Local author recounts days as Doors roadie
By Jim Hagerty
Controversy often clouds the memory of dead rock stars, especially those who influenced generations of music. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, is certainly no exception.
Only the death of Elvis Presley has produced more modern folklore and rumor than the life and death of Jim Morrison. Thousands—perhaps more—believe Morrison and Presley faked their deaths to escape what some call the evils of fame. Discussing such possibilities, which are likely nothing short of absurd, is for another day.
Regardless of how Morrison died, or whether he’s living in the Pacific Northwest operating a rodeo and Western show, he’s not contributing much in the way of new material. What remains is the original music and poetry, some obviously influenced by a sea of booze, debauchery and introspective discovery. This has paved the way for a slew of books about the band.
In 1980, journalist Jerry Hopkins and former Doors manager Danny Sugerman published the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Like wild accounts of Morrison’s death, the book is shrouded with enough doubt for even those close to the band to have difficulties agreeing with it.
In some circles, Sugerman, only 16 when Morrison died, did play a somewhat significant role in keeping a post-Morrison Doors going. However, some believe he was nothing more than an opportunistic kid. The “inside” information he supplied to Hopkins has been widely speculated as being riddled with fantasy and outright fabrications. Even Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, The Doors, followed the novel, almost chronologically, which, to some band insiders, proves it but a fallacious blip in the move-maker’s filmography.
With the exception of Ray Manzarek’s Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, most stories about Jim Morrison unfold like an idealistic dream—one where flighty concepts and the inner workings of an enlightened spirit go head-to-head with political and societal norms, but fail to reveal which side wins.
To date, only a few Doors-related projects have been worth taking to heart—at least until late last year when local author B. Douglas Cameron published the unique story about his days working for the band.
The 16-chapter, 152-page, Inside the Fire: My Strange Days with the Doors, recounts the author’s stint as a roadie, often working closely with Jim Morrison, Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger.
Cameron worked for the band for approximately three weeks following his 1969 graduation from Rockford West High School. He shares an intimate vantage point of life on the road with a chart-topping rock band and being on the inside of one of the most prolific acts of all-time. He captures the gruel of lugging monstrous amplifiers, re-wiring electronics and the innocence of a Midwestern kid who is anything but sure of what he’s gotten himself into. Although he doesn’t claim to know what made Morrison tick or that Jim was his pal or confidant, he spent enough time with the singer to gain considerable insight about fame and what it often costs those who seek it.
According to Cameron, Morrison was not as complicated or misunderstood as he’s been portrayed. While arguably one of rock’s most charismatic and ingenious entertainers, much of Morrison’s magnetic emanation was tied up in a world of dysfunction. Some attribute it to a turbulent military upbringing. Others say chemical influence had deep clenches on the star. For those who knew him, it was a concoction only Jim could explain.
“Jim was an alcoholic,” Cameron said. “He was one of those people that wanted fame, and he gave his body and his life to get it.”
Cameron remembers Morrison’s impracticality and obsession with experiencing life. Going to the extreme in his writing, performing and social situations was how Jim dealt with the world. It wasn’t unusual for the self-proclaimed Lizard King to stay awake for days only to find slumber in the middle of a conversation. Out-of-control hangovers, affecting anyone within an earshot, were commonplace.
“It was kind of like being put in a room with a panther,” Cameron added. “You never knew if you would do or say something wrong and be chewed up.”
Minor disruptions were small prices to pay to be part of the Doors fold, Cameron said. Being a fifth, sixth—even a seventh or eighth wheel and the lowest man in the company’s chain of command was, for many years, one of the highlights of his life—a time where Cameron felt like he was walking “4 feet above the ground and living a fantasy.”
Being employed meant working with a man who is still compared to noted teachers and philosophers—even Jesus Christ. In comparing Morrison to Christ, many, including Cameron, feel the two are similar on at least one plane, with the spiritual belonging to the latter.
“It’s a dangerous comparison,” Cameron said. “But, what Jim did was sort of like what Jesus told us, and that’s to go out and find out what you are supposed to do in this life and not be afraid to do that. But Jesus wasn’t an addict.”
By the end of his tenure and through continued relationships with surviving members of the band, Cameron learned of a clench responsible for much of Morrison’s woes.
“Jim couldn’t say ‘no’ to anyone except the people who loved him the most and that was his family,” Cameron said.
Inside the Fire includes several personal letters written by Doors Road Manager Vincent Treanor III (Cameron’s boss), photos of Doug with members of the band and a transcript from a 1984 radio interview with Cameron and Ray Manzarek. An accomplished piano player, Cameron included shots from his days as a working musician.
Slightly similar to Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical story depicted in the film Almost Famous, Doug Cameron’s story vividly depicts a clash between celebrity and the common man and the almost-invisible line that separates the two castes.
In marketing the book, the author is looking to the more than 75 million baby boomers, many of whom are Doors fanatics. If efforts pay off, the page-turner could be the next must-have and follow similar trends surrounding runs on rock memorabilia. While profits would be a welcomed perk, fame and fortune were not catalysts for the writing. In fact, Cameron discovered through his almost 30-year relationship with the Doors, fame comes with a price and only rides along as part of the old cart-and-horse analogy.
“If I get hit by a bus next week,” he said, “there will be some evidence that I used to walk the earth. We are all walking the green mile.”
A high school teacher and history buff, Cameron looks back at his days with the Doors with a smile and sense of introspection of his own. The experience, he said, made him aware of what is truly important in his life.
“All you take with you when you die is your character,” he added. “To fulfill your destiny, you have to follow your passion.”
The book was edited locally by author David Greenland, who Cameron said was integral in its completion and delivering the finished product to the publisher (AuthorHouse).
“If it hadn’t been for David Greenland, the book wouldn’t have come out for another year,” Doug concluded. “I couldn’t have done without him.”
Inside the Fire: My Strange Days with the Doors is available through the publisher’s Web site: www.authorhouse.com, Amazon.com and Cameron’s Web site: www.bdouglascameron.com. Signed copies can be purchased by sending $20 to Doug Cameron (Inside the Fire), P.O. Box 6082, Rockford, IL 61125-1082.
From the Jan. 6-12, 2010 issue