“There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors…” – Aldous Huxley
At music camp, a girl I’d never met before started playing ‘Riders on the Storm’ – and doing it effortlessly. It was the first time I’d heard the song played purely on piano. Raw. Repetitious. She was 14 years old, belting out The Doors whilst I was still learning Beethoven.
On closer inspection, the lyric “if you give this man a ride, sweet family will die, killer on the road” ruined my sense of ease. Still, the chords remain hauntingly beautiful to this day. Oliver Stone’s film The Doors portrays Jim Morrison as wild, intellectual, and adept at going to dark places in between highs. He was sexy too, obviously.
At 19-years-old I wasted time thinking I was in love with a boy who shared my taste in music. I was wrong. For six months, we bonded over The Doors and Pearl Jam. We spent countless lazy days together as music came from CDs blasting out of sound systems with monstrous speakers.
Thirteen years later it’s Springtime in Paris. The City of Love and Lights is as enchanting as I’d imagined. I take the Metro to Père Lachaise, the cemetery. Of all the things to do in Paris, this was particularly unusual as death makes me uneasy. My father’s funeral was my first exposure to grief when I was barely an adult.
Fans navigate the famous graveyard in the 20th arrondissement using an overpriced map. Famous residents like Morrison, Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Molière are buried amongst ordinary Parisians. I visited my own dad’s grave just once. Partly because it’s interstate – but mostly because it’s confronting. He left when I was one, so it seems artificial to be closer to him in death than in life.
I wander a centuries’ old cemetery alongside stray cats. All stone, no grass, a peep of moss here and there. Some monuments are epic. Gated, statuesque. A permanent reminder of a temporary life so future generations don’t forget. Inscriptions reveal tales of sadness. Whole families buried together. Little babies who lived just months. Here, everybody matters. Everyone was someone.
I wonder if it is my place to bear witness. Fresh flowers and a single rose adorn Morrison’s understated shrine. It’s cordoned off with yellow tape, as though people don’t respect his boundaries even now. Several groupies congregate, mumbling to each other. How can they be so emotional over a celebrity who died years before they were born? Are they the kind who leave emotional debris: scrawled notes on scraps of paper, beer cans, cigarette butts, roses…
Jim Morrison died in 1971 in the bathtub of his Paris apartment aged 27. The cause of death is recorded as heart failure. Morrison seemed comfortable with dying in the way he sang, with the drugs he took. Tempting fate. ‘When The Music’s Over’ “turn out the lights” he sang. For now, I’ll leave my light on and turn the music up.