A Trip to the Lizard King
By: Cheryl (SugarBuzz Seattle)
Photos by: Cheryl
I recently spent a glorious week in Paris in April dragging around my two daughters. Truth be told, they were more than willing participants. Fueled by a diet of smoky Bordeaux, buttery croissants and black-as-hell coffee, we combed the narrow rues and bustling avenues of the City of Light. Of course we saw the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame and some rioting, drunk protesters hanging from exceedingly tall statues gripping wine bottles and singing folk music… but a trip to Paris would not be complete for this die-hard Doors fan without a visit to the grave of Mr. Mojo Risin himself, the late Jim Morrison.
Day two of our visit encompassed a walking and shopping odyssey of epic proportions, led by longtime friend and Parisian singer, Jangil Callas (Electric Callas). Since our “dogs were barking” we took pause in the lovely and peaceful park at Place des Vosges. Jim Morrison used to hang out here to hide, relax, write or have a beer at a nearby bar. Many poems from Wilderness and The American Night were written in this park.
Nearby is 17 Rue Beautreillis, where Jim and his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, shared an apartment. On July 2nd, 1971, Jim’s last moments are difficult to reconstruct. After dinner, his exact whereabouts are still unknown. The rumors vary from Pam providing Jim with a fix of smack and leaving him to die while she was in bed with someone else, to the occult rendition that a close friend killed him after plucking out his eyes to ‘save his soul’. The story goes that Jim was found dead in the bathtub of his 3rd story apartment on July 3rd, 1971. Only Pamela and the medical examiner, Dr. Max Vasille, who listed Jim’s cause of death as “heart failure, ever saw Jim’s body.
“Soul Kitchen” was our reveille this sun-filled morning of vacation day five, with events planned around the theme: Death. I continued on with the remainder of The Doors first album as I swilled coffee and donned typical French (and dual purpose death theme) garb: black clothing, black boots, red scarf, sunglasses and lipstick. Tres chic? Mais oui.
First stop: Les Catacombs, the underground labyrinth of damp, dark caves that are now the final resting place of nearly six-million Parisians dating back to the 1700s. Walls of human femurs and skulls are arranged in patterns with great care while the rest of their remains are simply tossed into a pile six feet high behind. We played “I-dare-you-to-touch-a-skull”, resulting in Kathleen spit-cleaning her fingertips out of fear that she may contract the plague after grazing a shiny, yellowing forehead bone with her index finger.
On the Metro en route from Denfert-Rochereau to Gambetta, my daughters engaged in the following conversation:
Kathleen: So what did Jim Morrison look like?
Me: He had shaggy brown hair, liked to wear leather pants, used to be really foxy, but got kind of bloated and sickly before he died.
Whitney: Remember in the movie, Wayne’s World, when they were out in the desert and that guy came up to them wearing a blue shirt and sunglasses? He acted kind of all tripped-out and talked like this, (stoner voice) “hey man”?
Whitney: That’s Jim Morrison.
Kathleen: Oh. How did he die?
Me: Drug overdose, honey. Don’t do drugs… ever!
Pere Lachaise cemetery is now home to the remains of such notable figures in art, music and literature as Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, and Proust. As we entered the cemetery gate, the sun began to sink down in the horizon, casting a warm glow on the numerous, aged sarcophagi. Nearby, we passed a sweet, old couple holding hands, who briefly paused on the cobble stone path to steel a kiss like a couple of teenagers.
We stopped for a moment at Oscar Wilde’s tomb, covered in heavy lipstick kisses from admirers. A modernist design of an angel decorates the front, whose male gentiles were chipped away by visitors over the years and may currently serve as someone’s paperweight. I gave a smooch to Oscar and moved on, damning the fact that I sacrificed comfort for style by not properly breaking-in my new sassy black boots before marching 12 miles a day around the city. Cobblestone, low-grade hills are not shoe-blister friendly. Kathleen continued to investigate disheveled graves, thinking she might see a dead body.
This is my 4th visit to Paris and Pere Lachaise. Each time I visit Jim, I encounter a different sight and level of security. One used to be able to find Jim’s modest grave by following Doors lyrics and arrows scribbled on neighboring tombs, but most of the graffiti has been cleaned off these days. Now, you need only follow the noticeably American accent and cigarette smoke plume.
It used to be that Jim’s grave was the sight of vandals, orgies, parties and black masses. Pere Lachaise has since installed intimidating barbed wire around the perimeter walls of the cemetery and video cameras in a light post erected near the grave. In a small silver box at home, I have some dirt (well, gravel really) from Jim’s grave. The notion of the video camera and subsequent hefty fine quelled my need to obtain a refill. There is often a live guard on duty, keeping order. This time, the guard was absent, replaced by a three-section metal barricade around the grave, which made it seem more like an open man-hole construction site or NYC Time Square crowd control device rather than the final resting place of a dead rock star.
We arrive at Jim’s grave to see five chain-smoking Italian kids with shaggy black haircuts along with two sweat suit-clad women from someplace in middle-America, taking an inordinate amount of photos with disposable cameras. We all took our turn, silently spending peaceful moments with the Lizard King, amongst the flowers, empty bottles and candles that lay as offerings from fans.
Buried 4 meters deep in an inexpensive, veneered coffin on July 7th, 1971, there was no priest or prayer during the 10 minute process of placing Jim in the ground. Initially, nothing but a mound of mud and some shells marked the grave. A month later, cemetery officials placed a shield with his name, which was later stolen, leaving his grave unmarked from 1973-1981. A bust of Jim, which stood on top of the tombstone was vandalized and eventually stolen in 1988.
The girls and I hung out there for a spell then decided to take off before the cemetery closed and the hounds would be released. Just around the corner, an American guy, who looked just like Bono dressed in leather pants and giant sunglasses said, “Hey, I think its right over here”. I asked if he was looking for Jim, he was, so I directed him over as his LA woman in bozo-red hair and matching hue fur jacket scampered up the hill in platform boots. I wondered if her feet hurt worse than mine.
Just next to the exit of Pere Lachaise is a modest little bar, full of Doors photos, memorabilia and an odd, eclectic cast of locals. We stopped in so I could enjoy a tall frosty beverage. I raise my glass to Jim, wherever he is, who still lights my fire.