Forty years ago today, a Miami jury convicted one James Douglas Morrison — better known as the Lizard King, Mr. Mojo Risin, or simply Jim — on misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure and open profanity. The verdict came more than a year after The Doors infamous concert at a converted seaplane hangar in Coconut Grove called the Dinner Key Auditorium, where Jim allegedly whipped out his [insert colloquialism for ‘penis’ here] in front of a crowd of about 12,000 Miami fans.
Whether he actually did any such thing, the “Miami Incident” may never have garnered national headlines if not for the attention of a Miami Herald reporter named Larry Mahoney. An FSU student at the same time as Jim, Mahoney has gone down in “Justice for Jim” circles as the opportunistic muckraker whose exaggerated accounts of the concert goaded goadable Miami politicians into proving their law-enforcement bona fides at Jim’s expense.
Here’s an excerpt of Mahoney’s “Rock Group Fails to Stir A Riot,” from March 3, 1969:
Many of the nearly twelve thousand youths said they found the bearded singer’s exhibition disgusting. Included in the audience were hundreds of unescorted junior and senior high school girls…. Morrison appeared to masturbate in full view of the audience, screamed obscenities, and exposed himself. He also got violent, slugged several [concert promoters], and threw one of them off the stage before he himself was hurled into the crowd.
Many people who were at the concert dispute Mahoney’s rendition (including Bill Campbell, interviewed below, who thought Jim had stuck his finger through his zipper for a lark). What no one disputes is that Jim was damn drunk and screaming damn-drunkenly at the crowd and his band (in this audio recording from the concert, he interrupts “Touch Me” with screams of “It’s all fucked up. You blew it!”). Having missed his flight to Miami from L.A., he had loaded up at several airport lounges and arrived late for the concert. To add to the tension, the concert promoters pulled a fast one on The Doors by booking them at a flat $25,000 fee and then ripping out the auditorium seats so as to double its capacity. If Jim did tussle with “several” concert promoters, that’s probably why.
Here’s an excerpt I found on doors.com of Jim haranguing the crowd during “Five to One”:
You’re all a bunch of f**kin’ idiots.… Let people tell you what you’re gonna do. Let people push you around. How long do you think its gonna last? How long are you gonna let it go on? How long are you gonna let them push you around. Maybe you love it. Maybe you like being pushed around. Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the shit…. You’re all a bunch of slaves. Bunch of slaves. Letting everybody push you around. What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it…. What are you gonna do?
Sometime later, after an audience member jumped on stage and drenched him with a bottle of champagne, Jim either did or did not give the bunch of slaves who had paid a chunk of change to hear him sing their proverbial money’s worth.
The day after the concert, The Doors went on a planned vacation in the Caribbean. Back in Miami, Mahoney was beginning his crusade, with the national press close at his heels. On March 23, 1969, a group of appalled high school students held a “Rally for Decency” at the Orange Bowl with the support of Miami’s Catholic Archdiocese, comedian Jackie Gleason, and Miss America runner-up and proto-Palin Anita Bryant. As Rick Perlstein describes in his book “Nixonland,” “Miami inspired a national fad” with “decency rallies” being held across the country. For their efforts, Miami’s rally organizers received a letter of appreciation on White House letterhead from President Nixon.
Meanwhile, The Doors national tour, which the Miami show kicked off, was canceled. “The Concert Halls Management Association put out the word that The Doors were poison,” Stephen Davis writes in Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend.
Then, 39 days after the Dinner Key Auditorium show, Robert Jennings, a six-foot-nine freckled redhead who had attended the concert, signed a felony complaint charging Jim with lewd and lascivious behavior. Miami being Miami (corrupt, loose on ethics, etc.), the fact that Jennings worked in the city’s prosecutor’s office did not invalidate him from setting in motion Jim’s extradition and eventual trial.
Judge Murray Goodman swore in the six-person jury, whose youngest member was 42 years old, on August 14, 1970. (Proving that Miami was once a far cooler place, that night Jim saw Creedence Clearwater Revival play in Miami Beach and then joined Canned Heat on stage at a hotel club called the Hump.) As far as “J for J”ers are concerned, Judge Goodman, a Republican appointee, is another traitorous stooge in this saga. His treasons include thwarting the defense’s attempt to present Jim’s behavior as in line with Miami’s established community standards (the city had had no problem when the musical Hair, which featured nudity, came to town) and, Davis writes, his “highly unorthodox directive to find the defendant guilty.”
On September 20, 1970, the jury complied, finding Jim guilty of misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and open profanity while acquitting him of two felonies and two other misdemeanors.
An excerpt from Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend:
None of this made any sense. The whole trial had been a farce. (Goodman had already commented in open court, while the jury was deliberating, that there was no real evidence that Jim had exposed himself.) Sentencing was postponed until October. Jim’s bail was raised to fifty thousand dollars, and he now faced an almost certain prison sentence that could get the judge reelected as a Nixonian law-and-order enforcer.
If the results of the trial made Miami look good in the eyes of Nixonites, it drew scathing criticism of the city from the counter culture. In a September 27, 1970, Rock magazine article called “Apathy for the Devil,” the writer rips into Miami’s fickle youth for losing interest once they realized the trial was not just a spectacle but an actual legal proceeding. Here’s a long but worthwhile excerpt:
This is not meant to be a blanket condemnation. There are many loyal kids who have been at the trial every day; however, the whole of Miami youth are being very lax in the defense of their own civil liberties. This is a very political case and will indirectly have a bearing on the legalization of grass, the promotion of festivals in the Miami area, and so on. Under such circumstances, these kids are goofing when demonstrations, offers to testify in Morrison’s behalf and other public displays of support are more in order.
From this, you can see that Morrison is “locked in a prison of his own devise.” The political content of the first three Doors albums apparently didn’t make an impression – at least on Miami’s music fans. All they seem to have heard were sexual implications. Thus, the 12,000 fans who went to Dinner Key to get their rocks off are indirectly hanging Morrison by their inaction.
One can’t help feel that in political cities like Boston, New York, Washington, etc. that things would be different. The climate of Miami (and for that matter L.A.) does not lead one to take anything seriously, much less politics. It is therefore a shame that this great political test should happen in such a nonpolitical environment.
I guess suntan lotion and social justice just don’t mix.
Following his conviction, Jim filed an appeal and, after banging out L.A. Woman back on the West Coast (as well, I’m sure, as plenty of L.A. women), he left for Paris. He died there on July 3, 1971. He was 27 years old.
While that pretty much satisfied the prosecution, certain members of Jim’s unofficial defense team – his fans – have kept up the fight to clear his name. As recently as April 2007, two such fans made headlines when they sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist asking that he issue Jim a posthumous full pardon. An FSU alum, Crist played it glib, saying he was willing to review the case because he and the singer shared an alma mater.
As it stands, the misdemeanors remain on Jim’s record.
To further commemorate this day in Miami history, below is the aforementioned interview with Bill Campbell (Robby’s dad), who witnessed the “Miami Incident,” and a few more related photos and videos, including footage of Jim discussing nudity as a “cyclical phenomenon” and several namby-pamby Miami pubescents condemning Jim’s antics.
— The image on the left is of the cover of an issue of Rolling Stone magazine published after the “Miami Incident.” The image on the right I found on washingtonsquares.com. It was apparently taken at the Dade County Courthouse by someone who attended several days of the trial.
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