Pere Lachaise, Jim Morrison, and the Chopin Connection
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris (44 hectares or 110 acres), named after the land by the home of Pere Lachaise, a Jesuit priest. Located in the 20th arrondissement, it is known also as a cemetery to some of the most famous people in society, notably the singer Edith Piaf, the writer Oscar Wilde, Chopin the composer and the lead singer for the Doors, Jim Morrison. In perpetuity these people have found each other and the grave of Morrison is located near to the same area as the grave of classical legend, Frederic Chopin. It is known to be a popular place for tourists to visit although it still remains a working cemetery.
Some of those visiting Jim Morrison's grave have taken a drink of whiskey in honour of his song lyrics "Show me the way to the next Whiskey Bar" and although doubtless this is discouraged by the cemetery authorities there are the occasional small bottles of Jack Daniels dropped by the now fenced grave enclosure. Another non permissive practice is evident as a nearby tree is wrapped in bamboo screening to prevent etching on the trunk, though the visitors now write lyrics on the bamboo instead.
Chopin's visitors might place a flower or two and contemplate his brilliance under the cool trees. They were neither of them French, yet both managed to find Paris as their resting place. In fact Chopin's work influenced some of the Doors' final work together via their keyboardist Ray Manzarek who shared his parents' Polish origins with Chopin.
Gates of Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Jim Morrison in Paris
In the 1960s there was a music phenomenon coming out of the US known as The Doors. Some called it poetry, some thought it was a new complex genre combining literature with musical performance. The band had four members with a flamboyant and good looking lead who took the long instrumentals of the other classically trained musicians into new territory with his verbal poetical compositions. The appetite for the band's music continues with many images, videos and homages igniting the memory.
Jim Morrison's father who was an admiral in the US Navy was delighted in noting this success. The family adored Jim and admired his abilities as he left home to make his own way in the world.
Yet fame was its characteristic double-edged sword leaving the band with a lengthy record deal which tied up the musicians work, together with an uncontrolled popularity that flamed the challenging lifestyle of Morrison. Moving to Paris to stay with his girlfriend, Morrison instead seemingly succumbed further and was finally found dead in his apartment. The official cause of death was heart failure, although no autopsy was performed.
Jim was interred in Pere Lachaise Cemetery close to the area where the famous composer Frederic Chopin was buried. Unlike Chopin his grave was not marked initially by a memorial. A bust installed later was stolen. The Morrison family finally installed a plaque with an inscription in Greek literally meaning 'According to His Daemon' or 'Spirit'.
James Douglas Morrison
Chopin, Paris and the Doors' Polish Connection
Frederic Chopin, was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He is renowned worldwide as a leading musician of his era. All of his compositions are for piano. Chopin grew up in Warsaw, which in 1815 became part of Russian Poland. He completed his musical education and composed his earlier works in Warsaw before leaving Poland at the age of 20, less than a month before the outbreak of the Russian-Polish war.
At 21 he settled in Paris where he made a living by selling his compositions and by teaching piano, for which he was in high demand. In his last years, he was financially supported by a Scottish Pianist and admirer, Jane Stirling. He was admired by his contemporaries and knew Franz Liszt and also Mendelssohn. He was known for giving somewhat exclusive recitals on an occasional basis. Throughout most of his life, Chopin suffered from poor health. He died of tuberculosis in Paris in 1849, at the age of 39. His musical compositions, including the Polonaises, were said to give hope to his fellow Poles who had been scattered by unrest at home.
The Doors as a band were known as much by the performance of the lead singer, Jim Morrison, as by the skills and quality of performance of the supporting musicians forming the rest of the band. Raymond Daniel Manzarek their keyboard player was born in Chicago, although the names of his parents, Polish migrants, were: Manczarek and Kolenda. He was an American musician, but he was never ashamed of his roots. He emphasized, inter alia, the insertion of fragments of the Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 by Chopin to the song 'Hyacinth House' from the album LA Woman (1971).
Chopin, Polonaise in A Flat Major
Hyacinth House and Jim Morrison's Death
The use of the term Hyacinth is thought to be Morrison's way of expressing his unhappiness. According to a Greek myth, Apollo accidentally killed a youth, Hyacinthus in a discus throwing contest. After the death and to express his sadness, Apollo created the hyacinth, a plant with a fragrant cluster of flowers.
The music for Hyacinth House from the album LA Woman was written by Ray Manzarek while Jim Morrison wrote the lyrics. It references another song on that album 'The End'. The line, "And I'll say it again, I need a brand new friend, the end" is thought to indicate that Morrison often felt pulled in different directions because of his success. In Hyacinth House he elaborates "I need a brand new friend who doesn't bother me / I need a brand new friend who doesn't trouble me / I need someone, yeah, who doesn't need me". Three months after the release of LA Woman, Jim Morrison left for Paris to pursue his poetry. He died a few months later.
Jim Morrison's Grave
Visitors to Pere Lachaise
Visitors to Pere Lachaise maintain a dignified silence but fans from all over the world love to visit and absorb the atmosphere of this special place and to pay their respects. Chopin influenced the Doors in a select way and both draw their admirers. James Douglas Morrison and Frederic Chopin are commemorated by relatively modest graves but their reputations both old and new are great enough to exceed any memorial.