belonged anywhere. Besides any background or personality features that may make us feel strange, in a philosophical sense this is a feeling inherent to the human condition (Where do I come from after all? What the hell I am doing here??), but most people don’t like to face or think about it much. This is something else Jim Morrison was not afraid to do, to seriously consider and face life and death and all the frightening stuff involved in them.
This is one of my favorite of your blog posts. It’s so clear and beautifully written. Which is why I like your films. Great job.
I really enjoyed your post. It was deeply personal and meaningful.
While reading your post, I thought of Ian Astbury briefly, as he also came from a military background. I really enjoyed going to several Doors 21st Century concerts he fronted back in the early 2000s.
My dad is a retired police officer and I think he has some similar qualities to the military references mentioned. There was some real strict upbringing in my family and my dad was gone away a lot, but fortunately for me, my mom’s compassion and time spent with me really made a difference. Also, I remember spending a lot of quality time with my older brothers and a few close friends as well. My personality (for whatever reason) seems to be fairly laid back, extremely non-judgemental, and I try to see the good in everyone as much as possible. This is both a helpful and hurtful trait, as it can sometimes lead to being taken advantage of. I have become better over time at “reading” people, and seeing their true motivations.
Since I was really good at school, I was highly encouraged to go to college, graduate school, and get a career job, as that was what many people did in the 1990s (and today). However, now that I am older and really interested in music and the arts, my parents are actually very supportive and encouraging in this area. I think they understand that people have talents in the arts, and they should be allowed to express them. Fortunately, it’s not too late for me to follow this path. I used to think that the only way to succeed in the arts was to follow that path right after high school or college, like the Doors did.
Although I can only base this on what I have read, I certainly wish Jim would have experienced more stability in his childhood, but he lived an incredible and full life in his 27 years, and I am 100% convinced that he had a very kind and compassionate soul. I would have loved to have known him, and have conversations about philosophy, history, and current events. His sister Anne seems like a wonderful person, and I am sure it was an honor for you to have met her and talk about Jim.
Teaching kids really changed my life – I actually enjoy working with them better than many adults I have encountered. Many of the kids have instability in their home lives, and I wish for all of them to experience the happiness, joy, and wonder that they richly deserve.
Listening to the Doors, reading about them, and watching their films changed my life as well. No other band does this for me.
Take care, Tom, and may your films continue to enrich people’s lives throughout the globe.
Congrats on the great news of the Emmy nomination. Your hard work paid off, and it shows the suits who didn’t give this a shot in the U.S. can go pound sand.
All my best,
Hey Tom,
Out of all of your magnificent posts on this blog this one has resonated with me the most. It was a brilliant insight into both your own and Jim Morrison’s upbringing and the influence and pressures of family upon a child’s transition into adolescence and into adulthood and how that influence translates into your personality as a grown up.
My own father is an ex-army man and I am sure my previous career as a hairdresser and my choosing to wear my hair long and (dyed) blonde is alien, or at least bewildering, to him, as it is to many people around my small town in Kildare. As you know I was a hairdresser before my current role as film journalist and as much as I loved being a hair stylist there was a constant niggling undercurrent of homophobia and general small-mindedness which I encountered daily. Even now I can’t walk to the shop for a bottle of wine or for some food without being called names I won’t repeat here, although it has changed slightly, because I am in the newspaper I usually get “Hey! You only gave Avatar two stars! You know nothing about film, you shouldn’t be writing about films!”. So even though I have changed profession the small-town intolerance remains. No matter what career of personal stylistic choices you make, people will still castigate you. It is sad.
I once saw a Sundance panel video with yourself, Steven Soderbergh, Barbara Kopple, Greg Araki and the chap from Indie Wire and at one point throughout you got up and poured everyone a glass of water when getting your own; even though it wasn’t under the same circumstances, when you mentioned above that you gave the girl in your class half of your sandwhich it reminded me of that Sundance panel moment. It was small but decent gesture. I find that when you have been intimidated or harangued for doing nothing more than being yourself, you tend to be good to others, as if not to pass on the negative vibes to those around you. Either that or it just in our natures to be decent to others.
Maybe we take our anger and frustration out in our art, you make films (great, great films), I write and teach music aside from my day job as film journalist, and of course Jim Morrison did it on a massive global scale with The Doors. They are outlets for us. “When You’re Strange” showed Jim being human, a man who smiled and enjoyed himself as much as any human being and I think that’s what people forget, that he had good in him, an inner child that perhaps subsided thanks to a military upbringing but then exploded out when he broke free both as an adult and as an artist, but of course some people choose to concentrate on the darker and mysterious elements of his personality, as is the modern concern with fame and celebrity adulation. It’s amazing how people around you, such as family, work-mates, townsfolk, friends, strangers, etc influence and inform how we conduct ourselves as grown-ups and in our work and life.
Someone said to me the other day, “I think it’s time you got a proper haircut!”. I think not.
Thank you for a truly great post Tom.
Hi Tom,
This is a really thoughtful take on Morrison. Thanks for sharing your insights. You and Jim have a lot in common, from being “military brats” to being artistic adults, to experiencing the ’60’s as young people (although from a 10 year difference). Being attached to the military must have been especially hard in the ’60’s when it had the stigma of Vietnam. Hair was only a part of it. Jim’s dad was very important to the war effort. You make some good points, but I wonder if he was also embarrassed by his dad. This was the classic era of the generation gap and Jim was in the spotlight.
Three things came to mind reading it. First, that Jim never really could settle down. He never did find his “home”. He seemed to be most at home in motels and bars (and on stage of course).
Second, how sad that family situation was. On the WYS blu-ray, Jim’s dad says he never heard any of his son’s music. After all these years and with being the steward of his son’s legacy? I used to kind of resent Jim’s treatment of his family (not that it’s any of my business); I love Jim and his music but that was the black mark against him in my mind. But hearing Morrison Sr.’s comments and what you just wrote, it makes it clearer. That’s one of the bittersweet moments of WYS, when Jim’s dad acknowledges he was proud of his son (through Depp’s narration).
Third, I don’t want to bring up the dreaded Oliver Stone, but that was a line of dialogue from Jim to Ray in his movie: “Don’t ever tell me what to do!” I think Stone kind of got that connection too.
You asked me about the blu-ray. Well, I think it looks and sounds great. I love blu-ray. Even the stuff from poor sources like old TV, obviously it doesn’t look like the latest Hollywood blockbuster but I can still see a difference in quality from the same material on regular DVD. And the “HWY” stuff pops out. You can’t beat “Five To One” in 5.1 sound. I love the menu (from “HWY”). And of course the interviews with the Morrisons alone is worth the price of admission. I even enjoy playing the trailer.
Good luck with the Emmy.
Hey Tom,
Wow. An incredible blog post, and I am in awe of the raw honesty.
I maintain that the powers that be picking you to write/direct this film was the best choice. The connection your own past has to Jim’s is astounding, and I think that was key for the film…understanding Jim’s spirit, as best one could without having met him in person.
I’m shocked by the kids no talking during lunch rule. Yikes! I went to a strict elementary school myself, but we could always talk at lunch! That must have been absurd and yet tyrannical at the same time.
I agree w/your blog points, particularly about there being no difference in the way a military commander treats his troops vs. his family. That must have been incredibly difficult to understand as a young kid. It was difficult enough to get through as a twenty-something girlfriend, back in my single days when I dated a few military men. One relationship fizzled when he honestly could not understand why, when he was XYZ rank and had 500 soldiers ready to follow his every command, why I wouldn’t do the same for whatever he said, whether it was restaurant choice or plans for the evening. That expectation was hard to accept at twenty-something, when I had the choice and power to walk away (which I did). But to a 9 year old child of the military officer? Wow.
Thanks for sharing. I know the road has been long, exciting, and at points–bumpy, but I’m still thrilled you had this opportunity. If only to catch a glimpse of Jim’s life and find out the things his spirit could teach. Those things, as you would say, are where the magic lies.
Janet Erwin
My father was a fighter pilot in WWII and a major in the Air Force Reserves.
We did not get along. I loved him, and I know he loved me–but we didn’t like each other much, and if we said 5-6 words to each other in a week it was usually “Could you please pass the salt?”
(Incidentally, at this moment I’m watching the Peter Bogdanovich-narrated version of The Searchers, my all-time favorite film.)
In the late summer of 1956, after The Searchers had finished its theatrical run, it showed up at one of the local drive-ins, and so we all loaded into the car and went to see it.
Except as soon as the film started my siblings and I–who’d seen the movie several times in the theater–started mouthing the lines along with Wayne, Hunter et al.
My dad was outraged. He didn’t think it was funny that his kids had seen the movie and knew the dialogue by heart, he was outraged that he’d spent good money for a movie we’d already seen.
I can’t remember if he drove us home immediately, or if he just sat and simmered for the duration, but in any case that magical film was spoiled for us, at least for that night.
Unfortunately that was typical. My pop just wasn’t much fun.It wasn’t his fault–he’d grown up in the Depression (his father died in 1928, when my dad was 13) and Dad just wasn’t prepared to deal with a daughter who didn’t give a flying fork about convention and what girls were supposed to do and be in the mid to late 50s.
But he taught me how to shoot his long guns, and tried hard (but failed) to hide his pride that I could shoot over my shoulder with a mirror and blow a tin can off a fence post at 20/30 yards with a .22 rifle.
My pop smoked Lucky Strikes, and from the time he died on July 17th, 1966 until I climbed into Jim’s Chartreuse Car one afternoon in February 1971, I had never seen that distinctive red, white and blue pack.
It was years later that I found out Jim liked to fish too–he and I just never talked about it.
Fishing was my Pop’s passion, that and growing yellow roses.
How I miss both of you! and now I raise a glass or three of champagne in this month of your Great Escapes.
Doug Ruth
Tom: I enjoyed the movie and also I like your blog. I think Jim learned somethings from his dad. I was always impressed with Jim’s poise. I think this was a basic survival skill he developed from moving a lot. I think Jim’s ability to lead the band and hold the audiences attention was a function of observing his father. I also believe that some of Jim’s ability to observe was based upon his up bringing. The military teaches a system or a method of thinking and completing tasks. I believe that on a certain level Jim had an appreciation for for the military system. Jim enjoyed reading and learning and ultimately came to his own conclusions.

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