WEIRDLAND: Bob Dylan's Vernacular, Jim Morrison's Vision

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bob Dylan's Vernacular, Jim Morrison's Vision


Andrea Pitzer, addressing possibly copied verbiage in Dylan’s recent Nobel Lecture in Literature, writes at Slate, “Theft in the name of art is an ancient tradition, and Dylan has been a magpie since the 1960s.” Pitzer and a few other observers have combed through that knotty Nobel lecture Dylan delivered last week and found a number of phrases resembling ones found on SparkNotes, the literary summary site that helps students write essays. The whale Moby Dick is “the embodiment of evil” in Dylan’s speech and on SparkNotes, but not in Herman Melville’s prose. Dylan says Captain Boomer “can’t accept Ahab’s lust for vengeance,” SparkNotes says he “cannot understand Ahab’s lust for vengeance,” and Melville says neither. The writer Ben Greenman points out that Dylan attributed a direct quote to Moby Dick that is not actually in the book—but might have been derived from the online synopsis. In total, the Associated Press has verified 21 instances of possible SparkNotes influences, “no verbatim sentences, only identical phrases and similar phrasing.” Dylan has not commented yet.


Dylan has also made various dubious biographical claims—of being a heroin addict, a prostitute, etc. The Joni Mitchells of the world see this collage aesthetic as evidence of him being a contemptible fraud. Dylan fans reply he is instead the consummate folk entertainer: recombining the past in inspired ways and crafting a persona to delight and mystify. In a weird way, though, the SparkNotes episode might also fit with Dylan’s deeper message about literature—a statement about the way art defies description and summary, its essence slippery and irreducible. Dylan says Moby Dick has had a deep influence on his own work, and yet he can’t answer the question of “what it all means”—and he suspects Melville couldn’t, either. The lecture itself is similarly difficult to pin down, a sum greater than it parts. The provenance of any individual phrase arguably doesn’t have much bearing on the fact that his speech stands as something new, between lecture and song, that can’t be fully appreciated without hearing the jazzy piano behind his words and the musicality in his recitation. Dylan’s lecture talks about how the singer mastered the “vernacular” of American song traditions, and his diction throughout is notably simple, conversational. Source: www.theatlantic.com

During the press tour for his 1998 memoir “Light My Fire,” Ray Manzarek continued to criticize Oliver Stone for his highly inaccurate biopic on The Doors. Stone’s film uses creative license to depict an iconic rock group, as well as that of the whole late 1960s counterculture nostalgia of the time. Shouldn’t Stone have just done a fully fictional movie inspired by The Doors, like Todd Haynes would later do with David Bowie for Velvet Goldmine? Unfortunately, most of Haynes’s genius approaches to biopics, which would include the multi-portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, didn’t exist yet. Funnily enough, in a BBC interview, Haynes actually admitted to being a fan of Stone's films, picking Nixon as his favourite one. 

The Doors (1991) is more of a folk tale of a poetic legend, a rock god, and it’s also about an era. It’s pretty much a fabrication, a music video jukebox musical mistaken for a conventional biopic. That doesn’t make it not a biopic. And in its defense, it doesn’t play too loose with hard facts that truly matter. But it is confused for more of a biographical work than it is. The young Morrison is glimpsed as a beatific Peter Pan smiling at his lady love from a tree, exemplifying the romantic hippie spirit, just as much as he later becomes the calm philosopher/poet he may have always wanted to be. People even think Kilmer looks just like Morrison, which is absurd if you view them side by side. Morrison had a more slender face with more pronounced jaw bones. Source: filmschoolrejects.com

Oliver Stone appears to see Jim Morrison as a classic American antihero. He uses the singer's troubled and troubling career as the vehicle for an ambitious journey through the "youth culture" of the '60s, painting a reasonably complex portrait of a turbulent and complicated time while at the same time revealing how tragically Morrison's life was veering out of control. As a film stylist, Stone shares Morrison's interest in breaking away from convention, and at times he frees his movie from the usual Hollywood formulas, gliding through time and space with exhilarating, psychedelic ease. Stone is less inventive at scene-by-scene storytelling, though. Pamela Courson is depicted as saying hostile things to Patricia Kennealy, when by all reports their interactions were polite. John Densmore is also portrayed as hating Morrison as The Lizard King's problems begin to dominate his behavior. In truth, Densmore never directly confronted Morrison about his behavior. Densmore said of the movie: "A third of it's fiction. I told Oliver Stone I wish there had been all those naked girls jumping up on to the stage when we played, but I certainly never saw one." Source: www.csmonitor.com

Stone stages Jim Morrison with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd as a descent into the underworld, where West Coast hallucinogenic inspiration sours under the influence of New York decadence and hard drugs. Morrison nervously pleads with his bandmates not to be left alone to face Warhol, as if he senses an oncoming ordeal he can’t face, but swiftly gives into temptations, as Nico (Kristina Fulton) goes down on him in an elevator before Pamela’s stoned disbelief. Photographer Gloria Stavers (Mimi Rogers) takes iconic snaps of Morrison and repeats the siren call of stand-alone stardom. A press conference alternates between Morrison’s fantasy image of himself reproducing Bob Dylan’s shaded, combative cool and his slightly bleating, defensive actuality, hooking up with an inquisitive journalist, Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan). Morrison’s relationship with Pamela spins into increasingly fraught and mutually wounding territory, counterpointing level-headed Manzarek’s union with his wife Dorothy. 

Pamela (Meg Ryan) has her own sense of humour, introducing herself to a customs man as “Pamela Morrison, ornament,” but shares her husband’s appetites far too much to counterbalance his collective of enablers, including Warhol actor Tom Baker (Michael Madsen) and other omnivorous ratbags. What Stone found particularly compelling about Morrison emerges through such a motif as he studies his hero as doomed not just by internal failings, but also by the specific flaws of his society and as a classic overreacher. Just as much as Nixon represented to Stone both the beauty of America in his capacity to rise from straitened youth to national captaincy—and its dark flipside in his resentment and paranoia—Morrison likewise represents a spiritual America doomed to be tortured by a materialistic age where hedonism is offered as substitute for liberty. Source: www.ferdyonfilms.com

Nowhere did the best and worst of the 60's collide as messily as they did in Jim Morrison, the Doors' resident sex symbol and bete noire. In the film's opening episodes, Jim is seen courting Pam under a glorious night sky with poetry and existential small talk ("I feel most alive experiencing death, confronting pain"). Meg Ryan plays Pamela in a cute, dizzy fashion that will not further Mr. Stone's reputation as a director who understands women. John Densmore, in his memoir about the band, writes of beginning to feel that Morrison was "headed straight for a sad death in a gutter." What ruined Jim Morrison? The film, at times, dares to make the outrageous suggestion that he died for his audience's sins, but it is possible to be haunted by "The Doors" without subscribing to that idea. One of Mr. Stone's most effective tricks is to fade out the sound entirely at one crucial moment, as Morrison becomes fatally out of touch with his audience. The final stage of Morrison's life was never easy. Source: www.nytimes.com


Deleted Scenes on The Doors DVD — These extended scenes are introduced by Oliver Stone who regrets removing some of them from the final cut: Pamela and Jim are on a plane to New York talking about how they would like to die. Another scene showing Ray and Dorothy Manzarek's wedding, followed by Pamela and Jim shopping for their dinner. Also, Morrison in a motel room crying in company of a groupie.

Drug laws were used to persecute Timothy Leary and other counterculture leaders. An example of this type of harassment came to light in federal court when Jack Martin, a musician who'd been busted on a dope rap, testified that he was asked to turn informant and assist the Federal Narcotics Bureau in framing Allen Ginsberg on a marijuana charge. The FBI and the CIA kept tabs on Ginsberg's activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A number of big-name rock musicians were also targeted for surveillance by the FBI. Hoover's men shadowed John Lennon (Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" became the anthem of the antiwar movement). In addition the FBI kept tabs on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and other rock stars who were prosecuted on drug charges. The harassment of rock musicians was part of a crusade against the emerging counterculture and alternative lifestyles. Some rock groups took explicitly political stands, and their music received wide airplay despite halfhearted attempts at government censorship. While rock music certainly did not politicize its entire audience, it reinforced a pervasive anti-authoritarianism and provided an audacious soundtrack to the hopes of the younger generation. "Acid Dreams The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, and Beyond" (1985) by Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain

Maggie Phillips had heard in the hallways of George Washington High that Jim Morrison was going to be reciting poetry at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and she remembered making the journey to the basement club on K Street with a close friend to see Jim in action. After Jim Morrison’s epic poetry recital at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion (one of his favoite haunts), he went on to graduate from George Washington High School in June 1961 and then left Alexandria at the end of that summer to attend St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida (he would later attend Florida State University and eventually earned a bachelor of arts in theater arts from UCLA in June 1965). Morrison never actually sang with a rock and roll band during his teen years in Alexandria. 

Michael McClure: Jim and I met because of his interest in my play The Beard, a confrontation between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow in a blue velvet eternity. We disliked each other at first sight and began sullenly drinking Johnny Walker, which quickly turned to talk about poetry and Elizabethan theater. When Jim and I were in London, in the late 1960s, working together on a screenplay from my novel The Adept, he showed me the manuscript of his first poems, The New Creatures. The manuscript was perfectly edited by his wife, Pam.  It is hard to believe that there was a better poet than Jim, at his age. I urged Jim to publish it and when he demurred because of his concern that it would be read as rock-star poetry, I persuaded him to do a private publication, and helped him distribute it. Jim and I were close friends. Often he visited San Francisco and stayed with my family, sometimes I stayed with Jim and Pam when I was in LA. Strange as it sounds, Jim had a fear of reading his poetry to an audience without a band backing him. The true visionary is not harmed by commodization. The poem “Hail Thee Who Play!” (1968) is dedicated to James Douglas Morrison. Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

On stage Jim Morrison was like Dean Moriarty, Mr. Mojo Risin, Jimbo. He was hip and wild. At home with Pam he wanted to be Sal Paradise a.k.a. James Douglas Morrison, poet–and get it down on paper. Hell, he wanted to write the next great American novel. The novel about the sixties; the novel which would define a generation–his. There was, however, the personality split–The outsider, estranged from himself and society, couldn't experience himself/other people as ‘real’. The disintegration of his real self keeps pace with the growing unreality of his false self until, in the extremes of schizophrenic breakdown, the whole personality disintegrates. Maybe Morrison was an outsider who concocted a story in which to live his reality; spinning unreality like a classic storyteller, he lived a schizophrenic existence. Jim had Pamela call his parents in Washington to let them know that Jim was “in fine shape and he was taking care of himself” in Paris. Pamela let them know that she and Jim were looking forward to seeing them as soon as they got back to the States. Using Pamela as an intermediary, Jim was taking the first difficult steps in order to move on to the future. For the first time, he began talking about having children.

Everyone knew the magic Morrison, the face at the edge of the cliff, grinning before he jumped. But he would also be wallowing in his own self-doubt and self-pity. Pam knew his demons. The things that came for him in the dark. The fear of rejection, the pain of his family background and his own doubts about his poetry. Pamela Courson was much more than a moll or a groupie, she was like Alice in Wonderland. Morrison had feared he could never control Pam, and now he was beginning to ruin his looks to push other women away. When Pam had denounced Jim's infidelities, his usual excuse was those girls coming on to him so hard. Jim and Pam loved each other, but there was this weird competition they had, a test to see who loved the other one the most. Jim couldn't use his mind tricks with Pam, she was immune because she had also freed her mind. Jim loved Pam for her love of freedom. But he played with the rest of people's minds, reflecting back at them precisely what they wanted to see. Like Mary Shelley, Jim Morrison created his own monster, alone in the dark. Morrison had cut up the pieces of other people, philosophers, poets, subculture idealists, novelists, artists and dramatists, then stitched them together to create a new god. Suddenly he’s alone in the dark with all those demons. —"Mr. Mojo Risin' Ain't Dead" (2011) by Ron Clooney.

She looked like Edie Sedgwick, that femme-fatale, might’ve-just-overdosed-on-heroin-and-been-brought-back-to-life-by-adrenaline look. By the time I’d reached the end of the hallway, some of the acid had washed away. She’d hurt me? While I sat there, that root canal pain sparking through my body, phrases like 'I wish I’d never met her' and 'I wish she’d never kissed me' started to cascade through my thoughts. I might’ve—had it been a viable option at that moment—gone all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on her. Bleached her out of my memory. Ripped her from where she’d stitched herself into the lining of my soul. But I thought that something must first be shattered for it to be put back together in a way that made it more beautiful than before. I thought of how I liked broken things, things that were blemished or dented or cracked, and why that was probably why I fell for her in the first place. She was a broken thing in human form, and now—because of her—I was too. She might always be broken, but I hoped that all my shattered pieces could be glued back together and mended with gold seams. That the tears in my heart would heal into scars that would glisten. The sunlight caught her irises and made them almost crystal clear and my heart trembled at how achingly beautiful she was and how much I hated her for not being mine, the ethereal creature that now existed only in photographs and half-remembered fantasies. Love is scientific, just a chemical reaction in the brain. Sometimes that reaction lasts a lifetime, repeating itself over and over again. Sometimes it goes supernova and then starts to fade. We’re all just chemical hearts. I remembered anxiety, stress, pain, sadness, the acid from my stomach eating away at my lungs. I remembered loving her, desperately. There was the night we walked home together from the movies, hand in hand, when I’d been sure I was going to marry her. "Our Chemical Hearts" (2016) by Krystal Sutherland 

No comments :