Venice’s Lizard King 40 Years On

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By Lynne Bronstein

It was 40 years ago on July 3, 1971, that a titan of the 1960s rock scene passed away in Paris. Jim Morrison had gone there to get away from his turbulent career as front man for the Doors. His death was officially attributed at the time to a heart attack, which seemed strange for a young man of 27 but not surprising for someone who was legendary for taking any and all physical risks.

The last 40 years have seen Morrison’s image take on all the facets of a mythical hero, the guy who lives out everyone’s fantasies. There has been an outpouring of books, films, re-released recordings, articles, web sites, new publications and recordings of Morrison’s own work, tribute bands, and a reorganized version of the Doors with a new lead singer.

The latest tribute is a bar in Paris called the Lezard King, devoted to the memory of Morrison. (”I am the Lizard King” was his boast in a lengthy musical-poetic work called “Celebration of the Lizard”.) The venue, which opened in September 2010 at 11 Rue de Tournelles, close to the Bastille, features Doors-themed décor and drinks named for Doors songs. The owner, Christophe Maillet, is described as “a hardcore fan of the Doors” who invested his life savings to build his dream, according to the bar’s web site.

According to a communiqué sent by another Doors fan, Stuart Henderson, who had in turn received information via a Facebook connection, Maillet has received a letter from lawyers representing the Doors, challenging the theme of Lezard King.

The letter asks that Maillet destroy all the decorations and change the names of the bar’s cocktails. The letter asserts that the client does not wish to see Morrison commemorated at an establishment that sells liquor.

For better or worse, the Jim Morrison image is irrevocably linked to his propensity for alcoholic consumption. At this stage, with portrayals of Morrison’s drunken binges in the Oliver Stone film “The Doors,” and numerous written accounts of his exploits, there is no denying that drink was a factor in Morrison’s life, although it was not the only thing in his life and it was not what fueled his talent. Another Doors fan, Gilles Yepremian, stated in an email to this reporter that there are about 20 bars in the Netherlands that have a Doors logo and allow smoking of grass and hash (substances that Morrison appears to not have been a stranger to either).

Henderson’s email opines that surviving Doors member Ray Manzarek has been “exploiting” the Morrison image for years. “But Jim Morrison doesn’t only belong to the Doors,” he adds.

On July 3, Paris venue Le Bataclan will feature a Doors tribute concert with former members Manzarek and Robbie Krieger. Some avid fans of Morrison are asking that fans boycott the tribute concert to show support for Lezard King and for the right of Doors fans to have their Jim Morrison.

“Jim used to speak about freedom,” says Henderson’s email. “Today, Doors impede the freedom of a fan who has just tried to achieve a dream in their honor and in the honor of the others [sic] fans.”

Back here in Venice, Jim Morrison also belongs to this beachside town. It was where he lived during his years at UCLA and for a while after that, during the formation of the Doors, from 1963 to 1966. Morrison is the George Washington of Venice in terms of having “slept here.” Several apartment houses claim to have had Morrison as a tenant, including the Morrison Apartments on Westminster Avenue. Morrison was said to have hung out at the Venice West Café on Dudley Avenue. He also frequented Olivia’s Soul Food restaurant at Main Street and Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica. While it is not known if he ever actually slept at Olivia’s when temporarily homeless, the place did inspire the song “Soul Kitchen.” (”I’d really like to stay here all night”).

Jim Morrison might have been just another one of the many young people who came to Venice during the early and mid-1960s, to live as cheaply as possible in the funky old buildings or even on the beach, to live freely and to create. One Morrison story had him becoming inspired to write a lyric while he was staying on the roof of a Venice building where he was able to look out at all the TV antennas on other rooftops. This lyric became “My Eyes Have Seen You,” on the Strange Days album.

But unlike many other Venice kids, Morrison was destined to “break on through.” The creation of the Doors began with a meeting of Morrison and Manzarek on the Venice beach, where Morrison modestly admitted that he was writing songs and sang a few bars of “Moonlight Drive” to Manzarek, who then suggested they form a band. They may not have expected the impact that the band and Morrison ended up having on the world.

Venice proudly claims Jim Morrison as a “native son.” A giant Rip Cronk mural of Morrison, bare-chested, wearing his characteristic leather pants, adorns a Venice building and has become a Venice landmark in itself.

Any trolling of the Internet reveals that there is not a day that goes by without someone posting a comment on Jim Morrison-or a memory or a tribute or a description of a trip to Morrison-significant sites. There is probably not a day when one does not hear a Doors song coming out of someone’s car stereo as they drive by.

The impact of Jim Morrison on our world is immense. There is no telling what will happen with the current controversy over Lezard King in Paris but one thing is for sure-Venice can claim to be the original home town of the wandering soul of the poet-singer-lizard king.

(If you want to sound off on the issue, call: Doors Manager: Pboxs Concert: 331 40 24 02 10; Concert Venue le Bataclan: 331 43 14 00 30).

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