Interview: Author, Teacher, and Morrison Classmate Elizabeth Buckner

Elizabeth Buckner seems to have escaped most of Jim Morrison’s biographers. She knew Morrison at UCLA when both were students, and her story of her friend isn’t filled with heavy rock ‘n’ roll legend or myth. Instead the Jim Morrison she knew is more nuanced. I had a chance to speak with Buckner recently about Jim Morrison and her poetry, so here’s Elizabeth Buckner in her own words.

DE: How did you meet Jim Morrison?

Elizabeth Buckner: We met in the art library of UCLA. We were at UCLA together. I was not in the film school, I was a history major. I was working in the art library, which was a very small little bungalow building, and this guy came in and he kept asking to check out this reference book on Hieronymus Bosch, and I got intrigued with him. He interested me, so one day I let him steal the book, and that’s how we became friends. He kept coming in. I don’t know if it was day after day, or week after week, but because it was a reference book he couldn’t take it out of the library. It was a great big huge book with reproductions of Bosch’s work.

DE: How did your relationship with Jim develop?

Elizabeth Buckner: We were friends, he had a girlfriend (Mary Werbelow) and I had a boyfriend (Max Schwartz), who was in the movie, I’m sure you saw, you know this movie “Hyacinth” (see related articles below). He (Max), was my boyfriend, I introduced Jim to Max and we were friends. Jim was like my brother in a way. We were very close for about 2 years, we did a lot of things together. We did what young people do, we went to movies, we went to the beach, we went to parties, not too many parties. I loved his mind, he was so bright. I’m a sucker for a good mind with a little excitement on the side. Jim intrigued me because he was different. His girlfriend at the time, Mary, he called me big Mary, she was smaller, I’m kind of tall. He actually called me lizard which is from Elizabeth. We were really close friends for 1964, 1965, and 1966. We parted ways when he became famous, when he was on the road to fame and infamy. I only know him from that earlier period of time.

DE: You were in Jim’s student film “First Love” how was the experience?

Elizabeth Buckner: I barely remember, how many years ago was this? I just remember that I was not with my boyfriend, Max. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, I was hesitant at first because Max and I had had a bad break-up and I did not want to be anywhere near him. Jim assured me that we would not be in any scenes together, and he kept his word.

I don’t remember Jim’s directorial style, ability or anything I just did it. I didn’t think it took very long. I think it must have been in the fall of 1964. We have to do historical landmarks, 1963 Kennedy was assassinated and I don’t think Jim was at UCLA then.

DE: Were you interested in poetry at UCLA?

Elizabeth Buckner: Yes I was. Something told me that I should be a writer of that genre when I was 16. But I just ran away from it. I took poetry classes, I was a U.S. History major and an American Literature minor. I took poetry, I took Jack Hirschman’s class. Are you familiar with him?

DE: He was a beat poet?

Elizabeth Buckner: I don’t think so. He was from San Francisco and he taught poetry at UCLA until they fired him (Ed: for encouraging students to resist the draft). And we all took his class, maybe because of Jim. One day Jim came to me and asked, “can you type these poems for me?“ He wanted to enter this poetry contest, and I said yes, he was my friend. He entered the contest and didn’t win.

DE: Your book of poems “Naked Lady” revolves around one of the most traumatic of human experiences. Was the writing of the book cathartic?

Elizabeth Buckner: I would prefer to use the words healing and transformational instead of cathartic. When I was 50, I’ll be 72 in December, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and I had it removed . How would you feel if you were told you have a brain tumor? I was scared when I woke up because I was never sure I was going to survive the surgery. Afterwards, I said “gee, what did I almost not get to do here? Why was I brought here?” And I realized I was supposed to write. I was interested in poetry. I was pretty messed up for quite a while and I was getting my life together and I’d started writing things and this incident kept getting in the way. It would take over and so I said “ok, I have to write it” and that seems to be the writing path the forces have put me on in this life. You want to know about what my new book is about?

DE: Sure, is it a memoir or a book of poems?

Elizabeth Buckner: It’s a poetic memoir. It covers more of the topography in it. It is a book of poems about the subject of mind altering substances.

DE: I don’t know if you consider “Naked Lady” as individual poems or a narrative?

Elizabeth Buckner: It’s a story I tell people to read from beginning to the end. I really can’t read them individually. It’s a story in verse. It’s not a story, it’s an incident.

DE: One of the poems explores the incident from the perspective of one of your attackers. Why did you choose to explore that aspect?

Elizabeth Buckner: Because I had to write it, it wouldn’t let me go. I wanted to understand the incident from all perspectives, including his. You used the word catharsis, that is part of it. I had to transform for that. I buried it for 20 years, I was angry, I was really angry and I didn’t want to live my life in anger, so I decided to look at it from different points of view. Have you seen the film Rashomon?

DE: I haven’t seen it but I know of it.

Elizabeth Buckner: Rashomon is a famous classic, Japanese film. I love film and theater. It is about a story as seen by four different people. Because nobody sees it the same way, right?

DE: Yes.

Elizabeth Buckner: So then I felt let me look at this because I want to understand what happens here and I got through it.

DE: That’s good. When you are writing poetry do you have a philosophical approach to it, or is it just inspirational?

Elizabeth Buckner: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question. I would have to say I am inspired. The best way to answer that is that I have to write what my muse, otherwise known as Word Woman, tells me to write. I don’t have a philosophical approach. I don’t have a Masters in creative writing. I am motivated by the muse and I know that writers should sit down every day whether they have anything to say or not. That isn’t my style. I can’t do that.

DE: When you were back at UCLA with Jim, did you guys talk about poetry?

Elizabeth Buckner: Yes, we did. I wish I would have known he was going to be famous, I would have made notes or something. I recently contacted someone who was in film school with him through a friend. A couple of years ago, when this all started, he wrote back and said, no, you know who knew? We weren’t paying attention, you know? Who knew he was going to be famous? I would have paid more attention to him if I thought he was going to be this famous. Anyway, he talked a lot about philosophy. He had a library. He was interested in philosophy. He was interested in everything. You know UCLA film school was new and avant-garde and encouraging the students to see foreign films, so we used to get Mexican food and go to these foreign film theaters and watch movies. According to someone who I met in the last couple of years, she is an actor who went through USC film school theater department, they train people to work in Hollywood. UCLA is more avant-garde. We used to go to foreign films. We used to smoke a lot of pot. How do you remember what’s going on when you’re smoking pot? Max was a photographer; he became a poet after he heard Michael McClure read. Another friend of ours was a poet. We were writing. I don’t really remember what Jim and I talked about. You know I really wish I could, but I don’t. I was fascinated with his life.

DE: At the end of your book you mention Jim Morrison in his persona as a rock singer. What did you think of his career being in rock music?

Elizabeth Buckner: Well, I don’t think I appreciated their music then. He really went into some place. He was different than the person I knew, which of course would happen. He matured and got into the world of music and fame. I didn’t really follow their music. I was in San Francisco. They came there a few times, but I was on a different path. So I’m coming to appreciate it now more than I ever did then. I wasn’t a follower of theirs. I can only speak for the period of time that I knew him.

DE: Is there anything that Doors fans miss or aren’t getting from the Jim Morrison you knew?

Elizabeth Buckner: Yes, he was my friend. He was a wonderful. . .he was a true friend. Only one time did I ever have an experience with him that was a little scary and that was. . .we were probably on acid. We went to Pacific Ocean Park, a famous attraction with a roller coaster. I don’t like to be scared like that. I have the fear of heights and he talked me into going on the roller coaster and it scared me. He talked me into going on it twice. He watched me the whole time because I was so frightened. That’s the only time he ever did anything that was a little, I don’t know what. . .a little diabolical to me. Otherwise, he was a very gentle friend. We were never lovers. He was just my friend. I miss him. I miss him a lot.

DE: Thank you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Buckner is expecting to publish her second volume of poetry, “Spirits” in the near future. We will let you know when that becomes available. If you would like to read my review of “Naked Lady” and/or purchase a copy it is available at Amazon.

I’d like to thank Mr. Rod Pitman for connecting me with Ms. Buckner.

Originally published January 2, 2015

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