Sunday, June 27, 2010

In the House of Light My Fire

I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer. The future is uncertain and the end is always near. Jim Morrison.
By Mark A. York

And he did that and other things while living in this Laurel Canyon house, now on the market. When I heard the story on the 95.5 KLOS Los Angeles Mark and Brian Show last week, I knew where I'd be on Saturday afternoon. I flowed with a steady stream of cars down Laurel Canyon that moved at a frantic clip, and it seemed as if they all were late for an important date. Alas, I was in the mood for poking around, but poking space was in short supply in Laurel Canyon. Nevertheless, I went with the procession toward Hollywood, and after a death-defying ordeal of a left turn at Canyon Country Store and Kirkwood, there it was, dead ahead: 8021 Rothdell Trail, known in The Doors lyrics as Love Street : Jim Morrison's house.
She lives on Love Street
Lingers long on Love Street
She has a house and garden
I would like to see what happens
It's the only house in view with a bell tower complete with bell. Nice touch. I worried about parking, but the whole street behind the store was available. That in itself is amazing on a Saturday afternoon in LA. I parked, took out my iPhone and popped a shot of the street. For all practical purposes, this is downtown Laurel Canyon Village. I had the sense that in his day Morrison was the unofficial mayor.
The gated door of the narrow courtyard was open, so I walked in. From there, I had to climb a set of perimeter tile stairs and then ascended to the lair. No just walking in the front door around here. Voices and rustling came from above. The entrance at the top of the stairs had the feel of a mountain cabin.  Inside, I passed a small bedroom off the hall, which opened into an open living room with exposed timbers and a wall made of round, light grey stones. The realtors, Chris and Sandy Carlson, had bottles of water and a tray of oatmeal cookies arranged on a wooden gothic table, not present during Morrison's tenure in the late '60s at the height of his Doors fame. The interior wall featured a gothic arch.
I took in the feel of the house, as I always do when I enter a place of historical significance. Mr. Carlson, with longish gray hair and a goatee reminiscent of General Custer or one of the Three Musketeers, turned around to find me standing there.
"You snuck up on us," he said.
"I couldn't pass up an opportunity like this," I said, and smiled. This was a Rock and Roll realtor.
"We're glad you came," he said.
"Do you know about the house?" Mrs. Carlson asked, busy with arrangements at the table.
"I did some research."
"Well, have a cookie and some water and we'll take the tour." I declined the cookie and grabbed a bottle of water.
"I'll have one too," he said.
Mr. Carlson led me back the way I came in to show the rooms; laundry, bathroom, bedroom and modernized kitchen nook that contained no cooking smells. Back in the main room in the far right corner hung an art deco print of Morrison. Thus far I hadn't seen anything signed by him, but the current owner made the house into a rock museum in its own right, with vintage Beatles posters, too. Despite the recent remodeling, it was still very true to the period.
He led me to a balcony overlooking the Canyon Country Store and busy boulevard. "Listen. It's quiet here. This is as noisy as it gets."
Strange but true. The traffic noise dissipated to a barely audible white noise. A fresh breeze brought cool air into the house.
"You know the feature everyone wants to see," I said.
"Oh yes, and we'll get to it." Excellent. The hidden shower.
Downstairs to the right, past the bathroom, a small bedroom opened on the hall side. "There used to be a totem pole carved with rock and roll figures including Morrison and ending with, I believe, John Lennon," Carlson said. "So it must have been after 1980, which was the year of Lennon's death. They donated it to the rock and roll hall of fame and framed in the open column with the additional bedroom.”
In the master bedroom, two framed documents hung on the wall. "They came with the place," he said.
I went straight to them. The papers were both handwritten and typed receipts for songs from the album, "Waiting For the Sun," including “Love Street,” listing what they cost to produce into a salable product. Nice. Written presumably by Morrison, but still no signature.
"That's excellent," I said. Very nice provenance. From there it was back to the bathroom, now with a large enclosed and tiled shower and glass door. In the back of the bathroom, a sink vanity lined the wall. Over the counter to the left was a medicine cabinet in the wall.
"Here it is," he said, pulling the cabinet out of the wall and setting it on the counter. "Morrison's shower perfectly preserved."
I peered into the tiny green tiled enclosure. "That's some small shower."
Chris Carlson nodded. "You have to really bend over to get wet."
The nozzle was chest high on me at five-feet-eight. This thing was a Houdini box.
"Can I take pictures?"
With my iPhone I snapped a shot of the three walls of the enclosure that contained writing from a black magic marker. From my vantage point, leaning over the vanity, only two were legible. On the left side in large block letters were the words “Doors Live,” the first above the other. Tiles were missing from most of that wall.
"What happened to most of the tiles?" I asked.
"The former owner gave them to the surviving members of The Doors as gifts." It would be nice to know what those tiles said.
An elderly lady joined us on the tour, so I stepped aside with my evidence captured on the phone. Score one for Rock journalism. The lady knew Mr. Carlson.
She looked into the cubby hole. "Do people usually write on shower walls?" she asked, seeming both amused and puzzled by one of the few cases where the walls actually could talk.
"Well, they get an idea in the shower and just scribble something down," he said.

I nodded. Creativity happens when and where it happens, and singing in the shower is legendary, so why not poetry? We adjourned to the living room upstairs, then I went outside to inspect the garden patio area. I could almost feel the presence of the rock legends who must have gathered here for boozy get togethers, pot smoke wafting into the cool soft breeze blowing over the Hollywood Hills. The air on this late June afternoon smelled fresh and clean, not typical of LA.
The garden terrace led to a small set of steps up to another tiled terrace with an outdoor shower, and due to the location of large trees, it was blocked from the neighbors’ view, yet it was out in the open. Hard to beat that. In Morrison's time a rock wall blocked off a recent addition of land acquired from an adjacent house on Rothdell Trail. I went back inside and chatted for a bit, thanking my gracious hosts. Mr. Carlson said that there may be a possible lease arrangement from The Doors, since next year is the fortieth anniversary of Morrison's death. They would use the house as a promotional tool.

"I think that's a great idea," I said. By rights it should have some form of historic site status, which could happen regardless of ownership. Possibly a shower tile reunion too. I'm all for preserving as much cultural history as we can. As with pristine natural areas, once it's gone, it's gone for good.
He said KLOS's Jim Ladd had an interview scheduled.                                                         KLOS Photo
In the end, Morrison left the band, the house and the country. He died in a Paris flat in 1971, in the bathtub, with a smile on his face that has puzzled many over the years. The best reports were that he had a bad night of drinking but dipped into his long time love Pamela Courson's heroin stash. He preferred to snort the drug because he feared needles, but that wasn't enough care, given the nature of the drug. That may account for his death, but the real reason for his smile was written on the shower wall in Courson’s hand at the house on Love Street.

On the back wall are the words:

I Love You



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Blogger Other Lisa said...

Should I ask what the list price is??

Nice evocative piece, but I really liked your Hemingway house one too. That might be a cool idea for a book -- essays about artists' houses...

1:03 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks. It was a spur of the moment thing. When in Rome and all that. 1.199 mil. Seems cheap considering the location and history.That's an idea, but I have novels out there too, still in the NY pipeline. That Hemingway piece garnered a pile of rejections. Good luck with yours. Has a good start at least.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for leading me to this by posting a link at Curbed LA -- in return, I'll share a link to Cynthia Fox' video tour of the place:

3:08 PM  
Blogger Sherrie Sarno-Bolen said...

What a neat piece Mark, I will link you to my blog. I have a deep love for all things JDM. Thanks for posting. Peace

12:39 AM  

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