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Up for auction Jim Morrison's literary legacy

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It must be the season for rock ‘n’ roll auctions, last December a notebook of Jim Morrison’s that was given to Graham Nash went up for auction. Occasionally I’m contacted by the public relations firms representing the auction houses with a press release announcing some of Jim Morrison’s possessions coming up for auction, and on occasion I’ve run an article on the item(s). In the last month or so a lot of rock ‘n’ roll items have come up for sale and with those sales some questions.

Some times those items can be innocuous such as the recent Antiques Road Show episode with a former roommate of Jim Morrison getting a book inscribed by Morrison appraised (see related articles below). There is a more insidious kind of auction though that happens to Jim Morrison (and other rock ’n’ roll stars) and that is the sale to and for private collectors of Morrison’s notebooks in which he took literary notes and pieces of poetry, one such auction was last December of a notebook that was in possession of Bill Siddons who had given it to Graham Nash as a present (a bit puzzling to me, I must admit). Earlier this month Len Sousa over at The Doors Guide wrote an excellent essay on the provenance of the notebook from Nash and it may not be what it claimed to be (although it was one of Morrison’s notebooks). After reading Sousa’s essay I received an email about another upcoming auction of a “high school essay” of Jim Morrison’s. After a quick perusal it was clear it (again was Morrison’s) but it was mislabeled it was a satirical radio ad Morrison wrote along with “Fud” Ford. This may be quibbling but it’s not a phenomenon exclusive to The Doors, in the past few weeks I’ve come across items such as Paul McCartney stopping the sale of clothes that had belonged to him, May Pang, who had a relationship with John Lennon questioning the authenticity of a piece of writing Lennon allegedly wrote while they were together (thanks to Steve Marinucci at The Beatles Examiner), and an interview with Julian Lennon in which he stated he had to buy back items from his childhood! This seems a ‘scorched earth’ attitude towards the music and the artists, those looking to make a profit (quick or otherwise) from associations they had in the past and the selling out of their memories for money.

In the case of The Beatles memorabilia mentioned above some of it is a case of provenance but in the case of Jim Morrison it seems a lot of his notebooks are coming on to the market and that leads to something much more important, the legacy of a writer. These notebooks of Morrison’s are pages torn from their context to be framed on someone’s wall or shown as a trophy, and not too mention that someone profits from that sale who doesn’t have the best interest of the artist at heart.

You may say that the legacy is the completed works, but it is more than that, it is also the thought processes and ideas that lead to the finished work. Rock ’n’ roll is no longer the 50’s faddish artform that have lyrics that are considered gibberish or childish, more likely misunderstood slang, although some were merely novelty songs that were trying to take advantage of the youth market. While some may still deny the seriousness of rock ‘n’ roll as an art or even a mature form it did quickly became an artform and some performers treated it as such. The 60’s golden age of rock ‘n’ roll came about exactly because those performers treated it as such and demanded their work be considered art. The Doors are one that considered their work art and wanted it to be taken seriously as art and The Doors and Morrison still pay the price with cries of ‘pretension.’ This is what we should be protecting and like we would with any artist we should be trying to preserve the documents left behind to discover the machinery behind the works (don‘t worry it won‘t remove the magic of the finished work), as well as the artistry behind it. This means preservation, gathering the works of Jim Morrison in one place, finding and returning them to their chronology, only then can we see the evolution and progress of Morrison as a writer, pull into focus the art, and give us a better understanding and appreciation of the art and the artist.

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