The Lizard King was here


The memories are almost as fresh as they had been minted last week. 

For Randy Maney and Stan Durkee, 1961 George Washington High School classmates of Jim Morrison, their memories are of a shy, clean-cut and studious young man, with a fondness for pranks.  

Retelling their memories at a gathering recently in Old Town of Morrison fans brought back a happier time in Alexandria of blissful ignorance to the brewing upheaval of the 1960s — the endless war in Vietnam, the assasinations, the civil rights movement.

Jim Morrison, who would grow to become arguably the greatest rock and roll poet of his generation, lived off Braddock Road in the Jefferson Park area of Alexandria, a place of neatly manicured lawns, happy family lives and responsible jobs at the Pentagon and downtown. Morrisons father was a high-ranking Naval officer, they moved around a lot, so young Jim arrived at GW in the spring of 1959 as a second-semester sophomore transferred from Alameda (Calif.) High.

Jim was a real smart guy, real clean cut and really into books, said Maney, 65, who still lives in Alexandria and grew up near Morrison at Westminster Place. Jim and I played tennis a lot and his dad got us tickets to the Army Navy game at Annapolis.

That was the clean-cut side of Morrison; he also had a more devious side. Jim did some strange things, Maney said.

Like the warm summer night they decided to drive into the District to sneak into some bars, but neither one had the cash for their raucuous romp. We pulled into this filling station on South Washington Street and Jim jumped out and helped this lady fill up her tank. When he was done, he told the lady the tank was full and he needed six bucks. Thats how we paid for our drinks that night, Maney chuckled.

Or the time Morrison suspected his girlfriend might have had other potential suitors, so he intercepted several letters she had written to other teenage boys, and steamed them open for a look. I dont know much about the law, chuckled Maney, a career attorney for the Department of Justice, but I suspect that what he did might have not been legal.  The letters never reached their intended recipients.

Jim was popular with the girls, but never seemed to care too much about them, he recalled. They liked him because he was soft spoken and pensive. He spent hour upon hour reading books in his basement and he took notes on everything.
That said, the two schoolmates shared an English teacher who didnt appreciate Morrisons artistic view of literature, or of the Kings English.

Morrison once helped Maney research a term paper on the subject of Punch and Judy, spending an entire weekend at the Library of Congress researching the traditional, popular English puppet show featuring the characters of Punch and his wife Judy. The two took a more playful take on the subject, interjecting their opinions on the performance, which consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character.

Their English teacher was not amused, and assigned Maney a C- grade. 
Maney, who later authored the seminal law book Courtroom Evidence, said he borrowed some of the concepts from the term paper which he and Morrison formulated in writing his 500-page book. Morrison, of course, sold about 60 million albums in his lifetime, drawing heavily the words and knowledge of poetry he gained from his bookish years as a GW High student.

James Douglas Morrison was born on Dec. 8, 1943 in Melbourne, FL. to the future Admiral George Stephen Morrison and Clara Clarke Morrison. Of Scottish and Irish heritage, he had a sister Anne and a brother Andrew who were four and five years younger, respectively.

In 1947, Morrison, who was then 4 years old, purportedly witnessed a car accident in the desert, where a family of Native Americans were injured and possibly killed. He believed that the incident was the most formative of his life, and referred to it throughout his career as a singer, poet, songwriter, writer and film director.

Best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the band he founded, The Doors, Morrison is widely considered to be one of the most charismatic and influential frontment in rock and roll history. He was also the director of a documentary and short film, and the author of several books of poetry. He reportedly had an IQ of 153.

If you read him a line of 19th century literature from Blake Lord Tennyson he could tell you who the author was, Maney said. He just devoured literature. But he was no real whiz in math.

Maney and Morrison became friends because they both were sentenced to summer school in Geometry, which to both was their academic weak spot. Maney owned a 1957 Pontiac Star Chief convertible with a continental kit for the spare tire and a 347-cubic inch, V8 engine. Jim loved that car, he recalled. But he was always putting his foot on the dashboard and breaking my Star Chief. 

One day, Maney lost his cool, calling Morrison an expletive. Jims response was foretelling: You think youre somebody, Maney, but someday when Im famous dont bother to call me because I wont bother to acknowledge you.

So there Maney was in April, 1967, waiting in Los Angeles for the U.S. military to transport him to Southeast Asia where he would fight in the Armys 4th Infantry in the Da Nang Peninsula of Vietnam. One day he drove past a gigantic billboard of Jim Morrison on Hollywoods Sunset Boulevard, and Morrisons biggest hit, Light My Fire, was playing on the radio. Maney did not bother to call.

For Stan Durkee, president of GWs class of 61, Morrison was an enigma. He seemed so remote at times, said Durkee, 64, who lived on Holley Street off Russell Road and spent his  career at the Environmental Protection Agency working on air pollution issues.

Morrison was in Durkees car pool, so every morning theyd share a ride to school in his familys 55 Buick hardtop. There was a lot of lively conversation on the way to school, Durkee recalled. Jim was cutting, wry and cynical. He had a very sharp humor.

In classes they shared, Morrison was prone to delivering book reports spontaneously, often on books that had not even been assigned, such as James Joyces complicated Ulysses. Jim would give a report that was more sophisticated an interpretation than a college students, he said. Hed yell at the teacher, You dont know what youre talking about! He was the one of the smartest and most creative people Ive ever known.

A favorite of Morrisons was exploring the literary life of the Marquis de Sade, and envisioning the implications of a society rife with criminals. He had an intellectual arsenal that was profound, Durkee said.

In June of 1961, it was time to graduate. Jim are you going to graduation? Durkee asked. No, Im going to Brazil, Morrison responded. Morrison was never to be seen in Alexandria again.

Local author Mark Opsasnick wrote about Morrisons teenage years in Alexandria in the 2006 book, The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia.

I wanted to explore what would cause a teenager in Alexandria to grow up to become one of the worlds greatest rock and roll stars, said Opasnick, during a recent book signing at Perk Up Coffee House in Old Town. About 50 books have been written on Jim Morrison, and they basically gloss over his teenage years in Alexandria. 

He added that had heard so many people having the misconception that Morrison was from Los Angeles that he decided to do a little research into the subject. What he learned was that Morrison was forced to move almost every six months during his childhood, even mig
rating to Falls Church between his second and third grade years.

Yet, when Morrisons father Steve earned a promotion from commander to captain in 1958, the new rank came with a permanent Pentagon post and a Jefferson Park home located just off Woodland Terrace. The clean-cut young lad was enrolled at George Washington High School at the start of the second semester of his sophomore year and graduated in the spring of 1961.

In all, Morrison spent 32 months as an Alexandria resident, frequenting such former downtown staples as the Salvation Army Thrift Store, at 919 King Street;  the old Richmond Theatre (815 King Street), the now-shuttered Timbermans Drug Store (106 N. Washington Street), and the long-gone Hollywood Diner at 705 King Street.

Bill Thomas, a Morrison friend, classmate and confidante who is  a key contributor to Opsasnicks book, the future rock legend was quiet, but unpredictable while growing up in Alexandria. 

I read recently that someone was shocked that Jim didnt even attend his own high school graduation; that that was somehow not normal, recalls Thomas, 62, a lifelong Alexandrian and a retired official for the Department of Veterans Affairs. But you have to realize, thats just the way Jim Morrison was. It didnt surprise the 10 or 12 of us who really knew him; he just marched to the beat of a totally different drummer.

Whether moving into his familys basement after hearing of the previous occupants tragic suicide in order to, as he told classmate Bill Struve, get the vibe, or walking on unguarded rails tightrope style over a 30-foot drop (as he did during a golf outing with friends at the East Potomac Park Golf Course), Morrison could easily have been considered far from a normal teenager.

Yet, Opsasnick offers up a more complex picture of the developing button pusher: From all accounts, Jim acted in a very much calculated and premeditated manner in order to shock peoplehe was extremely intelligent, creative, and a budding artist who loved to paint and write poetry.

Morrisons first public appearance was at a beatnik bar in D.C. where he read his verse.While many people claim he was withdrawn and a bit of a loner, Jim could be boisterous when he was around those he felt comfortable. While he was not into any sport or after-school activities, he had a wide range of friends, from jocks to really brainy guys. He never sang in the band or played any musical instrument. He often remarked how he never really liked rock-n-roll. To say Jim was tough to gauge at that time of his life is a bit of an understatement.

To which Thomas concludes is exactly why he supported the writing of this teen-angled bio of his friend whose story of fame and riches unfortunately ended much too soon. Im glad that people are finally seeing the Jim I knew and grew up with.

Joel Fowler contributed to reporting.