Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Jun 10, 2006 8:43:19 GMT
[glow=red,2,300]The Lizard King Was HereThe Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia[/glow]
THE LIZARD KING WAS HERE is an in-depth study of a greatly overlooked period in the mercurial life of Jim Morrison, the late poet and lyricist-vocalist of the rock and roll band “The Doors” who died at the age of 27 in 1971. Examining Morrison’s life from January 1959 to August 1961 - the years he resided in Alexandria, Virginia and attended George Washington High School - author Mark Opsasnick reveals a wealth of experiences that served to influence the singer’s poetry, lyrics, and work as a performing artist with the Doors. The end result is a fresh look at a formative period in the life of one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars. Dedicated fans of Jim Morrison will be enthralled with THE LIZARD KING WAS HERE.
Mark Opsasnick's new book about Jim Morrison during his days at Alexandria's High School has finally been published. It can be ordered here......
Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Jun 10, 2006 8:58:16 GMT
While so many view Jim Morrison as a rock and roll superstar, a precious few in a quiet corner knew him as a brilliant high school classmate, a talented artist and an enigmatic friend. These are the people who once walked by his side, in his shadow and along the pathways he created. For them the streets of Alexandria, Virginia carry his spirit and offer a haunting refrain...... 'The Lizard King Was Here' from the book.....
For me a refreshing work on Jim Morrison that is devoid of all the bullshit from those who were his 'friends' who now view the man as a meal ticket.....here at last is an attempt to understand 'why' Jim Morrison chose the path he did. Maybe it will not answer all the questions but at least Mark is looking for those answers....... Far more worthy a book than The Doors by The Doors will be I would wager..............I can't wait to read it.....
"That's the trouble with reality!.... it's taken far too seriously! I do hope God is good to me and Santa Claus to the children! Celebrate...this parties over...I'm going home!"
AND HE WALKED ON DOWN THE HALL...to Spanish Class Remembering Jim Morrison's strange days as a Northern Virginia high- schooler By Michael Little
Washington City Paper - June 18 2004 In his official Elektra Records biography from 1967, Doors frontman Jim Morrison defiantly proclaimed himself "primarily an American, second, a Californian, third, a Los Angeles resident." But before the rock god arrived in the City of Night, he resided in Beverley Hills—the Beverley Hills neighborhood of Alexandria, Va., that is. The son of two U.S. Navy employees, James Douglas Morrison spent 33 formative months on the west bank of the Potomac, living with his family on upper-crusty Woodland Avenue from December 1958 to the August following his graduation from George Washington High School, in 1961.
These are the dark years of Morrison's journey to the end of the night, a period that has gone largely unexamined by the singer's legions of hagiographers. But not Mark Opsasnick. Last week, the tireless chronicler of Washington-area rock 'n' roll history posted news of his latest project on his Web site, http://www.capitolrock.com: a book titled The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia.
Startled by the lack of information on Mr. Mojo Risin's high-school years in the 15 or so available books on the man—and convinced that "something, some formative experience, occurred during his D.C. years that influenced his music and poetry"—Opsasnick began this past February to interview Morrison's former classmates at George Washington and others who knew him during his stay in the Old Dominion. The 42-year-old Prince George's County resident has, he says, uncovered "a lot of good stories—a wealth of previously unpublished information on the young Jim Morrison."
Opsasnick hopes to publish The Lizard King in late 2005. In the meantime, how about a little quiz? It's simple: Just see if you can figure out which of the fantastic exploits below will actually be appearing in the book. The answer is on Page 149, but no breaking on through (to the other side) to peek beforehand. OK, wild child?
Morrison spent the summer of 1959 caddying at the Belle Haven Country Club, according to one retired groundskeeper, who related how "nobody could chase down a lost ball like that boy. He just had a nose for it." That talent, however, didn't please all of the club's members. "One day a fellow come huffing into the clubhouse, all perturbed about losing his caddy to a lost ball," the groundskeeper recalled. "I had to take the boy aside. I said, `Son, what are you doing out there? What exactly is it you're trying to prove?' And he said to me—I'll never forget it—he said, `I want to hear a butterfly scream.'"
One George Washington High classmate remembered Morrison as "sexy and dangerous—a total rebel." She recalled, for instance, an evening at the Alexandria Bowling Center when Morrison, who would later declare himself interested "in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos—especially activity that seems to have no meaning," brazenly persisted in crossing the foul line, sometimes "by a foot or more." The 15-year-old, she said, also "liked to shake the candy machines in the hope that something would fall down." Finally, she described Morrison as "a sore loser": "That's when I realized the foul-line thing wasn't rebelling—it was cheating."
A few acquaintances vividly recalled Aug. 16, 1960, as the day Morrison assumed the mantle of poète maudit of Northern Virginia. That evening, Morrison and some friends enjoyed the all-you-can-eat clams special at the now-defunct Beachcomber Restaurant. Afterward, something in young Jim snapped. Scaling a telephone pole, he commenced, in one former friend's words, "to spout some lame beatnik shit about `great golden copulations.'" Rushed to a nearby hospital, Morrison—who declared to doctors that he "saw God on that telephone pole"—was diagnosed with a severe case of food poisoning. Nonetheless, the vision sent Morrison into a monthlong shellfish binge, during which he frequently bragged, "I eat more mollusk than a man ever seen."
In high school, Morrison's mordant sense of humor was already on full display. One day when a teacher asked how her students "would solve the problem of infants starving around the world," Morrison's hand flew up. "Jim?" asked the teacher, an elderly and genteel Southerner. "Kill the children." After a long and uncomfortable silence, the teacher wailed, "Jim! We can't kill the little children!" Hilarity, naturally, ensued. And a fellow Spanish student remembered how, upon being asked to write a sentence on the board to be translated, a straight-faced Morrison scribbled this bit of pre–<br>Lords and the New Creatures absurdism: "We all eat small dogs."
One George Washington classmate reminisced about one time when Morrison had to take a leak. The future rock star didn't feel up to a trip to the restroom, the classmate recalled, so he urinated in his locker.
Though his fellow students often marveled at the Rimbaud-reading Morrison's intellectual capabilities, none of them thought he'd become a famous pop star. "I saw him with an acoustic guitar once," said one. "But he wasn't playing it—he was just kind of holding it." In fact, the teenage Morrison didn't even own a record player, and he seemed much more interested in becoming an actor than a singer. "He used to hang out at the Hollywood Grill," recalled another old classmate. "He liked to pretend the Hollywood Grill was really in Hollywood. He'd sit there for hours in his dark sunglasses, trying to appear brooding. I think he was waiting to be discovered." Ultimately, he was—by a truant officer. CP
The solution to "And He Walked on Down the Hall...to Spanish Class": The reminiscences about Jim Morrison's treating his locker like a men's room, messing about in Spanish class, and suggesting to kill off the world's starving infants are true. We invented the items about caddying, bowling, eating seafood, and the Hollywood Grill (except for the bit about the record player, which is true).
Mark Opsasnick is putting the final touches on his much anticipated new book about Jim Morrison's formative years in Alexandria Virginia.
Talking to Mark Opsanick about his new book “The Lizard King was Here:
The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia,” which is a history of Jim Morrison’s life in the Washington DC area.
Mark, could you give some idea about when the public can expect to get a hold of your book?
This weekend I finished up Chapter14 so I only have one chapter to go.
That’ the rough draft. Once the rough draft is done, I have to start editing and checking the facts. What I do is print out each chapter, read it, make some corrections… it takes about a week to do each chapter… so another 15 weeks or so will take me to about January 1st. I’m pretty much right on schedule. I want to finish Chapter 15 by September 1st. I’ll have September, October, November, and December to edit the thing and fix it up so it should be ready by the end of the year. It’s a big project, and now I’m pretty much near the end of the road with it.
When did you start to writ The Lizard King was here?
February 1st 2004, so it’s going to be almost two full years that it took me to do all the research and the interviews and writing. If I didn't’t have to work full time. It certainly would have been much quicker, but such is not the case. For a part time project, two years is along time. I think Capitol Rock was three full years …. Actually Capitol Rock was four years.. so it didn't’t take me as long as Capitol Rock, but it still took me a long time to get this thing to the point where I’m at now.
I imagine that you had collected some of data about Jim Morrison along the way while you were writing Capitol Rock .
Yes which leads right in to how I basically got started on the project. I had always been a Doors Fan. This is going back to when I was ten-years-old, reading magazines like Creem and Circus and Rolling Stone at the Greenbelt Library. The first band I was really interested in, besides the Beatles, was Alice Cooper. But the Doors - I was a big fan of as well. I never knew anything about where they came from. I don’t remember in any of those early magazine articles any mention of Morrison being from the Washington DC area. So I was oblivious to that.
That’s so typical of any rock and roll person from the DC area
They just get ignored.
Think about Jorma Kakonan and Jack Casady. They will be playing in the area soon. Most people wouldn’t think of them as being part of the DC music scene. I guess they tie them selves back to there DC roots now, but most people would automatically associate them with the Jefferson Airplane.
I told people when Capitol Rock came out that I had an interview with Jack Casady and they said, “That’s nice, why?”
I said, “Casady grew up in DC,” and people didn’t even believe me. They said, “No, he was in San Francisco with the Jefferson Airplane.” I had to educate them that Casady had a long history here in Washington DC. He grew up here and went all the way through Wilson High School and so forth.
Now the thing with Jim Morrison – I was in college down in North Carolina when the book “No One Here Gets Out Alive” came out. That’s the first biography about Jim Morrison ever written. They briefly touch upon the fact that Jim Morrison lived in Alexandria and attended George Washington High School and that is the first time. I found out about it. I didn’t pay much attention to it after that.
I started researching Capitol Rock in 1993 and over the course of the next four years, during my interviews, I talked with a number of people who mentioned that Morrison had spent time in Northern Virginia. It was always; they weren’t really giving me facts, but rather asking me questions. It was like “Well, Jim Morrison grew up in Northern Virginia didn’t he?” “Was he involved with any bands at that time?” “Was he involved with local music at all?”
Nobody really knew any of that. I didn’t know. I kind of filed that away. I made notes about people who had asked me about Morrison. A couple of people had seen the Doors play at the Alexandria Roller Rink in 1967 and they kind of prefaced that with asking about Morrison’s time in Alexandria.
As books on the Doors came out, all the way up to 2004, I think I have read twenty different biographies on Jim Morison, There are actually a couple more that were printed in Europe that haven’t been published here. There are close to two dozen lengthy books on Jim Morrison and the Doors that basically give their stories, and without exception they all basically skip right over the time Jim Morrison spent in Alexandria, Virginia, and the DC area.
They acknowledge that he lived in the DC area for almost three years, but they don’t go in to any details at all. Only one or two books even bothered to interview a friend of his from high school. But they really kind of ignored the whole DC area, and what roll that played in his life.
So Being a Doors fan, I reach a point where it just fell into place. Capitol Rock was finished with, and some of my other projects were over with, and it was always in the back of my mind to find out more about Morrison’s time in Alexandria, Virginia. So I came up with an idea to explore what had influenced Morrison in his teen years - what happened to him, what did he experience in his high school years that may have influenced his later lyrics writing and poetry and so fourth. I got started on the book on February 1, 2004. I started interviewing, tracking down his former high school friends. Thus far I am just about finished. I think I have interviewed over 150 people and this includes forty-two of his former classmates from the Class of 1961 at George Washington High School.
I had a list of about fifteen people that I thought were closest to Jim at that time. Of that fifteen I managed to track down interview fourteen of them.
The only person I couldn’t get was Tandy Martin, his girlfriend at the time who now lives in Peru. But she has only ever given one interview, so I didn't’t expect to get a hold of her. But I had a great success in locating the people who knew him well. It is certainly going to be a great deal of information that has never been published before.
That sounds fantastic.
That’s basically it in a nutshell. I think the most interesting aspect of this project is to examine the nightclubs where Jim Morrison hung out. I didn’t go into this project with any expectations of finding anything specific that inspired Jim to become a rock star in the DC area, but now that the project is over there are bits and pieces, and a number of factors came into play during his existence here that may have influenced his decision to go into performance art, a combination of poetry and music, and his vocal performances as front man with the Doors.
I think one of the things he did while he was in this area was attend a number of nightclubs in Washington DC and also one in particular down Richmond Highway, south of Alexandria, called the Club Log Tavern.
Yea, that name sounds familiar. I grew up in south Alexandria.
That was actually built in 1938 and it existed as the Club Log Tavern until about1965; then it switched owners and became the 1320 Club.
Oh yea, people use to hang out there when I was in high school.
That club had an interesting history and I talked at length with Billy Hancock about it. I found ads in the Washington Post from 1939 through 1950’s for this place. It started off the Club Log Tavern and it had orchestras and big bands and pop singers in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In the 1950’s it went towards country music and around 1958 or so they had a change in ownership and a gentleman named Carl Simpson bought the club and he brought in rock and roll bands. The first rock and roll band he brought in to the Club Log Tavern was Ronnie and the Off Beats. The lead guitarist was Danny Gatton the keyboard player was Dick Hintze and the lead singer was Ronnie MacDonald, who was involved with Jorma Kakonan and Jack Casady when they were all in a band called the Triumphs during their earlier teen years. They were playing there and Jim Morrison would go to the club and watch this band perform.
That is so wild.
I had one of Jim Morrison’s former classmates, a woman he had been friends with, and she told me some stories about Jim Morrison in the Club Log Tavern that will be in the book. Also, Ron MacDonald remembered Morrison. I have some extensive interviews with Ron because Morrison would come up and talk to him on the breaks. He remembers Morrison at the club, scribbling in his notebooks. Its very interesting . According to Ron MacDonald, Morrison may have taken some of his mannerisms from Ronnie and the Offbeats. Another interesting thing is that Ronnie and the Offbeats performed a lot of Bo Diddley tunes including “Who Do You Love”, and later on the Doors would perform ”Who Do You Love” on stage. It was rare, but one of the places they did that song was at the Alexandria Roller Rink in 1967, one of the very few times they played that song live. I tend to think it was Morrison’s way of paying homage to his roots at the Club Log Tavern. I could be wrong on that, but it seems like a connection.
Aside from the Club Log Tavern, there were three places in DC where Jim Morrison hung out: Bohemian Taverns, which is still there, Harrigan’s Restaurant in SW which from 1959-1961 was a hangout for beatniks and artists, and the other one which was very influential was called Coffee ‘n Confusion. That was really Washington DC’s premiere beatnik hang out at the time. They didn’t serve alcohol, they only served coffee and tea, and they had poetry readings.
Jim Morrison actually went there often and it was there that he gave his first public poetry reading and I’ve interviewed friends of his who were there on that particular evening. The very first instance of him giving his performance art was at this beatnik coffeehouse called Coffee ‘n Confusion and it was down at 10th and K streets. The building was torn down in 1969 and now it’s former site just a vacant parking lot. I think his experiences there were very influential in him later taking the stage and becoming a front man with the doors. It certainly spurred his interest in poetry and the arts and so fourth.
I go into great detail in all these matters and my conclusion is of course that there were some pretty significant experiences he embarked on when he was living in Alexandria that later defined his roll as a poet, artist, and rock and roll singer.
How about the Georgetown scene? Was he into that at all?
Yes, but from all indications, not as much. There were two night clubs in Georgetown he and his friends would go down and hang out at. M Street in Georgetown in 1961 was nothing at all like it is today. It was a main commercial avenue, but they didn't’t have rock and roll music there.
Mostly country at that time?
Pretty much - country and folk music. The two places he hung out at were the Silver Dollar, which is still there today, but it is the Bistro Francais Restaurant, it’s a French restaurant now. The Silver Dollar at the time actually had folk singers in there and they had those hootenanny things with folk musicians. That was in ’60 and ’61. Then it went into country music for a few years. Then in ’66 it went to rock and roll when Roy Buchanan went in there. Morrison was known to hang out there around 1960. I don’t think it was one of his favorite places. His girl friend Tandy Martin would go there for the folk music and he would go along with her. The other place Morrison was in at least a few times was Mac’s at 34th and M, across from the Cellar Door. It was actually called Mac’s Pipe and Drum restaurant at the time. They didn’t actually have music at the time; it was just this really weird neighborhood beatnik hangout. That’s how it was described to me. The old Georgetown brigade, all the old beatniks would hangout there.
In the mid ‘60’s they brought in live music and they changed it from Mac’s Pipe and Drum Restaurant to just Mac’s and then in the late 60’s they changed ownership and it became New Mac’s and was a rock and roll joint.
Yes, that’s when Billy Hancock was playing there, as New Mac’s.
Yes, It became quite a rock and roll stronghold in the late ‘60’s. I know the Mad Hatter’s played there a long time, the Fallen Angels played there a while, different hard rock bands. The old Mac’s, that building was put up in the 1800’s and it was a number of different businesses, but by 1910 it was already a restaurant. It became Mac’s around 1959. Before that it was the Gem Lunch Room. It did become Mac’s in 1959 and it was a weird beatnik beer joint and Morrison did hang out in there.
Did Jim Morrison have anything to do with the Mugwumps scene?
You know, in the Mugwumps both John Phillips and Cass Elliot had both attended George Washington High School but they never crossed paths. John Phillips was, I think class of ’54 and Cass Elliott, whose real name was Ellen Cohen, she would have been George Washington Class of ’60, but she left after her sophomore year and moved to Baltimore, so she didn’t have a chance to know Morrison. The thing is Jim Morrison was not really involved in any local music. There were no real local bands playing Georgetown at that point. Really what built up Georgetown was the British invasion of ’64 and that’s when every thing exploded and of course Morrison was gone by that time. Jim Morrison did hang out in Georgetown, and there were a couple of places around DuPont Circle as well – the Brickskeller which is still there, and the Ben Bow restaurant, which is no longer there.
I remember the Ben Bow. I knew someone who lived above it in the ‘70’s.
Those places weren’t so much live music venues, they were just places he and his buddies would go. There were a lot of places on 14th street where Morison hung out too. There are stories that Morrison went to Rands, the Hayloft and Casino Royal and places like that to see bands play, but certainly the places he was really enamored with were Coffee ‘n Confusion, Bohemian Caverns, and Harrigan’s Restaurant which was down on the waterfront in Southwest I also had one of his old friends tell me that they would go to upper 14ths street – to 14th and U to the black jazz clubs. Places like the Colt Lounge, the Spa, the Village Note - which latter became the Jazzarama. That was all around 1960-1961. Jim Morrison had found out about these jazz nightclubs by going to Bohemian Caverns and he loved to explore that whole corridor.that was at 11th and U Streets and then he just walked down to 14th an U and he would check out the jazz nightclubs in that area.
That whole area was like no man’s land for white high school kids at the time. You can see he was pretty fearless.
My brother had a job working for DC Transit back at that time, checking the buses arrival times and he had to be down there. I heard some pretty wild stories about that area.
Recently I had to go down there to 14th and T, because I am writing about that whole area and how Morison visited these clubs, and I wanted to find out what they are today. So I went down there, got off at the U street metro and I was shocked because that whole area is changing into Georgetown. The last time I was there, there was nothing but old boarded up buildings up and down 14th Street, and now there are all kinds of new businesses there. It’s verycosmopolitan now. I walked down 14th to P Street, then I walked all the way down to 20th street to Dupont Circle, and P Street, which use to be pretty rough in that area around 14th and P and 15th and P, is now all built up. There’s Starbucks and Cosi, and these coffee shops and bars and restaurants all over.
That whole area around the MCI center is just like that too.
Oh yeah, I’m down there every Saturday, going to the Martin Luther King Library. They just knocked down the whole 9th street strip. You see, back during the 1940’s and 1950’s and even up to about 1965 9th Street was like Washington DC‘s Time Square. All the way up from 9th and Pennsylvania to 9th and M, there was a stretch there where it was all peep shows and porno movie theaters and cheap used bookstores and arcades, I mean there was a big prostitution stretch and there was a big drug stretch. I talked to Andy Morrison, Jim Morrison’s younger brother, and he told me that they used to go walking around there and go to the used bookstores. That was when it was at its most intense period –1960. It really was like a Time Square atmosphere. I walked that whole stretch just a couple of weeks ago and it’s all been torn down. It’s all high- rise office buildings, these ten and eleven-story office buildings. There isn’t one single business left from its heyday. That tells you how much the downtown area has been torn up. The city has changed very much since the days when Jim Morrison would go walking around downtown. He would take the bus from Alexandria into Washington DC, get off at 12th and Penn and just start walking. He would check out the bookstores during the daytime and make notes on where the nightclubs were. I think he walked the entire city pretty much. Then he’d get his friends to take him back to these nightclubs at night. I think that definitely had a pretty strong influence on him. He would do the same kind of thing when he went away to college, both down in Florida and out in Los Angeles. When he took the stage with the Doors he had had a little bit of experience from being on stage doing the poetry reading at Coffee ‘n Confusion in Washington, D.C.
That’s pretty wild. It gives much more of an insight in to the character of Jim Morrison. My general impression of him has always been of this extreme narcissism. I guess my opinion is mainly shaped by the movie, “The Doors.”
That’s what has influenced people’s perceptions. The movie, these biographies that focus on Jim the wildman, Jim the drunk, Jim the rock and roll star, his female conquests and that sort of thing. The fact is he was an extremely intelligent, very creative person. He had his personality quirks, and he did do a lot of things alone, but contrary to popular opinion, he also had a lot of friends in high school and did a lot of normal things too. During the week he’d spend time in his bed room reading and drawing, that sort of thing, but on weekends he loved to go into DC and explore. That would be both on the week ends during the day and when he could he’d go in the evening with his friends and visit some of these nightclubs as well. I think Morrison was fascinated with what Washington, DC had to offer in terms of entertainment and nightclubs.
Well it was his introduction to culture.
Oh absolutely. He would go to the Dupont Theater, which was on Connecticut Avenue just below Dupont Circle, and the Playhouse Theater on 15th Street. He’d go see these movies by Serge Eisenstein and Francois Truffaut, the French symbolist filmmakers. He would go see all these films that kind of spurred his love of cinema. All these things had there origins here in Washington DC while he was living in Alexandria.
I could see how he would be attracted to Paris, from the similarity to DC.
All of his favorite filmmakers were French and some of his favorite authors were as well. His favorite poet was Arthur Rimbaud.
The thing about DC is that it is such a mixture. You have a very strong international thing, the country,bluegrass, the black- jazz and soul music. I mean where else is that possible?
The thing I have discovered doing my books “Capitol Rock” and “The Lizard King Was Here” is that within the music scene in Washington, one particular type of music would be very intense for a period of time and then it would always change. I mean, country music was always popular up until the time of the riots in 1968. Up to that time there were a couple of bluegrass clubs that were very popular like the Shamrock on M Street in Georgetown and the Pine Tavern on Massachusetts Avenue. There were rock and roll nightclubs all over the city, especially in Georgetown and the area of 14th Street, and then you had a mixture of country and rock at places like the Ozarks, Vinnie’s and the Famous, all of which featured Link Wray and the Raymen at different times. Over in Southeast DC you had places like the 1023 Club, the Shanty, the Beehive, and the Stagecoach, which booked some strange combinations of country and rock bands. Then, in the blink of an eye, you had the riots in 1968, and it was all over with. A bit later in the early seventies heavy rock and roll moved into the local nightclubs and then in the late 1970’s there was the punk rock movement. Almost any style of music has had its moment in DC. It seems to come and go in waves.
I hope we are in for another one. Thank you, Mark. As always, talking with you has been extremely interesting. I am looking forward to having the chance to read you new book, “The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia.”
The Lizard King Was Here: The Life amd Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia
The Lizard King Was Here is an in-depth study of a greatly overlooked period in the mercurial life of Jim Morrison, the late poet and lyricist-vocalist of the rock and roll band “The Doors” who died at the young age of 27 in 1971. Examining Morrison’s life from January 1959 to August 1961 – the years he resided in Alexandria, Virginia and attended George Washington High School – author Mark Opsasnick searches for and uncovers a vast array of his subject’s life experiences that served to influence his later poetry, lyrics, and performance art with the Doors. More than 150 individuals were interviewed for this unique project, including more than five-dozen former George Washington High classmates of Morrison’s who provided detailed memories of their lost contemporary. The end result is a fresh look at the most formative period in the life of one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars. Dedicated fans of Jim Morrison will be enthralled with “The Lizard King Was Here.” Status: The rough draft of The Lizard King Was Here has been completed and the manuscript is currently being edited and prepared for post-production art work.
Status: The projected release date for this book is October 31, 2006
George Washington High School Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) Alexandria Virginia
Jim Morrison, GWHS Class of '61, was a member of the music group called the "Doors" during the late 60s. This is his story.
James (Jim) Douglas Morrision, ‘61 Born on December 12, 1943 and died on July 3, 1971 at age 27 Jim Morrison, a member of the "Doors", was handsome with a gentle, innocent look. His genuinely shy manner and soft, quiet voice was in direct contrast to the always drunk and/or stoned satyr who sang with such strident urgency, as he appeared onstage. Jim's grade school ambition was to become a writer. His idols were poets and joumalists including Rimbaud, Keats and Jack Kerouac.
As a student Jim excelled in text work and reference work, devouring knowledge in areas of history, science, psychology, english and the arts, but was troublesome in class. He learned to make friends fast and not get too close as his father being an Admiral in the navy and a career man, moved around the country frequently.
Jim went on to get a degree in Cinematography and actually made a movie. The film was greeted by a minority as a masterpiece and by several professors as the worst film they had ever seen. "Wierd" would have been a more appropriate description. Not long after that he bumped into an old class mate, Ray Manzerak, and decided to join Ray's band 'Screamin ' Ray Daniels ' _ and try out some of his Iyrics. After a reshuffle in the band Ray and Jim with Robbie Krieger and John Densmore formed The Doors.
They called themselves The Doors after Aldous Huxley's 'The Doors Of Perception' and worked for six months ending up at the most important rock club in Los Angeles, Wiskey a Go Go. By this time Jim was singing his own heady material and The Doors were fast gaining a loyal core of fans.
One night Electra Record Company's president Jac Holzman, and producer Paul Rothschild, dropped in at the club and signed the band, on the spot, for ten thousand dollars. That summer of 1967 their first album 'The Doors' was released and immediately hailed as a masterpiece. 'Light My Fire' the single off the album was a smash hit. Their next album 'Strange Days ' solidified The Doors ' success. _With two albums in the top ten, headline concerts causing riots and hit singles, Jim achieved his aim of becoming hero and controversial spokesman, blending poetry and insanity.
The Doors became myth makers, the group who sang about sex, doom, the revolution and death, and Jim a performer of enormous capabilities. With his picture on the cover of practically all teen magazines in America, and heralded 'The King of Acid Rock', 'The King of Orgasmic Rock ', 'The Ultimate Barbie Doll ' and 'The Lizard King' Jim was every girl's dream and every boy's self image.
Jim was becoming notorious for his drug taking, taking and fast living and by the time The Doors third album 'Waiting For The Sun' came out, his popularity had begun to wane as his fans watched him become drunker and fatter.
Arrests after The Doors' Miami concert of March 2nd 1969 for "lewd and lascivious behaviour" sparked a nation wide ban on the group, resulting in exclusion from 16 states, and Jim began to rebel against the image he had created, shedding his leathers in fear of another bust. Twelve previous arrests had not left their mark, but this was the first time his arrest had serious repercussions.
Their next album 'The Soft Parade'released in the summer of 1969 did not make the impact of the earlier albums and although 'Morrison Hotel' released in early 1970 redeemed them somewhat, the future of The Doors was at best, uncertain.
Jim was not unaware of his own absurdity and the Iyrics of 'Absolutely Live' (1970) belie his disillusionment .... "Dead cat in a top hat, Thinks he's an aristocrat That's crap". With the finish of the bluesy and intermittently successful album 'L.A. Woman', Morrison headed for Paris. He was probably looking for renewed inspiration in the birth place of French symbolist poetry and_surrealism.
So Jim met his partner Pamela in Paris and his restless soul finally found peace when he died in his bath tub on July 3rd, 1971. Speculations as to the cause of his death abound and their are some who even proclaim that he is still alive.
Before he went to France he had recorded a legacy to Doors fans and the world at large with some of his poetry.
In 1978 the remaining Doors' members, Ray Manzerak, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore got together and put his poetry to music for the latest album 'An American Prayer' In it Jim seems to be prophesing his own death and welcoming it, through lines such as:
"Death makes angels of us all & gives us wings Where we had shoulders smooth as raven's claws No more money, no more fancy dress This other Kingdom seems by far the best until its other jaw reveals incest & loose obedience to a vegetable law I will not go Prefer a Feast of Friends To the Giant Family. "
REMEMBERING THE LIZARD KING - CLASSMATES TALK ABOUT THE JIM MORRISON THEY KNEW by: Sandy Barnes Alexandria Virginia "Gazette Packet" News March 21 1991
Jerry Ainsfield was with the Peace Corps in Liberia when he first heard about Jim Morrison's rock star fame. A friend had written Ainsfield about his former high school buddy, who was featured in the May 1967 issue of Life Magazine. "I went all over the place trying to find that issue of Life in Liberia," Ainsfield said. Before that he had lost track of Morrison with whom he had graduated from George Washington High School in 1961.
NOT EXACTLY TYPICAL
For Ainsfield and others who knew him at GW, Morrison was not exactly the typical "local boy who made good." For one thing, Morrison - who became the leader of the Doors rock group in the '60's - was not all that local. The son of a Naval Officer, Morrison had lived all over the country before coming to Alexandria in 1958, three years before finishing high school. Also, many who knew him were later mystified that Morrison had become a singer, as he had not seemed interested in music during his days at GW. Some, like Ainsfield were totally unaware of their former classmate's success until it came crashing to their attention.
Now, 20 years after his death, interest in the young man who became known as the "Lizard King" has been rekindled with the recent release of "The Doors," an Oliver Stone film centered on Morrison's life.
Speaking in his easy, Virginia-flavored voice, Ainsfield described Morrison as a friend he used to "hang out with...a handsome guy, but quiet and on the shy side. Morrison didn't even sing in high school," he said. "He liked to write poetry and he was a talented artist." Ainsfield said he and others focused instead on the singing abilities of classmate Ellen Cohen who later became Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas group. ("She had a beautiful voice," he remarked.)
Stan Durkee is among those who remember Morrison for his intellegence, his literary brillance and his enigmatic personality. "Intellectually, Jim was head and shoulders above all of us - he read every book you could imagine," said Durkee. "He inspired me." Durkee said he and Morrison used to go to book stores in Washington to look for works of beat generation authors who intrigued him.
Durkee remembers being in an English class with Morrison while studying James Joyce's "Ulysses." "Even the teacher was learning from Morrison's interpretation of the work," Durkee said. "We all were...He was sort of an intellectual leader."
However, Durkee said, "Nobody really understood Morrison (as a person). He was detached, creative...Few if any, people in our class were really close to him." Durkee, who gave Morrison a ride to school every morning, said Morrison was alienated from his family as well. "He went for weeks without seeing his parents," he said. Although Durkee saw Morrison as someone "who would have become a dramatic person," he said it was "a shock to everybody" that he evolved into "a teen idol." On the other hand, Durkee was not surprised by accounts of Morrison's tempermental and sometimes bizarre behavior during his performing years. Once during a class, he said, "Jim got really angry and exploded" because a teacher questioned his judgement. In a sense, Durkee said, Morrison was rebelling against the "smugness" and "mindlessness" of the late 50s. "Jim took everything to the max," said Durkee.
WE ALL EAT SMALL DOGS
Patricia Madison, who was also in classes with Morrison, described him as "hyper, high IQ and weird." She recalls a time in Spanish class when he wrote, "We all eat small dogs" on the blackboard as a sentence to be translated. Madison also remembers an incident when Morrison brough rotting fish with him on a bus without air conditioning during a hot summer day to elicit a reaction from the other passengers (which of course, he did). "Morrison would do things we didn't dare do," Madison remarked. She said once Morrison urinated in his locker, because he didn't feel like using the restroom.
Ainsfield said he believes some of Morrison's acting out in high school was alcohol-related, recalling that Morrison "liked drinking bourbon." However, Ainsfield said he does not believe Morrison was involved with drugs at that time.
Dick Sparks viewed Morrison as the leader of a "tight little intellectual group who followed him like puppies" and "made fun of other people." Sparks said he did not make the connection between the Morrison of the Doors and the teenager he had known in high school until he read Morrison's obituary in 1971.
Although Tommy Edwards has a distant memory of Morrison, "walking down a street in Warwick Village barefoot with a guitar around his neck," he too was surprised to learn of his later fame. Edwards sang in the high school chorus with the future Mama Cass Elliot, and thought that she - if anyone - would be the one to become sucessful in music, just as Ainsfield thought. Apparently, neither Edwards nor the others who knew Morrison in high school had any premonition of the musical success he would achieve. Still, Morrison is remembered by his classmates, if perhaps for different reasons.
When asked if he had seen the current movie about Morrison, Edwards replied, "No. That's not the Jim Morrison we remember."
Beltway Poetry Quarterly Volume 9, Number 3, Summer 2008
Coffee, Confusion and Jim Morrison: The Forgotten History of Hip Coffee Houses and Beatnik Poets in the Nation's Capital By: Mark Opsasnick
The Beat Generation emerged in the 1950s as a bohemian-fueled movement of visionary literary heroes, passionate poets and colorful, off-beat characters whose very lives were driven by an emotional quest for experience and an insatiable thirst for spontaneous poetry, unrestrained sex, bebop jazz, marijuana (which they called “tea”), impulsive travel and esoteric philosophy. Two main camps of the Beat Generation emerged in the United States as their presence permeated mainstream American culture: a New York contingency comprised of such luminaries as Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Herbert Huncke; and a West Coast faction whose ranks included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Lew Welch.
The creative power of these literary pioneers inspired devoted followings of like-minded writers and artists in hip coffee houses across the nation, with a particularly intense scene materializing in Washington, DC, where a venue known as “Coffee ‘n’ Confusion” became the focal point for the city’s “beatnik” contingency and is noted today for having been the site of the very first public performance of rock and roll legend Jim Morrison, who as a teenager gave an original poetry recital on the dank coffee house’s cramped, makeshift stage.
Bill Walker and Ruth Murray Walker (and unknown third party in sunglasses) at Coffee 'n' Confusion. Photo provided by Brandel France de Bravo.
The term “Beat Generation” was first coined by Jack Kerouac during a conversation he had with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes in 1948, using those words to describe the writers and poets that comprised his developing literary circle in New York City. While it was Kerouac himself who initially used the term “beat” in his debut novel The Town and the City in 1950 (in which he alluded to a woman named Liz wandering “beat” around New York City), it was Holmes who completed the exercise and wrote extensively of the Beat Generation – a collection of writers, artists, drug-users, hustlers, thieves, and down-and-out philosophers – in his 1952 New York-based novel Go. (In this thinly-disguised autobiographical account, Homes wrote of himself as “Paul Hobbes,” Jack Kerouac appeared as main character “Gene Pasternak,” and Allen Ginsberg was brought to life as “David Stofsky.”) Holmes later authored an essay entitled “This is the Beat Generation” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on November 16, 1952 and attempted to define the very essence of the young people of the movement. He wrote that those of the Beat Generation harbored more than just weariness, but carried raw feelings of being used and endured a nakedness of mind and soul. Jack Kerouac countered in interviews by explaining that “beat” really meant “beatific” or “sacred,” and many interpreted his works as exercises in capturing the holiness of the downtrodden.
While Jack Kerouac’s first novel The Town and the City was not widely read, his second effort in 1957, On the Road, was credited for announcing, in effect, a new consciousness. It was a major event in the annals of Beat Generation literature and fostered a special magic with its undirected raw energy, prose-poetry, and larger-than-life protagonists “Sal Paradise” (Jack Kerouac himself) and “Dean Moriarty” (Neal Cassady – a major prototype hipster figure in both the Beat Generation culture of the 1950s and the hippie movement of the 1960s), who zoomed back-and-forth around the country in search of thrills and experiences. As Beat Generation consciousness expanded during the late 1950s, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Herb Caen noted in his April 2, 1958 column (“Pocketful of Notes”) that Look Magazine had hosted a party in a North Beach house for fifty “beatniks” in preparation for a forthcoming article on the subject. It marked the first time the term “beatnik” had ever appeared in print and quickly became the moniker bestowed upon those who ingratiated themselves into the Beat Generation world. The beatnik image was shaped by a wave of books and articles that projected images of shaggy, bearded, beret-topped, bongo-playing, marijuana-smoking men and sullen, straight-haired, black-dressed women.
The beatniks were already firmly established as staples of popular culture when the family of George S. Morrison relocated from Alameda, California to Alexandria, Virginia in January 1959. Morrison, a freshly-promoted Captain in the Navy, had just landed a new assignment at the Pentagon in Arlington and rented a home for his wife and three children in a quiet, upper-middle class neighborhood named Jefferson Park. His son Jim, 15-years old at the time, enrolled at George Washington High School in the middle of his sophomore year, and although he was worlds away from his exalted position as lead vocalist for the Doors and the accompanying rock and roll stardom that would engulf him, he was beginning to explore the possibilities of the bohemian world. Even at that young age he reportedly found the literature and poetry of the Beats mesmerizing, and strongly identified with their uninhibited attitudes, unbridled creativity, and underground lifestyles, as well perhaps with their poetry and spirituality. It is known that during his three-year stay in Alexandria, Morrison’s private library included the novel Go (1952) by John Clellon Holmes, and the Jack Kerouac novels The Town and the City (1950), On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), The Subterraneans (1958), and Doctor Sax (1959). He also owned editions of Howl and Other Poems (1956) by Allen Ginsberg, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gasoline (1958) by Gregory Corso, and Naked Lunch (1959) by William Burroughs.
Jim Morrison was enthralled with the works of the Beat Generation writers and saw them as creators of an entirely new level of consciousness. His championing of these unique writers and poets was not lost on his high school companions, who were immensely impressed with his devotion to this daring new style of literature. Alexandria neighbor and friend Jim Merrill was one who noted Morrison’s enthusiasm for the Beats: “Morrison had a library that was unbelievable and when we talked about books Jim would start talking about the Beats, guys like Kerouac and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, who wrote A Coney Island of the Mind, which he actually gave me a copy of. Jim was already a big Kerouac fan by the time he got to Alexandria and these books were really a major influence on his outlook on life. Morrison was down that road and gone when he was 16 years old.”
It should be noted that bohemians (individuals with literary or artistic interests who live untroubled by middle-class social standards) had an established history in the nation’s capital well before Jim Morrison landed in the area. Many veterans of Washington, DC’s counterculture community maintain to this day that the precursors to the beatniks of the nation’s capital were a somewhat ephemeral and now largely forgotten congregation of remarkable Georgetown artists, writers and poets that had once inhabited a small, refuge-like compound known as “Hamilton Arms.”
Predating the Beat Generation movement by almost two decades, Hamilton Arms came into existence in 1939 when 58-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Milo Hamilton Brinkley purchased a small collection of old ivy-covered houses on 31st Street NW (between M and N Streets) in the heart of historic Georgetown and set about refurbishing the neglected collection of structures and molding them into his own little European-flavored village. Feeling the need for a central meeting place to bring his tenants and the neighborhood folk together, he opened the Hamilton Arms Coffee House that year in the village’s main structure at 1232 31st Street NW (built in 1900, this building had previously housed the C&P Telephone Company’s West Exchange for many years). While Mr. Brinkley rented out the smallish pink, yellow and turquoise Swiss village houses, his wife Emma Conger ran the Hamilton Arms Curiosity Shop, his son-in-law Howard Reid managed the coffee house, and daughter Mary (Molly) Brinkley Reid operated the Pottery and acted as artist-in-residence – she reportedly spent her days painting, designing, and endlessly decorating the property’s various rooms, gardens, and buildings.
Hamilton Arms was basically a series of rental units, but offered living and working space for unique, creative individuals and soon developed into a little bohemian enclave tucked away within the brick-lined streets of residential Georgetown. A walk through the blue iron gate alongside the coffee house revealed a long, covered grape arbor, a myriad of beautifully landscaped gardens, a tile house and kiln, thirty apartment units fashioned from a former slave compound, balconies covered in ivy, and a small rectangular swimming pool guarded by the “Discus Thrower” (a remarkable stone statue of a naked Greek athlete preparing to chuck his sphere). The pool itself, long a village trademark, was the scene of now-famous night-long parties before officials from the city’s Health Department, citing the lack of a badly-needed filter system, ordered the pool off-limits. An article in the Washington Post of May 18, 1953 (“Hamilton Arms Folk Lose Swimming Hole in their Garden by City Condemnation Rule” by Warren Unna) called the Hamilton Arms village “the Georgetown miniature of La Rive Gauche, Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill.” A resident named Chefik Haddad, former military attaché for Iraq, was quoted in the article as describing the village as, “Something between a campus and a village. People are not less conventional here, but what you might call conventional in a different way.”
What really made Hamilton Arms unique were the groups of incredible people that set up camp on the grounds of the village. A cast of indefinable characters predating the beatniks made the Hamilton Arms Coffee House their carefree playground. They began infiltrating the grounds – appearing from nowhere for friendly visits in the quaint apartment rooms and throwing wine parties that lasted for days and nights and wound throughout the gardens of the courtyard. Several years after the Health Department raid, Lieutenant Colonel Brinkley reminisced to local journalists about the once-commonplace midnight raids made by unknown revelers on the notorious swimming pool. More telling, however, was a piece on the heyday of the Hamilton Arms that appeared in the Washington Post on March 11, 1978 (“Georgetown’s Eccentric Landmark” by Jane Ann Spotts) that stated, “Residents swear that Georgetown’s first ‘pot party’ took place there in the late 50s, along with several other recreational firsts.”
Ultimately, the Hamilton Arms Coffee House closed its doors on Saturday, May 25, 1957, as the Brinkleys felt they could not keep the business alive without selling liquor, a practice forbidden at the time due to the presence of the Fifth Church of Christian Science two doors away. However, the apartments remained occupied and all that creative psychic energy within its courtyard somehow filtered through the wrought-iron fences and departed in search of new lands. (As a side note, Hamilton Arms continued on as a small offbeat residential community until the spring of 1978, at which time the property was sold and the buildings renovated for an influx of various private businesses. Today the compound goes by the official name of “Hamilton Court” and the building that once housed the Hamilton Arms Coffee House is now the home of OTJ Architects.)
Approximately two years after the closing of the Hamilton Arms Coffee House, the more adventurous spirits of Washington, DC’s growing bohemian community found a new sanctuary in a small, eclectic establishment known as Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. During the spring of 1959 the Beats emerged in Washington, DC, embracing the writings of Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes, and Allen Ginsberg, and searching for places where they could congregate and share their love of art, jazz, and poetry. They frequented a select number of gathering spots that accepted their ranks: Harrigan’s Restaurant on the waterfront in Southwest Washington, where local artists displayed their paintings on the walls and held court every night in the unusual beer garden that overlooked the Potomac River; Julie’s Café on M Street in Georgetown, where a low-key neighborhood watering hole slowly converted into a hip beatnik meeting place; and Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz basement where a diverse array of music fans could lounge all night. However, it was the introduction of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion that galvanized the burgeoning contingency of beatniks that had suddenly materialized amidst clouds of marijuana smoke and inspired voices of poetry and free expression.
Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was the creation of William Addison Walker, a remarkable bearded poet from Pinehurst, North Carolina who went by the name “Bill” and arrived in Washington during the late 1950s just as Beat consciousness was on the rise. He married a local girl from the better part of town named Ruth Murray (a 1958 Vassar graduate; today she goes by the name Ruth France), enrolled at George Washington University to study creative writing, and rented a house at 809 22nd Street NW (which eventually became home for a horde of beatnik allies). Walker was 24 years old when he and his wife opened the first version of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion on April 1, 1959 at 912 New Hampshire Avenue NW, a storefront which had previously housed a small grocery store called the Neighborhood Market.
Ruth France remembered how she and the beatnik icon came together: “He was very charismatic, he really was. I used to say he had all kinds of personality and absolutely no character, which was true. He was a Beat poet and very bright and very creative and also a bit of a bastard because he could get very aggressive and combative and he also drank to excess. I had lived quite a sheltered life and was working here in Washington at Brentano’s Books and he would come in and I had never met anyone like him, so eventually I married him. My parents had him investigated and they were just horrified at what they found. For one thing he told me he was 35 years old when we first met and in reality he was only 24. I was very upset when I found out about that.”
Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was based on the coffee houses of New York City’s Greenwich Village and during its first week of operation served approximately 100 patrons per night, an impressive feat considering they advertised solely through word-of-mouth contacts in the local bohemian community. The little club offered coffee, tea, poetry readings, debates, bongos, folk songs, checkers, and chess for its colorful clientele of students, poets, and musicians. Although Coffee ‘n’ Confusion hadn’t been open long enough to draw serious heat from the local police, Assistant Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robbins happened along and found the coffee house in violation of numerous zoning laws. He ordered the business closed on Tuesday, April 7, 1959 and a wave of publicity followed the club’s shutdown.
Bill Walker searched the city for a new location for his business and eventually found a suitable spot in the basement of the Zantzinger Building at 945 K Street NW (a murky space which had previously housed a series of short-lived restaurants). The Zantzinger Building, a two-story, brick Victorian mansion (with wood detail, arched windows, framed balconies, and a half-attic on top) had been constructed in 1884 and had actually served as a private residence in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood until real estate mogul Otway Berryman Zantzinger, Sr. came along and purchased the building in 1925. The property was immediately rezoned and later that year the new owner relocated his private real estate business, the O.B. Zantzinger Company, from 912 10th Street NW to his new K Street headquarters. It was an interesting section of Downtown, as just around the corner was the seedy 9th Street Bowery and its used book shops, arcades, peep shows, liquor stores, and run-down restaurants.
The Walkers’ new and improved version of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion operated seven days a week from 8:00pm to 4:00am, requested a token donation at the door, and did not serve alcohol. An auspicious grand opening was staged on the night of Saturday, June 6, 1959 that advertised a poetry contest between some local heroes (the “Washington Poets”) and a squadron of Beats from New York City. Bill Walker addressed the crowd throughout the evening as manager Dick Dabney and other hip poets like Bill Jackson read original works (titles of these creations ranged from “The Charlie Starkweather Blues” to “The Stream of Not-So Consciousness”). By the early morning hours Walker was being hailed by his customers as a folk hero in the making, the leader of a new generation committed to self-expression and artistic freedom. Walker – shaggy-haired, goateed and bleary-eyed – relished his role as King Hipster and in the days following the impressive debut of his coffee house told local reporters he didn’t really like the term “beatnik” and objected to the way that people in America were slaves to routine. He said he hoped his protest would give other people guts and help them organize their own protests. Exactly what he was protesting, though, was never really made clear.
As Coffee ‘n’ Confusion simmered as a beatnik hot spot, it found itself under intense scrutiny from local law enforcement authorities who seemed anxious to pounce on the club’s patrons the moment they emerged from the smoky den and attempted to navigate their way down K Street. After a six-month undercover police investigation, the Narcotics Squad of the District Police, armed with search warrants based on material gathered by rookie policeman Private Jose L. Estrada (who had posed as a drug-buying beatnik), staged sweeping raids on both Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and Java Jungle (a similar coffee house that had opened in August 1959 at 2119 Pennsylvania Avenue NW) on the morning of Friday, April 1, 1960. Twelve local beatniks were arrested on drug charges, including 24-year-old Java Jungle owner John F. Stevens and 26-six-year-old Dick Dabney, who had formerly been a manager of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. Both were accused of unlawful transfer of marijuana (Stevens pled guilty and was eventually placed on probation, while Dabney was acquitted on grounds of entrapment). The bust sent waves of paranoia through the beatnik scene and was particularly devastating to Java Jungle, as the coffee house never reopened its doors after the unexpected raid.
Bill Walker, reeling after the police intervention, worried that his business would wane as the beatniks were targeted as major players in local marijuana distribution rings. Before the month was out, 27-year-old Angelo Alvino, a no-nonsense entrepreneur who owned the renowned jazz nightclub Bohemian Caverns and had been a fixture on Washington’s music scene for many years, made him an offer and came away with 50% ownership of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. Alvino wasted little time in augmenting the nights of poetry at the coffee house with wild late-night jam sessions that brought together some of the city’s top musicians. Coffee ‘n’ Confusion soldiered on under the new part-owner and continued to pull in an eclectic crowd of artists, poets, beatniks and those who defied categorization.
It was said that Angelo Alvino had kept a watchful eye over the patrons of his two nightclubs and had somehow made the acquaintance of one of his teen-aged regulars at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion – a reserved young man named Jim who in later years would turn out to be a famous rock and roll singer. Alvino, whom I managed to interview in 2005 at the Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in LaPlata, MD, told me he clearly remembered the teenager who was so enamored with his establishments: “I knew Jim, but this was long before he was a singer and became famous. He would come into Coffee ‘n’ Confusion for the poetry readings and he knew Bill Walker and would talk with both of us about the poetry. He was a teenager from Virginia and it was unusual for someone that young to keep coming back, but he wasn’t a troublemaker or anything; he was a good kid and he just came in every now and then and he’d always bring a friend or two with him. He came into Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and I had Bohemian Caverns at the same time and he started going up there to listen to the jazz music.”
Alvino revealed that a number of local musicians pointed out to him in the late 1960s that a local fellow named Morrison had gone on to achieve fame and fortune with a rock and roll band called the Doors. When he saw the jacket of the band’s first record album, he immediately recognized one of the members as a long-haired version of the teenager he had known only as “Jim.” (Unfortunately, Angelo Alvino passed away in February 2008 after a prolonged illness.)
Several of Jim Morrison’s friends from George Washington High School confirmed that Coffee ‘n’ Confusion had been one of his favorite haunts. Former classmate John Huetter recalled: “Coffee ‘n’ Confusion – I wasn’t that crazy about it, but Jim liked it because they had poetry readings and stuff like that and that supposedly was the attraction. Jim read there once that I remember and I’m not sure if I was envious or if my reaction was, ‘Oh no, my God, sit down!’ As a matter of fact, at GW, Jim was not a part of the socially ‘in-crowd’ and he had a reputation from going there because the guys on the football team would come around and ask me, ‘Are you a friend of the beatnik or what?’”
Evidently, Jim Morrison was slow to get involved in the festivities at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and initially seemed to prefer observing what transpired around him. I queried Jim Merrill about his behavior at the coffee house and he replied: “He could be strange. You know, some nights Jim could be invisible. He could just be there and he wouldn’t show off or do anything crazy. Then some nights he’d catcall and make fun. At Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, when we were there together, he basically stayed on good behavior and we would pretty much just sit there and listen to the beatniks recite their poetry.”
At some point, most likely during the spring of 1960 towards the end of his junior year of high school, Jim Morrison actually got up onstage and performed at least one poetry recital at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, a monumental event that marked the very first time he ever performed in public and shared his written work with a captive audience. While the actual poem he read that evening has never been conclusively identified, it has been speculated by some in attendance that evening that a version of “Horse Latitudes” may have been the selection. This public recital was testament to how important Morrison felt the coffee house was and how strongly its patrons and their behavior influenced him. Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was not only the very first place where he ever saw poets in action; it provided the cramped stage where he cut his teeth as a performing artist.
Maggie Phillips had heard in the hallways of George Washington High that Jim Morrison was going to be reciting at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and she remembered making the journey to the basement club on K Street with a close friend to see Jim in action for the first time: “I remember people talking in school about Jim’s poetry and it was really looked upon at the time as something different. Helen Willey, who’s married now and is a federal judge in Hawaii, went to GW with me and the two of us went over to Coffee ‘n’ Confusion one time because we heard Jim was going to do a poetry reading there. We couldn’t tell our parents, so I went to Helen’s house and we took a bus into the city. When we got to the place we had to go downstairs into the basement of this building and I remember it was like a cave and it was really dark and they had little round tables in there and I remember these shaggy-looking people would get up on this little stage and recite their poetry. We went in and sat down and you can picture how out-of-place we were – we were like these little, rosy-cheeked, teen-aged good girls and we were surrounded by these weird people!”
Maggie provided her memories of Morrison’s performance: “We went into the coffee house and we saw Jim Morrison there and I don’t remember who he was with, but his turn came and he got up and did his reading. What I remember is that it was one of his original poems because I seem to remember it had something to do with horses and when he finished I remember him saying ‘By Jim Morrison.’ When he finished his reading, instead of applauding, everybody started beating their spoons on the tables and I remember thinking, ‘These people are way weird!’ When we were leaving to take the bus back home Helen turned to me and told me she wanted to become a beatnik and I told her I didn’t want to because I didn’t look good with my hair parted in the middle. To this day I remember that, and while I didn’t become a beatnik, I did get to see and hear Jim Morrison recite poetry!”
After Jim Morrison’s epic poetry recital at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, he went on to graduate from George Washington High School in June 1961 and then left Alexandria at the end of that summer to attend St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida (he would later attend Florida State University and eventually earned a bachelor of arts in theater arts from UCLA in June 1965). Morrison, it should be noted, never actually sang with a rock and roll band during his teen years in Alexandria. However, it is obvious that as a high school student he was forming an identity around art and it was his love of poetry and literature that fostered his later interest in writing song lyrics. When the Doors formed in Venice Beach, CA in September 1965, he undoubtedly drew upon his unique experiences at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion as inspiration to express himself as a performing artist. Jim Morrison went on to become one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars, only to have his life cut short at age 27 under very mysterious circumstances. He was discovered dead in a bathtub in Paris, France by his girlfriend Pamela Courson on Saturday, July 3, 1971. His body was examined that afternoon by Dr. Max Vassille, who reported that Morrison’s body showed no signs of trauma and proclaimed he had died of natural causes due to heart failure. However, it must be noted that no autopsy was ever performed and to this day no one knows how Jim Morrison really died.
As for Bill Walker, the years following his reign as Washington’s top beatnik were difficult to say the least. Ruth France unfolded the story of his tragic demise: “We had given up Coffee ‘n’ Confusion in October 1960 because while the club was always filled with people, there was no money coming in. We split up and later when our divorce was final Bill was living in Paris and he had been arrested for smuggling guns into Spain and spent time in jail in Madrid. He had a girlfriend there and they got married and they came back to New York and Bill eventually wound up in Bellevue Hospital Center for a while and they told him he could never drink again because he had suffered severe liver damage. He came down to see me in Washington and I will never forget it, it was so incredibly sad because his whole personality was gone. He just was not the same person when he wasn’t drinking.” According to his daughter Brandel France de Bravo, William Addison “Bill” Walker died sometime around June 1974.
The Beatnik scene in Washington was certainly at its most intense from the inception of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion in the spring of 1959 until the massive marijuana bust of April 1, 1960 that set back both Bill Walker’s unique coffee house and its copycat ally Java Jungle. Several spirited entrepreneurs around the city, with their eyes now squarely focused on the precarious situation surrounding Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and keenly aware that the heat of the local law enforcement authorities was firmly directed at the highly visible beatnik leader Bill Walker, tentatively acted upon plans to open similar coffee house establishments in hopes of attracting some of the beatnik clientele that was now growing wary of their old hangouts.
Georgetown became home of the Cauldron, a beatnik playground that opened for business in May 1960 by Irwin Baron. Situated in the basement of 3263 M Street NW, this adventurous coffee house took over the underground space formerly occupied by Ward’s Used Furniture Store, and featured spontaneous entertainment, live jazz and folk music, primitive dance exhibitions, and classic movies. Unfortunately, the beatniks were a bit slow to respond, perhaps because of the country music culture that prevailed on M Street at the time, and the Cauldron didn’t bubble for long. The owner changed the club’s name to the Lamplighter on November 1st of that year and was out of business less than three weeks later, its demise unnoticed. Before the month was out Melo’s Italian Restaurant had taken over the top floor of the building and the Cauldron’s basement dwelling had been remodeled and reopened as Melo’s Subcommittee Room, a small-scale cabaret-theatre. In early 1963 Melo’s closed and the basement was transformed into the French Quarter, a jazz club that switched over to rock and roll with the arrival of the British Invasion and thrived as a Georgetown hot spot until 1968 (many local hippies will remember this site hosting a head shop called the Bird Cage during the 1970s). Today 3263 M Street NW houses an Italian Restaurant called Lazio.
Northeast of Georgetown in a seemingly different world known as Adams Morgan (an eclectic neighborhood that in recent years has cultivated an overwhelming Hispanic presence), Potter’s House was opened in June 1960 at the former site of the Embassy Lunch Restaurant at 1658 Columbia Road NW (a bit east of 18th Street NW) by the nondenominational Church of the Saviour under the guidance of Rev. Newton Gordon Cosby. Acting upon his belief that Christianity must always be open to “new structures,” Rev. Cosby designed Potter’s House as “a quiet place where thoughtful people of any belief can relax, hear music, look at art, and talk.” Coffee, simple fare, poetry readings, live folk music, and displays and shows by local artists marked the club as unique in a section of town which at the time was mainly known for it’s other two main nightclubs, the Showboat Lounge (2477 18th Street NW), which for years featured now-legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, and the Underground (1401 Columbia Road NW), which during most of 1961 offered the great jazz guitarist Bill Harris. The Potter’s House differed from other beatnik hangouts in that its atmosphere was a bit more subdued and it closed at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, a departure from the dusk-to-dawn hours that other local coffee houses adhered to. Remarkably, Potter’s House remains open at its original location to this very day.
Several years after the inception of Potter’s House, Adams Morgan welcomed another coffee house called Ontario Place, which replaced the Ontario Market at 1811 Ontario Place NW in May 1963 and stayed in business until June 1965. Ontario Place was widely known for offering Delta blues guitarist-balladeer Mississippi John Hurt and gained a reputation among Washington musicians as one of the hippest places in town after Bob Dylan stopped by for a visit, an event later chronicled in the book Positively Main Street (1972) by Toby Thompson. Ontario Place made a lasting mark in local music history, but faded far too quickly from the scene (the building that once housed this coffee house was recently torn down and a private residence is being constructed on its former site).
Another major beatnik establishment to appear on the scene was the Unicorn, which emerged on the fringes of Dupont Circle at 1710 17th Street NW long before that area had established its reputation as a refuge for counterculture devotees. (The composition of the neighborhood would change drastically after the infamous June 1963 incident involving 23-year-old Eddie Hicks, a troubadour who had been arrested for vagrancy while sitting on the grassy lawn adjacent to the Circle and playing his guitar for the small crowd that had gathered around him – his arrest would trigger a series of demonstrations around the Circle’s fountain that would define the area as a gathering spot for bohemians, leftists, nonconformists and revolutionaries that exists to the present day.) While the pulse of the neighborhood had long circulated through such eclectic Dupont Circle bars as the Flame, Charlie’s Café Lounge, the Ben Bow, and the Brickskeller, the Unicorn quietly joined their ranks in January 1961 and offered folk music and a bohemian atmosphere for those who shied away from the hustle and bustle of Connecticut Avenue.
Six months after its opening the Unicorn was purchased by a neighborhood resident named Elliot Ryan, who would later become a significant figure in Washington, DC’s rock and roll scene as creator and publisher of Unicorn Times, an excellent publication that initially had its offices adjacent to Dupont Circle at 1721 21st Street NW and covered the music scene in the nation’s capital from 1973 to 1986. Ryan was originally from New York, had graduated from Michigan State University, and after a two-year stint in the army settled down in Washington, DC in May 1960. He took over the Unicorn with the idea of making it a live music coffee house and installed a Wednesday night “hootenanny” where a bevy of folk singers gathered and sung for the masses. Jazz musicians were featured on Monday nights and on weekends he booked such folk artists as Tim Cameron, Allen Damron, Mario Illo, John Everhart, Robbie Basho, Pete LaFarge, and Eric Darling (of the Weavers). Local guitarists like John Fahey and Max Ochs regularly showed up for impromptu performances and the popular Joan Baez even stopped in one night to sing onstage with the resident folkies.
The Unicorn also staged art shows and Sunday afternoon movies, everything from Charlie Chaplin flicks to art films and foreign works to more popular titles like “The Room Upstairs” and “The Ruse.” Fifty different kinds of tea and coffee were on the menu and patrons could play chess or sift through racks of newspapers and magazines. Citing financial reasons, Elliot Ryan eventually closed the Unicorn in the spring of 1964 and today the former site of this unique coffee house hosts the Admiral Dupont, a six-story condominium building marked 1700 17th Street NW (just north of 17th and R Streets NW).
As Washington’s original beatnik gathering spot and poetry performance space, Coffee ‘n’ Confusion lived off its reputation and remained in operation until April 1963, at which point Angelo Alvino closed up shop to devote his full attention to Bohemian Caverns. The local beatniks continued to use 945 K Street as home base, as the building’s basement went on to host such coffee houses as the Open Way (July 1963 to March 1964), the Crow’s Toe (April 1964 to December 1964), and a succession of similar establishments throughout the latter part of the decade including the Lute and Lyre, Portochinko’s Palace, and the Blue Sparrow.
As the 1960s wore on the beatniks dwindled in number in Washington, DC and were eventually all but replaced by scores of long-haired hippies that mobilized a new cultural revolution driven by hard rock and roll, rampant drug use, and fanatical opposition to the Vietnam War and conservative values. As cultural staples, folk music gave way to the Beatles and the British Invasion which, in turn, inspired a wave of psychedelia that infected both musical and social trends. As the authentic beatniks disappeared and the Summer of Love loomed on the horizon, the hippies descended upon Dupont Circle, dispensing LSD and offering visions of peace and tranquility to the young sycophants that hovered all around.
Purple Haze aside, the empty and crumbling Zantzinger Building at 10th and K Streets NW eventually outlived its usefulness and was torn down in October 1969. The former site of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion then served for the next 38 years as an asphalt parking lot for the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The lot was recently excavated and is currently a fenced-off construction site that will soon host a multi-story office glass-and-concrete complex. Sadly, no markers, monuments or plaques commemorate the former location of the basement lair that launched Washington, DC’s Beat Generation and served as the very first stage for a rock and roll legend.
Mark Opsasnik was born in Washington, DC, raised in nearby Prince George’s County, MD, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in urban studies from the University of Maryland in 1984. His lifelong interests in unexplained phenomena, popular culture, and rock and roll music have resulted in seven books including Capitol Rock, which documents the history of rock and roll music in the nation’s capital from 1951 to 1976, and The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia, which examines a greatly overlooked period in the life of one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars.
Jim Morrison: The High School Years New book recalls late rock legend’s years as an Alexandria teen.
By By Greg Wyshynski Thursday, August 03, 2006
Bill Thomas and Randy Maney were teenagers, growing up in Alexandria around 1960. One day the duo, along with a friend, traveled to Hains Point, the East Potomac Park Golf Course, to knock around a few balls. While they waited their turn on the greens, their friend silently walked over to a round metal railing along the tidal basin and began to stride atop it, as if it were a circus tightrope. “If he’d fallen into that river, he’s gone. There’s no way to climb out,” recalled Maney. “I think he did things like that to watch people’s reaction, but that really seemed like something more than just trying to get a reaction.” Their friend’s name was Jim Morrison. Intense moments like the one above, and interviews with childhood friends of the late lead singer of The Doors, are featured in author Mark Opsasnick’s new book “The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia.” Opsasnick believes his is the first examination of Morrison’s two-and-a-half year stint as a student at George Washington High School and as a resident of Woodland Terrace in the Jefferson Park area of Alexandria.
The book is at once a biography of Morrison, using unexplored stories and inspirations to analyze future actions, and a historic travelogue through a teenager’s life in 1960s Alexandria. It features dozens of recollections from Morrison’s high-school and childhood friends — some hilarious, some insightful, and many that seemed to predict Morrison’s memorable erratic behavior as a music icon. Opsasnick will discuss and sign copies of “The Lizard King Was Here” on Sunday, Aug. 13 at St. Elmo’s Coffee Shop, 2300 Mount Vernon Ave., from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Music will be provided by the White Whale New Orleans Band. Visit Opsasnick’s Web site at www.capitolrock.com for more information and to purchase the book.
MORRISON CAME to Alexandria in January 1959, after his father Steve received a promotion in the military and was reassigned to the Pentagon. The Morrison family moved to Woodland Terrace in Jefferson Park, into what Opsasnick said was an infamous house whose tragic history served as an early indication of Morrison’s partiality for all things shocking.
According to the author, a woman named Betty Howard committed suicide in the basement of that house in September 1957. As a neighbor relayed the details of that tragedy to Morrison’s mother, 15-year-old Jim was seated at the kitchen table. “As soon as he heard this story about how a woman had shot herself in the basement, he ran upstairs, grabbed a mattress and basically announced to his mother that the basement was now his bedroom,” said Opsasnick. Later, when asked by another neighbor why he chose to sleep in such a notorious place, Morrison allegedly offered a sinister look and answered, “To get the vibe.”
That instance of bizarre behavior fueled Morrison’s reputation as a rebel at George Washington High School, where he enrolled as a second-semester student in 1959 and proceeded to excel academically until graduating in 1961. “Almost everyone agreed he was extremely intelligent,” said Opsasnick. “They thought Morrison had a photographic memory.”
He also had a reputation: that of a detached loner. But when Morrison was comfortable around certain people, Opsasnick said he’d “put on a show” for them. He also would agitate those whom he felt were up tight or reserved — a “free activity” that the author feels Morrison developed as a teen and continued until his death in August 1971. “I don’t think any of this [behavior] was random. I think it was all calculated — experimenting with his friends and gauging their reactions, just like a social scientist would. There’s no real rational reason for it, but he got some sort of perverse pleasure out of it.”
OPSASNICK FEELS THAT Morrison’s biggest change during his brief time in Alexandria was in his artistic influences — and not necessarily musically. “During his high school years, he never once mentioned singing or playing in a rock and roll band,” said the author.
While in Alexandria, Morrison developed into a multi-media artist. He would create oil paintings and collages in his basement bedroom. He would venture into D.C. to listen to bands and take in Eisenstein and Truffaut films at local art house cinemas. In fact, Morrison also made his first film called “Pinman” at GW High School — a now-lost Super 8 movie that juxtaposed a pinball machine with a classmate bouncing off things in everyday life. Most importantly, Morrison used Alexandria to fuel a love for literature. He would buy Salvation Army clothes and cheap hair cuts in the city in order to use the leftover allowance to purchase used books. He would spend countless hours at the Alexandria Library on King Street. “When he arrived in Alexandria, he had very few books with him, maybe four or five,” said Osasnick. “When he left, his younger brother told me he went down to his basement bedroom and counted every book in his collection — it totaled over 1,000 volumes.”
Opsasnick makes some bold connections between Morrison’s life in Alexandria and the course of his life in later years, but none more bold than his contention that Morrison used beat generation author Jack Kerouac’s first published novel “The Town and the City” as a blueprint for his own life.
“There’s a character in there, Francis Martin, and when you read it, it’s eerie,” said Opsasnick. “He was a loner, he was detached, his family members thought he was strange. He would sit down in his bedroom and devour literature by people like Nietzsche that Morrison was into. Later in life, Francis Martin cut off ties with his parents and moved to Paris, France. It was Jim Morrison to a tee.”
ONE OF MORRISON’S favorite places in Alexandria was a long pier near the Torpedo Factory. Opsasnick said he would spend nights there talking with local fishermen, and that the run-down features of the Alexandria waterfront held a special attraction for him.
But Morrison’s time in the city was short. In August 1961, he moved back with his grandparents in Clearwater, Fla., to enroll in St. Petersburg Junior College. It was just two months earlier that Morrison pulled an ultimate act of rebellion which left high-school friends stunned and confused: He skipped out on his graduation ceremony from George Washington. “That tells me there wasn’t something right about him,” said Opsasnick. “There just wasn’t anyone back then that skipped graduation — it just wasn’t done.”
Moments like this are found throughout “The Lizard King Was Here,” as Opsasnick meticulously traces Morrison’s travels around Alexandria and recalls the impressions he made on those who knew him during his high-school years — including the moment when they realized their old friend had become a rock star. “That was a complete shock to me when he became a musician because the whole time I knew him he never sang a note,” Jeff Morehouse, Morrison’s childhood friend, told Opsasnick. “In high school, the best he could do was to start humming in the Alexandria library just to drive the librarian crazy. That was probably the only time I ever heard him sing anything.”