WEIRDLAND: Lost Opportunity: John F. Kennedy, Jim Morrison

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lost Opportunity: John F. Kennedy, Jim Morrison

This Monday John F. Kennedy would have turned 100, and it has taken nearly this long to develop a full picture of his presidency: The more we learn about it, the more impressive he becomes. Much of the biographical work until recently has been filling in the gaps created by censors—JFK had a taping system installed in the White House a decade before Nixon, and these recordings have only been fully opened since late 2012. Unlike the technophobic Nixon, whose taping system would turn on at the literal drop of a hat, Kennedy’s was controlled by a button usually pressed by him alone. John F. Kennedy was not only far less hawkish than his public rhetoric, he was far less hawkish than the American people. He was certainly anti-communist, and mistrusted pro-Kremlin revolutionaries, but he believed, as he would reveal publicly in his American University address in June 1963, that Americans had an irrational fear of Russians and that both peoples shared an aversion to nuclear war. At the same time, the president’s brother underscored that an arms-control agreement would only come if the Soviets stopped underestimating U.S. power and causing trouble in divided Berlin and Southeast Asia. The Kennedys also refused to soften their hard line on Fidel Castro or even discuss it with Moscow. “Cuba is a dead issue,” explained RFK. Some of this was na├»ve—Khrushchev did not want an arms-control agreement as much as Kennedy did and was suspicious of the president’s gesture—and all of it was politically dangerous at home for JFK. Had these secret discussions ever become public, RFK, let alone his brother, might well have been charged with being pro-Soviet. In retrospect, these risks were worth taking at the height of the Cold War. The Kennedys’ secret meetings certainly helped to make an accidental war less likely. 

JFK sought liberal outcomes while abhorring instability and uncertainty. But, in the end, he could and would take risks, avoided nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis and negotiated a partial nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union. He took office with a muscular promise that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden” in the battle for freedom. But five months before his death, he became a prophet of what would be called detente, describing peace as “the necessary, rational end of rational men.” All these years later, we share a collective sense of an unfinished era, an unfulfilled promise and a lost opportunity. One of Kennedy’s most admirable traits was his talent for maintaining a critical distance from himself and who he became. Theodore Sorensen noted in 1965 that JFK was “a constant critic” of his own myth. In the 1960s, we know now, a president and his closest adviser took creative and audacious steps to make the world a safer place. Happy 100th birthday, JFK. Source: www.slate.com

Between the late 1950s and the early 1960s Jim Morrison preferred to cut school and visit beatnik hangouts in San Francisco. Two significant events had shaken America. First the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth. This sensational event provoked spasms of American self-doubt and recriminations about being beaten into space by the Russians. It began the so-called missile gap debate that later helped put John Kennedy in the White House. In the summer of 1960, something in Jim Morrison changed. Classmates remembered he seemed to undergo a change of personality. He appeared depressed and angry, and neglected his studies. Morrison wrote in a notebook that he was both a fool and the smartest kid in class. Apparently he took no interest in the November presidential election—hotly debated in his politically conservative school—in which John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon. Kennedy’s death occupied a dark corner of the Morrison psyche, making frequent appearances in notebooks and later lyrics. “Dead president’s corpse in the driver’s car” is one of the keystone images from both 'Celebration of the Lizard' and the song excerpted from this long poem, “Not to Touch the Earth.” On the same notebook page on which Morrison recorded the Kennedy assassination, he wrote the name of Aldous Huxley. Huxley had died at his home in Los Angeles on the same day Jack Kennedy was murdered. We as a nation have never fully recovered from the psychological disarray resulting from the JFK assassination in 1963. Oliver Stone's "JFK" reprised the circumstances and complexities behind that historic and fateful day: the exact moment when the bullet struck the President's head, that precise instant when an entire civilization was forever changed. Kennedy's death established a milestone that American society had reached unknowingly. It became more significant the further away in time we got historically from that event. The assassination was a huge tragedy that created an inability for the nation to find firm footing after it had been knocked off balance.

Ray Manzarek saw in Jim Morrison political potential. Although Morrison was essentially a lonely and tortured rebel, he was likable and engaging in all kinds of conversation. Leonard Pitts, Jr., a columnist for “The Miami Herald,” wrote: "Whatever you think of the 60's one thing is undeniable: They tore us apart, ripped American society to pieces and threw those pieces in the air so they rained down like confetti, falling into new configurations, nothing where it used to be. It was an angry time—Fifty years later we are still angry, still sifting through confetti pieces, trying to find a way to make them whole.” The events of the 1960's set up the impulse toward “psychic disintegration” we are now encountering. Morrison saw what was happening to our souls as a society and reported as a witness to "the vultures descending on the scene for curious America aplomb," a nation possessed and frozen in time. JFK and Jim Morrison seemingly had in common health ailments and a sex addiction, but whereas the President had multiple liaisons with Hollywood stars (Gene Tierney, Marilyn Monroe, June Allyson, Arlene Dahl) Jimbo juggled female journalists and groupies.


It was against the backdrop of these tumultuous days that Morrison wrote “Peace Frog,” with innovative guitar sounds by Robby Krieger. For Morrison it was a song not only of isolation but a complete rejection of what America had become that suggested an inevitable and violent end. He unconsciously intimated mayhem in America that would become epidemic. In the song’s opening line there is a chorus chanted in counterpoint by Morrison. “She came” is the chorus that parallels and follows Morrison's opening warning, “There's blood in the streets, it's up to my ankles.”  “She came,” has a dual meaning.  It is an easy reference to sexual climax. But the phrase also refers to a line in the first break, “Just about the break of day, she came, and then she drove away, sunlight in her hair.” The sunshine in her hair is a brilliant image that might be just Pamela Courson. She is a fleeting, unreachable image, she leaves the city, and she remains beyond us, unobtainable, the queen of the highway, waiting for us on the edge of town, beckoning to us. “Blood screams her brain as they chop off her fingers,” which speaks of the social insurrection Morrison possibly foresaw in a destructive break-up and dismemberment of the city.

I never saw Jim make a homosexual advance towards anyone. As for Jim's wife Pam, she was straight too. She once mentioned that two of her girlfriends had come together in a Lesbian experience. But she completely rejected that kind of experience. Pam, underage, had been convicted of driving under the influence and remanded to the custody of Juvenile Hall. One night, she and another girl resolved to escape by climbing into the ventilator shafts: she was still bitter about the law and all it had tried to do to her. Once Pam and I left Jim and Mary Werbelow alone for awhile and Pam said something I will never forget: “I feel sorry for Mary.” I knew it meant she was not threatened by the emergence of Mary. That something had long been settled between her and Jim. A relationship deeper than either one of them had ever had before. I’d begun to suspect that something had been settled between the two of them – unbreakable except by death itself. Nietzsche once said: 'In the end what a woman wants is a warrior'. Perhaps the women who gravitated toward Jim Morrison were attracted to this quality. Morrison felt that women had a greater future perhaps than most men would have. Most men were concerned with the accumulation of empty numbers. Morrison was the contemplative type, hardly the freak that popular consumption would have us believe. He was Apollonian in his life, Dionysian on stage. He aimed at the heart of American Democracy. He believed in it. —"Summer with Morrison: The Early Life and Times of James Douglas Morrison, A Memoir" (2011) by Dennis C. Jakob and "Some Are Born to Endless Night: Jim Morrison, Visions of Apocalypse and Transcendence" (2011) by Gerry Kirstein

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