Jim Morrison Locked Me In His Hotel Room
Aaron Waldman played a few shows between LA and San Francisco this month. We asked him to keep a tour diary of his trip for our entertainment and yours. Here is Aaron's account in his own words:
The absurdity starts on the flight out of Newark, and it wasn’t necessarily my fault. Yes, it was necessary to engage in a brief dialogue when I stood up from the middle seat of row 31 to adjust the guitar I’d stored in the bin overhead, but why was it suddenly necessary to continue the conversation for the remainder of the flight? What ungodly vibration was making me, a New Yorker working in Midtown, utterly uncomfortable with ignoring the people around me?
In her defense, Ali is a decent conversationalist, and happy to tell me all about LA. Something is off though, and when my cab driver (taking public transportation in LA makes you feel like a real whiner for every time you’ve complained about the MTA) insists on speaking for the duration of our drive, it’s clear that I’m not in NYC anymore.
Navigating LA proves to be drastically different from moving around NYC. The best venues, shops, nightlife, etc. border a few Boulevards running east-to-west surrounded by residences to the north and south. It’s often easiest to orient by landmarks which dictate how far along the boulevard you’ve come, rather than by meaningless cross streets. LA’s funky architecture makes this easier than it sounds: outside of downtown (don’t go downtown), no two buildings look remotely alike.
I spent most of my first day exploring the Sunset Strip. Any other Doors fanatic is advised to do the same: Whiskey a Go Go, Jim Morrison’s House, and Jim Morrison’s Hotel Room are all within walking distance. Sunset Boulevard winds through gorgeous boutiques and the odd holdover from past eras (LA has very little interest in, or respect for, tradition). Word of advice to bands looking to play in LA: avoid Whiskey a Go Go like the plague. They utilize the worst kind of pay-to-play model, and basically run off of the reputation they developed in the 60’s.
Public transportation in LA is hilarious. For starters, it’s slow and inconsistent; however, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, the drivers are extremely amiable. In contrast to Brooklyn, where my first bus driver cursed me out for not knowing the payment procedure on an express bus and refused to let me on board until a fellow passenger leapt to my defense and cursed at the driver until he had no choice but to cut me some slack, my first LA driver gave me a free transfer pass when I didn’t have exact change (transfers are 50 cents, a ride is $1.75) and my second driver encouraged me to ignore payment all together. Frankly, you get what you pay for.
Long bus rides aside, I made it to Morrison’s hotel room without any serious navigational miscalculations. Most hotels in LA are seedy, but this one takes the flax, sesame, poppy, etc. Accessing the infamous room costs $20, which I pay over the counter to a disinterested woman, who hands me a set of keys and offers nothing in the way of a time limit. All of the rooms at the motel have a hideous light-green, white, and yellow color scheme with doors looking out over a central parking lot entirely blocked off from the nearby streets. The darkness that I felt
throughout the city is stronger here, and the feeling began to peak at the door of room 32, which has a picture of a 27-year-old Morrison and a short poem:
I am a guide to the labyrinth
Come & see me
In the green hotel
I will be there after 9:30 PM
I will show you the girl of the ghetto
I will show you the burning well
I will show you strange people
haunted, beast-like, on the
verge of evolution
Fear the lords who are secret among us
-James Douglas Morrison
The walls are crawling with graffiti. The nightstand, bed, and dining room table look as good as new, but the television, naturally, is smashed in. Upon closer examination, there is a bible in a drawer near the bed, completely untouched. The sink and toilet are clean, but the shower stall is no less wordy than the bedroom. The whole scene brings to mind a line from “Celebration of the Lizard,” a lengthy performance piece by the Doors which never made it onto a studio album:
One morning I awoke in a green hotel room
With a strange creature groaning next to me…
Having seen my share of adolescent wall-ravings and fan tributes I made my way for the door, which is now, inexplicably locked. This is, presumably, a gimmick, but boy is it freaky, and I was grateful that I had chosen to arrive well before 9:30. Morrison’s body may be in France, but his spirit returned to LA, and makes frequent visits to room 32.
* * *
I booked a show at Silverlake Lounge, roughly seven miles east of the strip. Near the venue is a mural of Elliott Smith and several other singer-songwriter heroes who are no longer with us.
I’m never going to know you now,
But I’m going to love you anyhow
Below his lyrics Smith has his eyes squeezed into a tight, but oddly heartwarming smile. The distinct contrast to Morrison’s dark murals is a testament to the longevity of the persona each artist creates.
The venue is dingy, and with the exception of the performers (an open mic precedes my set) utterly silent. You can feel the judgment that pervades LA culture as soon as you hit the street, but naturally it peaks inside of venues. Despite the time (6:30 on a Sunday, and Oscar night no less) there is some serious musical and comedic talent on that stage. I grabbed a Herraduras on the rocks from Mario, who also does booking, and is extremely supportive of artists at all levels, then wind up grabbing a spot at the open mic as a warm up.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been excessively nervous at a performance, but something about the crowd really got me going. There was hostility, but more than that, there’s a promise that these folks WILL recognize and appreciate a strong performance. They’re sure as hell not expecting it to come from you. The mini-set went well enough, with staggered applause after each song and a handful of laughter at “Arizona” a faux-country song about my (real) experiences transporting small amounts of drugs across state lines.
I started to fall in love with LA when my small group of west coast fans show up and my full set begins. LA is extremely cliquey, and people are often, to say the least, insincere, but these are exactly the qualities that make friendship, honesty, and (dare I say) love shine that much brighter. The first few songs were played for my friends, but by the end of the set the few stragglers who hung around after the mic ended joined us for a sing along, and the vibe was better than I could have possibly hoped for.
* * *
As my time in Angel City winds to a close, it occurs to me that if NYC’s motto were “let’s go out and explore,” LA’s might be “let’s hang out and create.” The pressure to prove yourself creatively in LA is staggering, and, at its best, extremely motivational. After reflecting on the LA lifestyles and patterns of human interaction, a darker idiom suggests itself to me: creativity at any cost.
My last meal in the city is at a dive on Hollywood Boulevard. Conchitas Kitchen in East Hollywood makes a hell of a papusa, and if you ask a local (asking for directions in LA doesn’t seem to piss people off, or even make them passive aggressive) they’ll be glad to point you towards a top-notch burrito or tamale. Odds are your purchase will benefit the dude slinging coke outside of the gay bar you had to leave at 2 am due to LA’s last call, so it’s a real win-win situation. I hop on my final bus, drop an indiscriminate amount of quarters amounting to something resembling $1.75 into the coin slot, and head for the bus station.
Aaron Waldman hails from York, Maine, where 60’s & 70’s folk still reigns supreme. The pathos of artists ranging from Jim Morrison to Manchester Orchestra to Kendrick Lamar inspired Aaron to craft a painfully earnest indie-folk sound reminiscent of James Taylor and Elliott Smith.
Have a listen at AaronWaldman.Bandcamp.com