Why didn’t that tipsy Venice Beach fortune-teller predict that I would be pissing in the same restroom Jim Morrison had? And she sure didn’t foresee me shopping at the same record store Ray Manzarek frequented on Sunset Blvd. I should have known better in the City of Night. Welcome to my L.A. Woman Tour. In honor of Ray Manzarek (keyboardist and founding member of the Doors) who passed away this week in Germany at the age of 74, I’d like to share my personal odyssey with the Doors and their ghosts. Thankfully I got the opportunity to hear Ray play live when he toured with the Doors of the 21st Century with Robby Krieger. Unlike other old rockers I have seen (UH, the Rolling somethings) Manzarek’s playing was never off pitch. He could still take you on that musical journey.
It all began with a weekend “getaway” in the summer of 2005. I drove up to Venice Beach from San Diego to stay at a beach hostel. I had often done this in the past with the intention to write and get “inspired”. Funny how this often requires hours of drinking and getting caught up trying to get rid of some pug-ugly guy who is hoping to get into my pants. Anyhow, the weekend was supposed to be just like all the others for me in Venice. But for some reason, this particular trip seemed to be one in which hidden hands were guiding me in directions that often included some connection to the Doors, especially Jim Morrison. At first, I passed it off as sheer coincidences. But by the end of my stay in Venice Beach, I began to feel a little freaked out, but mostly privileged to be the one to have been “guided” by some ghostly doors of perception.
Initially, I wanted to eat at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood to see where artists Wallace Berman and Ed Keinholtz got their grub (a little tip I got from my art history teacher in college…its an art snob thing). While there, I befriended the waitress who happened to be from San Diego herself who was a singer in a band called the Paper Dolls. The waitress shared about how Janis Joplin spent her last night at the restaurant. At that moment “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors played over the speakers. “Oh, and Jim Morrison used to drink here too,” she added. Cool, I thought, doesn’t surprise me. I mean the guy did drink everywhere from here to Amsterdam right?
She suggested I walk down to see the Chateau Marmont where Morrison is said to have fallen from his balcony and broken ribs. I did so, more out of awe that the old, ridiculous structure was still standing there instead of a 7-Eleven store. Ok, so Marilyn Monroe probably screwed someone there, and John Belushi had his last puke there. Honestly, I’ve never been one to care what actors did in their free time. It just reminds me how uneventful my life is between picking at my face and writing crappy blogs. Since I was in the neighborhood, I figured I would take a stroll down Sunset Blvd to see the Viper Room and the Whisky A Go-Go.
Everyone knows the Whisky’s history as a mecca for rock history,(including the fact that the Doors played there in their early days) so I won’t bore u with it. But it was the Tower Records store just down the street that drew me in. I was going up to the cash register to pay for my Johnny Cash CD when the kid (probably some Euro-tourist) in front of me asked the cashier in broken-English, “So do you get famous people who shop here?”
The cashier who looked lively as taxidermy said quite unexcitedly, “Uh, yeh, Ray Manzarek from the Doors comes in here sometimes.”
Interesting I thought. I would have liked to have asked the cashier what Ray Manzarek purchased, but I didn’t. I was too afraid I would hear something stupid like..”Oh, he never actually buys anything. He just asks for change for the parking meters.” By now, my own car probably was getting ticketed.
Walking around West Hollywood, I grew tired and bored with myself. This happens quite often especially when I breathe, which is why I am often open to talking to street vagabonds.
“Hey, girl, where you goin’?” one of the gutter crows asked as I walked past. His name was Sonny. He was seated at a bus stop next to Emmanuel his side kick. Neither were waiting for the bus.
“I don’t know. I’m just looking for a new poem I guess,” I answered. Like the typical nerd I am, I really didn’t have any place in mind at the moment.
“OH, so you’re a poet eh? Why don’t u share a poem,” Sonny suggested.
“You say it like you don’t believe I am one. Here look, I’m carrying a notebook and a pen. All poets do,” I pointed out pulling out my goods.
“Relax girl, relax. I believe you. This town is full of poets. You’ve got Charles Bukowski…Jim Morrison, HEY, in fact I saw Morrison being carried out of Barney’s Beanery one night drunk as a skunk. You like the Doors?” Sonny continued.
These Doors coincidences were just starting to get a little strange.
“Yeh, right, you saw Morrison. AND?” I continued starting to feel annoyed that he would think I was as stupid as I looked, and starting to know he was probably right. Maybe Sonny did witness such an event, I mean it takes a wino to know a wino right?
His buddy who was previously just sitting and grinning finally spoke up saying, “Oh, girl, you don’t know old Sonny. He’s seen everything. That was his scene. My name’s Emmanuel by the way,” he said holding out his hand. I shook it reluctantly.
“So what other places did you supposedly see Morrison?” I asked half mockingly.
“Well, I didn’t see him anywhere else, but I know he used to stay at the Alta Cienega Motel just up the way. Its owned by some Indian guy who still rents out the room Morrison lived in. People leave graffiti and writing on the wall in that room now. You should go check it out. It’s also close to the Benvenuto Cafe. The Doors recorded L.A. Woman in that building before it was a cafe. I wouldn’t eat there though. Its overpriced.”
“Hey, where are you staying?” Emmanuel asked.
“OH, I’m staying in Venice Beach. Why?” I inquired.
“Go to the Townhouse. It’s a bar Jim went to a lot. Its been there in Venice forever,” Emmanuel added grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I thanked them both and headed down to check out both the Alta Cienega Motel and the Benevento Cafe to take pictures. After coming home from this odd weekend, I did a bit of research and found that what Sonny had told me about the motel and the cafe had been true. Morrison stayed in this particular motel due to being in close location to the Doors headquarters, the recording studio, his favorite bars, and his girlfriend Pamela’s residence.
As far as the Cafe (now CLOSED), legend has it that the L.A. Woman album was recorded in the building years before it was a cheesy Italian restaurant. The L.A. Woman song itself was sung in a downstairs restroom for its acoustic sound quality. The Doors at the time would never imagine it would be their last album together before Morrison’s death in Paris, France. Nor would they think rigatoni would take the place of rock music in that little haunt.
Later that evening, since my crappy hostel happened to be located on the same street as the Townhouse Cocktails dive bar on Windward Avenue, I decided to check out the place Emmanuel had suggested. It was a dump… just the way I like my drinking establishments. It was busy, so packed, that I couldn’t get access to the woman’s restroom with a line long enough to rival the Great Wall of China. No one seemed to be going in or coming out of the mens restroom. After four beers and an impatient buzz, I dove into the men’s pisser caring less what or who I saw. My bladder was about to burst like a pinata at an orphanage. Shockingly, no one was inside. The toilets were old-fashion looking with pull chains. It was as though I was sitting on the same shitter Jim Morrison might have peed in. Quite fascinating until I heard the voice of a male entering the restroom. Oh well, this is L.A. He should know anything goes. But the stranger was too busy making friends with a urinal to notice my ridiculous exit. This called for a drink. I made my way closer to the bartender.
Next thing I know I am asking a guy next to me if he could get the bartender’s attention since he seemed to know him.
“OH sure. Are you here by yourself?” the young, tall guy asked.
“Yep, but I’m good at keeping myself company,” I responded feeling quite stupid.
Eventually he introduced me to his girlfriend and a few of his other buddies drinking next to him. One named Joel ended up befriending me. All of them were Venice locals. I figured Joel wouldn’t be such a threat when he informed me that he was a male nurse. By the end of the night, I was sure I was gona need someone to nurse my hangover anyway.
“Hey, why don’t you come over with us. We’re gona grab some beers and head on to our place. It’s not far. It’s just up Speedway. Don’t worry, the girls will be there too. You’re safe,” Joel suggested. Typical nurse, looking out for me, though fear was something that didn’t come to mind when I was juiced up. I thought it a great idea since I was starting to lose my buzz due to flapping my jaws too much with the male nurse.
Joel was right. He and his male roommate lived very near… on 18th and Speedway just down the alley. Walking up to their rented beach flat, my heart stopped just for a second in the same way Medusa probably could have turned me to stone. Directly across the street from Joel’s pad was Venice Beach’s famous mural of the Lizard King himself. What? Ok, I thought, Jim, this is getting quite eerie now, especially here late at night with that full moon above you. What was with your ghost following me?
In a way, I knew it was impossible to escape the dead singer since this was the place he lived and strolled so often. But it was when Joel took me up to the roof of the flat to show me the strand of Venice’s beach at night with the flush-face of that pearly, white moon hanging like an empty plate overhead that I caught some wind of magic. Watching the silvery waves shimmer, feeling the breeze, and seeing how bright that distant celestial body was, I felt I got a glimpse of Jim Morrison’s inner and outer world. A mystical energy awoke something profound in me. I was in tune with the invisible forces around me. I realized at that moment how and where Jim got his inspiration for songs like “Moonlight Drive”. It was as though I could feel Jim there next to me. AND NO…despite it being Venice Beach…and a “party”…I don’t and didn’t do drugs. As you can probably tell, I’m wacky enough sober, thank you very much. It was such a magical experience, I kept it to myself to prevent it from being dismissed by cynics. But after hearing of Ray Manzarek’s death this week, I was moved to share it. It was Manzarek’s not Morrison’s idea to form the Doors. Jim just went along for the ride as he did with so many other things in those times.
By the end of the night, the couch that was nailed to Joel’s livingroom ceiling began to start tripping me out (yes, he had a couch nailed upside down from his ceiling). I walked back to my hostel just a bit down the way, still feeling a mystical presence looking just over my shoulder under the glow of the moon.
The next day, Sunday, I had breakfast at the Venice Bistro located just next to the Cadillac Hotel on the boardwalk. The Cadillac Hotel was where I usually always stayed. I don’t recall why I had not that particular trip. Maybe my favorite room was booked. Anyhow, as I looked up at the board of musical events that were set to play at the Venice Bistro that night, I could see that strange door of perception open up again. Peace Frog was set to play, a local Doors tribute band. And as I was nursing my hangover with my glass of orange juice and open journal contemplating my next poem, it all made sense. It was just as Jim would have liked it.
NOTE: All photographs are taken by yours truly (as if you couldn’t already tell by their illustrious framing). The one of Jim Morrison’s motel room graffiti was taken by someone on the internet whom I can’t name, so sue me. All photographs of people you see in each shot were used without them knowing, so forget u saw them here. Amen