THE UGLY AMERICANS IN FRANCE
This is a cool story and truly my greatest accomplishment while serving in the military. It's the story of how my friend Billy and I traveled through Europe in search of Jim Morrison's gravesite. As you know, Jim died in 1971 while living in Paris. Which also turned out to be his final resting-place. He was gone and, he was still our hero!
The story takes place during my one and only Mediterranean cruise while serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Nimitz. A Med cruise consisted of six or so months of floating around the Mediterranean Sea and intimidating anyone that got in our way. Pretty neat huh? Our home port while in the Med was Naples, Italy. But we also stopped at a few other places along the way such as Florence Italy, Monte Carlo Monaco, Palma Spain, and Alexandria Egypt. But it was in Naples where the grand plan was first conceived.
Billy and myself had often talked about going to the grave. But we really never did any planning or gave it any serious thought. It was still just idle bullshit at this point. Although at the start of the cruise, we did promise ourselves that if we ever landed at a port within striking distance of Paris France, that we would definitely try for the grave. The schedule for port landings was never written in stone. So we really didn't know where we would end up. But while in port Naples, strange things began to happen.
It all started on this beautiful sunny day. We had a Frisbee in our left hand and not a worry in the world in our right. There was only one item missing at this point to complete the scene, and that was of course the ice-cold beer's! So minutes later we found a store and bought a few six packs and headed over to the park. Where the first sign, the first omen if you will, occurred.
Now this was no ordinary park. We were standing in the remnants of a burnt out volcano. It was really cool. We read this plaque that gave the whole story behind the park. But I'll spare you guys the details though! Anyway, we were drinking and tossing, tossing and drinking and then it happened. The Frisbee came to a landing on the soft green Mediterranean grass and when we went over to pick it up, bang! There it was, a goddamn lizard. A little green guy about five inches long jumped onto the Frisbee and stared us both down. I shit you not! He practically talked to us! Now I hear you guys out there saying "So big deal, a fuckin' lizard. Stomp on the little bastard and get on with the frisbee tossing you two chicken shit a-holes!"
But wait! Just think of the significance of that little green guy. We all know that in the world of rock-n-roll, Jim Morrison had proclaimed himself "The Lizard King". With snake-like movements while on the stage and the shaman-like mystery surrounding him. And there he was, standing on our Frisbee. Taunting us. Or maybe communicating with us. We were fuckin' freaking out! We couldn't believe what was happening. It was a sure sign, telling us to take a trip. Take a trip and seek out the aura of our hero! And then as quickly as he appeared, the little green guy vanished. And wow! How cool was this?
Right then and there we both began to talk about the idea of actually going to the grave for real. At this point though, distance and time were working against us. We couldn't get enough time off for the distance that we would have to travel to get to Paris, France. But little did we know that the wheels of destiny had already begun to turn! And unbeknown to us, they were turning in our favor! We then resumed our drinking and tossing, along with some more talk of the possibilities of making the trip a reality. I'm thinking back now, and man sometimes life gives you some really cool moments in time. Just think about it for a second. We had Naples Italy, volcano's, a beautiful day, Frisbee and beer. This was probably a once in a life time combination. It sure beats driving home in rush hour from work everyday huh? How come we never really appreciate the cool things that happen to us while their actually happening? It's always years later that it hits us just how cool life could be!
Anyway, getting back to the story. Still, I don't actually think at this point, we were really serious about going. But soon, a second and then third sign would show up. Practically daring us to take up the quest. And then the wheels of destiny would click just one more notch, giving us the opportunity that we were waiting for. And it would be at that point that we just couldn't deny the fact any longer. That if the powers that be were going to give us the chance to find Morrison, then yes, we would indeed pick up the gauntlet. And search out the wordman from the neather worlds who had beckoned us to his side.
It happened later on that same day. After doing some sightseeing we ended up at the "Number One Piano Bar". This was a real shit hole located about fourteen steps from fleet landing. (Where we all were ferried in from the Nimitz) So this was pretty much the very first thing that we saw when leaving the ship. Can you say Heineken please! Just imagine being out to sea for sixty days working twelve hours on and twelve hours off. Us muthafucker's were ready to drink.
But before we went in, we came across a guy out front selling T-shirts. We both walked up to him and he began his onslaught of salesmanship. "Hey Joe, hey Joe you buy, you buy?" He was holding up a T-shirt in our direction that ran chills down both our spins. Can you guess? That's right. It was a T-shirt of the man. It was our fucking hero himself......Jim Morrison. Sign number two!
And after experiencing that little green guy earlier in the park, this normally innocent happening had transformed into an event that was just too weird. Go ahead, play that Twilight Zone music in your head now, because that's how we both felt. Pretty cool stuff. And no, we didn't buy the damn shirt ok. We needed all our money's for beer!
Well we then turned away from our hero's image, walked through the front door of the Piano Bar and promptly ordered up a couple of well deserved beers. The beer over there has a much higher alcohol content then over here for some reason. Too bad we didn't find this out until many beers down the road! But anyway, this place was strictly a rock-n-roll, drink 'til you puke dungeon. And there wasn't a piano in sight. All I remember seeing was a bar, a couple stools and two of the biggest fucking speakers I have ever seen in my life. Beautiful! We were rocking pretty good to AC/DC, Aerosmith, all kinds of great stuff. Then all of the sudden the sound began to break up. And within seconds had completely been silenced as the machine decided to have the tape for lunch. Enter sign number three!
The woman behind the bar reached in, pulled the broken tape from the machine, and tossed it aside. She then picked up another tape that had no label. Slid that next victim into the machine and closed the door. Then with one push of the play button, blew both our minds away. Guess what fuckin' song came roaring out of those two incredibly beautiful speakers? When The Music's Over! Man! We just freaked out again and made a pact right then and there, to party on Jim's grave! But only this time, we really meant it! We just couldn't believe that this song came on. How could we look away from these three sign's? Lizard's, T-shirts & tapes...we couldn't! We were destined to drink with The Lizard King! If we could only get that chance!
Well soon, this leave was over and we were back on the floating city. But then only two days later, we heard the greatest news that we could possibly hear. Now if you listen really hard, you could actually hear the wheel of destiny click onto that very next notch. The notch that would open up the doors and allow us to walk into our dreams.
No, the ship wasn't being taken over by Playboy Playmates. That would have been the best news hands down! Sorry Jim! The news was that our next port of call was going to be Monte Carlo, Monaco! Fuckin' "A" baby! Can't get much closer to Paris then this huh? Beautiful! Well as soon as we heard the news, Billy and I finalized our Morrison plans and submitted our leave requests for time off while in port Monaco.
And within only a few short days we were right off the coast of Monte Carlo, Monaco! We had the necessary time off and some half-assed directions that just might get us to our destination. We hoped! But our first day in port was spent sightseeing in the city of Monte Carlo itself. We wanted to get our feet wet before our headstrong ways were unleashed on the countryside.
That day soon ended and the next morning we were up bright and early. We each packed some extra clothes, a Walkman with dual earphone holes, and two cassette tapes. And they were two of the dumbest tapes that you could ever imagine for the trip that we were about to embark on. The first tape had "Heart" on one side and a mixture of some other crap on side two. The second tape was "The Wall" from "Pink Floyd". Now how ridiculous was this. Where the fuck were all the Doors tapes? Fuck if I know. I can't really remember why we only took those two. I can't tell you how much we hated Heart by the end of the trip.
Well we took a short ferry ride from the ship to the main land and headed over to the train station. Where we boarded a train that if I'm not mistaken, took us to the nearby city of Niece. It was here that we boarded the world famous Bullet Train. And believe me, it lived up to it's name. This thing was like a bat outta hell. Pretty fast! We just sat back and listened to the sweet and depressing sounds of Heart and Pink Floyd for the length of the ride. Wondering if we were really going to find the grave.
Eventually, the train pulled into Paris, France. The city of lights, and where just a few short years ago really, a man by the name of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich marched through the Arch of Triumph. Fuckin' incredible! You could just smell the history there. It was very exciting.
You could definitely tell by the machine guns that the police had strapped to their sides that we weren't in America anymore, Dorothy. Nowhere even close! That was pretty scary! Cops wearing machine guns right out in the open. Sounds like fun huh? We spent this day doing some sightseeing and getting ourselves checked into a hotel which was a block or two away from the Bastille. A former prison back in the late seventeen hundreds. The people of Paris stormed the Bastille in revolt of their oppressors during The French Revolution. And every July 14th, they celebrate Bastille Day. This is similar to our July 4th, Independence Day. ("And they're marching to Bastille Day!" Geddy Lee rules!)
We ventured over to the Eiffel Tower for a peak. But there was some kind of school trip there that day. People were all over the place. So we didn't get a chance to take the elevators up. No big deal though. We ended the day at a small pizzeria type restaurant not far from our hotel. That was where we met this waiter named Valerie. Go figure! But this guy was cool. He gave us directions to the cemetery and hungout with us for a bit while were at the restaurant.
The next day was it. The day that we would meet our hero, face to face! And we were ready. So we thought. We were up really early in the morning. Got dressed and started on the final leg of our quest. The hotel was about a 30 minute walk to the cemetery, Pe`re-Lachaise. A very famous burial ground. Other notables such as the great writer/poet Oscar Wilde, composer Frederic Chopin and the early nineteen hundred's actress Sara Bernherdt were amongst the celebrated. But it wasn't them we were there for. It was for The Lizard King, The Shaman, the mythical figure himself James Douglas Morrison!
We were still in the process of waking up while walking the streets of Paris. Checking the map along the way. And soon the gates of the Pe`re-Lachise were there in front of us. It was a really weird feeling. We approached the entrance when we were quickly met by a ridiculously over zealous security guard. He took one look at us and said that he could not allow us to enter because I was wearing shorts! Could you believe this asshole? We were walking into a cemetery, not the fucking Russian Tea Room for lunch. We put up a small fight but caved in pretty fast. We still had visions of those fucking machine guns. No telling what these nutjobs would whip out and point in our direction. So back we went towards the hotel. I changed into some long pants and we started the final leg all over again. Only this time, we made a few stops along the way. We picked up some flowers and a little breakfast, consisting of several bottles of off the shelf red wine and some napoleon pastries. Even though it was only about six or seven in the morning. Hey, why not. Jim wouldn't have it any other way man!
Again we made it to the pearly gates. And again the guards gave us the once over, only this time allowed us to enter. We asked them for some kind of directions to the gravesite being that this was such a huge cemetery. But they just pointed out into the vast array of tombstones and mumbled something. Billy and myself just looked at one another and said "OH, OK," and walked on. We headed in the general direction of the point, but were really just guessing. We were both feeling kinda weird walking around an old Gothic cemetery looking for a dead hero to eat breakfast with. And I kinda forgot that normal people come to these places to mourn their dead, and not party with them.
Enter the nice young woman. Obviously distraught, and on her way to morn a missed loved one. I yelled out in a most jocular manner "Hey, where ya goin? Why don't you come with us and hangout with Jim?" Oh man I was such a dick. But I wasn't trying to be one. It just came naturally. I was just in a very nutty mood and I forgot where the fuck we were, kind of. Well as you could imagine, the girl just broke out into a full teared waterfall and ran away. As fast as she could, might I add! Oooh, sorry 'bout that dear!
Well after I destroyed her world, I caught up with Billy, and we resumed the search. It lasted for another thirty minutes or so and then we began to see signs that we were getting closer. No not psychic, omen type signs like the lizard on the Frisbee. Real signs. I mean people actually wrote directions and arrows on other people's gravestones pointing the way to Jim. And thank god for the arrows, or we would've never found the dam thing. Because right before we both embarked on this mission, we re-read "No One Here Gets Out Alive". And as you know, on the last page was a picture of the gravesite that showed only a small plaque. But when we found the site there was an incredible bust of Jim that a fan had created. As you can imagine it was quit a pleasant surprise when we found it!
We both sensed that we were getting close, as the writings on the wall were coming with more regularity. So at this point we both split up. Billy went to the left and I went to the right. And who ever found it would signal over to the other person. We were like the damn marines on a reconnaissance mission.
Then, I heard it. It was soft, sullen and barely audible. Billy calmly spoke the words "I found it." It was like a wall of reality hit him when he actually saw the stone for the first time. I quickly rushed over to him and there it was, a two-foot high bust of the Lizard King himself. We were in awe of it for the first couple minutes. We really didn't know how to react. We both just stood there in disbelief. Like holy shit! There really was a Jim Morrison. He wasn't just some picture we saw on album covers and in magazines. And he really was dead! We then sat down on the grave stone next to his and cracked open some more wine. It took us some time to loosen up. I felt the same way when I went to Dallas Texas with my wife Lynn. And I stood where President Kennedy was shot. A strange heaviness came over me. History is an incredibly powerful force.
At this point in the day, we were the only ones there at the grave. So it gave us a good chance to hangout with Jim before we had to share him with anyone else. We placed a couple poems that I had written and the flowers down in front of the bust. It was amazing. This was the only gravesite that we saw that had fresh flowers and other memorabilia on it. Really weird to see! Well, soon the napoleons came out and the wine continued to flow. And then before long, other people began to show up. Doors music began to play from someone's tape player. We were meeting people from all over the globe who just like us, journeyed to hangout with history.
The rest of the day was filled with ups and downs. It was really an emotional roller coaster! One minute everyone was talking to one another about their favorite Doors album and the next, everyone was feeling all glum and down. The whole scene was just so weird. It was like we knew these people our whole life. Everyone just bonded with one another. We spent about four or so hours at the site taking pictures and getting phone numbers. Every so often we would pour some wine onto the grave to quench our hero's thirst. Then we both scribbled our names on his tombstone. Other people were placing fresh flowers down then joining us in our memorial. We hungout for a couple more hours and then we poured a little more wine onto the grave. And on a small piece of scrap paper we wrote a letter to Jim and placed it in front of the stone along with the poems and the last bottle of wine that still had a few drops left. We said our good-bye's to everyone, and off we went. Just feeling emotionally drained. This was one of the coolest days of my life.
If you ever have the chance to get to Paris, a visit with Jim is a must! And even though the bust is no longer there, it doesn't matter. It's the day itself and the people that you will meet that will make the trip so worth it!
I hope you guys enjoy the tour of photo's I put together of our journey. I only wish I had more to share! It was really an incredible trip!