Culture

Keeping Jim Morrison’s Spirit Alive

PeaceFrogby: Jack Neworth
Since its founding in 1905, Venice has attracted artists of all types: painters, poets, writers, filmmakers, to name but a few. A who’s who of these talented people who lived here at one time or another could fill up a website. (Such a website isn’t a bad idea, actually.)
Among these “Venetians” are Charlie Chaplin, who first appeared in Venice in 1914; George Carlin and Dennis Hopper, the last two having lived here for years prior their deaths in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Songwriter and poet, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, had such an impact on 60’s that his legend continues to this day, especially in Venice.
July marks two Morrison anniversaries, one tragic, one inspirational. July 3rd was the 44th anniversary of Morrison’s death in Paris at the age of 27 from a deadly combination of demons, drugs and alcohol, heroin being the prime culprit. But on a celebratory note, in the middle of July it’ll be fifty years since Morrison and the late keyboardist Ray Manzarek first decided to form the Doors.
It was a typical summer day in 1965 when, strictly by chance, the two reunited on the beach north of Venice. In May, Jim had graduated and Ray had gotten his M.A. from UCLA. In fact, Ray thought Jim was headed to New York City and maybe he’d never see him again, until Jim appeared on the sand.
Enthusiastically, Morrison confided that he’d recently written some songs. A talented keyboardist, Manzarek asked to hear one and Jim unveiled, Moonlight Drive. “Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide, penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide.”
After two more, Summer’s Almost Gone and My Eyes Have Seen You, Ray exalted, “We gotta start a rock ‘n roll band!” And the rest, as they say, would be rock history, the birth taking place here in Venice.
Almost fifty years ago, Morrison lived in numerous Venice apartment buildings and in cottages on the canals, and was even homeless living on the roof of a commercial building. While some tales may have been exaggerated, it’s universally held that the songs to the Doors’ first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days, were created while Morrison was living primarily in Venice.
The Doors meteoric rise into the pantheon of rock music is historic. Signing with Elektra Records in 1966, the Doors released eight albums between 1967 and 1971. All but one hit the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 and went platinum or better. In the U.S., The Doors sold 33 million records and over 100 million worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands ever. The Doors are listed among the greatest artists of all time by numerous magazines, including Rolling Store, which ranked them 41st on its list of the 100.
For those who missed the Morrison/Doors era, every Sunday at the Venice Bistro on Ocean Front Walk, Peace Frog, a tremendously talented Doors tribute band with lead singer Tony Fernandez, brings Morrison’s spirit to life. (Peace Frog was the #1 track on the Doors Morrison Hotel album with one lyric reading, “Blood stains the roofs and the palm trees of Venice.”) The Bistro opened in 1958 as the Venice West Café. It’s clientele was a mix of beat poets and jazz artists. Morrison and Manzarek also spent time there. So it’s a full circle that Peace Frog performs there now. But they’ve also appeared in a dozen states across the country, from New York to Oregon, and traveled the world spreading Doors music in Mexico, Japan, Australia, Greece, Sweden and India.
Peace Frog has an extensive repertoire of over sixty Doors’ classic hits. And, the highest validation for a tribute band, Peace Frog has jammed with two of the original Doors, Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger who sang their praises. (No pun intended.) It’s also fitting that lead singer Tony Fernandez, like Morrison, has passions outside music. For example, Tony teaches Political Science at Pierce Jr. College.
As they have every Sunday for the past 11 years at the intimate Venice Bistro, Peace Frog delivers a remarkable recreation of a Doors performance. it might just leave you feeling you’ve experienced the magic and poetry of Morrison. Let’s swim out tonight, love, it’s our turn to try; park beside the ocean on a moonlight drive. And to think that “ocean” and “moonlight drive,” started right here in Venice.
The Venice Bistro is at 323 Ocean Front Walk, (310) 392-3997. For info about Peace Frog go to http://peacefrogband.com/www. Freelance writer Jack Neworth is  at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and by email at: jnsmdp@aol.com.

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