Jim Morrison's Not So Happy Homecoming
It was the summer of 1967 and The Doors’ single "Light My Fire" was racing up the Billboard music charts. The band found itself headlining large venues and even made an appearance on American Bandstand. But one date on the tour schedule might have stood out to front man Jim Morrison more than any other. (Not that he would’ve told anyone.)
On August 18, 1967, the band played an odd D.C. area double-header: a 7:30pm show at the National Guard Armory in Annapolis, Maryland, and a late night show at the Alexandria Roller Rink Arena in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the only time The Doors played two separate concerts at different venues in the same evening. And, for Morrison, it was a homecoming of sorts.
The enigmatic singer had spent much of his childhood in this area while his father, a Rear Admiral in the Navy, was stationed at the Pentagon. The family lived in Arlington during the early 1950s and later lived on Woodland Terrace in Alexandria where Jim attended George Washington High School.
In Alexandria, Jim lived in a basement room, which high school friends remember as being filled with books, original poetry and artwork. By all accounts he was an avid reader, writer and painter but not yet a musician or singer. He did, however, frequent bars and coffee houses in the District to listen to bands and once gave a poetry recital at a beatnik joint known as Coffee ‘n’ Confusion (925 K St. NW). It was apparently his first public performance.
Sadly, none of his teenage manuscripts seem to have survived. Given the great popularity of The Doors and mystery surrounding Morrison’s death can you imagine what collectors would give for an original Jim Morrison poem nowadays?!
After graduating from GWHS in 1961, Morrison distanced himself from his family and friends in Alexandria. He left for school in Florida and later moved to California where he met keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who passed away in 2013), drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. Together they formed The Doors.
By the time the band came to town for the Annapolis-Alexandria double header in 1967, “Light My Fire,” was enjoying its third week atop the Billboard 100 music chart. Both shows sold out as local radio stations WYRE and WPGC teamed up to promote the “rare double booking.”
In Alexandria, popular WPGC deejay Jack Alix used The Doors as a draw for his “Flower Power Hour,” a competition between twelve local teen bands, which effectively served as an extended opening act for Morrison and company. The winner was promised an audition with Columbia Records in New York City.
The Clinton, Maryland Star-Leader described the scene at the Alexandria show in vivid detail:
A pschydelic [sic] panorama of sight and sound, as 4,000 teenagers watched and walked around… most stood and listened, few were dancing… the scene resembled DuPont Circle, transplanted… as the “flower children” made the scene… bright with flowered dresses, feather boas, floppy hats, peacock feather earrings, mini-dressed girls with straight, shining hair, looking as if they were ready for bed, wearing baby-doll gowns….
Feminine costumes paled in contrast to those worn by their brothers who wore necklaces of sea shells and Indians beads….
Many carried their shoes… their feet becoming blacker and blacker, as the evening wore on… whether it is better to see, or to be seen, that is the question.
Even beyond the attire, it proved to be an odd night.
At the Annapolis show, Morrison got into some sort of argument with his bandmates and they refused to travel with him to the Alexandria gig. Promoters had to send a separate car for the singer and when Morrison finally arrived at the Roller Rink he was staggering drunk and, by multiple accounts, in a very foul mood.
But, despite his bottle-induced condition, Morrison apparently put on a grand performance when the band went onstage around 10pm. As long time D.C. radio personality Tom Grooms remembered, “He came out on the stage and he was in black and I’d never seen anything like that. Morrison was doing his thing, he was very theatrical, he’d fall down or lay down and I thought it was all a part of their act, but I’d never seen anyone gyrate like that before…. I remember they did a real long, incredible version of ‘Light My Fire’ and finished with ‘The End.'”
Apparently that’s when things got a little crazy. Details are sketchy, but according to several people who attended the concert, Morrison picked up a cymbal stand and threw it out into the crowd as the band played “The End,” gashing a young female fan across the forehead. Then after Jack Alix wrestled the microphone away from him to close the show, Morrison supposedly yelled, “Hey Alexandria!” and gave the crowd a one finger salute on his way off stage.
So much for a happy homecoming.
To learn more about Jim Morrison’s life in Alexandria, check out Mark Opsasnick’s informative book, The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia (Xlibrus, 2006), which was the basis for this post.