For as long as I can remember, The Doors have had a place in my life. I first got into their music after I bought the Greatest Hits album on vinyl, back when I was in elementary school. I read No One Here Gets Out Alive, Danny Sugarman’s biography of Jim Morrison, when I was supposed to be reading The Great Gatsby or whatever else we were reading for American Lit. And on and on, right up to looking at Jim Morrison’s Boy Scout uniform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one week ago. It’s hard to imagine that the Lizard King was ever a Boy Scout, but I’ve seen the proof.
But the most vivid, and most bizarre, memory I have of the Doors was visiting Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His grave has been a shrine, of sorts, ever since he died in Paris in 1971. In fact, it was the first thing I wanted to see when I visited Paris, back in the 1990s. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and the palace at Versailles were all on the itinerary, but Morrison’s grave came first for me.
The problem is–and this surely is a problem–that it’s not easy to find his grave. Pere LaChaise is possibly the most famous cemetery in the world, and the list of artists and other luminaries–nearly all of them French–who are buried there is long and impressive. And the French, who guard their culture like no other people on earth, don’t like the crowds who come looking for the grave of an American singer. And they like it even less when other graves are defaced with arrows pointing in the direction of Morrison’s grave.
But getting to the gravesite is its own reward. People leave food and joints and other offerings, and they take pictures and talk to others about the Doors and what their music means to them. It’s probably time that could be better spent wandering through the streets of Paris, but it’s also the closest that I’ll ever come to making a pilgrimage, in the Canterbury Tales sense of the word.
So to end with a quote from Morrison’s poetry,
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end