COLUMN EIGHTY-SIX, MARCH 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
THREE DAYS AT JIM'S JOINT:
A DOORS FAN'S SEARCH FOR HIS IDOL'S MEMORY
Dateline 1980: Like many of
us, I got hip to The Doors after reading, then rereading, No One Here, Gets
Out Alive. 1983: My first visit to LA, my hostess seems quite perplexed that
the first thing I want to see is a small motel on the corner of La Cienega and
Santa Monica. The Alta Cienega. To room #32. I knock and a vaguely actor type of
guy in his 20's answers the door.
"I paid $220 for the
week you are the fifth person here in two days, you have two minutes to look
Inside, I found a regular
little motel room ordinary in every way except for one thing: James Douglas
Morrison chose this place to hang his hat.
In '83 all the fixtures in
the bathroom were original. I walked into the bathroom, firmly grabbing the
doorknob, touching the sink, the window, opening my mind's eye. Yes, this was
the place. So much history happened within these walls. No graffiti at all
except two small notes behind the wall mounted TV, scribbled in pen by different
hands. The first said plainly:
"Jim Morrison lived
here from 1968-1971."
The next missive was a bit
more obtuse: "
Jim Morrison is alive and
well in South Africa".
There was one other non
regulation non sequitur to be found outside the room's only window, visible
from the street in eight inch print, drawn in pencil:
Soon after, I did manage to
get a paperback of JDM's The Lords and The New Creatures. From
reading those words, I too, became inspired to write poetry of my own and to
live the life of a poet by honing my writing skills and generally living life to
And that's just what I did
for the next 10 years or so. Then along comes Wilderness the
"lost" poems of JDM. Some of you may ask why I refer to Jim as JDM? I
did not ever meet "Jim" through a song or in person, it was the words
he left that tell me that Jim wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. He
signed his books of poetry, James Douglas Morrison.
Since this is how he wanted
to be presented to me, his reader, I honor this. It's too cumbersome to write
out every time so I use JDM, feeling that just saying or writing "Jim"
is somehow not appropriate.
So along about 1990, I find
myself reading Wilderness. On page 84 I stumbled onto a gem of a poem
that makes mention of the green hotel, rm. 32, JDM's Alta Cienega.
a guide to the labyrinth
Come & See me
in the green hotel
I will be there after 9:30
I will show you the girl of the ghetto
I will show you the burning well
I will show you strange people
haunted, beast-like on
verge of evolution
secret among us
And then for me it happened, gradually at first. I began to
devour all things related to JDM and the Doors. I had to have every scrap of the
puzzle that was The Doors. All the facts and myths, photos, music. Only the
tacky collectibles were safe from my appetite. Id' get a book or two to read and
reflect on during the winter months. Many made mention of The Alta Cienega as
well as other West Hollywood spots, Barney's Beanery, The Palms, and The Phone
My curiosity only grew about much of JDM's life. But the most puzzling thing to me (and the most
to the Alta Cienega
enviable) was his lack of
want for material goods. And while he could have lived in a fine home or hotel,
why did he choose this little motel? I could speculate for pages, but my
underlying belief is he just didn't want the responsibility of maintaining a
home and all that entails. Plus it was right across the street from work,
cutting down his commute time.
Basically I feel we all
search for some piece of JDM, be it in the music, the poetry, books on his life,
posters, photos, autographs, you name it. I am sure that's what brings everyone
to Paris to see where he lived and was buried. I labored hard and long on the
decision to go this year.
Flashbacks of a Who concert
gone awry I attended years ago to this day make me leery of crowds. I needed a
plan. I decided that going to the Alta Cienega would be the thing to do. To get
the famous "Jim Morrison Memorial Room." (This was what the brass
plaque on the door to Rm. 32 indicated when I was there the previous month.)
About three weeks prior to
the anniversary of JDM's death I contacted the resident owner/manager Charlie
Yang. I had met Charlie briefly the previous visit. When I arrived at the motel
then, the door to the famous room was open for cleaning. Video camera in hand I
climbed the same stairs I had 18 years ago. The same stairs JDM climbed all the
time in his day. The room was very much as I remembered it with one glaring
exception, now an entire wall was devoted to graffiti most of which was very
As I was checking in that
day a young tourist from the UK was right behind me, inquiring about "that
room." Obviously he was on the trail of JDM much like myself. A brief
discussion about JDM ensued. From behind the motel counter stood Charlie Yang, a
Taiwanese immigrant in his early 60's. Charlie has most unusual eyes, blue
colored and mismatching like a husky or malamutes. I asked him:
"Do you like
The corners of his mouth
tightened slightly before a smile spread to his face and he replied with his
"Oh Yes, I like Jeeem!"
Charlie had told me then
that until recently a photo of "Jeeem" had been in the room but was
"Not a problem I
assured him, I'll be sending you a new one."
That night I slept in
Rm.14, but I reasoned there was a chance JDM had slept in many of the rooms
there, checking in and out many times. That night I was determined to go walk
and drink where the man had done so, so many years before.
First stop: The Palms. Located in the same spot all these
years, it is a narrow long bar lined with mirrors. The only thing that has
changed in all these years seems to be the bar's clientele. It took me a drink,
then another to head toward the patio out back. For perhaps two minutes I
labored under the misconception that there was a high percentage of women there.
Then, while negotiating
between some chairs, I was briefly harangued by a lesbian. Suddenly I realized
that there was a high percentage of
women there, me being the only man. To cut to the chase, West Hollywood is a
very gay area these days. Gone are the topless bars and pool halls of JDM's
time. Now frozen yogurt stands and tanning parlors lie in their wake. Still I
met a new friend named Vicky and we proceeded to walk down Santa Monica to the
famous Barney's Beanery.
As we walked by a small
two-story building near the corner of La Cienega, now Benvenuto's Ristorante, I
paused to a light a smoke and peered toward the former Doors office.
At Barney's I told Vicky
why she had found me at a dyke bar in West Hollywood. She seemed interested that
such a man's man had frequented the popular "dyke bar". I suggested
the bar had only turned gay since JDM had left LA. I joked too, that many women
had probably jumped the fence after JDM's untimely demise.
More drinks and back to my
room, I had an early flight. It was then that I decided I needed to go back on
the thirtieth anniversary of JDM's death.
Once home, I began to
assemble the necessary items for my return. I obtained a copy of my favorite JDM
picture and had it matted and framed. Next I did the same to the poem previously
mentioned. Then I assembled all the poetry books I had of JDM's; various photo
books on the Doors and, of course, every tick of Doors music in the house. A red
votive candle, enough beer and brown liquor to stagger 20 men or women and
various sundry items.
My best friend, Linda,
shares a birthday with JDM, mine is on Pamela's (22 December). She shares my
passion for all things Morrison and agreed to make the journey with me.
I had reservations for the
2nd and 3rd. From my home in New Mexico, it is about a fourteen-hour drive to
LA. On the 30th of June we set off toward LA, more specifically JDM's LA. Twelve
hours and change we were driving up La Cienega. Almost everything we did was
centered on The Doors and JDM and West Hollywood. Now in the early morning hours
a full two days ahead of schedule, we arrived.
A quick drink at Barney's
then we headed to the motel. Charlie's wife, Mrs. Yang, checked us in. Giddy and
grinning we fell asleep in an upstairs room that night. The next morning Charlie
told us we could move into Rm. 32 a day early. Gone was the brass plaque that
hung so proudly only weeks before. Replaced by another sign that read
"House of Jim Morrison 1968-1970." Nearby Room 31 was labeled
accordingly "Friend Of Jim Morrison."
Not only did Charlie like
Jeeem he also seemed to like Jeeem's friends! Babe Hill, January Jansen and
Michael McClure all spoke of staying in an adjacent room at times. Odds are good
that one of them actually used that room. So I thought it appropriate. I brought
lots of everything. Pictures of JDM to give out, poems printed on parchment. I
figured there would surely be lots of well-wishers on such a momentous day.
Over the next three days I
got to know the area very well and cornered Charlie Yang as often as possible.
Many of the questions I posed to him were in regard to the building and
surrounding area. Charlie it seems had purchased the motel just after JDM
As it seems the "Green
Hotel" still is green. The trim has always been green. The main body of the
building has varied from sand to beige was painted it's present only slightly
darker version in 1994. Around this time the motel underwent further restoration
to include new bathroom fixtures and shower doors, carpet etc.
I set off on many walks in
all directions eyeing the skyline and making mental calculations as to what
buildings may or may not have been visible 30 plus years ago. To walk out the
rear of the motel is surely the shortest route to Monaco Liquors as well as the
Doors office. This is assuming there has always been a set of stairs from the
alley to Monaco's. A safe bet since the retaining wall there and parking area
surely date to the time of the building. Naturally the preferred route to
Barney's and The Phone Booth would have been through the front.
According to many locals I
talked to, this was not considered a bad motel in the day. More or less standard
fare. And, at $10, not the bottom of what was available. There are no phones in
any of the rooms. Not to worry though should you receive a call or are needed by
the desk, there is a buzzer in the room. Painted over, still on the wall in room
32 is a small button that in turn would buzz the front desk.
Down the steps you go to the phone located in the tiny lobby. Outgoing
calls are placed at one of two pay phones located near the foot of the stairs.
This was a phone booth in the era of JDM.
Sunset strip is a good walk but just up the top of a steep hill as one exit left out the motel entrance. To the right is now the remainder of the Garden District once known as Restaurant
displeased by the Doors'
demands on Jim?
Row. Just across Santa
Monica heading south, one today, finds The Clear Thoughts Building.
(947 N. La Cienega) Once the home of Themis, Pamela's boutique. JDM also
rented office space up above where he headquartered editing of the films Feast
of Friends and HWY. I expected a grand building with such a grand
name. You can expect early American strip mall.
Closer still to The Alta
Cienega is the former home of Elektra Recording at 962 La Cienega. Going further
down the block reveals many old restaurants and antique stores and Barney's
From Barney's continue to
the East on Santa Monica to Sweetzer Ave. turning right onto Norton Ave. There
at 8216 1/2 is the last address of JDM in the USA. An unassuming white stucco
building, JDM's publicist, Diane Gardiner, lived downstairs at 8216. This small
area of West Hollywood was JDM's universe for a time. From the locations of
Pamela's home and business and given the size of LA, it is safe to assume that
while she may have disliked the business of the Doors and it's demands on her
man, she did position herself very strategically.
While in LA we were often
wondering what was going on in Paris. Searching the daily papers for news there
was none save for a small article that appeared in the July 2nd edition of the
LA Times, which predicted a turn out of 100,000 fans in Paris.
Our days fell into a
somewhat of a regular routine. Up at the crack of noon, then off to lunch
usually at Barney's. Our totals are not added yet but I think we spent $600
there in four days. Too bad JDM carried a MasterCard instead of a Visa because I
thought of the perfect commercial. Motel Bill: $260, Bar tab at historic rock
and roll hotspot: $600, listing your address on one hour photo as 1005 N. La
Cienega #32, Priceless... Well, you get the picture.
Curiously enough during our
stay not a single fan showed up at the motel. We had the privacy JDM may have
enjoyed in the era. As the folks in Paris were awaking to some over priced ouefs
(eggs to the rest of us), served up by a rude French waiter, on the morning of
July 3rd, almost thirty years to the minute that the fire brigade of the 4th
arrondissement was arriving at 17 rue Beautreillis, I was testing my theory that
if you drink enough Jim Beam you can sing like Jim Morrison. Karaoke at
I was doubtful I'd even
get called. There were some regulars who were quite good. After about five Jim
Beams the ringers were done and some bad singers followed. I couldn't do much
worse. I had chose to sing LA WOMAN, a song I lament was never performed
live by JDM. The time was 12:25 am 3 July 2001, with the time change almost
exactly thirty years to the minute.
Faced with a few seconds of
dead air and a live mic I started in with "bring out your dead, bring out
your dead," then started singing, back to the audience in sweet memory of
"our injured leader." I'm not sure I was any good. I'm not sure
the crowd knew the significance of the day or hour but I am sure I really felt
JDM's presence with me there.
The day of the 3rd we
headed off to Griffith Park Observatory and then to Venice Beach for the
afternoon. JDM spoke of Venice in the "60s as a "beach town, with a dying
arcade feel". It still has that flavor to this day. It just never died.
Back to the motel in time
to see the best part of Oliver Stone's film about The Doors, the end credits.
For our last night in LA we went to the former Doors office, Benvenuto, for
dinner. Nice, fancy Italian food like my Momma never made. Fueled by some after
dinner espresso, it was back to Barney's for a nightcap.
The morning of the 4th we
bid farewell to Charlie and The Alta Cienega. True to my word I presented him
with the framed photo of "Jeeem" and the poem I am A Guide To The
Labyrinth. We got to know Charlie well the few days we were there. When
pressed, he admits to wanting to retire in the next year or two and tour Europe.
He also revealed there is
interest from parties on the East Coast about buying the motel. This confirmed
my fears that in a few years this location may be a McDonald's or a 7 Eleven.
Where are the historic preservation nerds when you need them? If you get to LA,
go see this place before the bulldozer gets it. Two acres in LA has got to be
worth some big bucks by now.
When you get there tell
Charlie, Michael sent you. Keep your graffiti to the already wrote on portion of
the walls. Before we left I could not resist adding my own:
Ode to Jim Mo
They said he was always reading
carrying a book
Long haired film student
gotta get that look
Before we could leave LA
there was "still one place to go".
South on I-5 we headed to
see Pamela's resting spot. At the Fairhaven Cemetery in Santa Ana in a small
crypt lies the ashes that once was Pamela Susan Courson. One would think she is
in the fancy historic mausoleum, however she is not. As one goes through the
gates, she is located in a set of vaults to the left of the gate in a set of
collumburs known as Garden Courts.
The air was dank and humid as we found her crypt. The smell
of fresh flowers was overwhelming. We found our mood suddenly change to a sullen
remorseful silence as we stood and made photographs. The air and the quietness
seemed to engulf us and we pondered the inky blackness of those who sleep in the
Someone had already placed a small corsage of peach carnations with baby's breath and fern. We felt no need to leave the ones we had brought. After reciting Orange County Suite and stepping back into the fading light of the late afternoon, we contemplated the many miles that lay between LA and Paris. ##
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