Interview with Mark Opsasnick, author of The Lizard King Was Here

It’s safe to say that Jim Morrison will never leave the stage of our collective consciousness. We are endlessly fascinated with the lead singer of the Doors because he still projects a dark shadowy image hard to grasp and appealing in its mystery, particularly to adolescents who are just realizing that the world may not be as it seems and trying to figure out how they fit in.

The question sooner or later on every fan’s mind, just who was Morrison exactly? Despite numerous books and articles on the Doors, none have really answered what Jim himself was like at this pivotal age or how his teenage experiences influenced his future success and direction as an artist.

Lucky for us, Mark Opsasnick has a new book out called The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia which chronicles Morrison’s high school years from 1959-1961.

Opsasnick, a stickler for detail, lover of trivia, and author of such titles as Capitol Rock,The Real Story Behind the Exorcist: A Study of the Haunted Boy and Other True-Life Horror Legends from Around the Nation’s Capital and The Maryland Bigfoot Digest spent the last couple of years traveling in Morrison’s adolescent footsteps interviewing fellow classmates and tracking down any tidbit related to his former haunts. The result is a book that does contain some of the same wild, inexplicable stories of Jim’s youth found in the seminal biography No One Here Gets Out Alive but they are less sensationalized when tempered with good memories of former friends and evidence of his intelligence and curiosity.

Mark was born the year after Morrison graduated from George Washington High and like so many fans, discovered the Doors’ music in his pre-teen years. But it wasn’t until he read No One Here Gets Out Alive that he realized Jim had lived 25 miles southeast of his hometown, Greenbelt, Maryland. As Mark remembers in an earlier interview posted on his website, “I didn’t pay much attention to it after that.”

While working on Capital Rock, people kept mentioning that Morrison had lived in Virginia and asking if Mark knew of his involvement in the local music scene. He didn’t and neither did anyone else. Some of the books published on the Doors did reveal that Jim lived in the DC area but gave no further details. Mark made a mental note to one day find out and began working on The Lizard King Was Here in 2004 after all other book projects were finished. Over a span of two years, he eventually tracked down close to 150 of Jim’s former classmates and friends and the results are sure to be appreciated by both casual and hardcore Doors fans alike.

As I got to know Mark through email conversations, I began to wonder why someone so organized, exacting, and rational would spend so much time studying a guy who seemingly embraced the exact opposite. But after somewhat relentless badgering on my part, it occurred to me that his focus (fueled by a desire to preserve some of the area’s vanishing history) was really only on the facts and presenting them correctly. Mark did allow himself the indulgence of imagining what it must have been like for Morrison to wander the streets, haunt the libraries and bookstores, and soak up the local music scene and it’s these musings which infuse life into what could have been just dry details. As with any good story, the readers are encouraged to insert their own reasons why.

Do you remember what it was like to listen to the Doors for the first time? Could you understand the lyrics at that young age?

Opsasnick: I’ve really thought about this question a great deal and the very first Doors song I ever heard on the radio was “Riders on the Storm” and that had to be during the summer of 1972. It was slow and moody with the ominous organ intro and the plodding bass and the rain effects. Morrison’s vocals seemed eerie to me, especially with the quiet whisper framing his every word. At that point in time I was too young to really understand the lyrics of most of the songs I listened to, but I remember being struck by the line, “There’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad.” Even at that young age, I realized there was something different about the Doors and the fellow who had written those lines. It came across as a strange, menacing song and it hooked me in.

My mother would often take me to the local Waxie Maxie’s at Beltway Plaza where I would endlessly stare at album covers and I remember her letting me purchase L.A. Woman for $3.99. I thought it was a great album and it ranked among my first acquisitions along with Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death and Jethro Tull’s Stand Up. After that I began paying more attention to the words that went along with the music I loved.

Two of your other books are about music, Capitol Rock and Washington Rock and Roll. Are you a musician yourself?

Opsasnick: I am not a musician, but I’ve loved rock and roll music for as long as I can remember. In the early 90s I began meeting and talking with a lot of local musicians in the bars and nightclubs around the Washington, D.C. area.

In my homeland of Prince George’s County, Maryland everyone would talk about the great blues-rock guitarist Roy Buchanan, who had lived in the area and he was really an underground hero of sorts at the time. That led me to research the local music scene and Capitol Rock was my first published book. I began writing it in January 1993 and it was completed and first published in December 1996. A lot of the people I interviewed for that history book had mentioned that Jim Morrison had lived in Northern Virginia during his high school years, though few knew anything about how he developed an interest in music and ended up as lead vocalist for the Doors.

What kind of music do you listen to nowadays?

Opsasnick: I currently listen to EXACTLY the same music I did during my preteen and high school years. My tastes have not changed one bit. My vinyl holdings topped off at about 500 albums in high school, and my current CD collection is almost identical to the stash of records I kept back in the 70s. My collection begins with Aerosmith and ends with ZZ Top. It’s rare that I listen to anything that came out after 1979.

Have you seen Riders on the Storm, Ray and Robby’s new band perform?

Opsasnick: I have not seen them and I have no plans to do so. I haven’t really stopped and sorted out my thoughts about what Manzarek and Krieger are doing. Without Morrison and Densmore it is not the Doors and it never will be. I think Ian Astbury is a great singer, but I saw pictures of him onstage in the black leather and it really struck me as odd because the band was calling itself the Doors or the Doors of the 21st Century and was being presented as the real thing and not a tribute band, which I think was wrong. I don’t have a problem with the two originals and their cohorts keeping the music of the Doors alive, but right now I feel they should call it the Ray Manzarek Band, because that’s all it really is.

How did writing this book compare to the others you have written?

Opsasnick: Actually it was a little bit easier to research and write the Morrison book because I had most of the sources presented to me by Richard Sparks, who is the representative for the GW High Class of 1961. He put me in touch with many of Morrison’s former classmates and that set me in the right direction. Much of the research, like checking on the family’s various addresses via the Library of Congress and going on-location in Washington, DC and Alexandria was fun for a while, but it eventually became a bit tiring. The writing of the book was done in notebooks at various locations which are listed in the book’s credits. I would then copy those notebooks into my home computer while listening to Captain Beefheart CDs and then paste in pieces of the transcribed interviews. From there I would edit the whole thing down until I thought I had a cohesive chapter together. The outline constantly changed. The rough draft was around 150,000 words and the final product weighed in at around 99,000 words, so there were substantial cuts. At the end of a long night of editing, I would sit back on the couch in my living room, crank Doors CDs, and ruminate on what life must have been like for Morrison during his time in Alexandria. Over a two-year period, from March 2004 until February 2006, I don’t think a single day passed where I didn’t work on the book in some manner.

What image of Jim Morrison did you have in mind before starting this book? Did it change?

Opsasnick: In 1980 I began my freshman year of college and prior to that everything I knew about Jim Morrison came from magazine articles. I viewed him as a rock star and a pretty wild one at that, as I was aware of “Miami” and some of his other adventures. The book No One Here Gets Out Alive really influenced public opinion of Morrison and for me the book mainly served to reinforce his decadent rock star image. Certainly Hopkins and Sugerman attempted to introduce Morrison’s literary prowess and cite some of his influences, but in my opinion they seemed more concerned with projecting their subject as an out-of-control drunk who was determined to fulfill a death wish. From 1990 to the present there have been more than three dozen books and scores of articles published about Morrison and/or the Doors. I’ve read a good bit of that material and it seems that the fashionable thing has been to describe Morrison as a poet trapped in a rock star’s body. I was never really convinced that Morrison was a poet first and a rock god and everything else second. I saw him as a great rock and roll singer and lyricist and I felt his fame and money allowed him to dabble in side projects in poetry and film.

In the course of conducting research on Morrison’s teen years my image of him changed greatly because I felt I was pasting together parts of his life that ultimately led him to his exalted position as singer for the Doors. Different pieces of the puzzle would fall in place. He was extremely intelligent and creative and was fiercely independent. Even though he had friends and could put on a show when in the mood, he seemed, for the most part, to be a solitary figure who was most comfortable in the private world he had created in his basement bedroom on Woodland Terrace. He was an enigma. I no longer see him exclusively as a rock star because as a teenager in the late fifties no one he associated with had any inkling that he would go on to become a performing artist. I think some of the seeds were planted during those years, but they were well-hidden until he migrated to Los Angeles. My image now is one of Morrison as an artist and an explorer in many different respects.

Then how do you explain his ’bouts of unpredictable and highly unusual behavior’ described in your book?

Opsasnick: Prior to the start of researching my book in 2004, I knew little of his high school experiences or what he was like as a teenager. After conducting the interviews and following Morrison’s footsteps throughout the nation’s capital and surrounding environs, I came to the conclusion that he thought like a social scientist and enjoyed experimenting on his friends and family for his own murky reasons. He was far more intelligent and creative than anyone can imagine, and I really think his behavior during the Alexandria period – which at times consisted of “revolt, disorder, and chaos” – was calculated and in most situations was deliberately designed to evoke responses from those in his immediate company. He was exploring social boundaries and experimenting with free activity, practices he maintained throughout the rest of his life. He was unpredictable and at times did unusual things. I believe he engaged in these types of behavior as a response to the strict military-family upbringing he had endured, to keep distance between himself and the precious few in his orbit, and to see how the world around him reacted to his movements.

Is chaos a necessary part of our society and does it have any benefit? Was Morrison on to something with the philosophy he was developing as a teenager?

Opsasnick: Personally, I don’t see where chaos does anyone any good and I don’t think it serves any purpose. I think Morrison, as a teenager, was fascinated with the idea of absolute freedom and was more interested in soliciting reactions for his periodic bouts of inexplicable behavior. I wouldn’t say he was on to anything special, but I think he did utilize those same concepts when he later took the stage with the Doors and did certain things like taunt the audience. For whatever reasons, he found such practices intriguing.

In your opinion, what experiences in Alexandria most influenced Jim the poet and rock star?

Opsasnick: I detail in chapter sixteen how there were four areas of experience that led Jim Morrison to his position as lyricist-vocalist with the Doors. Everything he did pointed him in that path. He expanded his literary horizons, he developed a sense of personal exploration, he developed as a multimedia artist, and he experimented with free activity.

In terms of Morrison the poet, he built his book collection in Alexandria piece-by-piece. When he arrived in town he only owned a couple of books. Andy Morrison told me right before Jim left for Florida, he personally went down in the basement and counted each book and found Jim had 1,000 different titles in his personal book collection.

Morrison also wrote in notebooks, though none have survived, and I go into detail on what writers and poets were on his bookshelf and most likely influenced his development as a writer. Certainly the major poets and writers to influence him were Rimbaud, Joyce, Nietzsche, Kafka, Camus, and among the Beats, Kerouac and Ginsberg.

I really believe that the character of Francis Martin in Kerouac’s The Town and the City served as a prototype for Morrison – I think Jim copied that character right down to the part where Martin eventually cuts off communication with his parents and moves to France.

In terms of Morrison the rock star, Jim had begun to develop as a multi-media artist in Alexandria. He not only created drawings, paintings, and collages, he produced a short student film entitled Pinman and he once gave a poetry reading at a Washington, D.C. beatnik coffeehouse called Coffee ‘n Confusion – his first public performance.

He frequented many bars and nightclubs and observed live music for the first time. I devote an entire chapter to the Club Log Tavern on Richmond Highway south of Alexandria, a nightclub where Morrison may have garnered serious inspiration to become a rock and roll singer. You’ll have to read my book for the details on that one.

Do you know if there were any classes offered at GW High such as drama or art that would have provided a creative outlet for Jim?

Opsasnick: During the years 1959-1961 GW High offered art classes and had three teachers that specialized in teaching art, but they did not offer drama or theater. The school had an art club, a drama club, a thespian society, and a public speaking club. Jim Morrison, according to those I interviewed, did not participate in any of these classes or clubs.

Tandy Martin appears to be another huge influence on Jim during this time period. Although she was the only one you weren’t able to interview, you provide a great deal of information on her. Will you continue to pursue an interview with her for a future edition?

Opsasnick: One never knows, but I kind of doubt it. Tandy currently resides in Peru. To my knowledge, she only keeps in touch with one person besides her brother and sister in the United States and that is a fellow in California named Calvin Ahlgren. The two were actually engaged to be married back in 1966, but it didn’t work out. I contacted Ahlgren and he agreed to pass on an email message from me to Tandy. I requested an interview, but she never responded and I think she missed out on a great opportunity to share her story with the fans of Jim Morrison. When I write these books, I don’t like to go back and tamper with the original manuscript. If Tandy did contact me I would certainly talk with her, but whether or not I added her to the mix would depend on the quality of the interview. If she gave me 15 minutes, forget it. If she gave me 9-12 hours like Jim Merrill did, then she’s in. I’d be surprised if she surfaces anytime soon.

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting those you did interview to open up or to remember after all these years?

Opsasnick: I interviewed around 150 people for the book, of which approximately 60 had attended George Washington High School and were members of the Class of 1960 or Class of 1961. About 30 of Morrison’s former classmates were actually quoted in the text. The person who deserved credit for putting me in touch with those sources was Richard Sparks of Alexandria, who is the alumni representative for the George Washington High School Class of 1961. He provided me with addresses and phone numbers and I was off and running.

Most of the people I interviewed were happy to talk. Some weren’t so cooperative. I’ll give you some examples. One fellow really tore into me for wasting my time writing about a “drug-addicted, alcoholic, draft-dodging hippie who threw his life away.” I tried to explain what I was doing, – provide some new information on the life of a great and possibly misunderstood artist – but it was futile. Another fellow went nuts and bellowed, “Morrison was a nobody – he never joined any clubs, he never played sports, he had no friends, nobody knew who he was, he never did anything! He was nothing!” He kept going on and on like that and I immediately wondered what Morrison had done to the guy for him to hold such strong resentment some 45 years later. I later found out from a trusted source who had been a part of GW’s Class of 1961 that this particular fellow, who had been very well-known in the school and was looked upon as an intellectual, and Morrison had gotten into a heated verbal exchange in the hallways one day and Morrison just tore him to shreds with words and called him all sorts of names which must have later sent the guy scrambling for a dictionary and really humiliated the guy in front of his friends and a few female classmates. Unfortunately, I could not find one eyewitness to the event and I could not corroborate the story in any way, therefore it did not make the final cut. There were other situations like that. There was one woman from the class who insinuated that she and Morrison had dated or fooled around or something along those lines and she led me to believe she had some earth-shattering info about him from his high school days but she kept stringing me along and nothing ever came of it. She stopped answering my emails and calls and it left me shaking my head. You know, why would an adult act like that? Either give me what you’ve got or tell me you don’t want to talk so I can go to the next name on the list. You just run into all kinds of different people and attitudes when you do a project like this one.

A good number of Jim’s friends were enlisted in the military after graduating high school and served in Vietnam. How did they feel about Morrison getting out of the draft?

Opsasnick: No one I actually talked with ever mentioned it and I never brought it up. I don’t think any of them know that Morrison somehow found a way to avoid military service. His friends were shocked to find out he had become a rock and roll singer, and then a few years later they learned of his sudden and mysterious death. Most of the details of what happened in between were never discussed and few of Jim’s friends from Alexandria know very much about his post-high school years.

How many trips did you make to Alexandria and D.C. to do your research?

Opsasnick: It seems like I was going into DC and/or Alexandria at least every other weekend over a two-year period. I must have made a total of 40-50 journeys to those two general locations during the course of my research. I would drive to Alexandria, ditch my car at the library or at the old GW High School, and walk around. I would take Metrorail (the subway) from my hometown of Greenbelt down into DC, and then spend the whole day walking around, going to the libraries, and checking out the sites on foot.

Having literally walked in his footsteps, did you discover any new cool places of interest in Morrison’s former haunts?

Opsasnick: The bookstores and nightclubs Morrison visited in Washington, D.C. have all been torn down and replaced with high-rise office complexes, with the lone exception being Bohemian Caverns, which is still in operation as a live jazz club and restaurant at 2001 11th Street NW. In Alexandria, the old Torpedo Factory where Morrison used to walk the pier is now in operation as the Torpedo Factory Art Center. All of the buildings on King Street in Alexandria are still standing and have historic designation, but the places that Morrison enjoyed – the Hollywood Diner, the Snack Bar, the Salvation Army Thrift Store, etc. – have all been replaced with new businesses. The Club Log Tavern south of Alexandria on Richmond Highway was torn down a long time ago and only a vacant lot remains. Morrison’s house on Woodland Terrace is still there, as is the Alexandria Library on Queen Street.

There really were no cool places left in the ruins of Jim’s former haunts that you enjoyed? What about Bohemian Caverns?

Opsasnick: Nope, no cool places in any of Jim’s old haunts. The old site of Harrington’s Restaurant is now a giant US Dept of Agriculture building, Coffee ‘n Confusion is now a parking lot, and all the old bookstores have been torn down and replaced with high-rise office buildings. The Club Log Tavern on Richmond Highway is now just a vacant lot. Bohemian Caverns is still open, but it is located in what many feel is a dicey part of town – they serve a mainly urban clientele. I took pictures of the place, but I’m not a jazz fan and I have never been inside.

Jim’s parents ignored your written request for help documenting where the family lived from 1943 to 1959. However, his younger brother Andy agreed to speak with you. Was he able to offer any assistance in this area?

Opsasnick: My conversation with Andy Morrison lasted about 25 minutes. Although he was pleasant with me, I could tell he didn’t really feel like being bothered. I think I first asked him about the bus trips he and Jim had taken into Washington, D.C. and what they had done in town. We next talked about No One Here Gets Out Alive and then Andy answered some questions I had about Jim’s artwork and book collection and how Jim had gotten along with their parents. My very next set of questions would have centered on where the family had lived from 1943 to 1959, but Andy suddenly excused himself and said goodbye. I did not want to intrude any further and I never called him back. I felt I was very lucky to get him to talk for as long as he did. He came across as a sharp guy and seemed to have an excellent memory. I really appreciate that he took the time to answer my questions.

According to your book, Andy donated Jim’s book collection to the Alexandria library and most likely they were sold off. Did you ever try to see if any of the books made it into circulation or come across any books you might suspect as having been Jim’s?

Opsasnick: I talked about this with the many librarians at the Alexandria Library on Queen Street and while they all, for the most part, knew who Jim Morrison was, none believed that any of the books from his private collection ever made it into the library’s permanent holdings. The general consensus is that the books were most likely sold off in the library’s periodic public book sales. I have never come across a book from Jim’s private collection and I’m certain none are currently in circulation at the Alexandria Library, though I’d be willing to bet more than a few of those titles are now sitting on shelves in the homes of some older, long-time Alexandria residents.

The Lizard King Was Here includes brief reviews of other Morrison biographies. Have you read any of Frank Lisciandro’s books on Jim?

Opsasnick: I have read Jim Morrison: An Hour for Magic and Morrison, a Feast of Friends and both books are in my private, permanent collection. They both serve purposes and I feel both will appeal to Morrison fans, especially those interested in looking at photographs of Jim and the band. I think all the books published on Jim Morrison and/or the Doors, even the worst of them, have some value for the viewpoints they offer. I did not include An Hour for Magic because it was mainly a collection of photos and offered little in the way of original research. A Feast of Friends was a collection of interviews, but incredibly, the author did not interview a single person that attended George Washington High School with Morrison, an unpardonable sin. The author did a nice job of putting those works together, but he skipped right over Jim’s Virginia period, which is the only part of Morrison’s life I’m interested in studying. I was limited on space for my small reviews, so they didn’t make the cut.

In Frank’s book  A Feast of Friends, he interviews Fud Ford (who hung out with him in Alameda, CA right before Jim moved to Alexandria). It seems like Morrison’s unpredictable behavior was much more mischievous and playful back then, partially because he was spurred on by Fud, a partner in crime who also liked to play practical jokes. Fud also describes him as outgoing and friendly at that time, while all those you interviewed remember Jim as somewhat withdrawn and a loner. Perhaps it was due to not having anyone in Alexandria who really got his sense of humor. Would you agree?

Opsasnick: No, I don’t agree with that at all. I can’t really comment on what Fud Ford allegedly said because I never interviewed him. I do believe that Morrison had changed by the time he got to Alexandria; even his close childhood friend Jeff Morehouse emphasized how Jim was much more withdrawn when they reconnected in January 1959. Consequently, in terms of behavior, what he did in Alameda, California or the previous years doesn’t mean very much to me. Morrison was enigmatic and had a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality at George Washington High School and I think the testimony of his friends show that while he was withdrawn and apathetic and at times came across as a loner, he was also quite capable of putting on a show and acting out when the mood struck him. Jim Merrill, who knew Morrison as well as anyone in Alexandria, commented that Jim could be hilarious at times. I think when Morrison arrived in Alexandria he kicked his experiments with free activity into overdrive. I don’t think he was trying to be a comedian when he would open up in front of a classroom or crowds of people in the halls or in the neighborhood; he was courting the unknown and soliciting reactions. It wasn’t Morrison’s sense of humor that people were misreading; they simply couldn’t fathom his deliberate attempts at creating chaos and confusion.

His antics in Alexandria, such as stealing and making fun of a man in an epileptic fit and a handicapped boy, combined with a reckless disregard for himself or others seemed a little more sinister and that of a sociopath. Did he ever express regret for his actions or concern about hurting other’s feelings to anyone you spoke to?

Opsasnick: Never. Not once. Not one person I interviewed ever recalled Morrison having apologized for anything at any time. He did his own thing and could not have cared less about the consequences. He had absolutely no regard whatsoever for the feelings of anyone around him at any time. I think it’s painfully evident that as a teenager he had no conscience.

Your research points to a local band of teenagers “Ronnie & The Offbeats” that played at the Club Log Cabin as a strong musical influence on Jim and his singing/performance style. Capitol Rock mentions that they recorded a single in the early 60s “Trouble in Mind/ Beggarman”. Have you been able to listen to it and is it something fans could track down to compare to the Doors music?

Opsasnick: In chapter fourteen Ron MacDonald claims that he had talked with Morrison many times in the Club Log Tavern and that Morrison used to watch their band Ronnie and the Offbeats perform. He is of the opinion that Morrison may have been influenced by the band’s sound and his mannerisms in particular. As Ron points out, there is no way to verify this since Morrison has since passed on. I have heard the single “Trouble in Mind” and the flip side as well, but it does not compare to anything the Doors did. The styles are different. One has to keep in mind, however, that Ronnie and the Offbeats reportedly performed a wide range of material and it appears that their version of Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Runnin'” is the song that may have influenced Morrison’s “Break on Through.” To my knowledge there are no existing tapes of Ronnie and the Offbeats performing live at the Club Log Tavern, so we’ll never know. The actual 45 of “Trouble in Mind” is almost impossible to locate.

How about lead singer Ron MacDonald’s later music….do you see any similarities to Morrison’s sound or phrasing?

Opsasnick: One would have to view a videotape of Ronnie and the Offbeats performing live in 1960 to really make a comparison, but no such footage exists. As far as similarities between MacDonald’s current style and vocal phrasings and Morrison’s classic Doors performances, some will say yes and others will say no. On some songs I can hear similarities, but on some it’s just not there.

Regarding Jim’s return to Alexandria with the Doors’ show there in 1967, it’s very strange that he didn’t contact any of his former friends, acknowledge that it was his hometown during the concert nor make a big deal coming back home a success, given that he often predicted his future back in high school. If anything, he seemed to harbor some resentment upon his return. From your research it appears none of his friends attended this show and weren’t even aware that he was in a band at this point. Did they hear stories later on about the show or have any comments on Morrison’s apparent apathy towards returning home?

Opsasnick: When Morrison returned to Alexandria in August 1967 he did not notify a single person about the Doors concert and as far as I know, none of his former friends and classmates attended that particular performance. None of them ever heard any stories about the concert, either. No one seems to know what Morrison was thinking that night. He just blew into town drunk, did the show, and left without ceremony.

Is it correct that Jim Merrill is the only high school friend among those who spoke with you to have seen a Doors concert?

Opsasnick: As far as I know, he was the only one. Most of the others saw Morrison perform with the Doors on television at some point.

The comment of attendee Keith John (drummer for the Back Doors) on Jim’s Alexandria show performance seems to really encompass everything your book reveals about Morrison as a person “He was such a demon, but yet such an artist, so I was torn between the fact that the man made such a tremendous contribution to the arts and yet was such a disgusting, despicable human being for what he had done to that girl (who was injured by a cymbal stand thrown into the audience by Morrison).”

Opsasnick: I would mention “artist” before “demon,” but that would be pure speculation as I never knew or met Morrison. He seemed to be different things to different people. During the time period I studied – his teen years – Morrison was not drinking alcohol on a regular basis. Intoxication had yet to become one of his vices, but there was still that pattern of strange behavior. Certainly his drinking habits accelerated after his college years and that’s when the “demons” were more readily apparent. Several individuals told me they saw Morrison throw something into the crowd at the August 18, 1967 Alexandria concert and Keith John maintains it was a cymbal that struck a teenaged girl in the face. If that really did happen, I’d like to think it was unintentional. Maybe Morrison was aiming for the ceiling or the back of the arena and his hand-eye coordination faltered due to his alcohol intake. I really don’t want to believe he would do something like that on purpose, no matter how blitzed he might have been. However, like so many other things about Jim Morrison, we’ll never know for sure.

What do you make of former classmate Bill Thomas’ alleged 1991 encounter with someone who may have been Jim Morrison in Flagstaff, Arizona?

Opsasnick: Bill Thomas knew Jim Morrison well in high school and rates as one of the most level-headed persons I’ve ever interviewed. He spent more than 12 years as a federal judge and is a no-nonsense individual. There is absolutely no question in my mind that the encounter took place exactly as he described it to me. The issue is whether or not it was really Jim Morrison. Bill’s son, Brian Thomas, still believes to this day it was Morrison. Bill has gone back and forth. He was obviously shaken by the experience and today tends to think that it was not Morrison they saw. However, he is quick to add that he thinks Morrison probably did fake his death and is still alive. Morrison reportedly told Thomas in high school that he was going to one day pull off such a stunt. A really eerie feeling came over me when I put this chapter together.

I wonder why a young Jim would even think of escaping from his life one day? Obviously from this comment and others in your book, he never doubted he’d be famous and it was a goal to be so.

Opsasnick: Jim Morrison was quite an enigma as a teenager and it seems like he was pretty full of himself. I have no idea whether or not he was serious when he told his friends he would one day be famous, but it was obvious that he saw himself as being separate from his peers and special in some regards. Morrison never discussed his goals, assuming he had some, with his friends, so we’ll never really know what his game plan was.

Has anyone tried to locate this guy who could have been Jim or go back to interview the women at the cafe that called him ?

Opsasnick: To my knowledge no one ever went back to the cafe in Flagstaff and followed up on the episode.

How has writing this book changed you?

Opsasnick: It has changed the way I look at Jim Morrison. I don’t really view Morrison as a rock star anymore and that’s mainly because I’ve had an opportunity to meet and talk with many people who knew him from a different time. It got to the point where, as people told me things about Morrison, I could actually visualize the scene he was a part of when he was holed up in his basement, trudging about town or shuffling through the halls of GW High. I’ve been everywhere in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that Jim had explored, and although the landscape has changed a bit, I could easily create mental pictures about how things were back in 1960. Alexandria at that point in time was just light years removed from Morrison’s L.A. world. Now when people talk about Jim Morrison, I immediately see the disheveled, withdrawn high school kid scribbling in notebooks and not the leather-clad singer slinking about the stage.

This interview was conducted in 2006 and first appeared on I recently checked in with Mark and learned that he is currently working on a book that will cover the history of all popular music in the Washington D.C. area from the colonial era up to the 1960s. He has also heard from Tandy Martin, Jim’s first girlfriend (but she is still reluctant to talk about her memories of Jim Morrison) and hopes to update The Lizard King Was Here soon with new information. What I really should have asked is whether Big Foot is real or not!


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