Classic Rock Review

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No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugarman (1980)

Biography of Jim Morrison

Review I first read this book in 1984 and I have re-read it several times in the intervening years. The story of how it came to be published is quite well-known. Jerry Hopkins is a journalist who interviewed Jim Morrison on several occasions during his lifetime. After Morrison dies, Hopkins began work on a biography. Following several unsuccessful years of attempting to get the completed biography published, Jerry Hopkins meets Danny Sugerman. Sugerman was a teenage admirer of The Doors and eventually wrangled an office job out of a sympathetic Morrison (a more complete story of Sugerman is told in his autobiography “Wonderland Avenue”). In any event, Sugerman adds his perspective and personal anecdotes to the story and, helped by the resurgence of interest in the music of The Doors, the book is eventually published in 1980.

I think the argument that the book is hero-worship is only partially true. Certainly Danny Sugerman had feelings for Morrison that were akin to idolatry and that comes across in the book. On the other hand, Jerry Hopkins was a working journalist and his professionalism and research is also evident. While reading the book it is in most instances possible to determine what was written by Hopkins and what was penned by Sugerman. I suppose this incongruity might be irksome to some but the narrative does flow and does not detract from the overall story of the life of Jim Morrison.

In the almost 20 years that have elapsed since I first read No One Here Gets Out Alive I have read everything I could get my hands on that in any way concerned Jim Morrison and The Doors. I have yet to read a more definitive account or one which largely contradicted anything contained in this book. That’s not to say that there aren’t other good books or interesting perspectives, only that this is the wellspring of Jim Morrison-related literature.

This book is of obvious interest to any one who likes the music of The Doors and/or finds Jim Morrison fascinating. I fall into both categories. However, Jim Morrison was not a particularly admirable fellow. He did experiment with drugs, he often treated his friends badly, he was fairly promiscuous (even carelessly impregnating a girlfriend and then shirking responsibility), etc. Of course Morrison did have many good characteristics as well. His love of reading, sense of humour and displays of genuine affection are intermingled with his faults. I believe this book does a generally good job of portraying a reasonable facsimile of Jim Morrison.

For me this book sparked an even greater interest in Morrison and The Doors which continues to this day. At the same time, this book also provides a good antidote to hero-worship. As a cautionary note to those who choose to view Jim Morrison through rose-coloured glasses, I suggest that you don’t read the Hopkins/Sugerman biography. Those that do choose to read the biography carefully will have, as James Joyce wrote, “discovered to their vast discomfiture that their idol had feet of clay, after placing him upon a pedestal.”

Review I just finished No One Here Gets Out Alive, the biography of Jim Morrison, and I am left with a selfish feeling of anger that Morrison killed himself through drugs and alcohol and denied the rest of us the pleasure of work he would never complete. I often feel that way when a favourite author/singer/actor dies prematurely. I cannot help it. But, on a more humane level, am also saddened that he could never overcome the forces that drove him to such self abuse. The authors describe Morrison as a brilliant young man, a student of history and philosophy and film. He was a poet and wanted to be known as a poet but his legacy will be that of a rock-star.

Morrison’s early years, school days and home life are covered. He was an excellent student – when he chose to be. He never seemed to have a good relationship with his father, who was an officer in the US Navy and was therefore away from home a lot. Did this influence Morrison, his attitude toward authority? Well of course, we are all influenced and shaped by our past. But we do not all drink ourselves to death. The authors try to avoid explaining the ‘Why’s about Morrison and just focus on reporting his behaviour and words and allow the reader to try and guess the rest for themselves.

He went west to study film and UCLA but that did not go especially well and his student filmmaking efforts were not well-received. After dropping out, he united with Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore to form The Doors. His tumultuous years with The Doors are covered in depth. After reading this, I realize that The Doors of the commercialized ‘Best Of’ album(s), is a far cry from The Doors in the concert hall. Due to Morrison’s behaviour, especially in Miami, many cities even banned them from even playing.

Morrison was steeped in the rock-star life yet lived a “no-possessions” lifestyle. He abused drugs, moved into alcoholism, slept with many women, could be unpredictable and irrational in the treatment of his friends and ultimately rejected the role altogether. It seems that he may have been turning it around while in Paris but we will never know. It is a shame that he could no pull out of the self-destructive nosedive in time.

This is an excellent biography.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugarman | , , | Leave a comment