30 years ago today: Paris, and some time (and wine) with Mr. Mojo Risin’.


Previously: 30 years ago today: From Munich to Paris by Rhine and train.

According to my notes of brevity …

Day 96 … Monday, July 20
Paris. Jim’s grave, sleep-a-thon

In Paris, we’d make do with whatever accommodation could be found for us by the room-finding agencies at the train station, which I believe was Paris Gare du Nord.

In my recollection, these help desks were intended for those students and youth (still plausible in our cases) flooding Paris in summer, and usually placement in hostels or university dorms otherwise unoccupied during school breaks.

It worked out relatively smoothly, and we scored relatively cheap digs in a triple bunk room near the Seine, and to the southeast of the Pompidou Center. Location wasn’t that important. Youth accommodations needed to be functional and inexpensive, and public transportation took care of the rest.

It’s unlikely we were able to check into our hostel so early in the morning. My guess is we stowed the bags somewhere, either station or hostel itself, and waded into the city.

What I remember with confidence is that we decided to visit Jim Morrison’s stone pad, and toward this end, raided the shelves for wine and picnic items at a mom ‘n’ pop grocery down the block from the Metro stop across from Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

As with the Rhine River cruise, it would be my second experience with the rock singer’s final resting place. Before relating what happened next, here’s the tale from 1985: Lizard King in the City of Light.

In all honesty, the only Parisian shrine with true resonance for me was one having least to do with the city, and where a bottle of wine proved handy: Jim Morrison’s grave, located in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and tucked away behind mausoleums and chapels.

Naturally, the remainder of the cemetery has quite a lot to do with French (and European) history. Among the interred are Proust, Chopin, Molière, Piaf, Delacroix and Oscar Wilde. The Communards’ Wall, where 147 revolutionaries were executed in 1871, is a must visit for anyone fascinated by the history of rebellion.

However, it was the Morrison’s legacy that drew me to Pere Lachaise to pay my respects. The lead singer of The Doors died of a heroin overdose in Paris in 1971, when I was eleven years old. Much of it was lost on me until Danny Sugarman’s book “No One Here Gets Out Alive” was published in 1980. Only then did the long-defunct band and its resident poet/shaman/singer begin to appeal to me.

(Did you know that the late Sugarman married Fawn Hall, who as Oliver North’s document shredder of a secretary became involved in the Iran-Contra scandal?)

You might say I was going through a phase, to the point of Mute Nostril Agony — pulled from a Morrison lyric — serving as one of my college intramural basketball team’s names. Consequently, when I learned that his grave was a place of pilgrimage, international rock music solidarity and drinking, it was clear I’d have to go there.

To find my way to the grave site, I merely followed the “Jim lives” and “break on through” graffiti scrawled everywhere until voices and music could be heard. The immediate scene has changed since then, but at the time, there was open space around the grave, with room for a couple dozen people to congregate.

A bust of Morrison donated by a Croatian sculptor had been placed atop the block-like marker a few years prior to my visit. It was frequently painted and repainted, stolen and replaced, and later permanently removed. It was a messy area filled daily with Doors parishioners busy partying, much to the annoyance of local officialdom. Candles, cigarette butts, food wrappers and empty wine bottles were all around.

One of my fellow mourners offered me a puff from his pipe. I politely declined. Strange days had found me, and it was okay, even if my shirt smelled of ganja the rest of the day.

In the aftermath of an overnight train journey, we were tired, dirty and fairly bedraggled, so it’s small wonder that our preparations were sloppy. Arriving at the cemetery gate, we found it manned with primly uniformed guards — and these uniformed guards were not pleased seeing bottles of wine in full view. They were polite, but firm: No entry for us.

Well, there had to be a back way, right?

Our bottles now hidden, we began walking the wall’s perimeter, and sure enough, ten minutes later there was a secondary entrance, sans security. Groping through the colossal city of death, directional graffiti soon became visible, and it led the way to our destination.

It was strangely quiet. Perhaps the gendarmes at the gate had succeeded in repelling the frontal assaults. We’d been just a bit too crafty. It’s nice to win every now and then.

As a bonus, here are two previously unseen 1985 photos of the same shrine. Think about it: in 1987, Morrison had been dead only 16 years.

Soon it began to rain. Bob Dylan, another famous 1960s musical personality, once wrote about “shelter from the storm,” though I’m not sure “Charmin from the Storm” would have been nearly as poetic.

That’s really all I have to say about it.

Writing about our Pere Lachaise visit these many years later, I’m consumed with one thought. When was the last time I wore a jacket on July 20th in the Ohio Valley?

Exhausted, we returned eventually to the hostel and slept for a very long time.

Next: The cathedral at Chartres, couscous, Versailles, and even more couscous.