Jim Morrison: The Peculiar Case Of The Ivory Shaft
After Jim Morrison’s pardon last week, what’s the truth: did The Doors singer flash his ‘magnificent member’ or not? Keyboard player Ray Manzarek gives his side of the story.
Words: Max Bell
On December 9 just gone Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, was granted a posthumous pardon against the charges that he committed an act of indecent exposure, indulged in lewd behaviour and used obscene and profane language during the infamous concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium on Miami’s Coconut Grove on March 1, 1969.
Following lobbying from Doors fan groups, lead by Dave Diamond, the outgoing Florida governor, Charlie Crist, an admitted Doors fan, presided over a four-person tribunal which granted Morrison the pardon by a majority vote.
Morrison, who was born in Florida and attended its state schools and the Junior College of St Petersburg in 1961/2, obviously never lived to hear the verdict since he died in Paris in mysterious circumstances in July 1971. He would have been just 67 as the verdict was delivered in the week of his birth date.
According to Crist the prosecution case in the notoriously Conservative state of Florida that Morrison had unbuttoned his leather pants and dangled his penis was always suspect, and their evidence was “sneaky and underhanded”.
The hysteria that surrounded the original concert, which involved Morrison exhorting the audience to come on stage and take their clothes off and then start fucking, did lead to an on-stage invasion and an auditorium riot of sorts in which various policemen were jostled. Morrison himself had earlier been handed a lamb by a friend of The Doors’ road crew, which he – Jim – held, Christ-like to the crowd. He said later: “The lamb was purring like a kitten. With all those people I thought it might have been scared but it was completely calm.”
The other members of The Doors always maintained it was unlikely Morrison did expose himself. During the week of the Miami show he had been in the audience for performances by the radical Living Theater group, which included scenes of nudity, but keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who had the best view of the singer, maintains the following happened:
“We’re in Miami. It’s hot and sweaty. It’s a swamp and it’s a yuck – a horrible kind of place, a seaplane hangar – and 14,000 people are packed in there, and they’re sweaty. And Jim has seen The Living Theater (a theater group that experimented with breaking down the fourth wall and confronting the audience) and he’s going to do his version of The Living Theater. He’s going to show these Florida people what psychedelic West Coast shamanism and confrontation is all about.
“He taunted the audience like a bullfighter holding a cape. I’m going to show you! I’m going to show you my cock. Then he took his shirt off and wiggled it around like there was something going on behind it.”
Manzarek recalls that Morrison pushed his white shirt through the flies of his black leather jeans, simulating a penis. “But he definitely didn’t bring out the Ivory Shaft, man. That was some weapon. I’d have known if he’d dangled the shaft.”
The fact that Florida’s clemency board closed the case hasn’t delighted everyone who knew Morrison. His so-called wife Patricia Kenneally Morrison thinks her erstwhile ‘husband’ wouldn’t have wanted a pardon: “He’d have said – so what – who cares.”
On the other hand Morrison was deeply affected by the furore which could easily have led to him spending six months inside Dade County’s infamous B Wing Penitentiary in a wing reserved for the worst sexual offenders, child abusers and rapists. He was understandably scared at that prospect and spent months preparing his case with attorney Max Fink and others in an effort to clear his name. As it was the Miami event overshadowed The Doors’ spring and summer tours of 1969 and impacted on their ability to book shows in 1970. Dozens of concerts were pulled or cancelled.
All this as a result of what Manzarek calls “a mass hallucination. They hallucinated. I swear, the guy never did it. He never whipped it out. It was one of those mass hallucinations. I don’t want to say the vision of Lourdes, because only Bernadette saw that, but it was one of those religious hallucinations, except it was Dionysus bringing forth, calling forth snakes.”
So while it’s now accepted that Morrison never did expose “his magnificent member” and should never have served a jail sentence or even posted bail and paid a $500 fine, the legendary event had severe repercussions for the singer and the group.
“We had the mandate of heaven, and I think at that moment, he lost the mandate of heaven,” Manzarek says. “In the recording studio, the magic stayed, but I think at that moment in Miami, the live performance magic left for a little while and then came back intermittently.”
At the time Morrison had this to say: “My friends want to believe that [Miami] really happened because they think it’s funny. The people who don’t like me want to believe it’s true because they want to see me pay for some kind of social phenomenon. I think nudity is cyclical phenomenon… I had been to see Living Theater, which had nudity. But then art and theatre always have had in the past. I believe there should be complete freedom for the artist and performer although it’s not always necessary for nudity to be a part of play or film.”
Yes, but did you get it out, Jim? Morrison smiled: “Uh-oh, I think I exposed myself out there. But then again…”