The other day my MP3 player strayed onto “The End,” by the Doors. This is never a good thing in the absence of cheap wine, barbiturates and a freshly dug grave.
It recalled for me a true story, one in keeping with my claim to be the fourth prince of Serendip. It’s eerie, and the message that some will take home from it gives me hives. And that is because I do not believe in astrology, the special power of crystals, or that the U.S. government blew up the World Trade Center. If Washington was that efficient we wouldn’t be fighting with the Shar-Pei over table scraps.
And sorry, conspiracy theorists — vaccination does not cause autism. Don’t force me to embarrass you with facts.
Let’s go back to August of 2006. I had to go to L.A. on business totally unrelated to my writing. There was a big convention in town that made the woman who does my travel arrangements unable to book a hotel room for under $350 a night. And that was at the Chateau Marmont, my fave L.A. hostelry back in the 60s when it was kind of the Chelsea Hotel West and I could get a room for $15 a night. Its legendary resident in those times was Boris Karloff. It was said to be an exquisite treat to get into the elevator after midnight and encounter Karloff, who would in that famous voice intone “good evening.”
Since then it has suffered the inevitable gentrification. Now it looks like any other renovated historic hotel and the only longhair who can afford it is Neil Young, who probably wouldn’t be caught dead there.
Just as my travel person went white with exasperation, my thoughts slid downscale and I thought, “what about the place where Morrison lived?”
The Doors and I are inextricably linked because I wrote the first book about them, just 40 years ago. It sold for $1 then and the last time I looked it was a collector’s item at $100 and over. I’ll save details for another day. Salient here is that the book made me the target of stalking by several Morrison loonies, one of whom made my life miserable a decade later when I was stupid enough to list my phone number. He thought that I had some sort of cosmic connection to Morrison. I got so sick of the Doors that when the Oliver Stone movie came out I didn’t go see it. The 10 minutes worth I stumbled over on one of the cable channels last year convinced me of the wisdom of that decision.
During his most productive period, Morrison lived at a hotel on La Cienega just off Santa Monica Boulevard. That’s all of two blocks down the hill from Sunset in West Hollywood. Now that’s prime real estate. But then, Morrison probably paid what I was paying up the hill and down a bit at the Chateau.
The name of the place is the Alta Cienega. It’s still there and costs—tell your wallet that there is a God—a staggering $65 a night. If you want the “Jim Morrison Room,” where he lived, you will have to pay the premium rate, $69. But you get decades of graffiti from Morrison loonies who passed through in hot pursuit of the old, cold ghost of the Lizard King.
A mild codicil on Morrison’s residence: Danny Fields, a Warhol-camp survivor who became a 60s music boulevardier and, later, co-discoverer and manager of the Ramones, told me a month or two ago that Morrison “only left his clothes there. He lived in his car.”
Regarding the Alta Cienega, its quaintness includes the fact that you will not get a telephone in your room. There is only high speed Internet. This is either astonishingly old-fashioned or amazingly prescient. If you want a voice communication, a member of the Asian family that owns the hotel will take a message and slip it under your door.
It’s possible that the Morrison Room receives astral messages from wherever Jim went when he broke on through to the other side. This is unknown. If true, the capitalistically clueless owners of the hotel are unlikely to charge for them.
Let us turn now to the matter of the David Walley, a seminal rock journalist like me. We were friends and companions in the New York rock scene. I worked for the Times. He worked for the East Village Other, then the nation’s prime underground paper. The Times ran pictures of presidents and prime ministers on its front page. The East Village Other once famously decorated page one with a photo of real shit hitting a real fan. David and I pretty much defined the range of possibilities for rock journalism. He was the most political of the rock journalists of that or any other time, which made him a joy to talk to. How many conversations can you have about the Doobie Brothers?
I lost touch with him in the early 70s, but was aware of him writing No Commercial Potential, a biography of Frank Zappa, and Teenage Nervous Breakdown, a study of pop music and society. In 2004 or 2005 we reconnected via the Internet and resumed our political rants, nearly always about the now-departed regime in Washington. Typically David and I got into a email rant every three weeks or so and then didn’t chat for another three or so weeks, having exhausted the possible ways to beat the Bushies. We had one of these chats around the start of the month of August, 2006. In the course of it, I told him I was going to LA. He lived there for several years in the 60s, part of that time with the woman who later became Mrs. Jim Morrison. He asked me to go down Sunset to see if Duke’s Coffee Shop, one of his old hangouts, was still there. A week later I did.
Duke’s is an unremarkable bean wagon that has achieved a certain place in the history of rock hangouts because it abuts the Whisky a Go Go. I had a chicken salad sandwich and a chocolate egg cream and read one of the local underground newspapers. Then I went back to the Alta Cienega and emailed David this: “In your memory I had an egg cream at Duke’s.”
Whoa. That was a creepy error. I quickly changed the word “memory” to the word “honor.”
You see where this is going, don’t you, especially those of you pilots flying reconnaissance missions aboard the astral plane. Three days after I got home I ran into a mutual friend, who asked, solemnly, “Did you know that David Walley died last week?”
Well, okay. The word “coincidence” exists for a reason. David was a heavy smoker, and smoking is very closely associated with cardiac issues (he died of a heart attack). But I didn’t know about his smoking when my typing error sent him an egg cream in the beyond. He seemed perfectly vital on the phone, never mentioned health problems, and was proud that he had nearly completed a biography of Herbert Feis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning economist and diplomatic historian of the Cold War.
I don’t think his heart chose that moment to give up because it would especially freak me out. I think it was a coincidence. Maybe there is a mathematician like the guy on "Numb3rs" who can explain it logically. Or you never know, aw hell I might have felt a tremor in the Force. Maybe David and Jim had been out there beyond the doors of perception fighting over a woman. And they decided to bury the hatchet over an egg cream from Duke’s.
Whatever. David is gone nearly three years now. I wish he had lived to finish the biography of Feis. I wish he had lived to know of President Obama.
Or perhaps he does. I’m gonna go send him a blintz, this time in his memory.
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