March 1, 1969: The Dinner Key Auditorium. It’s clear that Jim Morrison wanted to alter the equation of The Doors, but whether the intent was to end the band or just return it to his and Ray Manzarek’s original vision of a blend of music, poetry and theatre isn’t clear. The message was further muddled by Morrison getting roaring drunk on his way to Miami.
Pam Courson was supposed to come with Morrison to Miami, because prior to embarking on their spring tour, the band had booked a Jamaican vacation beginning March 2. But Morrison and Courson got into a fight before leaving Los Angeles and Morrison told her he didn’t want her to go. Jim got to the airport late, booked another flight to Miami, and then went to the airport bar and started to drink. He continued drinking on the plane, and in a stopover in New Orleans Morrison missed another flight because he was in the bar. Again, another flight was booked, and Jim continued to drink. He would arrive in Miami late, and hammered.
Edited recording of the Miami concert (not safe for work):
The conditions of the concert itself may have also contributed to the chaos. The Dinner Key Auditorium was an old airplane hangar converted to a concert hall. The Doors had sold out the show and agreed to a flat fee of $25,000 instead of their usual 60% of the tickets sold. When they arrived they discovered that the promoter had torn out the seats and sold seven thousand more tickets. When The Doors threatened not to play, the promoters threatened to keep their equipment (when The Doors arrived in Miami with the equipment they had let the promoters load the equipment into their truck). By the time Morrison had arrived, the auditorium was sweltering and the audience was surly and in a raucous and confrontational mood. Jim Morrison then attempted to do The Doors’ version of “Paradise Now!”
Full recording of the Miami concert (not safe for work):
The week before the Miami show, Jim Morrison attended all the performances of The Living Theatre, one of which was “Paradise Now!” The Living Theatre was an experimental theatre group dedicated to bringing controversial plays to the stage and (often) getting arrested. “Paradise Now!” was a prolonged taunt to the audience to shock them out of their lethargy and break down the psychic defenses that people erect. This was accomplished by shouting slogans at them such as “I’m not free! I can’t smoke pot!“ and “I’m not allowed to take off my clothes!” The performers would then disrobe and break the “fourth wall” leaving the stage and confronting the audience in their seats. This is the outline Morrison would use in Miami, complete with the slogans and provocations.
In the recordings of the Miami concert you can hear Jim exhorting and hectoring the audience, telling them, “There are no rules, it’s your concert” and they could do whatever they wanted. He challenged them saying, “You’re all a bunch of f**kin’ idiots!” Morrison asked them how long they’re going to take it, and called them slaves and asked what were they going to do about it. Then he encouraged the audience to take off their clothes and led by example, taking off his shirt. Then he started asking the audience what they were there for. Did they want to see a good band play or were they there for something else?
At which point Morrison started fiddling with his pants. Ray, seeing what Jim was about to do, yelled at The Doors’ road manager Vince Treanor to stop him. Treanor went up behind Morrison and hitched up his leather pants so Morrison couldn’t unbutton them. At this point the concert imploded. Fans rushed the stage, security people tried to clear the stage by throwing kids off of it, and finally the stage collapsed and the band had to abandon it. All the while Jim was in the audience singing, leading a conga line of kids, before disappearing up into the rafters of The Dinner Key Auditorium.
Despite all that happened during the show, none of the police present tried to arrest Morrison afterwards. In fact, it has been noted the police were joking and drinking beer with the band members after the show. The crowd seemed pleased, because after all, the fun of going to a Doors show was to see if Jim Morrison would wreck the place. It was in the week after the show that stories of Jim Morrison exposing himself circulated around Miami and newspapers and TV editorials expressed outrage over the “lewd behavior.” Soon the political mood demanded a scapegoat.
Five days after the show, charges were filed against Morrison for lewd and lascivious behavior (a felony), and misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure (despite the fact that no pictures of Morrison exposing himself have ever been produced), public profanity, and public drunkenness. The fallout would put The Doors’ future in jeopardy.
Originally published February 29, 2016. An earlier version of this article appears in “The Doors Examined”.