Paul Ferrara is best known as the Doors photographer and collaborator on Jim Morrison’s film HWY and the Door’s original documentary Feast of Friends (which will finally be released November 7, 46 years after it was filmed). This interview with him was first published on Doors.com. Although he doesn’t really like giving interviews and feels more comfortable discussing the photos and films he created, Paul graciously agreed to answer a few questions. But as you will see, it was all worth it when we got to the final question!
After reading your autobiography Flash of Eden one gets the sense that Jim Morrison didn’t leave a strong impression on you during the UCLA days. You even described him as ordinary looking. Can you remember the first time you met him?
Paul: We were classmates in the Film Dept. We met casually as classmates. He was behind a semester or two.
Fellow UCLA classmate Alan Ronay is quoted as saying that “in the beginning he was not aggressive at all but after becoming close with Felix (Venable, another classmate), he changed. He became more and more outrageous until eventually he was just horrible to everyone”. Do you ever recall him misbehaving then?
Paul: I don’t think Felix was the reason for Jim’s aggressive behavior. I don’t remember him being outrageous during UCLA days. I don’t recall him ever being horrible to anyone. In the later stages of his short life his drinking became the problem that caused his anti-social behavior.
In your book, you wrote that “we often thought Felix knew which way to go but it proved to be wrong many times and we had to learn to listen to ourselves.” What kind of things did he profess to know about life that ended up being wrong?
Paul: Felix was a drug using alcoholic and it looked attractive for a while. He also was very well read and that attracted Jim as well as others. He was older than the rest of us and some followed because of it. But in the end he died of liver damage at a young age.
Felix introduced Jim to LSD. How did it change Jim’s personality?
Paul: We were all people who had been beyond everyday consciousness; we all changed at roughly the same time. It was like a pact or being part of a secret experiment. We became Huxley, Blake, Rimbaud, Kodak, Truffaut, and stoned immaculate all at the same time. The future was not important. It was a fun experiment.
Do you still believe LSD is a viable gateway to a spiritual understanding?
Paul: I don’t think it leads to spiritual understanding. It just opens up the horizon and the mind to the possibilities that may exist, spiritual or otherwise.
Did Jim take film and school seriously?
Paul: There were two sides to film school, one was the technical side and the other was the aesthetic side. Jim was heavy into the text, the visual experience. The technical side was not his strong suit.
The Gypsy Wagon, a gathering place for students at that time, sounds so magical. Do you have any pictures of it?
Paul: I wish I had taken photos of the Gypsy Wagon but I didn’t.
Mary Werbelow (Jim’s college girlfriend) is described in your book as being a somewhat strange person. Have you read the interview done with her a few years ago by the Saint Petersburg Times and if so, what do you think about it?
Paul: I thought it was a miracle that anyone got her to tell her story. It is the truth according to what I know. I made contact with her when I was writing my book and went to see her a few times. I don’t think she was happy with my first draft of my book that I let her read. I haven’t seen her for a few years.
When did Jim break up with her? Was it right before he spent the famed summer on the rooftop?
Paul: I think Jim started breaking up with her soon after film school began … I think when he started be a singer in a rock band she gave him some kind of ultimatum about his wild dream and he chose music.
Mary says that she always intended to get back with Jim, she just needed to find her own identity first. But you shared a story of Jim, years later, refusing to send her money while she was in India. Would you say it was true that she broke his heart and that pain inspired him to write the songs on the rooftop?
Paul: I think it is fair to assume his relationship with Mary along with other pain that he had met, inspired him to write. I think it is true with all writers. They draw on the life around them to create. One line sticks out in “The End” ‘you’ll never follow me’. I think he had understood her search for her own identity.
Ray Manzerak and Robbie Krieger claim that Jim was impatient for fame; that it never came soon enough for him. Was there ever a point when he was satisfied and happy to be well-known?
Paul: I think the moment of enjoyment was fast compared to the beginning and the end which went on and on. First the starving and hard work, then at the end the alcoholism and the trial. In between the Flash of Eden. He was smothered with affection and sex. He was very popular and that was reassuring to someone who just learned to sing.
What did fame mean to him and when did it stop becoming fun for him?
Paul: When he was expected to create the same magic over and over, getting more drunk and crazy at the same time. I think he finally understood that he was imitating himself. The audience wanted him to go insane every night he performed.
Almost no one around Jim got his drinking (as you explained in Flash of Eden) as a quest to get to the core of the unconscious mind. It was ‘infringing on their music and business life’. Would you say this was true from the very beginning or only when The Doors started to make money and become public figures?
Paul: Jim didn’t drink in the beginning. The Doors first managers Asher and Dan accompanied Jim before the concerts and I think they taught him how to drink to calm himself down before the shows. Toward the end of The Doors’ lifetime Jim had become an alcoholic and this caused him to infringe on everything.
Did you ever see Jim doing heroin?
Paul: During my time with Jim and the Doors I never saw any heroin use.
Was happiness something that eluded Jim Morrison?
Paul: I think he looks happy, as happy as he could, in many of our photos. He looked happy in Paris with Pam just before he died.
Was Morrison a spiritual person? Where did he find inspiration?
Paul: I would say he was less spiritual than he was a dark poet willing to find the church of his soul on his own.
Do you think he really considered himself a shaman?
Paul: No I don’t think he thought about it as much as he just lived it.
What was the most profound thing he ever said to you?
Paul: He once said he was afraid of a meatball falling from the sky and hitting him in the head.