By A.R. Graham (Excerpt from upcoming autobiography, The London Dialogues)
Admiral Morrison was summoned back to the United States to begin a new assignment at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Andy returned to his homeland with his mother and father, but Anne chose to stay behind much to the disappointment and distress of her parents. Their eldest son had disappeared without a word, Andy had tried to run away to find him, and now their typically sensible daughter was throwing caution to the wind to be with me. Except for a vacation in Europe the summer before, Anne had never been any significant distance away from home. It was time. She was growing up.
After the Morrisons left, our days went on as usual. Anne never seemed to miss her family. Life was good. We were very happy.
Anne had become my soul mate and my tutor. Barely able to read and confounded by even the simplest of math problems, I was defensive and hard to reach. My primary school teachers often admonished me for daydreaming rather than focusing on my studies. While everyone else was engaged in the math lesson, I would hop on a magic carpet and escape to my favorite and only school interest: story time. I loved Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, The Wind in the Willows, Sweet William, and all of the other wonderful adventure stories told by my lovely sweet teacher as we sat around a blazing coal fire. Anne was her reincarnation and rekindled in me that long-past blissful state I had occupied as a child.
Anne read out loud to me with great enthusiasm. We did not watch television much. Instead, I would listen for hours to her vibrant voice create images and action out of words. Sometimes she read me to sleep like a child. Through her gentleness and patience, I began to read and construct sentences on my own without sounding like a Neanderthal.
Prior to moving to London, Anne had lived in Gainesville, Florida, where she was a student at UFG (University of Florida, Gainesville). When she moved to England, she maintained her study level by attending classes at an extension of the university located on a military base north of London. We would ride the tube at night into the English countryside. Anne would sign me in as a guest, but it was more the equivalent of “Take Your Child to School Day”.
I would sit next to Anne and listen to an American professor speak in a language that was my own save for a few opposing slang terms such as “knock you up”. This was an old English phrase – “Please knock me up in the morning” – derived from a service to the poorer working class that could not afford such an important item as an alarm clock. Instead, a man would walk the streets with a long pole and arrive at your home at a prescribed time at which point he would knock loudly on your bedroom window until you responded with,“I’m up!” Hence, knocking you up. To an American, asking that a perfect stranger come to your home in the morning and knock you up would be an awfully misplaced and embarrassing request.
For example, if an English girl, saying goodnight to an American G.I. was to ask him, “Would you knock me up in the morning”, the poor guy would be floored by the lass’s invitation to an intimate dalliance resulting in dire consequences. His first instinct would be to say to himself, “Boy, did I get lucky or what?” — soon followed by the perhaps not-so-fortunate prospect of fatherhood nine months later. Even though he may be disappointed after learning the true meaning of the young woman’s request, he would supplement his loss with a rollicking good laugh at his own naiveté and the wildly comical double entendre.
Returning to London one night after class, it dawned on me that I was moving away from my rolling-stone lifestyle. I was most certainly gathering moss – lots and lots of moss. Instead of being a hunter-gatherer leader, I was now being led. And I was beginning to like it, very much.
Each summer, a new crop of American students came to experience the British music scene. American performers like Bob Dylan and The Byrds were very popular, but British music was dominant now. The television series The Monkees was the most interesting export American could offer, but it was still decidedly light.
We loved to gather with our friends to sit in a room lit only by brightly colored candles listening to all of the exciting new acts: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, The Animals, etc.
One evening I came home from work to find Anne surrounded by our companions. They were listening to some brand new tunes. Anne sat on the floor clutching an album cover as if it were a sacred object. Everyone in the room turned and stared at me. They knew something that I did not, and they were not forthcoming. It was like some weird game of Charades without clues – indeed, not a single one. There were, however, conspiratorial signals, restrained glee, and twinkling eyes daring me to guess what it was. It appeared to be an invitation to participate in a cruel television game show of Guess What I’ve Got in My Pocket. Having no telepathic skills, I became flustered and was about to blurt out, “Well, at least give me a f–g hint” when Anne turned to me.
Her face was illuminated by the many candles, and I could now make out the tears flooding from her eyes falling in torrents down her cheeks. I realized they indicated not sadness but joy. I had never seen anyone cry so hard except at a funeral. Still no one in the room revealed the secret not even Anne. Perhaps she had found the new music so overwhelming it moved her to a highly emotional and ecstatic state. I slowly sat down and listened.
The song combined poetry, theater, and classical with modern music. It was funky 1920s jazz, hard-core rhythm ‘n’ blues, and old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll with a dash of Greek theatre. Unlike anything I had ever heard before, at the same time it felt like an amalgamation of all music, old and new.
The singer, a cool baritone, was recounting an epic sea voyage across forbidden waters where sea monsters leapt up from the ocean floor as the ships tried to navigate the perilous depths. He sounded much like Orson Welles or Richard Burton reading lines from a Shakespearean drama accompanied by a chorus of shrieking, torturous, ghostly sounds issued by unseen phantoms.
(In 1980, Jim Morrison was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Speaking Voice” along with none other than Richard Burton — Burton Won.)
Each song was utterly different from the last. Anne’s tears seemed to fall faster with each new note. There was no doubt about it: the music was profound and moving. The singer was now reporting on some tragic loss of a loved one. Then, a mournful dirge swelled around it all.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Moonlight Sonata could affect me deeply but certainly not to the point of tears. I had never been so overpowered by a composition that I would cry like a fountain. Anne’s behavior puzzled me. I had never seen her so absorbed by or dramatic about anything since our acid trip. She cried until I thought her eyes would fall out. In the song that was now playing, a killer wearing a mask from an ancient gallery carried out the mass murder of his own family. I began to understand why she was crying so hard but was still perplexed by the sweet smile visible even through her Niagara Falls visage.
Our grinning friends shed no more light on the riddle. They just sat there like a pack of hyenas, their eyes twinkling devilishly at me as if they were waiting for my campfire to go out so they could attack and devour me. I thought I was having an acid flashback and started to freak out a bit but then the longest song I have ever
heard in my life came to an abrupt end. And not a moment too soon for I was about to break out into a couple of verses, myself of They’re Coming to Take Me Away, the popular song by Napoleon XIV:
“They are coming to take me away, Ha-ha
They are coming to take me away, Ho-ho
To the funny farm
Where life is beautiful all the time
And I will be happy to see those
Nice young men in their clean white coats and
They are coming to take me away, ha-ha!”
Everyone stared directly at me as if I was supposed to make a statement or acknowledge something or someone. Anne kept on crying. The candles kept on flickering. The hyenas kept on grinning,flashing their beady eyes. Just when I thought my head would explode, one of the hyenas hissed slyly, “What do you think of this music?” I responded with hitch-pitched panic, “Wonderful! Weird! Cool! Fantastic! Out of sight! Mind blowing! Take your pick!”
Anne sobbed out loud in response to my praise of the group whose album cover she kept crushed against her chest. She must have dropped a bunch of acid with these other crazies, I concluded, and they were in some strange, cult-like state that only one tripping on excessive amounts of LSD would even try to comprehend.
Another one of the lunatics asked, “Do you know who the singer is?” I looked at Anne whose eyes widened with anticipation as she waited for my answer. I had no idea who the sullen and mournful crooner was. He sounded like a young Elvis or even a Sinatra singing a torch song of lost love. The music itself was peerless and I said as much.
Anne fell back onto some cushions sobbing even louder. I could stand it no longer. As I stood up to tend to her, a third mental case yelled out, “It’s her long-lost brother, Jim! It’s her brother! He’s the lead singer in a group called The Doors! It’s Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors!”
I picked Anne up from the floor. She was now laughing and crying with great big gleeful tears. Everyone joined her. I was welded to the floor. Although I was now in on the secret and the mystery had been revealed, I still felt as if I was on another planet. It took quite a while for it to finally sink in how very special this day was for my beloved. Jim had disappeared in 1965 after graduating from UCLA. His father had been very disappointed with his choice of career direction. Jim wanted to be a filmmaker. In his parents’ world, this was nothing short of reckless gambling in a dangerous game of Russian roulette – a socio-economic suicide.
Jim was highly intelligent. He could easily have excelled in the corporate business world but absolutely rejected its trappings, its restrictions, and its rewards. The Admiral’s response to his son’s aspirations was so negative that it sent the young graduate into self-imposed exile. Never again would he return – or even call – home.
Earlier that day, Anne had received a package from her mother in the United States. Among other items was a 12”x12” brown paper parcel. Inside were the first and second Doors’ albums. The first one showed a photograph of the band with Jim in the front. His resemblance to his sister was both stunning and chilling.
Later, Anne held the front cover next to her face. The candles flickered wildly across both images. Anne’s happy tears fell again. I just stood there unable to speak. I was overwhelmed by her joy at having found her long-lost brother.