In June 2011 fans gathered around the grave of The Doors’ legendary frontman, Jim Morrison at the Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris, to pay tribute to him thirty years after his passing.
There was a strong security presence in and around the cemetery on the day, French police anticipating the same trouble that has marred previous anniversaries. It was the evening of the 20th anniversary that drunken ‘fans’ stormed the cemetery gates while officials closed the cemetery – at closing time, the whole thing ending in fiasco.
The shrine has been visited by thousands of tourists who come to lay flowers and other tributes on the grave. As one of the most famous graveyards in the world people turn up in droves to visit the graves of Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Bizet, Chopin Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein and her Alice B Toklas, and Morrison’s other famous neighbours.
The saddening sight of beer bottles, rolled spliffs, cigarettes and clumsily written tributes, obviously hastily scribed in a moment of drunken melancholia that crudely decorated Morrison’s grave, as if having a drink problem makes the bearers a kindred spirit with the deceased artist, was a common vista. It was almost as if they were celebrating the lifestyle that killed him, rather than the musician himself and akin putting toy cars on a road accident victim’s grave (or as Bill Hicks put it, “wearing a crucifix to celebrate Jesus”). However, alcohol has since been banned and the celebrations have become more modest and peaceful than in previous years.
Jim Morrison and The Doors were the seminal psychedelic 60s group whose sound still continues to conjure up an era of musical, spiritual and sexual decadence that is sadly long gone (just the sex remains), and probably more so than any other band of that era. The singer’s unique vocals and electrifying sex appeal combined with tousled hair and animalistic stage presence did nothing to hamper the band’s success. His rugged good looks combined with sophisticated lyrics often of social importance and love of classical poetry and literature made him almost irresistible to young women of the era who were just enjoying the freedom of their spirituality and sexuality as if for the first time. Few songs encapsulate an era quite as well as ‘Light My Fire’; conjuring the swinging, drug dazed, sexually ambiguous sixties upon every listen.
In 1971 the singer defected to Paris to avoid the increasingly tiresome groupies, press and escape his decadent lifestyle so that he could focus on writing. He was found dead in his bathtub three months later, aged just 27, the coroner pronouncing a verdict of death by natural courses despite rumours of lethal cocktails of drugs, alcohol and asthma.
The Doors are another example of a seminal rock band of the calibre and longevity that we no longer see. There is no modern equivalent and given the state of the music industry it’s likely there never will be. Morrison is the end of an era.