My last morning in Paris.
I took the metro down to Père
Lachaise. It was late in the morning, but my flight didn't leave until
early the next morning. I planned on spending the night in the airport,
not only to save a hostel fee but also because the metro wasn't up and
going until early in the morning, and it would be bad to miss my flight-
though I thought about it.
I threw my luggage into the storage
closet at the hostel, and took off on foot with the iPod Abe gave me and
a few Euroes, enough for a bite to eat and a handful of metro trips.
I arrived to the Cemetery, I used a map my sister printed out for me
with circled people, or resting places, of interest. There really was
only one person I was there to see. Jim.
It is a morbid pursuit
to visit the graves of those among the dead who inspire you. There were
three graves I put on my short list when I was 20: Ella Fitzgerald, Jim
Morrison and James Baldwin. It hasn’t really changed in almost 15 years.
2002, I visited the grave of Ella Fitzgerald with my fiance at the
time. It was a little anti-climatic. She was in a the Sunset Memorial
Garden Mausoleum in Inglewood. Surrounded by marble walls and a few
drifting strangers, I found her in a drawer on a wall. I brought a
flower for her and took a moment to tell her how her music carried me.
In my big move from home, Washington state to Orange County, she was all
Somewhere behind that wall, whatever was left of the greatest voice on the planet, was rotting, legless, inside a tomb.
"Man, woman, or child, Ella is the greatest." -Bing Crosby
deeper question is, if we have spirits, would she hear my prayer to
her, and if she did, would it matter? Does it need to matter to her? I
never knew her. I never felt her, embraced her, spoke to her. She was
just a voice I found on a soundtrack once, and it led to one CD then
another, then three more, then everything I could find.
I want to
say there was a great satisfaction in finding her and speaking to her
flesh, suspended three feet off the ground. I can't say there was. We
are always looking to connect to greatness, whether it be to acknowledge
it changed us for the better or to become a part of it ourselves.
Whoever Ella Fitzgerald was on this planet, during that time, she is gone now.
"Midnight to Paris", Woody Allen creates the ultimate fantasy scenario
of a writer going back in time to meet artists he loved in Paris. He
brushes elbows with greatness, but the most influential person he meets
is his muse, a beautiful woman who mingled with artists, was the lover
to many, but is otherwise anonymous in the folds of history. She herself
doesn't exist in his time, and he has to let her go in the shadowed
corridors of time.
When you commune with the dead, you have to rely on faith and mysticism.
As much as I love Ella, my love affair with her is only half in time as the one I carry with Jim.
moment I saw him on television at 12, he ignited a kind of fascination.
When I was 14, I listened to a whole album of "The Doors" for the first
time while laying on my parents living room floor, wasting time to
avoid a block party. When I listened to “The End” for the first time, my
eyes were closed and my head was spinning on our off-white carpet in a
sterile, manufactured home in Vancouver, Washington.
last chord erupted and the tape popped off the play button with a
plastic 'clack', I opened my eyes and knew the music got inside of me in
a way nothing had before. Few things reach you on a holy plane, some
people might describe their relationship with Jesus or the birth of a
child. When I fall in love, and a boy buzzes around my mind, violently
fluttering in memories despite any reason or restraint, I say to myself,
"The boy got inside of me."
When I was 14, there on my parents'
floor, Jim got inside of me. And unlike the boys I have fallen in and
out of love with over the years, there he remains.
(I always love finding images of him smiling, it is a beautiful smile, isn't it?)
give myself breaks from the music, to keep sane. I force myself to go
on fasts and sometimes fall in love with other music, like the Rolling
Stones, Guns N' Roses, Janis Joplin, Nirvana, Bob Dylan or Fiona Apple.
Like a jealous lover, in a bar or on the radio, Jim will find me again
to remind me of our commitment. And I fall all over again.
last 20 years, for a girl who drifted from her family and can't hold on
to a lover, his voice has grown to become the most familiar, over any
anyone else in the flesh.
"Music is your only friend, until the end."
I pranced into the cemetery with a map in hand. My family warned me
that his grave was difficult to find, so when I walked in, I said aloud,
"Ok, Jim, guide me."
Père Lachaise is a very old cemetery, and
has walls built around it, enclosing all the stones and bodies in a
sacred circle. Tall stones, flat stones, grandiose tombs, spectacular
sculptures, names worn down by time and weather with fresh and dying
flowers, they all reach above the ground like a hand grasping for life.
a matter of minutes, I knew I was close to him. Searching for people, I
saw a few heads gathered together over a few tombs to my right- so I
headed over and immediately saw him. The bust was stolen, I am told.
Now, the poor dead guy in the small tomb next to him has to take the
brunt of it, advertising handwritten love notes to Jim and Doors song
crowded around a waist high fence that blocked him from us. They took
pictures, smiling at the camera, holding a lighter or posing like they
are on the face of a postcard. I found that to be somewhat nauseating.
That is a dead person, not a landmark.
His grave had a few
flowers, a porcelain angel on top, laying on its belly, with its face in
its hands. It seemed bare compared to the photos on the internet.
Jim’s dad engraved a stone that reads: “ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟY or "true to his own spirit".
stood around, chatted in various languages, drifted in and out. I
waited. I was going to climb that fence and give him my present; a brief
love note folded over two flowers I plucked from the heart of Paris.
A guy stood off to the side, we spoke a little.
I said, "This is a little disappointing. I was hoping to have a personal moment."
He said, "I know . . . I came from his apartment in Paris. It's not far from here, you know where Beautreillis is?"
I said, "I think so, its a stop on the metro, right?"
He said, "Yeah, just get off there. Its on Rue Beautreillis (he took out his iPhone and showed me a photo)"
is his window where he died. And (scrolling) here is the pub across the
street. Once you see that, you know you are there."
I thought about it, but was not sure I needed to go there.
said goodbye, and I moved around the front of the gate to sit down on a
swollen tree root reaching under the foot of the fence. The tree was
proudly bound in more notes for Jim, pictures glued on of his face, more
song lyrics. I pulled out the iPod and played "The Severed Garden".
Then I just sat there.
wondered where Pam Courson was. Turns out, she is still buried in Santa
Ana because no one worked hard enough on getting the right paperwork
filed to transport her body back to her lover. Assholes.
As people left, more people came. There was never a moment alone, and I grew irritated.
An American guy with carob skin and a baseball hat stood in front of me, looked down and smiled, "Are you listening to Jim?"
I forced a smile and nodded.
He pulled out a beer and popped it open. He took two swigs and then offered it down to me. I nodded and took two swigs myself.
"The End" came on.
handed the beer back to him and said, "This is a bummer, man. I can't
be alone with my dead boyfriend. I have a note to give him."
He said, "Yeah, lots of people. You are going to have to hop the fence."
I said, "I know, I was waiting, but there is always someone here."
He shrugged his shoulders. His girlfriend was standing behind us, obviously not a fan.
After a few minutes, he shook my hand and left.
"LA Woman" came on.
I sat there and waited longer.
heart was beating. A little golf cart with the groundskeepers whizzed
by. Could they arrest me for jumping the fence? People must do it all
the time. I wished I had woken up earlier so I could have been there and
talked to him.
Several people drifted away, and all that was
left was a young Russian couple. So I slowly hoisted my foot up and
stepped over the fence with ease. My legs are so long, it was no
obstacle. I felt the couple staring at me as I dropped my note on the
bed in front of his tombstone, I kissed my hand and laid it on the cold
stone, then stepped back over and walked away.
I won't say that I felt Jim. I wish I could say I did. He wasn't there.
"L'America" came on.
song starts with Jim hissing like a lizard and then has a great chord
progression that sweeps up your heart and brings it to a march. I know
it well, and started dancing . . . in a cemetery.
I skipped over the cobble stone and winding curbs, singing.
♫♪ C'mon people, don't ya look so down
You know the rain man's comin' ta town
Change the weather, change your luck
And then he'll teach ya how ta...find yourself
few people looked at me strangely, but I couldn't stop my feet from
hopping and jumping up and down the narrow walkways. Whatever life
stirred among the empty bodies of all those artists shook from the
ground, through my tattered feet and up my legs. I spun towards the end
of the song, losing my breath, "♫♪ L'America L'America L'America L'America L'America L'America ♫♪".
let the playlist Abe created for me play on, and kept my headphones in,
only taking them out for the occasional tourist looking for Jim's
grave. I directed them, and danced on.
The sky was overcast, but
it was warm. Everyone there fought through English to help each other
find someone they were looking for, or act as a guide. We were all there
for the same reason, and over us a blanket of respect, all the mourners
and fans, one in the same really.
The next grave on my list was
Chopin. It was hard finding him, since he was on the cusp of a
complicated round-about. When I was near, I saw more people crowded
around, and a stone filled with fresh flowers. A woman sat next to him,
holding her head in her hands. My father told me he receives fresh
flowers on his grave everyday.
I walked up to the stone and whispered, "Thank you."
Then, I danced on.
skipped around the edge of the cemetery, and after someone volunteered
to help me, I found Oscar Wilde. His tomb was elaborate, white with a
winged, Egyptian creature overhead. Around it was a tall glass wall with
lipstick kisses and cute, witty messages all over it. You see all those
kisses, and smile. How wonderful to be a writer, a gay male writer, and
have millions of kisses from women all over the world and time pressed
forever on your final pillow.
few people had a band-aid stuck to the wall with a message drawn on the
fleshy plastic. My mother packed a handful of band-aids in my bag, so I
pulled out one, wrote a profession of love, put on a thick coat of
lipstick and kissed it. (I wasn't compelled to kiss a dirty glass wall
in the middle of Paris) I stuck the band-aid on the wall, leaned back
(not featured below for anonymity)
A Russian looked at my purple socks in leopard skin converse and said, in broken English, "Nice shoes."
I said, "Thanks!"
"Crawling King" came on.
for a few other writers, I grew exhausted. Walking on the cobble stone,
you constantly correct your footing, so my ankles ached. I tried to
stay on the smooth upside of the curbs, railing the pathway. It was
getting to be the middle of the day, and the free bread roll I was given
for breakfast was burning into ash. I gave up looking for Proust and
On my way backward, I found Gertrude Stein. No one was there.
sat down next to her to rest my feet. Little notes, some dusty and
deteriorating, others fresh from someone's notebook, were folded around
her headstone and weighted down by pebbles. I took out my notebook and
stared at a blank page.
up at her I said, "If I were to write something, it would feel a bit
forced. Maybe its better that I just sit here for a while."
with Gertrude Stein, I felt something. There was a warmth, comfort,
encouragement. I put my hand on the stone, and through the cool,
polished stone, I felt her say, "Keep writing." I smiled and felt my
eyes fill with saltwater, the saltwater saved for Jim.
The artist I was most unfamiliar with, was the one who offered an appearance.
couple saw me and walked towards me. The woman said, “Oh, Gertrude
Stein.” I got up to leave, but felt grateful, and I hope she felt it,
"Roadhouse Blues" came on.
I danced back to Jim's
grave to say goodbye. People were crowded around, someone teetering atop
someone else's gravestone to get a better look. Another person was
climbing back over the fence after dropping off a small bottle of
whiskey. It is truly amazing that these artists always had someone
visiting them at every minute of the day. What influence to reach all
these people, many, if not all, were born after their death.
checked to see if my note was still there. It was. No stone was weighing
it down, and the wind was picking up, so it could blow away at any
moment. Maybe a stranger would find it and read it, wondering where or
to whom it belongs. What if it rained and destroyed it? Does someone
come by and pick up all the notes, and if so, what do they do with them?
Do they read them?
I knew Robby and Ray (of the Doors) were
coming by in July to visit him on the anniversary of his death. Maybe
they collect the notes and read them.
Jim wasn't there. So did it
matter if he got my handwritten note, made on milled wood and carved on
with ink? Probably not. Deep down inside, I want him to know how much
he means to me. That is a mortal impediment, to need to communicate the
self to the universe for acknowledgement. We are only ourselves, as one
entity, for this one fleeting moment. Then we are absorbed into the
unknown, marrying other energies or fragmenting into many more.
"WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" came on.
"Out here in the perimeter, there are no stars. Out here, we is stoned ... immaculate."
There are many of you out there who feel his poetry and lyricism are pedestrian, because he is a rock star.
can tell you as someone who learned all of his lyrics before college,
there is profound reference to history and symbolism I realized only in
my higher education, sitting in class, reading or hearing what he is
actually singing about.
I know there are some who will say he is a
self-destructive alcoholic, drug addict, and a womanizer. It took me a
bottle of wine to write this blog, just so I could quiet voices. Some
from the animals being slaughtered for food, or in animal shelters,
their pictures posted on my Facebook feed. Or to dampen the screams of
those killed in a movie theater during the Batman shootings of Aurora,
Colorado. Or to hide the images of the boy I love, now, halfway across
the country, who is on a camping trip and undeniably having intercourse
with any woman who tempts him. So I ask you, reader, how do you do
anything while opening your mind without silencing those voices using a
substance? I would love to know.
I don't consider myself an
addict because when I wake up, I might be able to forget about the world
long enough to walk my dogs or serve plates of bland, expensive food to
the wealthy, but not when I lift the window in my mind to write, the
same window that lets the Muse whirl in with the world clutching on her
coattails, I can’t screen any of it out. So maybe I relate to Jim.
I left him sleeping.
I wrote my little prayer, I had to let it go. That is the very nature
of prayers anyway, you say it, lift it to the skies, and hope it's
My prayer, you may wonder, said:
"Jim, thank you for showing me the magic. Love . . ."