Light My Fire

My fire was lit. Nickelson’s Music didn’t have The Doors eponymous album so I rode the bus to Shopper’s City in Duluth where I did find the precious bounty. I studied the faces on the cover and read every word on the cover and the liner notes on the bus ride back. The members of The Doors were Ray Manzarek (organ), Robby Krieger (Electric Guitar), John Densmore (drums), and Jim Morrison (singer). I read the names over and over to commit them to memory.  I couldn’t wait to spin it on a turntable so I could inspect the songs microscopically.

I had built a small stereo headphone driver out of spare parts from a discarded radio and fed that from a cheap discarded stereo turntable. Clamping the headphones on I dropped the needle on track 1, side 1 – Break On Through. The headphones allowed me to hear every nuance of every note. “She gets high. She gets high. She gets high, yeah.”

Soul Kitchen started with a simple organ riff that rocked between the thumb rooted on A to the minor 7th struck by the middle and baby fingers down to a third-inversion D chord and back up to A7. Simple, brilliant, powerful.

Crystal Ship provided a slow, sultry contrast to the high energy of the first two songs. Starting simply with voice, guitar, and bass, organ came in with straight chords for fill. At the second verse a grand piano added elegance and power to the piece.

Twentieth Century Fox began with an intricate guitar riff based on the two-chord simplicity of A to G. The lyrics perfectly depicted the typical plasticity of a California girl, but not the girl in the song. She was the Queen of Cool. She was a Twentieth Century Fox and she wouldn’t waste her time on elementary talk. It was like Morrison was describing Patty perfectly in just a few verses.

Alabama Song sported a kinky, tinny, honky tonk piano with thumb tacks on the hammers backed by the um-pah-pah of a tuba giving the song the feel of a German Beerhouse. “Oh show me the way to the next little girl. Oh, don’t ask why. Oh, don’t ask why.” I knew why. “Oh, moon of Alabama, we now must say goodbye. We lost our dear old momma and must have whiskey all of the time.” Those words hit home, even though they were written by a pair of Germans over 50 years before.

Light My Fire started with that famous rim shot crack like a cannon shot across my bow. I knew that the organ intro was going to take me quite a bit of time to figure out. The extended organ solo in the middle of the song would prove much easier as it was based on John Coltrane song that I was familiar with that used an A minor to B minor repeating line through nearly four minutes of jamming. I could see the keys he was playing in my mind’s eye; as if I were in the studio standing behind Manzarek watching every movement of his fingers.

I was floating in my room several feet above the floor. My head was in another dimension altogether. My fingers danced on their own spectral plane. I was tripping. I was tripping without acid, or mushrooms, or mescaline, or peyote.

I floated down to flip the record to side two.

Back Door Man provided a way different take on the song than I’d ever heard on Bourbon Street. The lyrics were shortened to emphasize the central theme. And, the song was arranged with a traditional 12-bar blues pattern that was totally different than Willie Dixon’s original.

I Looked At You and you looked at me. Morrison doubled his own voice several times creating harmonies and alternate vocal paths that were brilliantly panned side to side creating an enormous illusion of spaciousness.

End Of The Night provided another perfect distraction from the high energy of the first two songs. Guitars, candles, and people melted in a dreamlike trip to the bright midnight, to the endless night.

Take It As Comes jumped again with a chord pattern that built up and broke back down. The title said it all. “Go real slow. You’ll like it more and more. Take it as it comes. Specialize in having fun.” He was obviously talking about fucking, prolonging the fuck, letting it build until you could take it no longer.

This Is The End, my only friend, the end. I was floating even higher now, floating in a desperate land. I had never heard lyrics like this before, not in a song. “Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain and all the children are insane.” I knew exactly what he meant. I was one of those insane children waiting for the summer rain, yes. “Weird scenes inside the goldmine. Ride the highway west, baby.” This was my first call to hit the road destined for California. “The West is the best. Get here and we’ll do the rest.” The Beat Poets were calling me from the blue bus to visit them in the west.

“The killer awoke before dawn. He put his boots on. He took a face from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall.” I saw the scene, the framework of the rooms, the colour of the walls, the height of the ceiling. I smelled candles scented like roses. My body began to spin in time to the music that was accelerating at a maddening pace until the final explosion, ejaculation, orgasm. I dropped back to the floor spent, exhausted, limp, and flaccid.

“This is the end.”

If I smoked I would have lit a cigarette.

I took a few moments to compose myself, reflect on what I had just heard, then flipped the record to listen to it all again.

After two more listens of the album I began the onerous task of learning Light My Fire on organ. The bulk of the song was fairly easy. The verse was a simple Am7 – F#m7 played straight with a hint of funk in the rhythm. The chorus fell quickly, too: “Come on baby light my fire” G – A – D, “Come on baby light my fire G – A – D – B (a slight variation), “Try to set the night on fire” F – C – D (dramatic switch up from the chorus basic line). But, that signature organ intro eluded me. How did this Ray Manzarek guy come up with this?

Light My Fire housed the most elaborate organ playing in the rock world up to that point. Guitar players ruled the roost for years – well, they still do – but here was a meaty bone for a keyboardist to sink teeth into. The organ intro occurs three times in the song: the beginning, following the lead breaks, and at the finale. After struggling for a couple of hours I finally decided to figure the guitar chords being played behind the intricate organ part. The keyboard lead line had to be following the chord structure laid by the guitar. Sure enough, that was the key to decoding the organ intro – G – D – F – C – Eb – Ab – A. I felt like I had just broken an encryption cipher. Man, what a cool organ part.

I worked out parts on the Farfisa sitting in my bedroom. Kenny Black had given me the fire-engine-red Combo Compact so I could rehearse at home. In this case, it worked perfectly because Manzarek used a Vox Continental on the recording, which sounded just like a Farfisa. Based around the repeating chords of Am – Bm, the ride was pretty simple to figure out.

After about nine hours of listening and practicing I had the song down note for note. I informed my band mates that Light My Fire was ready and perfect for Dynasty. The screaming lead vocals were tailor made for Rock. He became absorbed with the song that gave him opportunity for high drama onstage.

Looking back, it is evident that The Doors eponymous album changed my life. I learned every part except drums on every song. I could play the guitar, bass, organ and sing every song on the platter. I am not exaggerating when I admit that I became obsessed with The Doors. I read every article in every magazine I could find, from the fluff stuff in magazines like Tiger Beat to the new radicals Cream, Crawdaddy, and Rolling Stone. I savored each quote from the quote-worthy Jim Morrison.  “We’re like erotic politicians.” I dissected every lyric. I read the books from which The Doors had derived their name.

English poet William Blake wrote in his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite,” which was the quote that sparked Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception that described unlocking the doors of perception through the use of hallucinogenic (psychedelic) drugs. I also learned that L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard Of Oz while eating copious quantities of magic mushrooms. I had to get me some of that stuff.

A new world was opening to me, a world where the binding chains of society melted away in a purple haze. I tripped without drugs the first time I listened to The Doors, but subsequent listening didn’t provide similar results, though I still saw in my mind the guys in the studio recording the album. Learning that I could achieve that state of heightened consciousness through the use of mushrooms, peyote, or mescaline was a major breakthrough or perhaps breakout, like a jailbreak for my mind.

I called Patty to relay my excitement about the album. She was quite surprised because she knew I didn’t like talking on the telephone and we’d never shared a call that lasted more than one minute. The telephone was downstairs in the dining room within earshot of the living room. Our phone was one of those clunky black Bell monstrosities with terrible fidelity making it impossible to conduct a hushed conversation. I certainly didn’t need my folks learning of my exploits in promiscuity. Revealing that secret could potentially end my budding musical and sexual experiences. For that reason I kept my phone time to a minimum. So, when I talked for five minutes straight about The Doors album my girlfriend knew that I had to be onto something really cool.

Patty suggested that we meet at Tim’s house to listen to the album together. There was no way my folks would let me take a girl up to my room to listen to an album and neither would Patty’s folks. I suggested that we head out to the practice room at Ted’s house for a private listening session without the distractions of Teamo’s endless circus.

“We can go to Ted’s and listen to the album before practice. Then, you can watch us practice and I’ll see you home afterward,” I said.

“I didn’t think you guys were practicing tonight,” Patty said sounding confused. “Doesn’t Ted have a date tonight?”

“Exactly, that’s what makes this such an important practice,” I coded back to her, “One that you really shouldn’t miss.”

“Oh, I see,” Patty understood. She was one smart chick.

“I need to go to Nickelson’s first to pick up some sheet music that I ordered.” There was no sheet music. “I’ll pick you up and we can go out to South End together.”

“That sounds wonderful, you sly fox.” Apparently, Patty’s folks weren’t home. “Oh wait, Mary says she’ll run us out there. She’s meeting some girlfriends for pizza at Shamrock. We can just pick you up on the way out. You can save your strength for more important physical activity.”

“That is really groovy of her. Mary is great.”

“I know. I’ve got a great sister.”

“Yeah, I can pick the sheet music tomorrow. We’re not adding that song until next week anyway.” I made a mental note to pick up sheet music the next day so as not to blow my cover.

Mary O’Leary smiled knowingly at me when I jumped into the back seat with Patty carrying the new Doors album under my arm. “So, you heard me on the radio the other night, did you?”

“Ah, yes we did. You’re really good. We loved everything you played.”

“Especially The Doors, I see,” Mary commented.

“They are great. Best band I’ve ever heard.”

“Their singer, Jim Morrison, is the sexiest man alive,” said Mary.

“Second sexiest,” Patty disagreed. “I’ve got the sexiest guy in the world.”

Ok, I’m what? I wasn’t even the sexiest guy on my block let alone the world. I was still scrawny at 6 foot 130 pounds fighting a daily battle against acne making me anything but sexy in my mirror. But hey, who was I to argue with my Wild Irish Patty?

It was clear from their coded conversation that Mary and Patty kept no secrets from each other. It seemed like I had received a positive review for my “love making” performance. I was flattered and also still amazed that this beautiful, stacked, brilliant chick wanted to be with me.

“So, you are Rock’s cousin?” Mary asked while licking her lips.

“Yes, he is,” I replied.

“What’s he like?” I detected that Mary might want to know my cousin in a biblical way.

“He’s the coolest. Nothing fazes him. He is a natural born performer. Would you like to meet him?”

“Yes, I would very much like to,” she bubbled.

“Very much like to?” Patty said. “Come on, sis.”

“Yes, I would be quite pleased to meet the gentlemen.” Mary corrected herself.  “Stop twisting my nipples sis.”

I had to laugh at that. I hadn’t heard girl talk like that before. Their exchange was too funny.

Patty suggested, “Why don’t we go to Shamrock first before we settle in to, um, listen to the record? Maybe you could call Rock and have him meet us.”

Damn, this girl was a great manipulator. I had thought going to Ted’s place was my idea, but I could see clearly that Patty had led me down this path seizing the opportunity to set her sister up with my cousin. Damn, she was good.

We ran into Ted Anderson and his date at Shamrock Bar, an Irish Public House in South Superior known for their great pizza. Shamrock was the first pizza joint in town that added pineapple to ham for what most would call a Hawaiian Pizza, though there it was known as the Mickey Shanahan Special. Green Bay Packer memorabilia and leprechauns decorated the Shamrock. Oh, and plenty of shamrocks, of course.

I told Ted that we were going to listen to The Doors album after pizza, if that was ok with him. He leaned over and whispered to me that he’d left some great new shit in a wooden box on the fireplace mantle and that he wouldn’t be returning home that night. Oh, and he had just changed the sheets on his bed. What a guy.

I called Rock and asked him to come over to Shamrock to meet a fan.

“What does she look like?” Rock asked.

“She’s Patty’s older sister, Mary,” I replied. “She’s a DJ at the FM rock station.”

“I’ll be right over,” he said. “I owe you one, cuz.”

I returned to the table and informed the sisters that Rock was on his way. Danny only lived a block and a half away from Shamrock, but it still took him nearly half an hour to get there.

Meanwhile, I asked Mary when her girlfriends were due to show up.

“Girlfriends?” she said with a blank face. “Oh, um, they had to cancel.”

Right! Girlfriends my ass, this was the O’Leary sisters plan all along. Mary hadn’t been on the phone since we’d arrived. How could she have known that her girlfriends had cancelled? I said nothing, however, only smiling and nodding.

The House Special pizza we ordered arrived just prior to Rock’s grand entrance. Although she paid for the pizza, Mary wasn’t hungry… for pizza, anyway.

Rock ordered a pitcher of beer and four glasses. The other great thing about the Shamrock was that they never checked ID’s. The beer and pizza went down quickly and another pitcher was ordered and then another as Rock laid his rap down for Mary. After about an hour of that Rock asked Mary if she wanted to go for a drive.

“Ok,” said Mary O’Leary, “where are we going?”

“I thought we might take a ride down Billings Drive. I know a great spot to watch the sunset,” said Rock.

I knew where he was taking her. I had fond memories of that spot from the preceding summer, though I wouldn’t let on to Patty that I understood the significance of the location.

Patty and I boxed up the rest of the pizza as Rock and Mary headed out the door into waning sunlight. They were going to have to hurry if they really wanted to see the sunset.

Back at Ted’s I broke out the community bong and found the funky smelling weed stash, which I handed to Patty. She packed a bowl while I carefully dropped a needle on The Doors album.

We coughed our way through the first three songs while passing the bong back and forth. Ted was right, it was really good shit. We both got cottonmouth at the same time so I grabbed a jug of Ted’s homemade red wine from under the kitchen sink, which was exactly the remedy we needed. The wine washed away the remaining threads of tension between us. We started making out while peeling each other’s clothes off. Just when I was getting to the good stuff “Light My Fire” ended and I had to flip the record over on the turntable causing a fit of laughter in Patty.

“Blasted albums,” I mused. “Why don’t they make them longer?”

We fired up the bong again, drank more red wine, and finally reclined in naked delight. I was too involved with Patty action when “The End” finished to care about flipping the album again. Fortunately, Ted’s turntable had a feature that caused the tone arm and needle to return to the start of the album. I’m not sure how many times we heard that side of the album, but it was more than several.

On a break, Patty suggested that we get a flame going in the fireplace. The evening temperature had dipped into the low 50’s even though the calendar indicated July. The heavy door was open leaving the screen door to fend off flies and mosquitoes, but not the cold. We were both feeling a bit chilled, which looked better on Patty than me.

Flipping back to side one we listened to The Doors as the fire blazed before us. More wine, more smoke, and more passion ensued. I started singing along with Morrison. Patty was impressed at how well I knew the words, phrasing, and inflections of every note. I felt that level of connection with Morrison immediately.

Around 1am it occurred to me that we needed to get Patty home before she got in trouble. Paranoia from the pot was working on my mind. I didn’t have to worry because my folks knew that I was at band practice and would often rack out on the couch if the hour got late.

“Don’t worry,” Patty assured, “My mom and dad think I’m sleeping over at Julie’s house tonight. Julie knows to cover for me.”

My dear girlfriend had planned this all out to the minutest detail. I declared right then and there that Catholic girls were smarter than public school girls… and way hornier.

My cousin Rock also did well that night. Not only did he have sex with Mary O’Leary, but also convinced her to interview him on her radio show. Or, was the interview part of Mary and Patty’s plan all along.

~~~

At our next practice we recorded a few songs on Ted’s reel-to-reel tape machine for use during Rock’s interview. That was the first time I’d heard myself play. Damn, I’m pretty good I thought during playback. I also heard mistakes that I had made, small nuances of missed timing, but mistakes nonetheless. The value of recording and listening to how what I was playing sounded made an indelible impression upon me at that rehearsal. From then on, I started reviewing everything I played, a habit that I continue even now. Nothing has helped improve my playing more than listening to myself while practicing or gigging.

Patty and I went to Teamo’s to listen to the interview between her sister and my cousin. Mary O’Leary was a great interviewer and Rock had planned and rehearsed what he was going to say well in advance. So much so, that he didn’t always answer the question that Mary asked. We all exchanged frequent puzzled glances at some of Rock’s responses. Then, he dropped a bombshell.

Mary asked, “Tell me about your upcoming tour.”

Tour? What tour?

“We’re booked for a short tour in August down to my cousin’s hometown of New Orleans.” He pronounced it like a Yankee: New Or-lee-enz, rather than my proper pronunciation of N’Awlins.

Patty stared daggers through me. “Tour? You’re going on tour? Why didn’t you tell me?”

I looked at Timmy O’Neil for an out. “Tour? We’re going on tour? Why didn’t somebody tell me?”

Tim had similar damage control to do with his blond squeeze. “Tour? What fucking tour? When did we book a motherfucking tour, Armond-ski? He’s your cousin.”

Shit, he deftly knocked the ball back into my side of the court.

On the radio Rock continued, “We’re booked for the first two weeks in August at Pat O’Brian’s in New Orleans. It’s a big leap for us because nothing but the best bands appear there.”

“Patty, I swear that I know nothing about this,” I defended.

“Julie, this is the first I’ve heard of it, too,” chimed in Tim.

“I’m happy for you,” said Patty, “You get to visit back home.” But, her tone belied her anger at the news. “How long since you’ve been back home?” She asked, emphasizing the word home.

“I haven’t been back since we moved up here two years ago. I swear to you, Patty, this comes as a big surprise to me too. I’m not sure if it’s actually real. Rock has a tendency to make things sound larger than they are.”

“When do you leave,” Patty asked.

“I have no idea, this is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Just then the phone rang. It was Ted Anderson. Timmy answered. It was impossible to discern their conversation listening to Tim’s side. “Uhuh.  Yeah. Uhuh. Really. Cool. Uhuh. No shit. Cool.”

“We’re playing at Pat O’Brian’s in New Orleans the first two weeks of August,” Tim announced after hanging up.

“When did this pop up?” I asked. “When were they going to tell us?”

“Ted just confirmed the booking today,” Tim relayed. “We’re filling in for Loading Zone because Jon Ray drank himself into a coma and is drying out. So, they can’t do the gig.”

I wondered why Kenny Black hadn’t called me to fill in for Jon. Then, I realized that my ass would still be in trouble because I’d be heading off to New Orleans anyway.

“I don’t want you to go,” said Patty. “I mean, I want you to go because it’s a great opportunity and you get to play in your hometown, but I don’t want to you to go.”

Well that cleared that up. This was my first time trying to decipher girlfriend logic.

“Why don’t you come with us,” I offered. On the corner loveseat I could see Tim’s terrified reaction to my invitation.

“There is no way my parents would let me traipse off to New Orleans with a boy,” she said with more than a pinch of sarcasm.

“Well, I sure don’t want to leave you for two weeks,” I said. “Man, that’s going to suck.” I’m a terrible liar, no poker face whatever on this kid. She knew I was thrilled to be traveling back to my roots. I loved New Orleans, never wanted to leave. I was being held captive in the Land Beyond Reality by people claiming to be my parents.

“It will be ok,” Patty said with resignation creeping into her voice. “I’ll catch up on my reading.”

I knew that wasn’t going to help and would quite probably make things worse. Patty had just read “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, which is a bawdy tale set in my old neighborhood of Desire just east of the French Quarter. Currently, she was reading another Williams play titled “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. Both plays alluded to the relatively loose moral code of the Deep South. Patty was already suspicious of my relationship with the Lafontaine girls. This tour would put me back in my old neighborhood around all my old friends.

Rock continued to blather on the radio. I was fuming that he hadn’t warned me prior to the interview, but I was quickly learning that my cousin thought of himself first, second, third and always.

“Walk me home, please,” asked Patty. I detected a bit of a tremble in her voice.

“Certainly,” I said. “We’ll see you cats later.” Nobody heard, Tim was involved in his own theatre with Julie.

Patty clutched me close as we walked slowly toward her house. She didn’t speak at first and I certainly wasn’t eager to tromp through the minefield of her emotions.

Finally, she asked, “What is Pat O’Brian’s?”

“It’s the bar in the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre’, that opened officially on the day they repealed Prohibition. It’s on St. Peter’s just off Bourbon. There are actually four or five bars in the place.”

“How far is that from your old neighborhood?” she asked.

“About a mile, I’d guess. I’ve only been to that tavern once or twice with my dad.”

“Are the girls pretty in New Orleans?”

Trap, I smelled a trap. Even at that young, naïve age I knew that there was no good answer to a question like that. I tried the tack of evasion. “I don’t really know. I wasn’t into girls when I lived there. If they couldn’t play baseball I didn’t notice them.”

Patty laughed. Whew, that was the right answer.

“Are you going to notice them this time?”

Shit, she was just too quick for me.

“I’ll be onstage entertaining. It’s New Orleans, where many of the best musicians in the world come to play. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be too nervous about my playing to notice girls.”

She laughed again. Whew, again.

I walked slowly with her, fearful of her next question. Instead, she guided us over to Hammond Park, a small playground near 18th and Hammond Avenue. She led me until we were under a large slide, a surprisingly private spot at night. She unbuttoned her blouse. No bra. She must have removed it at some point in the evening because I knew that I had felt a bra strap earlier. There was no end to Patty’s magical powers.

“I want you to remember what you’re coming back to,” she explained. “I don’t want you to decide to stay once you get back home.”

“It isn’t home anymore. I live here now. This is home.”

Tears flowed down her cheeks and dropped onto her exposed breasts. She leaned forward and hugged me tightly. I was on a roll. What I was saying was mostly true.

It hadn’t occurred to me before that moment. I was 14. In Louisiana I could declare myself independent under the Napoleonic Code that is the law there. I didn’t have to return to the LBR. I could quit school, become a full time musician, and live on my own in the French Quarter. No more crappy school, no more taunting wasicu kids, no more stupid fashion wars, no more parents drunken arguments, and no more freezing my niblets off. It was an extremely tempting option. Then again, I was staring at two great reasons to return and suffer whatever indignities were in store for me.

As near as I can tell this was the exact date when my little head wrested decision making away from my big head.

Patty provided strong incentives to return underneath that long slide. I pledged to her that there was no doubt that I would return to her as quickly as I could. In fact, it was difficult to imagine not doing the fun thing with her for two whole weeks. I would sincerely miss her.

Patty was truly hotter than cat on a tin roof in July.