Jim Morrison, Pere Lachaise and Forty Years

Two days ago I traveled to Nashville with Urban Daughter to see Bob Dylan and Leon Russell at the Ryman auditorium. We love seeing Bob, of course, and the Ryman Auditorium is a very special place to me. What I didn’t realize until later was that we were to see two of the primary performers at the Concert for Bangladesh, the prototype for all musical fundraisers that would follow, on the fortieth anniversary of that show.

Interestingly, it was the second fortieth rock and roll anniversary I inadvertently ran into this summer. Jim Morrison, lead singer for the doors was discovered dead in his Paris apartment on July 3, 1971. On July 3, 2011, on my first full day in Paris, after a fluke change in plans, I took the Metro to Pere Lachaise. Forty years to the day after his death I arrived at Jim’s side. If only I could have made it sooner, who knows . . .

Crowd as I approached Jim Morrison’s grave, Pere Lachaise, Paris

Singing Doors songs and Quoting Poetry, Pere Lachaise, Paris

People in every direction, Jim Morrison’s grave, Pere Lachaise, Paris

It was one of my very favorite Parisian moments. I’d plugged in my ear buds with Doors music blaring. I cued Riders On The Storm, the only Doors song I can say ranks among my all-time favorites and walked toward the grave. Having no idea an anniversary was afoot, I assumed I’d listen to the song, say, “hey” to Jim, take a picture and walk away. My vision of the moment was a quiet, forlorn acknowledgement between Jim and myself devoid of other participants. I certainly did not have several hundred other people in my fantasy.

Flowers, a song and a bottle, Jim Morrison’s grave

Leader of the singing for most of the afternoon

I knew something was afoot when I arrived outside the cemetery and saw people dressed in Doors t-shirts and leather pants. My thoughts of being alone at the grave eroded as I began to hear a crowd singing loudly enough to be heard over my ear buds. If there was any doubt I wouldn’t be alone it was erased when I rounded a curve in the sidewalk and was found myself face-to-face with a couple hundred other well-wishers. Unlike me, they were making their own Doors music.

Touches of hippie panache were in evidence, such as colorful, long dresses, flowers, long hair, head-bands and bubbles being blown into the crowd. Someone would sing the first line of a Doors song and the crowd would join in, sometimes singing songs we all know such as Love Her Madly and Break on Through and then veering off to Sanctuary or more obscure portions of the catalog. Most of the fans assembled would sing all the way through – in English. Another person would begin to quote passages of Jim Morrison’s poetry and some would join, then drift out. Had I slipped back in time?

Very young fans at Jim Morrison’s Grave, July 3, 2011

Recitations and songs were greeted with great applause from everyone gathered. Photographs were taken, bottles passed between friends. The bright sun filtered, dappled through the trees. The temperature hovered around seventy. It was a perfect Parisian Sunday afternoon and all of these people, many of them not yet born in his lifetime, used their perfect day in Paris to sing the songs of a man forty years gone. In some respects it was as if he never left.


Unable to approach the grave, in a quiet spot he drummed slowly alone.

Since that day I’ve thought about Knoxville. I’m not sure people make pilgrimages here for any reason. While we still have the homes of James White and William Blount, we haven’t done such a great job of preserving markers of the time spent in Knoxville by some of our more recent famous citizens such as Cormac McCarthy and James Agee.
It is a fact that Hank Williams, at the very least, spent his last hours alive in Knoxville, if he didn’t actually die in the Andrew Johnson Hotel. James Agee’s father’s death is one of the most famous deaths recorded thanks to the book recounting it. Rachmaninoff gave his last concert here. General Sanders was killed here. Somehow none of that quite seems to measure up to the appeal of the charasmatic Lizard King.

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