Jackson Baker Meets Mr. Mojo Risin'

by

2 comments

"We've rejected this turkey two times already and we don't want it."

So said members of the editorial committee at Warner Books in the late 1970s. And they weren't the only ones issuing a thumbs down. The "turkey" in question — a manuscript by writer Jerry Hopkins — had already been shopped to and rejected by more than 30 publishers in the U.S. and U.K. Then a man named Danny Sugerman stepped in.

Sugerman added his own material (a foreword, some anecdotes), assembled some photographs, acquired the rights to some song lyrics, and merged two of Hopkins' drafts. It was now a manuscript that Jerry Hopkins agreed to have co-authored with Danny Sugerman.

And when editor Marcy Rudo of Warner Books got behind the book, a deal was made: Warner agreed to publish Hopkins and Sugerman's work, and it went on to sell in the millions of copies in more than two dozen languages.

Jacket.jpg
The book, grown now to cult status, is No One Here Gets Out Alive (1979), for decades now the go-to biography of Jim Morrison of the Doors, and it spent nine months on The New York Times best-seller list. It returned to that list when Oliver Stone, using the book as his basis, directed The Doors, which hit screens in 1991. (Hadn't hurt that Francis Ford Coppola featured the Doors' "The End" in Apocalypse Now.)

Flash-forward more than 40 years and publication of No One Here Gets Out Alive in e-book form hasn't been an easy sell either. In fact, it's been impossible. There is no e-book edition of No One Here Gets Out Alive. But there is this: Hopkins' self-published e-book Behind Closed Doors, subtitled "The 'No One Here Gets Out Alive' Update the Doors Don't Want You To Read."

Those Doors are (or were) founding members Ray Manzarek (who died on May 20, 2013), Robby Krieger, and John Densmore. And add in Sugerman's widow, Fawn Hall Sugerman. Yes, Fawn Hall, former secretary to Oliver North and the focus of national attention during the Iran-Contra hearings before she went on to marry the Doors' onetime manager, Danny Sugerman, who died in 2005.

Beginning in 2010, Hopkins thought of an updated epilogue to No One Here Gets Out Alive, and the following year (the 40th anniversary of Morrison's death), he worked with Grand Central Publishing (once Warner Books) on the new material — updates drawn from Hopkins reviewing "voluminous material on the Internet, conducting interviews on Skype, and calling on the network of loyal fans," in addition to revisiting "the insults and the lawsuits" surrounding the Doors post-Morrison. To quote "The End": "weird scenes inside the gold mine."

During this time, Hopkins was also negotiating the royalty rate for e-book use of the lyrics and photos of the No One Here Gets Out Alive print editions. But those negotiations met with a stipulation: that surviving members of the Doors and Danny Sugerman's widow see and approve the updated epilogue. They read it, and the answer from them was no. Permission from them to publish any e-book edition, even without the updated epilogue: no. Then silence from the parties concerned.

So, Hopkins has gone it alone in Behind Closed Doors, which consists of an introduction ("Doors Just Say No!: How the Doors Stopped an E-book Edition of No One Here Gets Out Alive"), a chapter titled "Behind Closed Doors: What Happened When the Singer Died — The Update Material That Was Intended for the E-book Edition But Was Halted by the Surviving Doors and My Co-author's Widow"), another chapter titled "Bonus Story: Rejected by 30 Publishers, Blamed for Creating the Myth — The Book's Success, Coupled With That of Its Subject"), and a guide to "Selected Doors Websites."

The foreword to Behind Closed Doors? It's called "On Mr. Mojo Risin' Again: Why Jim Morrison Is Still Relevant in the Twenty-first Century," and it's by Memphis Flyer senior editor and political columnist Jackson Baker, who writes in that foreword that "if Elvis lit the match, Morrison bore that Olympic fire forth with an arsonist's glee."

621e942498ebb7ff5dcb232362b4b80f.jpg
Baker's analysis hardly stops there. Jim Morrison was a "Dionysian figure," a "shamanistic shouter," a "capable crooner," a Horatio Alger-like "self-willed creation," and a "poor man's Kundalini." He was also, Baker writes, no "Miss Congeniality." And as a poet, James Douglas Morrison may not be "exactly world class." But he was certainly a man with his finger on a number of the era's artier pulse points: the Living Theatre, for example; Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, for another.

Which is not to overlook the Doors' hit singles — songs, Baker writes, "that must have aroused the envy of many a purely pop artist" and songs that are "just plain fun, as catchy as they were succinct. It's that Morrison we miss, too." (Baker's pick for the Doors album that "has it all": Morrison Hotel — "Side One, especially.")

"Part of the reason for this book's durability" — Baker writes in reference to No One Here Gets Out Alive — "is that Jerry Hopkins has a bona fide tragedy on his hands and knows it, though his account of the rise and fall and complicated life of Jim Morrison is not so much Greek or Shakespearean as it is in the Arthur Miller mode."

That's an important distinction to make, and if tragedy there was (and is) surrounding the life (and death) of Jim Morrison, the reference to Miller's brand of tragedy is a useful way to characterize it — an American tragedy, yes: rise, then fall, then Mr. Mojo risin'.

Baker knows more than a thing or two about the roots of rock. He once lived within earshot of the man who would be King: Elvis Presley. The year was 1955. The Baker and Presley families lived next door to one another on Lamar Avenue in Memphis. And in the fall of that year Baker heard out of Elvis' bedroom window the acetate recording of "Mystery Train," making Baker the first person, outside of Sun Records and the Presley family, to hear it.

That scene is described in Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis, which also includes extended scenes involving Baker or members of his family. The Bakers had a phone. Elvis' family did not. And that's how Jackson Baker met Elvis Presley: in the hallway of Baker's house, which indeed had a phone.

Baker knows rock-and-roll history too, having co-taught, with speech and drama teacher John Bakke, a course in rock at what was then Memphis State University — this in addition to Baker's duties as assistant professor in the school's English department.

Baker also co-founded, along with Bakke, an annual conference at the university devoted to Elvis Presley, which is how Baker met Hopkins, who authored the first true biography of Elvis (a biography that Jim Morrison himself suggested Hopkins write) and who was guest and participant at the first conference in 1979. Hopkins later donated manuscripts and correspondence to the university.

At Hopkins' request, Baker penned his foreword to No One Here Gets Out Alive in 2011 on the understanding that it would be included in all future editions of the work — including an e-book edition.

Don't look for that foreword attached to No One Here Gets Out Alive anytime soon, however. As Hopkins writes in Behind Closed Doors, there's no e-book even in the works — "none is being planned."

Or could the recent death of Ray Manzarek, known to be the band member most opposed to the plan, put those talks once more in motion?

*****

On the subject of Jackson Baker's Jim Morrison foreword and "a thing or two in the drawer that might still at some point stand up and shout," Baker had this to say by email:

"The belated publication of my No One Here Gets Out Alive foreword, even in a truncated e-version of Jerry Hopkins’ intended reissue, is highly gratifying in a way similar to Memphis magazine’s decision in 1993, 25 years after the fact, to use my account of the immediate aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination as the centerpiece of a special commemorative 'King' issue. I still regard it as one of the best things I’ve done, and there’s a Larazus-like feeling that goes with seeing work that you’d given up on up alive in the world.


"Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to see the recovery of another couple of lost manuscripts, one profiling former Arkansas governor Orval Faubus (he of “Little Rock 1957” fame) during his declining years as caretaker of the Dogpatch U.S.A. theme park, another describing a visit to the bullet-marked trouble spots of Central America in 1983. Each had its moments.

"Esquire liked the former well enough to assign me to something else, which — alas! — I never finished. The Washington Post Outlook section actively considered the latter for weeks before declining, maybe (or so I’d like to believe) because I was employed at the time as a member of a sitting congressman’s staff. Now I don’t know where those pieces are.


"In any case, I remain future-oriented — though there may be a thing or two in the drawer that might still at some point stand up and shout."

And on the subject of rockers, dead or alive:
 
"The appearance in Memphis this past week of Paul McCartney was yet another reminder that the era which saw the comet-like career of Jim Morrison is not just history but is still with us." •

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment
 

Add a comment