Frank Lisciandro Interview

by Rainer Moddemann


(compiled from interviews I did with Frank Lisciandro, who probably was Jim Morrison’s closest friend.
The interviews were taped on cassette or filmed on video in Los Angeles 1990, Santa Barbara 1989
and 1993, and in Paris 1993 and 1994)

Frank Lisciandro, Los Angeles 1990
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

RAINER: Frank, I think you were one of Jim Morrison's closest friends. I guess you were also one of the
last one who saw him at the airport in Los Angeles when he left America for Paris.

FRANK: Well, I remember Babe brought him to the airport but Kathy and I met him there. They went in
their car and we went in another car, and we met at L.A. International Airport the night that Jim was
supposed to be leaving for Paris. It was in early March 1971. We sat in the bar, at a table, talking about
a lot of different things - what he planned to do there, that we all planned to visit him there, how long he
planned to be there, like that. You know, it's been a long time since 1971 and it's hard to remember exact
conversations. But what strikes me about that evening - it was a typical evening with Jim. We had become
so animated with conversation, and so involved in our conversation that we missed the three announcements
for the airplane, and in fact Jim missed his plane, he never got on the plane that night and he had to go back
to the airport the following morning and get on the plane, so that's when he left for Paris.

RAINER: What did he look like? Did he look healthy? Did he still have his beard?

FRANK: He had a beard, he was wearing whatever he was wearing because Jim didn't think to change to
do anything, you know what I mean, some people say, well, I'm going to the theatre, I think I'll change,
I'm going to a museum, I think I'll put on my museum clothes ... Jim did wear the same clothes all the time
he was comfortable with himself and comfortable with his clothes. So whatever he was wearing that day -
I'm sure he was wearing it the following day also. So he kept the same clothes, he had a beard, he was
in very good health, as I remember because just a week or two before we had played an entire day of
American football, touch football. There are some pictures showing that in a couple of books that I've
done. Kathy took the pictures, though. And - as I remember - we played with some young college guys
who were supposed to be in good shape. Jim played all day with them, with us, and he survived that ordeal
of very long vigorous playing very well. And so he was in very good, excellent physical shape when he went.

RAINER: Did he tell you about any plans how long he was gonna stay in Paris? And what exactly was
the reason he left Los Angeles?

FRANK: Jim's feeling at the time - and I remember this distinctly because we had more than one
conversation about it - was that his days in Los Angeles were over for this particular part of his life.
He had finished the commitment to Elektra Records and had finished the last album they owed them
on the contract. And he had somewhat put behind him the Miami trial although there might be an appeal
or whatever that was behind him. Pamela was waiting for him in Paris and had established a home there.
My feeling and the feeling of the people who knew him closely was that he was leaving. As a matter of
fact we had closed the HWY Production office because Jim said it wasn't necessary that wherever he
would be there would be a production office if we gonna do a film in the future, continue HWY or whatever.
And so with the closing of the HWY office, with Jim's finishing the commitment to Elektra Records it was
over for Jim in Los Angeles. He was leaving for good. For as long as he could get away from L.A. And his
subsequent communications with people here, for instance Bob Greene or myself, indicated the same
thing: He was through with this particular part of his career and his life and he was embarked on something
new. I don't think there's any doubt in my mind or the people that knew him very well, but this was true.

RAINER: You told me you got a letter from Jim from Paris. What was this letter about? Especially - did
he tell you anything about his feelings, about the mood he experienced being in Paris, you know, being
in the city of poets and artists?

FRANK: I had written to Jim about a month after he left saying that Kathy and I were planning a trip to Paris.
In fact we were going to make a long motordrive through Eastern Europe and we would be stopping in
Paris to pick up a car. In my letter I invited Pamela and Jim to come along with us on any particular part of
this drive. We were going to see a friend of us in Hungary and we were going to be going to Greece and
Turkey and it would be nice if they would like to come along with us. I got a letter back from Jim about
maybe three weeks later saying that he had recently before been in Corsica, where he had in a typical
Jim Morrison fashion lost his wallet and his passport, but then he was back in Paris, and he invited Kathy
and me to stay with them at their apartment in Paris while we were there. He didn't mention about the trip
whether or not he intended or wanted to think about going on a part of our trip. And he didn't say much
about Paris. As I remember he talked about their trip to Corsica, he also said that he was doing well and
that it would be good to see old friends again after all this time. My feeling now is that Jim was somewhat
lonely for his friends in Paris and that he was lonely for communications and conversations because he
didn't speak any French. Now he had gone to live in a place where I suspect he might have assumed
that there would be more English spoken than there was. But in Paris in 1971 there were not a lot of
people who spoke English. Back then, there were precious few that really spoke English and you would
have a conversation with. Now, of course, half Parisians you meet speak English. I think Jim was lonely
for conversations in English. He was lonely because he loved talking, he loved listening to people, he
loved asking questions. I think this was one of the drawbacks of his being in Paris, this sense of isolation
because of the language. He was one with no language ability at all - none! And Pamela had none, either.
I think that must have been a terrible experience. I've just experienced that myself having lived in Russia
for months and not having language ability there, and how isolating that could be. I think that the tone of
the letter definitely is very inviting, very anxious to see old friends again, to pick up conversations that had
left off. I haven't really looked at the letter for some time; stored it away safely.

RAINER: Did he write you anything about the poems he was writing in Paris?

FRANK: No, I don't remember him writing about poetry. I do remember a letter that he wrote to Bob
Greene asking in a typical Jim Morrison fashion - not having the slightest idea how much money he had
or how much money might be coming in to his account - how long he - Bob Greene, their financial
manager - thought that Jim and Pam could live in Paris, a week, a month, a year. Jim had no idea about
these sorts of things, he just wasn't interested really but he was asking that his financial manager: could
they live there for a continuing period of time, because Jim wasn't - or he thought he wasn't - earning a
living. Of course, records were selling and he was earning royalties all the time. And so it seemed to me
that even though there was this isolation about language he was intending to stay there, or why would he
ask this question about how long he could possibly stay? And in that letter to Bob Greene he does say
how beautiful Paris is, how wonderful it is, I remember that part of the letter. I don't remember Jim writing
about poetry, but you know, Jim never spoke about his poetry, either, never really told people. Perhaps
he spoke with Michael McClure 'cos Michael has told me that he and Jim talked about poetry, but I don't
remember Jim saying very much about his poetry other than when his books were published.

RAINER: Then, all of the sudden, the news came that Jim had died. How did you learn about his death,
how did you feel then, especially as you were about going to Paris to see him there?

FRANK: It was July 4th that we heard the news. Babe Hill, probably Jim's closest friend, was at our
apartment, and we were intending to have a meal on this big American celebration day and go out together.
Then came the call from Bill Siddons who told us the news. He talked to Babe, he talked to me, then to
Kathy. He told each of us. I was shocked beyond comprehension. Sometimes you don't internalize news
very quickly, you have the information but not the body reactions to the information. The emotional and
spiritual reaction to the information.That just developed after a period of time. I was just shocked, speechless
about it. It was like having the rug pulled off under your feet. But, you know, we were intending to go to Europe
to visit Jim in Paris. We had given up our apartment, hadn't moved out yet but the lease was going to be
terminated. We had begun to put out things in storage, we had our airline tickets and our reservation for
renting a car. We were going to go. There was no turning back. I had finished some work on a film that I was
doing, Kathy had finished her work at the Doors' office where she was working. And in fact we were in L.A.
for another week. We would spend virtually that entire week at The Doors' office answering phone calls, writing
letters to people, trying to console absolute strangers and friends of Jim's who would call daily. Dozens and
dozens of calls came into that office, expressing grief and horror at Jim's death, and we who were very close
to him had to play the role of consoling all these other people. But after a week we got on the plane and flew to
Paris. Within a day we visited the cemetery Père Lachaise and I came to grips with the fact that I wouldn't
see Jim anymore, although it's hard to put a person to rest when you don't see their dead body. That was a
very emotional and moving visit to the grave. We stayed there for some time and then we went on with our trip
through Europe visiting people that knew Jim. Of course we had to share that news with them as we visited them.
It wasn't easy for anyone, really. He touched people's lives - even the people he knew only for a day or two - in
such a deep and meaningful way because Jim was interested in people, interested to the point where he could
have a conversation with you of a half hour duration and you thought, my goodness, this man is my best friend
because he would just respond to you as a person and somehow you would tell him about yourself in such a
unique and open intimate way that you felt in some way that he was making a real contact. And he was really
very interested in everyone. So a lot of people were touched by him and of course his death was a big gap in
people's lives. And for years I had continuing dreams and remembrances of Jim, sometimes of the most
startling real variety.

(During the last few minutes of this part of the interview – taped in a beautiful park in Santa Barbara - a
dog kept howling in the background)

I should say something about the dog, actually. There's a dog near us where we are taping this interview
that is in a yard and not free. And Jim wrote a poem about a dog, a very beautiful poem, but there's a song I
remember that Bob Dylan wrote called Dogs Run Free, and it's been running through my mind because the
day I first heard that song I was riding with Jim in a car in Los Angeles and the song came on the radio.
Jim was quite taken with the poetry in the song Dogs Run Free, and it reminded me of this dog, because
Jim was interested in freedom most of all, personal freedom not only of physical variety which we are all
somewhat interested in, but he was also interested in the freedom of the other variety, an artistic and spiritual
freedom in which people aren't pre-programmed from youth to remember or think about things in a certain way.
It is appropriate that this dog who is here tied up should be reminding us of Jim's other fascination and
dedication and motivation towards freedom all the time, both in his personal life and in his art. And I think if
anything he said it best, people have asked him all the time what did his poetry mean, what was his life about,
and he kept saying the same thing: 'I'm interested in freedom.' So perhaps that's the best thing that we can
come away with the one thing - we should come away with this sense that I think he went to Paris for freedom.
I think that L.A. had become a prison and a trap for him, and he escaped to Paris to get out of that prison and
that trap because it was just like being in that courtroom in Miami where the thought of being in a jail somewhere
in Dade County, Florida, that that Los Angeles was no more a free and open expression place for him.
It was a place that was confining because of all the obligations, the expectations, all the social norms of American
culture. And he actually felt that he needed to break away, break out, break on through if you will, to Paris.

The Lisciandros and me in the park where the dog howled
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

RAINER: Do you remember your first impression of Jim?

FRANK: My first impression of him at the UCLA – he was quiet, somehow hidden and soft-spoken. Jim almost
disappeared in the presence of Ray Manzarek or Bill Curby, who used to be a Hollywood screen writer.
I remember I went to the UCLA library one day and believe it or not, Jim had a job at the library stacking books.
I was wandering around in the library looking for books to read and I came across him. He was sitting in the
back of the library on the floor with a bunch of books next to him. He wasn’t sorting these books and putting
them back on the shelves – he was reading them! And I said, “No wonder we can’t find any books in here!”
Well, that’s the kind of guy he was. He was behind the scenes at UCLA a lot. I also remember him the first time
he was on stage at the London Fog – he kept his back to the audience, whispering and croaking into that
microphone. I left the London Fog shaking my head saying, “That guy will never be a singer!” He really wasn’t
that Jim Morrison we know from the film clips and stuff. It took a while to really develop the Jim Morrison we
know now. He was very shy, not much to go out there and be an extravert. When I came back I saw them at
the Shrine Auditorium, I think it was in December of 1967, and he was magnificent, he was in full command of
the audience, of himself and his power on stage. He had transformed himself into a performer. He had
discovered the power of transforming himself into what he wanted to be by the force of his own personality.

RAINER: Let's talk about HWY, the film you made with Jim. When did you start filming?

FRANK: It was during the Easter break, the Easter holiday. I think it was the Wednesday or Thursday
before Easter in 1969 we went to Palm Springs in order to film for HWY.

RAINER: Where did Jim get the story from? Did he make it up or...

FRANK: I believe so.

RAINER: There was a story of a mass murderer searching for victims at that time, early 1969.

FRANK: Right, there were always stories of mass murderers around, you know. The Manson thing had
happened before that, but Jim had this idea a very long time before. You can trace it back in his poetry,
this idea of the cycle of life that a mass murderer comes back each time through the process of rebirth.
And this is a continuing kind of idea that Jim had. It wasn't something that was born just because of stories
of mass murderers.

RAINER: I remember one scene showing a coyote lying down on the road. Did you just come across
that accident or ...?

FRANK: We came across this scene as we probably came across everything that was going to be filmed.
It was a spontaneous filming. We went with a script to film but in fact it became a spontaneous film. We
walked or acted in the scenes as they were happening, as we came across them and so although there
was a script for HWY it became more an exercise in capturing the moment. So it is not only a fictional film
but also a documentary. Of this total film I would say more than half of it is just occurrences that happened
to us. Scenes that we came across, scenes that were significant, scenes that we wanted to put on film.
So the way it was scripted it was also not scripted at the same time. There was this dynamic proportion to it
where there were scripted proportions and not scripted proportions acting together.

RAINER: What in the script was realized in the final film?

FRANK: Well, there was a lot more in the script. You can read the script in American Night. Perhaps just
a very small part, less than five percent was realized on film, and that was because it was an attempt to
interest one of the studios in a continuing project, because the film cost a lot of money and Jim didn't want to
spend all of his own money. In fact he spent a lot of his own money but he thought a studio would be
interested in completing the film. Like in Paris - he wanted to do the same thing: he wanted to find a
company to complete HWY, to continue it.

RAINER: Continue? How?

FRANK: Continue the filming so that the whole script could be realized. The script was called
An American Pastoral.

Kathy Lisciandro and myself
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

RAINER: But he looked quite different in Paris, no beard and so on.

FRANK: Well, there could be scenes written when this person who comes out of the mountains loses
his beard. In fact there was talk about filming such a scene, and Jim had a very abounded beard; it could
have grown back in a weekend.

RAINER: What about the music in HWY? I know it was Paul Ferrara's wife Georgia singing - was this
recorded before or after the filming?

FRANK: I remember it was recorded during the editing or just before the editing. Somewhere in the
editing process of HWY, which took a little bit of time, that mountain song was recorded but they had written
the song before. Then Paul Ferrara brought it to Jim to listen to it and Jim thought it would be perfect with the
film, so then it was recorded. Paul and Georgia recorded that one but I don't remember how they recorded it.

RAINER: Who wrote that song?

FRANK: They did. It's their song. They wrote the music and the words and recorded it together. She
sang and he played the guitar.

RAINER: During the scenes driving through L.A. there's always some radio sound with them, somebody
switching the radio on and off, like that. Was that Jim's work?

FRANK: I did all of that. I created all the sound effects, all the incidental music, and then Fred Myrow
took it and played music during the film. So here's the combination effect of the soundtrack: Fred
Myrow's playing and material that I collected from ethnic records or sound effect records. There also
was some material that Babe Hill recorded.

RAINER: Where did you film the scenes of Jim standing in a supermarket checking books?

FRANK: That was somewhere in the Californian desert. I don't exactly remember the name of the town
but it was coming back from filming and we stopped to get some gas. We went in to film this. Jim liked
the sense of America that the books and the magazines represented and he wanted the hitchhiker to
be filmed in there if looking through a kind of a review of America, kind of pop literary form, you know,
magazines and these few paperbacks.

RAINER: Jim once said about HWY it was a movie of a hitchhiker coming down from the mountains into
a big city. During the trip he killed somebody, but - I mean, you cannot see anybody being killed, you know,
he gets into the car, somebody else is driving, and all of the sudden Jim is at the wheel driving. Speaking
in cinematic terms it is not a good way to create suspense as Hitchcock would say. In fact most people
wouldn't even notice anything of this 'killer on the road'-story. Without any knowledge of what Jim wanted
to create around that theme, I think people would hardly notice that the driver had changed or any storyline.
It is tough to follow that movie from that scene on.

FRANK: Well, I think this film was filmed like a poem in a sense that it demands active participation by the
viewer, not passive participation. So, if you don't notice that the driver is not Jim and don't wonder what
happened to the other driver ... Well, I mean, obviously the other driver didn't say, "Hey, I like you, here's my
Chevy 500!"
Apparently this hitchhiker stole the car, or somehow got the car, and if you people don't notice
that as the viewers, you didn't pay attention. Then you're a part of the television generation, which accepts
whatever they see without thinking about it. And in this movie there are many many examples of those kinds
of things. It is an experience of discovery that people make, it is not something that is handed to you. It is
something that you must create while viewing it. Jim's poetry is the same way. So I find a consistency in
HWY with Jim's poetry in a way that the viewer or the reader participates in the creation. Jim was correct in
saying that his art is to make people look inside themselves.

RAINER: What about the scenes inside and outside a bar towards the end of the film?

FRANK: Well, the outside of the bar was the Whisky, but just the outside scene, and then we actually
went to another bar.

RAINER: The Extension?

FRANK: No, I don't think so. I honestly don't remember. But it was down there on the Strip. We went
to another place because they wouldn't let us film in the Whisky.

RAINER: Everyone seemed to know Jim in there, right?

FRANK: Yapp, yayaya (laughs). Of course.

Frank Lisciandro taking a photo of the Alta Cienega Motel
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

RAINER: I guess it was Jim's idea to climb up the 9000 Building on Sunset. It looks pretty dangerous
what he was doing there on the roof.

FRANK: I was totally against it. I didn't think it was worth the risk. And everyone was against it. We
wanted to tie a rope around him but he was insisting on doing it this way. We were horrified. Once he
climbed up onto the ledge there was nothing we could do. But if we tried to do anything at that point we
might have caused an accident. So the only thing we could do was to film him as he was on the ledge.
And of course there were no lights to film. It was ridiculous. It was no set-up-scene, as I've said, many
things happened spontaneously and we just didn't have any lights with us. We were supposed to film
these shots of the city from the top of the 9000 Building, not from Jim walking on the ledge. If we had
known that that was gonna happen we might have brought safety ropes and all kinds of things. But it
was a spontaneous moment that Jim decided to do and he did it.

RAINER: The end of the movie seems pretty strange to me, I mean there seems to be no end at all.

FRANK: The movie was put together in the exact way it was filmed. In the exact order of scenes.
And that was how Jim wanted to do it.

RAINER: Could we call HWY an unfinished movie?

FRANK: I would call it a work in progress. The continuation was intended, perhaps, but at the same
time he thought it was complete. I would be dishonest to tell you something else. So when the poet
says his poem was complete, or the film maker says his film was complete, one accepts that that's
what he wanted to do. And he said, "I've done enough, this is what I wanted to do. Let's put it
together the way it is."
I think it's a film. And for him it was a film.

RAINER: Ray Manzarek once told me in an interview that this film was made under the influence of
cannabinol and other strange substances...

FRANK: Ray didn't participate in that film and Jim didn't want the other band members as participants,
so I don't think he has the right to talk about how it was made, why it was made, what it is about;
simply because he doesn't know. He was not any part of it...

RAINER: Well, we just talked about the film...

FRANK: The Doors asked to be part of it when the filming was being done but Jim said, "No, this is
my film, and it is not a Doors film!"
And he refused to have them in there, he refused to accept any
of their money, and he refused any of their participation.

RAINER: I know The Doors would love to get their hands on the first 10 minutes of HWY to use it
in a video...

FRANK: My answer to that is very simple. Jim's wishes were that The Doors were not involved. This
product, as it was completed by Jim, as it was shown in Paris on December 4th, 1993, is what Jim
wanted as a film. It is exactly how Jim created it. To cut it up is to do damage to Jim's creative art.
It's the same as cutting up his poems and mixing them together as they did for instance in Oliver Stone's
movie: They cut up the poems and mixed them together. It would be a tragedy to do that to Jim's work of
art, just as it'll be to take three or four of Picasso's paintings, cut them up and make a collage of it. So I
have a strong feeling that this should never be done, and I'll oppose it if they'll ever attempt to use it in
silly videoclips.

RAINER: But you were involved in the making of the record An American Prayer. There were countless
cuts in his poems, countless pieces of poetry put together. The poems were not represented in the
form Jim had recorded them on tape...

FRANK: That was not my doing, and I'm ashamed of that. I'm sorry about that and I apologize to people.
I hope that in some way it could be restored. I could have quit the project at that point but it was the way
it was gonna be. And I agree - I think that was wrong. I attempted in the two poetry books to present the
entire An American Prayer, even the sections people didn't know about, 'cos Jim wrote and recorded
much more than came later out on record...

RAINER: That's interesting, but it wasn't the answer to my question about strange substances. So, were
there any drugs involved in the creative process of making this movie?

FRANK: I wouldn't be honest to tell you that there weren't any drugs somewhere. There were all kinds
of drugs in the Sixties. But HWY is not a drug film, it is not about drugs. Drugs weren't being used for
the creative part of it. This is a film that Jim made as a cinematic artist.

RAINER: When it was shown in Paris during the celebration party for his 50th birthday party everybody
walked out of the cinema quietly, stunned, not able to say anything about what they've just seen...

FRANK: Perhaps the effect was, you know, well, it actually played in the middle of three films. So I
guess the people walking out of the theatre were having a lot of different ideas, because they saw
three films, Feast Of Friends, HWY, and then The Doors Are Open.

RAINER: Probably too many films...

FRANK: Too many and much too late. It started 12.40 at night so that people actually had no reign
about. That's understandable, especially they've been running around Paris, they've been trying to
get into the cinema, and many of them had not been able to get in. But I think that the effect of the
film was to leave one speechless. To me it's a profound statement of art when the artform leaves
one speechless. You have no judgement, you have no sense of what it's all about, just eternalize it.
And I think what Jim said about his poetry was true, "If my poetry seeks to do anything it seeks to
open people's minds."
This doesn't necessarily mean that you're giving a conclusion or giving them
an answer. You just open their minds to something that was inside their brains, and then they come
to an answer themselves.

RAINER: An American Prayer out on CD in perfect sound - what do you think?

FRANK: Wonderful! It should be done without any music. Just the way Jim recorded it. With all the
sections, not just the first section, not just the ending with 'Feast Of Friends To The Giant Family'.
Not just ending at that line but also the second part of the poem which he recorded. And this ought to be
put out as an entire poem.

RAINER: For the album you used some of the poetry he recorded December 8, 1970, but he also did
another recording session prior to that...

FRANK: Yes, there were two recording sessions and we used both for the record.

RAINER: Do you remember when the first one took place?

FRANK: It was approximately 18 months before the December 8 session; I don't know the exact
date, probably spring 1969, when he recorded one tape, about half an hour long with poetry with
John Haeny. It took place at Elektra Studios on La Cienega Boulevard. And that's the recording
session everybody has on bootleg. As far as I know Elektra rejected the idea that Jim should put
out an album by himself of poetry. They decided not to do it. I don’t know what he told them or
what proposal he had or anything like that, but they rejected it. But they gave him the money, they
put up the money to record that half hour.

RAINER: Why did he do just two professionally recorded poetry sessions?

FRANK: I don't know. It was strange. He was in a recording studio all the time and he only had two
opportunities to actually record poetry.

RAINER: You were present at the second session, what do you remember?

FRANK: Well, it was his 27th birthday. He went into the studio that night, bought the studio time, invited
a few friends, throwing a party for himself and recorded poetry. Kathy was there, Florentine was there,
I was there taking pictures, and that poetry was kept safe by John Haeny who was the engineer at both
sessions and who was a record producer and recording engineer in Los Angeles for a long time.

RAINER: Then, years later, Robby remembered the tapes, as far as the myth goes...

FRANK: Yes, eventually The Doors got together with Haeny and invited me along, and we put together
Jim's poetry. Put it together in a fashion that I think is playable to the public, although it might not have
been exactly what Jim was intending to do. I think he wanted to publish the poetry without any Rock'n'Roll,
definitely without The Doors. He wanted this to be separate from his career as a member of The Doors.
But The Doors were involved and they put music, shape music around this poetry, and I think it plays pretty
well. The songs that are in the booklet are not from the records but from Jim’s notebooks. We went back
to the source of what was written in the notebooks. Just see the differences between the songs on the
albums and what’s in the booklet. That was the most original source. They were books of writing, not of
singing. It's been a well received album, nominated for a Grammy in this country as a spoken word album.
Amazingly enough it is listened to all over the world. The sales of the album seem to continue not only in
English speaking countries but all over the planet. There's a power and majesty in Jim's voice that is
astounding to me. I'd love to be able to let people hear all the tapes without the music, just Jim reading the
poems. I think there's a music in that by itself, music in the words and music in the sound of his voice that
is really compelling.

RAINER: I remember that hotel in Hamburg where we both first met in 1978 along with the three Doors, you
guys were on your promotional tour for An American Prayer. We all sat in a certain room doing an interview
for German radio, and all of the sudden there was the wind howling through a window, and I remember it
was you telling the story how this little bird came into the studio during your work on An American Prayer.
And Ray said, “Hi Jim!”

Frank Lisciandro (far left) with Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore
in Hamburg, December 1978
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

FRANK: Well, I think that’s there, because Jim made such a mark on our lives, and he continues to do so.
And this phenomena of Jim in Europe now with all these people every year – two and a half million people
visit his grave every year I understand – this phenomena is greater than when Jim was alive. As a matter
of fact, he’s more dangerous than when he was alive because they need two people to guard him constantly
now at the grave, this phenomena is just an indication of what an effect this man has had on people and
continues to have through his words, through his music, through his images, through his stories, through his
philosophy; and we knew him personally, we were just very very lucky to have had that opportunity, and
although we might not have learned anything more about what he was talking about than the people who
came to know Jim after he was dead through his works, because it’s all there in the works, and you get that
feeling through the work, through the songs, through the music, through the poetry.

Frank Lisciandro (far left) with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek in Hamburg, December 1978
Photo © Rainer Moddemann

RAINER: Did he write the lyrics after the recording of the songs or before, I mean, were these the
transcripts of the lyrics to remember the songs?

FRANK: Well, it happened both ways. Sometimes he would spontaneously create the songs on stage
and change them on stage, constantly revising them, changing and revising them, and at some point
someone would ask him to write it down for the songbooks that kept coming out for each album, you
know, with words and musical notes. So he would write lyrics down. Those were the source of the books.
There are songs in the book The American Night which they never recorded. So he would just write the
words for a song without caring about anything else. In The American Night you will see that there’s the
entire An American Prayer poem. We did know – in fact Ray Manzarek didn’t remember that – we thought
the poem was exactly as Jim published it in this small book An American Prayer. We thought THAT was
An American Prayer. But in fact it was longer than that. He recorded everything that we wrote down in the
book. All of that is recorded. We could have put all of that on the album. But we didn’t know that was all
ONE poem. The reason that was cut out was because certain people didn’t like it. They had recorded the
piece of music beforehand, the Adagio, which is the background music for the Prayer. Who was the
composer, I don’t remember?

RAINER: Tomaso Albinoni.

FRANK: Right, that piece was recorded by The Doors a long time ago.

RAINER: I guess it was the same recording you used in Feast of Friends?

FRANK: Yes. That was a piece of music Jim really liked. And when we were putting together
An American Prayer, I thought maybe some cello piece would be nice, and we already had the
Adagio on tape. It was perfect, except that is was too short. And I think that’s the reason why
phrases were cut out to make the poem fit to pre-recorded music. We didn’t have to record that
again. But that was not a good excuse then, you should never cut a poem. I was angry about it.
Corky (Courson) was angry about it. I think it was Ray’s idea to do the cutting. But I don’t
remember exactly.

RAINER: The Air, Earth, Fire, Water poem from Feast of Friends, when and how was that recorded?
His voice and the sound of the recording is very strange.

FRANK: I’ll tell you how we recorded that. We used a portable Nagra tape recorder, you know,
Swiss-made, which they used in the movie business. If you listen to what you’re recording, you hear exactly
what is being said. In other words, you hear the sound from the microphone. So there’s a button you can
push on it in which the sound will be delayed, so then the sound comes off the tape. If you put on the
earphones and you try to speak at the same time as something is recorded and playing back in your ears,
your voice begins to stumble because you can’t process those two pieces of information at the same time.
So that’s why at the end of the poem Jim is struggling to say the words, because he can’t do it. His brain is
telling him, “You can’t do this!” So it again was a kind of creative experience to record a piece of poetry to
make it as difficult as possible for the artist; make it so difficult that he almost sounds like he is struggling
to say the words.

RAINER: How did Jim write his poetry? I mean he rarely talked about his own lyrics and his poems.

FRANK: He was very reserved talking about himself, especially about the things that were meaningful
to him like his poems, like his writing poetry and like the craft of poetry. Actually, I didn't discover he was so
devoted to the craft until I started compiling these books of his poems, which have come out in the last few
years. Then, when I looked through the 26 or 28 notebooks and the hundreds of pages of handwritten poems,
did I realize that Jim would write a poem over and over again until he got it right. They were not written over
and over again in one sitting but it could be years apart. I'd find a poem in one notebook that I knew was an
early one and the same poem in a later notebook. Somehow he was able to bring that poem from one
notebook to another, changing it suddenly each time making it a stronger poem with a stronger voice to it.
I didn't realize he was a devoted follower of the craft of poetry to that extend because he never spoke about it.
He wasn't one to go out spouting his poems in the street as in some Hollywood portrait of him was shown.
Jim didn't do that. He was a very quiet sort of person. We only had a few incidences where we actually
experienced Jim reading his poetry other than the rock stage where he sometimes extemporaneously would
shout out or speak a poem. He did a couple of poetry readings, though, but he was so shy and so humble
about it that he just wouldn't lay that on us. I mean it was enough that he was a rock star and had a reputation,
but then to put on us the thing that he was a poet - I mean he was very proud of being a poet but he just
didn't push it on people.

RAINER: In No One Here Gets Out Alive and other books, they point out a lot of negative sides and
negative stories about Jim Morrison, what is your honest opinion on that?

FRANK: For me it is the whole subject of my quest in the last couple of years working with Jim’s poetry.
I started this quest a long time ago when I made the book An Hour For Magic and the propose of it was to
say that this guy that is talked about in Nothing Here But Lots Of Lies is not the guy that I knew. Nothing
Here But Lots Of Lies
is exactly what it is, it’s a lot of lies! I didn’t know that person pictured in that book.
The person I knew I tried to talk about in An Hour For Magic. And after being exposed to his poetry for
such a long time I know a lot more about him. And in some ways it’s almost too much to talk about, because
he was such a complex person, and then talking to about 30 of his closest friends, everybody says the same
thing about Jim in different ways. Everyone says that he was sensitive and intelligent, well-read without a doubt,
that he was one of the smartest people they have ever met, that he was creative, that he was generous, that he
was reckless and a little bit mad in a reckless kind of way. He didn’t have any concern about his physical way
of being, he didn’t care about money, he didn’t care about fame. That he was actually like an alien in the
American culture and that he was very striving to be himself, trying to be himself. He didn’t mind pain, not any
of those things, and he would confront everybody. So I think in some ways he was very unique, very different
and very special as a person. Everyone I talked to has the same kind of stories to tell about him. I asked every
person the same questions, and one of the questions was, “Did you ever see Jim being violent?” No one had
a story where he broke a chair or damaged some furniture. Never did he hit anybody else. Never he did start
a fight in a bar. There are these stories about bar fights – never! Not one! Not one of the people I met even
knew about a fight in a bar, let alone they had seen one. And some of these people were drinking buddies of
his. Babe (Hill) doesn’t remember any fight in a bar. Jim avoided fights.

RAINER: I remember the story written in No One Here Gets Out Alive about you, Jim and Babe
getting into a fight at Barney’s Beanery.

FRANK: Not true.It’s not true. Danny Sugerman made it up. Danny and Ray made it up. I add Ray, because
I know that Ray was one of the people that worked on No One Here Gets Out Alive, which has been
renamed Nothing Here But Lots Of Lies. See, it’s perfect. So that’s what we all call it now. That’s the real
name of that book now. All of Jim’s friends call it that now.

RAINER: I know a lot of fans who tend to believe every single word of that book and violently
defend their beliefs.

FRANK; You can tell them to my authority and the 30 people I interviewed that there was not one person
saying that book was any good, and although we are people who hate book-burning, I think all of us
would burn that book if we had the opportunity. So that’s why we all call it Nothing Here But Lots Of Lies.
And the movie should have a special title, too. This movie by Oliver Stone is nothing but the sequel to
this terrible book. It portrays another person but not Jim Morrison, just using Jim Morrison’s name. Just
like me making a movie about you. I name this character Rainer Moddemann. And I tell people it’s based
on your life. But actually, it’s a story about an Eskimo, living in an igloo. But he has your name. Kills whales.
That’s how different that is. Oliver Stone was in Vietnam when we were here. He killed people. But we
were here protesting against the war. And Jim was singing The Unknown Soldier on stage. Oliver was
doing exactly what we were protesting against.

RAINER: What would have been your favorite director for a movie about Jim? Francis Ford Coppola?
Let’s say, the script would be one Jim’s friends could agree to.

FRANK: Coppola? Perhaps. Yeah, it depends on the script. One of the French directors would do this
more personal. The story needs to be more personal. It doesn’t need to be big. It needs to be the story
of one person struggling and fighting in this culture. In Miami on stage he was trying to say, “I don’t want
me to be up here and you down there – we should all be in one place at the same time
.” Jim was
trying to destroy that barrier between people. He was trying to do it in a creative kind of way. I think the
story should be about an outlaw genius in American culture, an outlaw artist genius. And I say outlaw,
because Jim would never have sided with the establishment about anything. It would be nice to see
some new Jim Morrison; one with the same explosive anger and energy that he has. Not anger so much
as intensity that he had, and the same creative genius, you know, I don’t think any of the current rock stars
has that. Well, I don’t follow popular culture that much, but it doesn’t seem to be that there are people
with that same power that Jim had. People talk about U2 and Bono – I don’t see that in him.

RAINER: I guess The Doors used to be a kind of ship to carry his fantasies out to the public?

FRANK: I think in some ways at the beginning he wanted the band to be a unit of four, like a gang.
That had the potential to work together towards the common purpose to do something creative on stage.
Well, that didn’t last long because he had hooked up with three other people who were very different than
he was and they had their own hidden goals. Even in the best groups people had their own hidden goals,
you know. They’re not each the same. Anyway, I think after a while he realized that he was naïve about
people sometimes, too, in a sense that he actually had this honest feeling that if you get four people
together they could act as a unity for years. I think he saw the band as a creative force at the beginning,
using the music incorporating poetry and film until it became a positive force, an experimental creative
culture of its own. After a while he realized very very quickly that these other people couldn’t have this
same sort of intense that he had. This doesn’t mean they didn’t want the same thing but they didn’t
understand it. John Densmore didn’t understand what Jim intended. And when they sold the rights to
Light My Fire to Buick they gave up on him, that’s my opinion. Without his permission. They just
sold it to Buick!

RAINER: What could you tell me about The Doors in general?

FRANK: I’m not interested in The Doors. I’m not even interested in their music. I’m not interested in
any of that, I’m only interested in Jim. Jim was my friend. I’m interested in Jim as a creative person,
cos I think creativity, as we were talking about yesterday, is an important element in a man’s evolution,
in a man’s society. We have to get back to more creative sources – nature. Jim was a perfect example
of someone trying to get back to that spontaneously created nature. So I’m interested in Jim as a
creative person. I’m interested in The Doors only in that allowed Jim Morrison a certain amount of
freedom, and then they took that freedom away from him. They did both things. It’s a very good metaphor
for the fact that in our culture, the American culture, commercialism allows you an opportunity, and then
it closes the door.

RAINER: Could you please explain that more clearly?

FRANK: It closes the door because the demands of the industry were such that he was always in
growth. Without growth the band would have had to play clubs. Perfect for Jim, because Jim didn’t care
about the money. He didn’t care about adulation. What he cared about was the creation, how to create
something. John Densmore said on the radio in San Francisco, “Jim Morrison ruined my career.”
And I am mad at him because of this. Before he was a singer he was a poet. Before he was a poet he
did other things, other art forms. He drew, he created stories, he made films, he was always creative.
Even on stage, not through the singing but through the stage action he created a new way of popular
entertainment. His whole aspect was creation. That was his focus. And – in our culture – you cannot
combine the two things. Look at how many writers went to Hollywood and left. You can’t be a good
writer in Hollywood. It’s impossible, because it’s a contradiction. You can’t be a good writer and
become a part of a major supergroup. It’s impossible in our culture.

RAINER: What would you say to fans who model their lives on Jim Morrison – who try to live on the
edge like him?

FRANK: Most of us get a little bit frightened when we approach that territory. And with good reason,
because we don’t have the equipment to go out there. We aren’t born as explorers. It’s something
that we’ve got to train ourselves to be and to say, “Well, I’m going to model my life after so and so
and explore…”
, is to lose side of the fact that the person you’re going to be modeling after has
years of experience, has the equipment, has the back and so on. Jim was an explorer, but he made
himself that; it wasn’t something that he did out of a whim one day.

© Rainer Moddemann, The Doors Quarterly Magazine. This interview may not be
distributed in any other context or media without the written permission of the author.