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Vietnam Generation Journal

Volume 4, Number 3-4

November 1992

Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.

Rock Star

Jim Morrison, Orem, UT

I've always been poked fun at because of my name. I thought it was a pretty good name but anyone that knows about the rock group The Doors immediately picks up on it. The recent movie about Jim Morrison and The Doors brought a new interest. People saying things like: "Jim Morrison, huh? Did you used to sing with The Doors?"

People would remember me because they remembered someone else. They remembered the mysterious young man with his strange lyrics. What an incredible rock band! In my humble opinion (although the name similarity may have some influence):

Jim Morrison was The Doors.

How many really remember the other members of the band? I suppose only those who really thrived on knowing such things, but everyone who knows The Doors, remembers Jim Morrison. If you guessed the band members were, "John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Jim," then you're out of luck. Just the simple act of writing or telling someone my name can change the mood of a conversation immediately. Once people knew my name they could always remember who I was. I wasn't the Jim Morrison, but once a Morrison always a Morrison, and vice versa. And neither shall the twain meet--I suppose. I only know my grandfather had the name--and as far as anyone knows--I am the last surviving member of the family with the name of Jim Morrison. I don't remember my name being special as far back as elementary school. I guess those years were okay especially since The Doors didn't exist then. I was just an awkward kid with an ordinary Scottish name. Some kids didn't like me or my name. There were some who knew about my grandparents coming from Scotland. They didn't like the "scotch-kid" so I didn't always fit in. One of the more obnoxious ones shouted things like:

"Well, here comes that More-ASS-on kid!" "Scotch kids eat shit for dinner!" "Better be careful More-ASS-on or we'll tape your ass-hole shut with Scotch tape!

Only trouble was I grew up in a hurry and soon had the height and strength to punch faces into tomato pulp. The kid who made fun of me so unmercifully flipped me the bird once while in the seventh grade. I practically forced him to eat the whole thing including fingernail, knuckles, and part of his hand.

All I really wanted to do was work on cars. I became the mechanic. Always under the hood. Always doing something. Taking things apart and putting them together again. Always tinkering in the auto shop. Understanding how a V-8 worked was a piece of cake. First V-8 I ever rebuilt was a Ford ThunderBird engine. I still consider it the best engine built. Other guys would razz me about how the Chevy or MoPars somehow were better. I wasn't fooled because I knew a good engine when I saw it. There was nothing better than a Ford engine running quiet and strong. They don't make them like that anymore. Seems such a shame too.

Barry and I double-dated a lot. Seemed to be more fun that way and we still managed to get in our fair share of necking. Barry always had his date in the back while I drove. I always did the driving. I always made the machine cruise with rock n' roll cranked up and the top down. That's the way I wanted it. Sometimes we knew the girls were along just for the car and the beer but then it didn't matter. Time was running out on us anyway. I guess we didn't realize how short or terrible life would soon get. I tell you these things for a reason. Certain people, places, or things mark you for life. Like a branding iron. The iron is hot--the fire sears the flesh but something good can result when the trauma ends. Maybe this isn't such a good comparison but how would a steer be proud of the Flying Bar brand tattooed on its hind-end? Well, the brand serves a good purpose especially if the steer gets lost. I don't know if you understand what I'm trying to say but certain brands in life can affect you. Even something like your own name.

Maybe if my mother had survived my birth she would have told my dad she didn't want her son named after his grandfather. But it wasn't meant to be. I was branded with a name that only reminded people of someone else. Maybe that's why rebuilding cars was so much fun. I had evidence of something real. Something I could feel with my hands and piece together like a puzzle. I could make the car start--make it move like something alive. I guess I wasn't like some other guys. I never thought of a car in the feminine form. Nope--in a sense my car was almost mystical. How it would sit there waiting for me outside the high school and never once fail to start. At times when this beast was cruising through the night it seemed like it drove itself. I did a lot of cruising with rock music cranked on the radio. I often thought Steppenwolf was talking about cruising in the song about the magic carpet ride. But the cruising didn't last long.

I managed to hit the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California about the time The Doors hit the radio airwaves lighting the night on fire. And long before Jim Morrison found eternity from an overdose so potent it could have killed three people. Later, I heard jeers and sneers about how there was no need to take Morrison to a mortuary for embalming. Surely there were enough drugs in his body to preserve him for a thousand years. Just put Mr. Mojo in the ground. I took it personal. My connection with him seemed forever broken. Jim Morrison was elevated to martyrdom while I just shared his name. His death left me feeling ordinary. Just Jim Morrison, not the Jim Morrison. When I would make a collect call home to dad the operator no longer fantasized she had talked to the Jim Morrison. She just helped some guy with the same name. The drill instructors meeting us at the bus late that night didn't give a crap about my name. Maybe I was disappointed a little.

"Hey! I'm Jim Morrison--you know--like in The Doors!"

Somehow I didn't think that would impress these guys while standing on well-worn yellow foot-prints painted on black-top. Big, burly men dressed in uniforms and smoky-the-bear hats were cursing and screaming at us.

Most of the time I was just called Private Morrison. That's what my name patch said: MORRISON. Nobody special--just a guy who was following in his best friend's footsteps. Just someone who was thinking he really didn't belong here. Nobody seemed to care I had the same name as the Jim Morrison. I couldn't very well tell the drill instructor it was time for me to leave in order to make it to some concert in L.A. He would probably lean back on his heels and say:

"Oh? the private doesn't like our lovely accommodations? Well, fuck the private."

Then he would probably start screaming at me.

"Fuck you, private! Fuck youuuuu!"

I guess that wouldn't have been such a good idea even if my name was Jim Morrison. You had to be careful what you said or else you would find your mouth stuffed full of M-14 rifle barrel with your sweaty finger grasping the trigger while a screaming voice begged you to pull the trigger.

There were only three ways a person could get out of this place. The choices were actually quite simple. You choices were to:

1) commit suicide, 2) freak out, or 3) endure to the end.

One thing became very clear though, if you wanted to commit suicide you better make sure you got it right the first time.

Our platoon had three drill instructors and you didn't dare call them DI. They would think the private was calling them a Damned Idiot. Then they would beat the crap out of the lowly private. The private learned very quickly he didn't use the word you in the presence of the Damn Idiots: They would say:

"Oh, the private is calling the drill instructor a ewe? Is the private calling the drill instructor a female sheep?"

Then they would beat the crap out of you (ewe).

And, of course, we all played the queer game. If a private didn't look straight ahead--if he flinched--the drill instructor would want to know if the private didn't like him. If the private said he liked the drill instructor, then the private was accused of being queer. If the private denied being queer then the drill instructor assumed the private didn't like him. And you guessed it--the private would get the crap beat out of you (ewe). Games--just silly, silly games. Drill instructors are sadistic. Two of our three Damned Idiots were blatant sadists. They probably wouldn't have thought twice about killing us when they got bored of giving us hell.

The third drill instructor was different. He was a Latino named LeRoux who recently returned from duty in Vietnam. He was tough. Well, he made a lot of noise to that effect. However, his eyes never could lock very long when he was screaming at us. He would break the connection and look somewhere in the distance. Almost as if he were remembering something else. As if he were preoccupied. As if he was afraid of training us to be men. As if he was frightened to turn us into Marines. I understood later what he was feeling. He was suffering emotionally. Suffering from what he had seen and done when he was across the pond. Across the large pond in jungle paradise. Later I recalled his look--a stare like a VACANCY sign. Nobody home. Just lost in thought and no way of getting out.

Some of us eventually unloaded our gear in South Vietnam. I often wished the Damned Idiots were with us so we could have had a first-class royal butt-kicking time. So we could see how they liked having the barrel of an M-16 stuck in their mouth. I realized those men were doing a hard, dirty job and never got appreciated for their efforts at trying to turn us into gung-ho Marines. I also decided they failed at their job. They tried to prepare us for what was going to happen. They tried to tell us what it was going to be like. But there was no way of really preparing us. No way at all.

I managed to keep my interest in auto mechanics to myself. There was a real possibility that I would have ended up at some motor pool tuning up jeeps. So I kept mum while taking all the crap they could dish out and finally was issued a brand new M-16. Actually, I enjoyed the M-14 a lot more during training. The rifle felt sure in my hands. Felt like it could cruise. Doesn't make sense--I know. The M-16 was another story. I was able to take that thing apart blind-folded, yet, it felt alien, like a serpent waiting to bite. Again--doesn't make sense. The rifle jammed sometimes when it was fired. Alive one minute and dead the next. I was mystified and scared good because using that rifle was like playing russian roulette. I feared that I was going to be the one who lost the game. I can't begin to tell you how frightening it is to walk along knowing the rifle in your hand may not fire when you need it. Or, if you are able to fire it might just stop--dead and silent in your hands. I couldn't seem to get a replacement no matter how I tried.

"This is the most modern weapon in the world corporal and it better be taken care of. Keep it fucking clean, corporal. No dirt--no shit."

I could make auto engines come to life but when that rifle quit there were just thoughts of an impromptu judgment day. I cleaned it until my fingers hurt.

Some of the others in Echo company finally picked up on my name.

"Well, well! If it isn't Jim Morrison in person! Light my fire baby!"

There was one PFC who didn't particularly like me. His name was Patterson but everyone called him 'Crazy-dog.' He was the one who pegged me with the nick-name.

"Here comes Jim Morrison. Here comes the fucking Rock Star. Hey--Rock Star--we understand you're a back-door man!"

Others would laugh. I instantly became known as Rock Star. Somehow I didn't feel like a rock star. I didn't have long hair--didn't sing worth a damn--and I certainly didn't know any L.A. women. The name stuck like glue. Marines knew about Jim Morrison and The Doors but most remembered me only as the Rock Star. Sometimes a guy would want to look at my dog-tags just to make sure I was really Jim Morrison. They always seemed disappointed I wasn't the Jim Morrison. I should also tell you something else. The M-16 has a pretty good kick and most of the time you held it with both hands. During the constant firing at suspected enemy it would get blazing hot. Your hands and fingers would develop a good case of blisters and as soon as Charlie disappeared it wasn't unusual to see M-16's being dropped like the proverbial hot-potato. Our constant firing was known as 'rock n' roll.' Yes--we were going to rock and roll Charlie with our mock-rock guitar. I had the name of Rock Star with a different kind of guitar. However, there were times when I would have put 'Slow Hand' Clapton to shame with the rock n' roll I played with the M-16. And, I must admit, I played some pretty hard rock. I can only say this kind of rock n' roll was played mostly out of desperation rather than talent.

You can call me Rock Star if you like and it won't bother me and you can make all the comments you like about Jim Morrison. I suppose that's human nature but I find no-one wants to remember me for the kind of rock and roll I played in the jungle. Guess I can't blame them--if I had been killed no groupies or teen magazines would have mourned my passing. I wasn't the kind of rock star many people would have liked. No--I wasn't the kind of rock star most rock enthusiasts imagined.

Oh, I have all The Doors' albums and it seems only right. When I've got the stereo cranked up listening to The Doors I often remember the time I was the Rock Star.

I have to admit though, it's not much of a claim to fame.

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