A perk of my day job is meeting people with great stories. This one belongs to “Uncle S,” who stops by when he passes through town. One day he handed me a story about his friendship with Jim Morrison of the Doors. This is his story. Doors’ fans, enjoy.
What follows is part of family lore and legend; a tale of how The Wolfsnot and The Lizard King crossed paths – one to eternal fame, the other to as of yet undisclosed destiny.
Back in April of ’67, my wife came home and said Jim Morrison came into the club. Back then, the Doors were the hot, upcoming local group, and were getting local radio airplay. In the interest of full disclosure, the club was a strip club and my old lady was a hooch hustler. Jim took a liking to her and they ended up having many conversations. She told him about her slightly weird husband and that the two of us should meet.
I thought she was having Hollywood fantasies until she brought home two tickets for an upcoming Anaheim concert along with Jim’s request to meet a real Montana Redskin . I agreed to meet him.
One day I’m hanging at the club, shooting pull when this guy in a brown leather jacket and demi-boots walks in. The old lady greets him and leads him to the pool table. His eyes lock onto my Navajo Concho Belt. We shake hands and introduce each other.
“Wanna play?” I ask him.
“I’m not that good. We can knock ’em around if you like.”
I immediately liked him. He didn’t seem pretentious or high nosed. And he wasn’t lying. He was terrible. He wasn’t even trying. Being a serious shooter, he tried my patience. I’m usually polite and courteous, but after the third game my exasperation reached overload. “You dumb shit! You’re not even trying. I take this game more seriously than this bullshit!”
Oh shit dumbass, there goes your free drinks, I thought. He was buying.
“Well fuck you and fuck this stupid game! Let’s see if we can drink on an even keel. I know I’m better than you or anyone.”
Huzzah, free drinks are back, I thought.
We retired to the end of the bar and started slugging them down. It wasn’t long before he offered to buy my belt.
I declined and explained its history and family significance. He respected my wishes, but told me for his fascination with Native American culture. He pressed me for stories about ceremonies and reservation life. We talked for hours, mostly about Indian stuff, but our love of books and reading seeped into the conversation. I was into history, biographies, cultural anthropology, and religion; Jim was into philosophy, mythology, and poetry.
He was really into booze! I could drink back in those days, but he was outdoing me two to one. At the time, I was in the Army, and, well, army life interferes with partying. About 5:30, I excused myself and staggered home.
About a week later, I got a call from the old lady. “Be sure to stop by the club after duty. Jim’s here and he want’s to talk to you.” When I showed up, he’s with “one of the girls.” his words, not mine. She was a pretty brunette, not Pam Courson.
“We’ve go some East Coast gigs coming up and I want to get a belt like yours. Where can I get one without going to Arizona or Mexico?” We get a phone book and go through the yellow pages… Indian goods, Trading Posts, Art Galleries, Western Wear. Jim rips out the pages and stuffs them into his jacket pocket. More drinks, more stories until Jim and his lady they want to go to a party. They invite me and the old lady. Army commitments hold me back. Snorts of derision and thinly veiled aspersions on my masculinity.
Remember the Anaheim Concert? I barely do. I was trashed on my drug of choice, Mescaline. What I remember – Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick were dynamite. The Doors seemed good, but it was the first time I seen them play, and I didn’t have a comparison.
That summer Jim and I met occasionally at the club, but for whatever reason, we never formed a close bond. In retrospect, we were both habitual loners and our lives and occupations were considerably different. My military duties were taxing and intense. I was living a Jekyll-Hyde existence alternating from dutiful soldier and husband to street roaring hellion and skirt chaser.
I did like to drive my hot rod fast and I preferred doing it alone. Once, Jim came along. We were on the way to see Jefferson Airplane at Gazaries on the Santa Monica Pier. I was going eight-five on the four-oh-five when Morrison yells: “Slow the fuck down, I don’t want to die!” Before I could respond, he pukes in my car.
Along with my driving, Jim always gave me shit about hair. I was pushing the limits by military standards, but short for contemporary style. Money was always an issue also, at least for me and the old lady. Jim always carried a tab, someone always would take care of it for him. If he was short on cash, he made a call, and someone usually delivered. On several occasions he’d stick a five or ten in my pocket and say: “Pay me later.”
I never did. He never asked.
In the fall of ’67, Jim must have been having a bad day, or maybe he was drunker than usual, but he went off on me. “How can you sleep at night doing what you do and packing these kids off to a fucking slaughter!”
I simply answered: “I’m a crow warrior and a blood thirsty savage. It’s my preordained destiny.” In reality, it was a bitch knowing about half of each batch sent off would come home crippled, crazy, or in a body bags. Most of them didn’t share my destiny of desire to become warriors.
My own drinking and hell raising were taking their toll. The old lady and I were first friends, then lovers but never really in love. Our marriage was more for companionship, survival, and the benefits of military stewardship. Somehow I managed to attain the rank of staff sergeant which gave her hope I was getting my act together. One night I came home, drunk as usual, and she threw an envelope on the table. “Here, Jim dropped these off for you. Take one of your bimbos, ’cause I’m not going.”
The tickets were for the Cal-State Concert… Canned Heat, Big Bear Hite, of
course The Doors. The old lady was still the Mormon country girl, still into country music. She hated The Doors; she get irritated when I played their records.
In early ’68 things were going to shit with the old lady and me. I avoided the club and saw little of Jim. The pressures of stardom were demanding of his time. His legend was being formed. When we talked, I detected the strain in his composure.
One day he left a note for me at the club. Come by the studio, it read. When I did, I could here them jamming, and I got to chat with Dorthy Fujikawa, Ray Manzarek’s then girlfriend and eventual wife. I was handed another note that Jim wanted to ride with me toe the Santa Clara Fair.
I was excited with the invitation, but fate intervened. I received my marching orders for Viet Nam. I sent Jim a letter of apology, and headed back to the reservation. There were important ceremonies to be conducted before riding off on the war trail. My grandmother was making a beaded buckskin bag for my war medicine, and I asked her to make another one for a friend of mine. Traditionally, they are adorned with a turtle or a lizard to ward off bad happenings. Grandma made turtle designs on both bags. “Turtle King,” doesn’t have the right ring to it. I mailed one bag back to LA and asked the old lady to give it to Jim. It turned out that I would never see her or Jim again, but I’m sure she understood to the significance and delivered the package.
I was wounded (twice) in Viet Nam. After the second injury, I was shipped off to Valley Forge Medical Hospital for rehab. There I caught up with Jim and The Door’s success. They had hit the big time.
In Sept/Oct. of ’71, news of Jim’s death by choking and Janis Joplin’s death riding the needle. As inured and blasé as I had become with death, this hurt! I was siting on the banks of Yellowstone River when I heard the radio report of Jim’s death.
I was tired of death, and briefly considered Canada or Sweden, but the beat of the war drums prevailed. Back in Viet Nam I pursued my warrior craft collecting scalps and finger bones. I remained in the military until 1990, twenty-six years of service. For my efforts, Uncle Sam issued ‘soft asylum’, in a non-descript civil service job -a place to hide.
All I have to show for this besides being crippled and crazy, are a bunch or worthless medals, a coveted seat on the warrior’s council, and three lovely daughters. I do have a lot of memoires, some of them actually good – like drinking and shooting pool with this guy in L.A. who would become The Lizard
King and a prince among contemporary poets.
I still occasionally get comments, “Hey, you got a belt just like Jim Morrison.” I respond, “No, Jim Morrison had a belt just like mine.” Sometimes I just smile. I don’t know where he got his belt. I never saw him wear it but then I never saw him again after I left for Viet Nam. I never got to say goodbye. I thought I would go first.
Strange Days, indeed.