December 9, 1967: Jim Morrison Arrested in New Haven, CT

Jim Morrison Arrested in New Haven
Jim Morrison meets the New Haven Police Department

Concatenation. A series of events that leads from one to another, the cosmic clicking of kinetic balls that, in retrospect, seem inexorable and inevitable. Arguably, that’s what lead up to the events in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 9, 1967.

The first ball was set rolling the night before the New Haven show, in Troy, New York on Jim Morrison’s 24th birthday. By all accounts, the Troy show was terrible. First, Morrison missed a plane and ended up taking a limo to the show. The audience was unresponsive, Morrison couldn’t get the audience interested in the songs, and at one point he said, “if this is Troy then I’m with the Greeks” (probably one of the most erudite things a rock star has said from the stage). After The Doors’ set there were no calls for an encore. Depressed that the show had bombed, instead of taking a plane to New Haven for the next night’s show, Morrison insisted on being driven down in the limousine.

The next ball went in motion at the New Haven Arena. Morrison had picked up a coed from Connecticut State University, and Morrison had found a shower for privacy for them to “talk.”  While they were in there, a cop who had been assigned to the security detail discovered Morrison and the girl and ordered them out of the stall. In the face of authority Morrison grabbed his crotch and told the cop to “eat it!” The cop then pulled a can of mace from his belt and told Morrison it was his last chance, whereupon Morrison said: “last chance to eat it!” The cop maced Morrison which sent him out into the dressing room screaming. After Morrison’s eyes were flushed out and he had recovered, the cop still wanted to arrest him, but the entreaties of The Doors manager Bill Siddons prevailed, and the cop and Morrison apologized to each other. The incident was forgiven and forgotten, seemingly.

The Doors went on and the show seemed a typical Doors show with a set that included “Five to One,” “Unhappy Girl,” “People Are Strange,” and “Break on Through.” Then came “When the Music’s Over.” “When the Music’s Over,” like “The End,” was one of The Doors’ “theatre pieces” that included long instrumental sections where Morrison could and usually did improvise or throw in fragments of his poetry. Then in perfect time to the music Morrison started relating the night’s events starting with “I want to tell you about something that happened just two minutes ago right here in New Haven… this is New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America?” and then he told how the cop had maced him and how he was blinded for about thirty minutes (one picture of the night shows Morrison coming from backstage, his eyes red and watery). Then he yelled “the whole fucking world hates me!”

Then the band and Morrison pounded back into the song. It was about thirty seconds before the lights in the auditorium went on and Morrison asked why the lights were on and he asked the audience if they wanted more. The answer was a resounding “YES!” at which point Morrison demanded the lights be turned off. It was then that Ray Manzarek got up and went over to Morrison and told him the cops were getting upset, but Morrison kept up the chant of “turn off the lights!”

At that point the police decided to arrest Morrison for disturbing the peace. A Lieutenant Kelly of the New Haven police approached Morrison on stage, and in one of the most defiant, iconic moments and images of rock ‘n’ roll history Morrison thrust the microphone into the face of Kelly and said, “say your thing, man!” Kelly then grabbed the microphone and other police officers grabbed Morrison, dragged him offstage and arrested him. On the way to the police station Morrison was roughed up, and the cops beat him for “resisting arrest.” The police also arrested a photographer from Life magazine (for taking a picture of a cop roughing up a teenager), and a reporter for the Village Voice. When the arrest was reported the account was sympathetic to Morrison and The Doors.

Morrison Arrested in New Haven
“Say your thing, man!”

The New Haven incident made Jim Morrison the first rock star arrested onstage, but the arrest of Jim Morrison wasn’t the first time the New Haven Police Department faced charges of using excessive force. Two weeks before Jim’s arrest they were accused of using excessive force during an anti-war demonstration. In the irony department (or maybe not, maybe somebody was making a statement) the site of the New Haven Coliseum is now the headquarters of the New Haven division of the FBI. All charges stemming from Jim Morrison’s arrest in New Haven were later dropped.

Originally published December 9, 2013, and appears in “The Doors Examined”.

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