Would I love Jim Morrison if he were ugly?
That’s the question that hit me halfway through The Phantom of the Opera last week, and it struck me as to why I seemed to care so much about what happened to the protagonist, and why I understood Christine’s problem quite completely. I live with things like the Phantom on an everyday basis. Perhaps mine are worse- they are not men, they are ghosts. Ghosts of sometimes equally tormented men. Ghosts as capable as driving a person mad as the masked phantom.
This, my friends, is the dark side of the moon. Pink Floyd references notwithstanding, this is the side of rock geekdom the movies don’t show you, and I don’t tell you about. This is the part where you go insane.
Rock and roll is the dictionary definition of music of the night, so perhaps it’s exactly what the writers intended when I began thinking less of a man in a mask and more of a man in leather trousers.
My heroes are, to a man, bruised and damaged individuals. Every single one has his own serious issues and inner demons. Dark and twisted angels of music, just like the Phantom.
Darkness. Despair. Sadness. Destruction. Hell. These are the things the dark side of rock is made of. I’m not talking about the pseudo-satanic style of some heavy metal bands. I’m not talking about Dave Lee Roth’s spandex pants. I’m talking about the way these rock phantoms can affect their prey.
It works just as it does in The Phantom Of The Opera. A tormented genius latches onto a young girl, who probably doesn’t know any better, and decides to take her under his wing. He teaches her everything he knows about life, the world and music. Everything. In the process, she is changed forever, and not for the better. In the process, the darkness takes her a little more each time.
And every time, she is seduced by the tortured genius. It’s one of those things, like death and tax, that are just always going to happen. For Christine it was a man with a disfigured face and the voice of an angel. For me, it was one of the most beautiful men in the world and the voice of an angel.
But, would I love Jim Morrison if he were ugly? We all know that Jim was Adonis brought to us anew, that with his long curly hair and poet shirt and those bloody trousers he was the most beautiful creature we were likely to see. And I have loved him for what seems, poetically, as long as I can remember. I remember a life before Jim, but I don’t remember a life before he had control of a slice of my heart. I think he has always been there, which might explain why my love and obsession came as no surprise to me when it happened.
“Close your eyes for your eyes will only tell the truth, and the truth isn’t what you want to see.”
Maybe. Or maybe I see the truth and love my phantoms anyway. Trying to molest Janis Joplin, shouting racist remarks when drunk, screaming at people, locking junkie girlfriends in cupboards. These are things my phantom Morrison has done. He’s done much, much worse, too. I know these things, and I am not afraid or repulsed. I don’t like them, but I have not turned away. In fact, those weaknesses and failings make him that little bit more human- which is nice with someone as otherworldly as Jim.
But he’s still pretty. A dark angel, but an angel nonetheless. As much as I love him for reasons not to do with his hair, let us be honest for a moment: It makes it a lot easier to forgive someone their sins if they’ve got a beautiful, slow smile. More than that, charisma and charm are much more powerful than aesthetics… but beautiful people often have a great deal of both precisely because they’re beautiful and they know it.
So, would I love Jim Morrison if he were ugly?
Would I feel the same if he were not Adonis, but Aphrodite’s lame and ugly husband Haphaestus? If he was as apparently grotesque as the Phantom, would I have given up a sizeable portion of my soul to him as easily? Would I have given it at all?
There is an easy answer to this question that also holds true for the Lennons, Martins, Lynotts, Page and Plants and Jagger/Richards/Joneses of the world.
Yes. Always yes.
It is a handy little extra that Jim Morrison is Adonis. It makes putting pictures of him up on the wall a genuine pleasure. It’s always nice to have beautiful things to look at.
But you don’t get pictures when you’re listening to a record. When it’s just you and the vinyl, the only thing he has to win you over completely is his voice singing his words. No pout, no smirk or smoulder or trousers. There’s none of the slumping onto microphones or falling into a heap. Only a voice.
Would I love Jim Morrison if he were ugly? I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a choice in the matter.
Now for the bad part. Jim Morrison drove me mad. Honestly. They’ve all done their part in making me mad. I don’t mean mad in that funny, kooky way. I don’t mean mad in that angry way. I mean mad in the basic ‘insane’ sense. I mean mad as in developing a compulsion and need to listen to him all the time. There have been times I’ve fallen asleep listening to my walkman because I couldn’t be parted from him. Times when I’ve actually stopped doing something else because I had to listen to him.
That’s less love and more obsession, really. These dark angels of rock and roll inspire such things. I’m not alone in these things. Most hardened rock geeks can tell you label numbers for all the records, a full track listing, who produced and engineered each album, label numbers for foreign releases, you name it. I don’t know those things for several reasons, mostly because I’m no good with numbers and also because these are not the things I care about.
You know, I’ve never been to Liverpool. I’ve gone around the outskirts to other places, but I’ve never been to Liverpool. For a Beatles fan who lived in Lancashire for two years, that might seem like a pitiful little statistic, but it’s true. I don’t care about seeing these places. I didn’t care much for Venice Beach when I was there either. These are places my dark angels have sung about on many classic occasions, but I did not feel compelled to go there. Because they are not there. There’s no real hint of Jim in Venice anymore- it’s all pierced people and skater bois. While this is all well and good, it is not Jim’s Venice. I’m sure the Beatles’ faces are plastered over anything that can be sold to tourists in Liverpool, but that’s not the same as it still being their Liverpool. It is not. The Cavern has been reconstructed, but it is not the real Cavern of legend, so what is the point? Even if it were still the old Cavern, what would be the point, for they are not there.
They exist on records, on film and in my mind. The latter may be forgetful with short term things, it may seem strange and alien to most normal people, but it is where my boys, my dark angels, have taken real root. And this is where it gets close to insanity.
Jim is in my mind. He is there, no matter how idiotic it sounds to the rest of you. Philip, Errol, John, they are all there. Even Ava Gardner is sometimes there, swearing her head off. When something happens and I must try to remain calm, it is usually the calming voice of Dean Martin I hear.
Jim is in my mind and has been turning me insane since he took up residence. He has deprived me of sleep and the desire to eat or communicate with the outside world. Jim is the reason I passed out in a crowded vodka bar without even having drunk anything.
And it is because of my darkest of angels. Now, I will defend Jimmy to the moment they carry me away in a wooden trenchcoat, and I won’t idly stand by and let people slag him off. But, and this is a large one, he was at times, a monstrous man. He could terribly abusive to people. A man so accomplished with words can destroy another human being with words, and when drunk, Jimbo could be violent, and as a large man, found violence easy. Few people stood up to him, and I’m sure it wasn’t just because they didn’t want to cause a fuss. And sometimes, he was cruel for his own amusement. This is a man I love, who seems to reside in my own soul. Just knowing someone you love could be so terrible is enough drive you a little mad, because if they are so awful and you love them, what does that make you yourself?
It’s because of Jim Morrison that at one time, I knew the price of each different sized bottle of Jack Daniels in Tesco. It took every bit of my usually iron-strong willpower to resist the urge to buy a bottle, drink it all and see what happened, just to be a little Jim-like, just to be like him. Not in an admiring ‘ooh, I’d like to be just like him, isn’t he wonderful?’ sense, but in a ‘If he was willing to destroy himself, I might as well do it too’ way. Not a happy way, a desperate way, but to try and find a little of the same black oblivion he’d been so eager to seek out.
So I suppose I fail to see the problem in the Phantom of the Opera- I surrendered to the darkness a long time ago. And I don’t even seem to mind.
I don’t really understand why Christine goes off with Raoul. I don’t understand how she can love him over the Phantom, who loves her and worships her and teaches her to sing and gives her his music. After all, when Jim offered me his, I took it with open arms. The day I chose rock and roll and my dark angels, I had to give up the light side, the reality of love with a Raoul of my own. And I don’t mind. I certainly don’t care. I mean, what real human being can compare to the phantoms I have surrounding me all the time? What real human being can touch my soul and wrench my emotions as they do? They can’t. Maybe one day someone will come along, but I suspect and hope that he too, will be like the phantoms in my heart.
So no, I don’t think of it as a bad thing. Dark sometimes, but not bad. A different sort of life to the one most people lead, but not bad. Maybe that shows how mad I’ve really become, but I really don’t care.
I’m not scared of the Phantom. Perhaps too many years of watching too many violent films has left me desensitised to the idea of a bloke running round hanging people. Maybe I don’t think it’s his fault. The world created that man through insensitive mocking and what was probably a sustained campaign of cruelty and hatred, so I can’t find it in my heart to blame him entirely. Maybe that makes me too sensitive rather than insensitive. The people created the Phantom, he did not create himself.
The Phantom of the Opera: King Kong in beautiful clothes. Or Singing Frankenstein. The world of literature is filled with men and creatures like the Phantom, and I’m not sure I find any of them especially monstrous. Even vain little Dorian Gray is more tragic than terrible as far as I’m concerned.
There is nothing more heartbreaking than that moment where, after having laid everything bare in front of an opera full of people, the Phantom begs Christine to love him. Begs her. The fact he ends up destroying the opera house doesn’t really take away from that, because there is nothing sadder in this world than someone begging to be loved and being rejected. In fact, maybe I’m alone, but I find Christine quite cruel and unfeeling towards him sometimes, particularly in the way she rips the mask off, not once but twice. He loves her far, far more than she will ever love him, and at this point, I realise that Christine probably does love Raoul for more than just his Ken-doll appearance and oodles of cash. I can see it, but I still don’t understand why she would.
“He was bound to love you, when he heard you sing.”
That’s what the Phantom says about Christine, and this is where the comparison breaks down. This is where I become the Phantom and Jim my unwitting object of love and obsession. This is where it breaks down, but the madness remains the same. The ending remains the same. In none of these scenarios does the phantom get their heart’s truest desire- not in the film, not if Jim is the phantom, not if Clare is the phantom in question. The end remains the same: heartbreak, misery and insanity. This, my friends, is the dark side.
Another of my ghosts once said this: “My dreams have been broken, I don’t think I have the strength to carry on.”
Philip, I know exactly how you feel, because reading back on this rambling, tangent-abusing thought-process, I realise that I’ve been wrong all along. Jim is not the Phantom, I am.
Would I love Jim Morrison if he were ugly? becomes irrelevant, because his beauty is not the point here. Perhaps the better question would be: would I love Jim Morrison if I were beautiful?