Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Doors founder slept here

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- A cute little bungalow where crazy dreams once grew poses at the apex of a quiet cul-de-sac. There is an open house today on Evergreen Street, and the 65-year-old grey-brick Cape Cod with the dormer windows and the plunging ravine in the backyard looks like a steal. Where else can you find a renovated four-bedroom this close to Washington for only $949,900?

Inside, there is no trace of the former occupants, a Pentagon family whose dad rose to the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and whose tenure in Arlington was only one stop during a peripatetic career that took him from Georgia to Pearl Harbor to Florida to Virginia to Korea to New Mexico to California and to Vietnam to help start a war.

Along the way, George S. Morrison and his wife Clara had three children, one of them a boy they named James Douglas. Now, in the bungalow the family once called home, there is an upright piano in the immaculate front room and books about dinosaurs and da Vinci on an antique ©tag®re. One bedroom has been turned into a museum of expensive American Girl dolls and their period-piece accoutrements, and another has a Bengal tiger painted on the wall.

Looking down Evergreen from the upper storey, I picture a young Jim Morrison scanning the same bland prospect and thinking -- as he later would prophesy in song -- "no one here gets out alive."

That would have been in the 1950s, when the future Lizard King of psychedelic rock and front man of the Doors was following his bemedalled father from port to port, little knowing that, by 1971, when he was only 27, he would be celebrated, wealthy, world-travelled, wasted and dead, his brief, bright fire already lit and snuffed, to be entombed beside Moli®re and Modigliani, Delacroix and Chopin at the Cimiti®re de P®re-Lachaise in Paris.

When I come back down to the living room, there is a woman on the verge of tears.

"I lived in this house from 1956 to 1959, just after the Morrisons left," Adrie Sardonia Custer is saying. Her father, she tells me, was an air force intelligence officer during the Vietnam era. It's her first time back inside in 50 years.

"My dad died last year at the age of 93," she sighs, "and in this house I see him everywhere."

"Did Admiral Morrison pay him 950,000 for it?" I ask, trying to brighten the mood.

"My parents would turn over in their graves," Custer replies.

The tidy Cape Cod on Evergreen Street is not officially designated as a National Historic Site of Rock 'n' Roll. (Neither is the house on Vernon Place in Melbourne, Fla., where Jim Morrison was born; in fact, during the recent implosion of Sunshine State real estate, its listed value actually fell from $225,000 to $78,000.)

This isn't even the only house the Morrisons lived in during Jim's elementary-school and, later, his high school years in Arlington. Half a mile away, on North 28th Street, is a brick ranch whose current owner, a woman named Rhonda Baron, claimed a couple of years ago she had seen Morrison's ghost stretched out on her bed.

"It was like a haze. It was like you could look through it," Baron avowed.

Back on Evergreen, van loads of families far too young to remember the Doors are flocking to the open house. Flitting to their sides is a 48-year-old realtor named David Lloyd ,who can barely hide his excitement behind a polished spiel and yellow balloons.

"As an adolescent," Lloyd says, "our gang idolized Jim Morrison and the Doors, and we all tried to be like him. But try as I might, I failed to achieve the full Lizard King."

This underachievement may have saved Lloyd's life.

"What we strive for as adolescents is not the same as what we strive for in adulthood," the agent sagely notes. But for Jim Morrison -- and for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Cory Monteith, whose death is announced on the same day as the open house on Evergreen Street -- true adulthood, with its domestic responsibilities and quotidian rewards, never came.

On a blistering day at a fountainhead of rock, I venture out into the yard to gaze at the admiral's rear. There is a hot tub here now, expensive hardscaping, and a steep, landscaped hill down which, on snowy afternoons, a doomed young poet might have sledded 60 years ago.

In my head is a lonely song of a deep-blue dream. And back in the little house on Evergreen, Adrie Custer is smiling again and saying, "I always tell people that Jim Morrison and I shared a bedroom. Just not at the same time."

 

Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2013 A11

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