The Lizard King
I started plotting how to get to Chicago the moment I learned that The Doors were scheduled to perform at the Coliseum on May 10th, 1968. I was fairly certain that I could talk Ted Anderson into driving the 400 miles to Chicago. The big problem was going to be getting the day off from school, a Friday. I ran through a myriad of lies that I could tell my parents, but none seemed believable. The school was obviously the easier entity to lie to. The administrators hadn’t shown much for brains up to that point. They couldn’t be that hard to fool. In fact, I was certain that I could cook up an excuse to miss the day that did not involve a confirmation call to my parents.
Ted was all for going to see The Doors. They were the hottest rock band in America. Magazine articles flourished about their revolutionary attack on all that was tradition. Their songs were hip, fresh, exciting, dangerous, and Jim Morrison was an intellectual rock god. We planned to leave early, around 7am in order to finish our 8-hour drive with plenty of time to get to the concert.
It turned out that all my scheming was for not. On May 5th my mother melted down again. The local doctors had no answers. The military shrinks recommended bringing her to Minneapolis once they stabilized her with whatever shit they shot her up with that turned her into a zombie state. These episodes always freaked me out. It was impossible to concentrate on school, not that I actually needed to concentrate to do well in school. We were at the end of the school year, anyway. I had locked in A’s in all my classes, even in German. Dad drove her to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in St. Paul on Wednesday. I stayed with Granny Blackwater.
My homeroom teacher noticed that I wasn’t the same. She was a really nice lady who seriously cared about students. Mrs. French was also my English teacher and a big fan of my writing style. She once told me that I should seriously consider a career as a writer. When she called me out into the hall that morning the other students made a combination of oh-oh noises like now I was going to catch hell and kissy noises like the teacher was going to make out with me or maybe they were intimating that I was an ass kisser. Typical Junior High shit. I couldn’t have cared less.
I explained to Mrs. French what was going on. She looked sadder than me, nearly in tears. I guess it was the way I told it. She told her assistant to watch the class and took me down to the guidance counselor’s office where I repeated my explanation. They asked me what I needed. What a beautiful opening. I told them that I just needed a few days to myself. My grandmother was the best counselor that I could ever hope for. They both agreed. The guidance counselor filled out a form and said, “We’ll see you Monday. I hope that your mother feels better soon.” This was one time that my mother’s lunacy worked in my favor.
I explained to Granny Blackwater that I just needed to get away, told her about the concert, and that Ted was driving. She knew the Anderson family well and saw Ted as a well mannered young man. She saw no problem with me going to the concert. It would do me good. She had never heard of The Doors, which was a good thing otherwise she probably wouldn’t have let me go.
Granny Blackwater lived seven blocks from Ted’s house making for an easy rendezvous that Friday morning. When he picked me there was Tim O’Neil sitting in the back seat. Once we got a block away Teamo sparked a fat jernt (New Orleans pronunciation of the word joint). Mary Jane brought sweet relief for all my tensions.
Chicago was bigger than I expected. It was the biggest city that I had been to at that stage of my life. There were superhighways everywhere, cars zooming all over, real skyscrapers, and an atmosphere that I hadn’t smelled or felt before. We stopped at a pizza place for dinner where I had the best fucking pizza I had ever tasted. It was deep dish, crusty, filled with cheese, veggies, sausage, and pizza sauce. It wasn’t just the best fucking pizza I’d ever had it was the best fucking food I’d ever eaten. Or, it could have been the weed we had smoked during the preceding eight hours. We gorged ourselves.
The Chicago Coliseum had the look of old time Chicago, back in the days of prohibition and Al Capone. The 1916 Democratic Presidential Convention had been held there. After that a series of hockey teams and roller derbies occupied the massive brownstone building. In a few weeks the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) would organize protests from that building, the streets would run with the blood of demonstrators bludgeoned by the fascist thug police force ruled by Mayor Daily. You could feel the tension in the air even then. on thar beautiful spring day in May the vibes were there.
Seating capacity was listed at 7,000, but the promoters had oversold the show. I guessed that there were closer to 10,000 kids in that big room. The air was 80% Oxygen-Nitrogen and 20% marijuana smoke. Kids may have come there straight but they left stoned.
The opening act was a forgettable local Chicago group whose name doesn’t matter. Next up, came a local blues band that featured an old black man as singer. We hadn’t heard of the guy and would never hear of him again. He was one of a thousand cats like him, great acts that never made it. And, this cat was great. He reminded me of guys just like him playing down in the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans, guys like Mississippi John Hurt. I pondered that perhaps this cat was lucky not to have made it and then died like Hurt had
There was a long delay between the second act and the anticipated Doors sets. The crowd grew restless, the pot smoke grew thicker. People started stamping on the floor. Soon, a chant started to rise, “Doors, Doors, Doors, Doors, Doors, Doors, Doors…” until it became a thunder that shook the rafters of the old building. Would it collapse?
Finally, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Densmore walked out of the wings to onstage and began to tune up. The place went wild with cheers. I had never heard anything like it. I had trouble catching my breath. Tears filled my eyes. My reaction had nothing to do with the pot smoke. What I was feeling was heightened emotions of joy and awe, and they hadn’t even started playing.
The auditorium erupted again, even louder, when Jim Morrison walked up to the microphone. There he was the singer that had captured my soul. I was in the presence of the Lizard King.
Manzarek kicked the show off with the opening organ riff of When the Music’s Over. Kids were jumping out of their seats in joy. More kids rushed down the aisles toward the stage. Girls were baring their chests like it was Mardi Gras. The crowd sang along. Ten thousand kids knew every word to the song, at the appropriate time all shrieked “Save Us… Jesus… Save Us…” along with the demented man stalking around the stage like a caged tiger.
Song after song repeated the same chaotic energy. I felt drained and energized at the same time. I was soon floating on a high that had nothing to do with the grass.
Jim talked to the crowd in between songs. He asked questions and laughed at the answers. He felt like one of us, like every person in that arena had known him forever. His charisma flowed from the stage like scalding hot seamen impregnating us all with his message.
Morrison calmed the crowd down at one point, begging for quiet so that he could recite one of his poems, which then led into the epic song that closed their first album, The End.
Jim injected new words, vast images spontaneously into the song. He was taking us on a journey, a trip through the desert, the jungle, the rabid city streets of America, and into our inner eye. He was attacking the Id of the entire crowd, enticing us to forget all inhibitions, all sense of right and wrong.
The crowd joined in again when he started the oedipal segment of the song. “The killer awoke before dawn. He puts his boots on. He took a face from the ancient gallery and he… walked on down the hall.” I had listened to these lyrics for nearly a year, but I was gaining a whole new perspective on their meaning.
Then, he reached the fatal lines. “Father? Yes Son. I want to kill you. Mother, I want to… Fuck you, yeah. Yeah, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck… fuck my momma, fuck her all night long. Fuck, fuck, fuck…”
I was stunned. Did I just hear what I heard? Did he just perform a concentrated version of Oedipus, The King? I was overwhelmed. I broke into a gusher of tears.
The Doors played for about 3 hours in total ending with an inspired version of Light My Fire.
It was the best concert I had ever seen, better than my wildest dreams. The connection I felt with Jim Morrison grew exponentially that night. It was one thing to hear him sing on record and study his poetic lyrics, but it was quite another experience to see The Lizard King perform in person. Blown away just doesn’t cover it.
Tim met some cats in the parking lot that invited us back to their flat to crash. It was funky little place with pillows and mattresses on the floors. Wine and pot flowed through the night. There were several gorgeous, braless girls there, but they each had an “old man” of their own. It was a good place to crash for the night, but there was no “mud for the duck”.
Around noon we gathered ourselves together and drove to Detroit, which took about five hours. En route we rehashed what we’d seen the night before and talked about how we needed to make our shows even more theatrical than they already were – the rest of us needed to move more. I was all for that.
This was the “ah-ha” moment where I decided to cast my organ bench aside and always play standing up. It could well be that Ray Manzarek inspired these changes as he sat on a bench playing his Vox Continental like a stick figure. I didn’t want to look like that. I wanted to be more flamboyant. I determined that I would seek out Oscar Deutsch early in the week for lessons in theatre from The Queen of the North End.
Detroit reminded me of pictures dad had taken of European cities during and after World War II. Entire blocks were burnt out and looked bombed out. Wheel.ess, smashed cars decorated the bleak landscape. A war had been waged there, that was clear.
The James Cotton Blues Band opened for The Doors at the Cobo Arena in Detroit. The place was jammed full of kids. James Cotton was phenomenal singing great old blues tunes and playing blues harp with amazing skill. His rendition of “Got My Mojo Workin’” had everybody in the place singing in unison with him. This was the blues, baby. The point was made even more real by the scene we had driven through that day.
The arena erupted when Morrison took the stage. I think their first song was When the Music’s Over. The cheering was so loud it was hard to tell. Jim started to play the audience, begging, no, demanding silence from the audience. The only sound to be heard was the band and the frequent click of lighters sparking jernts on fire.
Silence was soon canceled by the hideous screams of Morrison, “See the light, baby. See the light. Save us, Jesus, save us!”
I felt the angst, fears, and desires of the thousands in the room all at once. The flood of emotion was nearly too intense to bear. I flew around the rafters of the great hall sailing on the air of enlightenment.
Changed forever, I knew what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to be Jim Morrison.