October 9, 1970: Morrison Commissions Painting for Poetry Album

Jim Morrison, Kathy Lisciandro, Florentine Bapst
Jim Morrison, Kathy Lisciandro, and Florentine Bapst at Jim's poetry recording session, December 8, 1970

By October 9, 1970, The Doors were thinking about “L.A. Woman,” the last album they were contracted to do for Elektra Records. However, Jim Morrison was imagining a future past the release of the album. That future may have extended beyond The Doors and rock music as well, because for some time, Morrison had been planning to record and release a poetry album as a solo project. Morrison had already enlisted Elektra chief engineer John Haeny, and in The Doors’ office that day, Morrison started a correspondence with artist T.E. Breitenbach about creating the cover art for his poetry album.

In 1970 T.E. Breitenbach was a college student, in a band, and he was a Doors fan who liked Morrison’s surrealistic imagery. Breitenbach wrote Morrison a fan letter telling him he was an artist and offering to paint an album cover for The Doors.

Morrison must have immediately thought of his poetry album (in late March of ‘69 he had previously recorded some poems) and sent Breitenbach a letter describing an idea for a triptych that would include:

“The left panel depicting a radiant moon-lit beach and an endless stream of young naked couples running silently along the waters edge, on the beach a tiny infant grins at the universe and around its crib stand several ancient old people; the center — a modern city or metropolis of the future at noon, insane with activity; the last panel– a view through a car windshield at night on a long straight desert highway.”

Along with the letter, Morrison sent autographed copies of his self-published poetry chapbooks “The New Creatures” and “An American Prayer” with the promise that if Breitenbach came up with something in the next 4-5 months, “I’m sure I can use it.”

Breitenbach did indeed finish the triptych for Morrison and when he contacted The Doors’ office he was informed by secretary Kathy Lisciandro that Morrison was in Paris. Before Morrison left for Paris, on December 8, 1970 (Morrison’s 27th birthday), he went into Village Recorders studios with John Haeny who was to produce the poetry album. Morrison also signed a contract with Jac Holzman and Elektra Records on December 31, 1970. Haeny was supposed to fly to Paris in August of ‘71 to finish up the project with Morrison.

The T.E. Breitenbach Jim Morrison Triptych
The Jim Morrison Triptych, copyright T.E. Breitenbach

When the surviving Doors decided to remix Morrison’s poems from December 1970 into “An American Prayer,” they didn’t know that Morrison had commissioned a triptych from Breitenbach. The triptych and its genesis only came to light when Breitenbach contacted “Rolling Stone” founder Jann Wenner, who in turn forwarded the story on to Jerry Hopkins, author of the original manuscript of the Morrison biography “No One Here Gets Out Alive.”

T.E. Breitenbach went on to a successful career as a painter and illustrator as well as dabbling in film scores and acting. For more information on Breitenbach, his work, or the Jim Morrison Triptych, visit T.E. Breitenbach’s website.

Originally published October 9, 2014.

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