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Jim Morrison Interview: Talk First, Drinks Later

November 27th, 2009 · No Comments · Music

I was reading the Rolling Stone interview with Jim Morrison from July 26, 1969 conducted by Jerry Hopkins. The interview is not all that lengthy but it is revealing of Morrison in some interesting ways.

The interview took place some four months after the infamous Miami concert and it’s a pretty fair guess that Rolling Stone scheduled it in the wake of that event to capture the sensationalism wrought by the concert, Morrison’s subsequent arrest, and pending trial.

It was an interesting time to interview Morrison for additional reasons. He was in the process of a persona change. Morrison had already abandoned the acid poet-break-on-through- persona cultivated on the first two albums. He had already abandoned the rock and roll shaman that was his onstage persona of 1968. Growing a beard and pulling his pants down in Miami in 1969 was the death stroke of the Soft Parade pop star persona he hated, and that he felt manipulated and imprisoned by.

His newest and last musical persona was just metamorphosing-the old blues man he introduced on Morrison Hotel and perfected on L.A. Woman. This last persona would soon become complete and would be seen onstage, heard on albums, and witnessed daily in his drunken shambles of a personal life. He complained to his band mates that he was living the “lifestyle” to fuel the band’s success and creativity and was growing exhausted by it.

To Jerry Hopkin’s credit, he does not hammer Morrison with Miami questions. He avoids them totally and there are good reasons for this.  Interestingly, he goes with a rather meat-and-potatoes series of biographical questions: how did you get into music, what about this and that quote, you’re now into film, tell me about that…  Not too far into the interview Hopkins then asks Morrison about “Deliberate media manipulation” and Morrison’s expertise at it. Here you can sense the behind the scenes collusion arranged by Hopkins and Morrison. Morrison’s people, perhaps a label rep or his lawyer, maybe Morrison himself, briefed Hopkins on the parameters of the interview. “You can’t talk about Miami because of the trial and legal implications. Don’t set Jim up to incriminate himself in any way. Things he says now could harm his case or character  and could be very detrimental to him in a legal way. You understand, Mr. Hopkins?”

So Hopkins and Morrison sculpt a  manipulative interview to advance the cause of Jim Morrison “defendant.” Hopkins, for his part, sets up some questions to show Morrison is an entertainer with a keen sociological interest in his work-”the music field” as Morrison refers to it. This is important because it gives Morrison the opportunity to dispel notions of him as anarchist, revolutionary, or counter-culture rabble-rouser. Morrison’s was to be a political trial if the conservative forces arrayed against him in Miami had their way. Hopkins was giving Morrison admissible evidence to submit to the court of public opinion.

Three specific sections in the interview are constructed specifically for manipulation to create certain impressions and specific conclusions. The first is when Jim relates the story of talking to a fan who lives in the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and is out for a short trip with her nurse. She tells Jim that The End was a song that “was really a favorite of a lot of kids in her ward.” Jim  politely and patiently explains to this girl that songs are open to interpretation. Because of this exchange Jim marvels that people take songs so seriously and wonders whether he should “consider the consequences.” By relating this story Jim has achieved two aims simultaneously that would play well for his legal troubles: he’s not insane and recognizes such when he sees it, and, he is morally responsible for his actions and how they may affect others no matter how crazily others are affected by his actions. Jim is a very intelligent person with complex notions of morality and its interlocking dynamics

The second is when Hopkins leads the witness by asking, “You said the other day that you like to get people up out of their seats, but not intentionally create a chaos situation…” Morrison can only hit this softball out of the park. He explains that it’s just entertainment where everyone has fun…”even the cops have fun.”  Morrison is conveying the message that the Doors are not actively anti-authoritarian and they have no premeditated ideas about challenging vested authority or inciting unlawful situations. This is Jim  Morrison the defendant speaking, not the acid poet, rock shaman, or old blues man who thrived on the power of just such manipulations.

The third is a strange exchange that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Hopkins wraps up the interview by asking Morrison if there’s anything he’d like to discuss. Morrison responds, “How about…feel like discussing alcohol?” Now why in the hell would he do that? He was described as drunk at the Miami concert by everyone in attendance including his own band. Public drunkenness was one of the charges against him in Miami. For the entire interview Hopkins and Morrison have together acted as a well coordinated public relations/perception management team…why open this box of snakes? Possibly Morrison was counseled by his lawyer to set the groundwork for the “I have a drinking problem” defense. He admitted to heavy drug use in his past earlier in the interview. So what gives? Alcohol was socially accepted and drugs were not. So is Jim trying to imply that he has renounced the drug culture and likes his cocktails a little too much? Jackie Gleason, one of the celebrities in Florida who was leading a decency campaign against Morrison, was a big drinker. Any connection? Morrison then inserts the famous quote about drinking being the “difference between suicide and slow capitulation.” Is Jim cultivating the old blues man persona here that would come to full life on L.A. Woman? Is this the beginning of the “gentlemen, you’re drinking with number three” alcoholic surrender? The highly disciplined interview ends in confusion with Hopkins asking Morrison, “What’s that mean?’ and Morrison responding, “I don’t know, man. Let’s go next door and get a drink.”

 Maybe the interview had taken up too much time and Morrison really did mean let’s go get a drink. I need one. If that’s the case it was an artful and playful segue into ending the PR interviewer/interviewee script and going next door to talk freely and legitimately over cocktails. Was this Jim saying to Hopkins,”Hey thanks for helping me with this bullshit. Let’s go unwind.”

Two years later, same month as this interview, Jim Morrison would overdose on heroin in a bathroom stall in a Paris nightclub. This interview is illustrative of the Jim Morrison who would live the rest of his short life as defendant, drunk, and dispirited human being.

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