PARIS -- "Where's JIM?" The question, spray-painted in scarlet across an otherwise unmarked crypt, begs an answer.
Across the cemetery, a thousand tombs away, a crudely painted arrow points a reply: "JIM." The arrow and name deface a massive turn-of-the-century sepulcher, their red scrawl the only color amid cluttered rows of black and gray tombs and grayer cobblestone paths winding among steep hills.
Sixteen years ago, on a Fourth of July weekend, when most Americans were packing holiday picnics, James Douglas Morrison, son of a retired U.S. Navy admiral, dropped dead of a heart attack while writing poetry in Paris -- finally ending, many thought, the long, bizarre ride of "The Lizard King."
Morrison blazed bright and brief as lead singer and lyricist of the Doors, the L.A. acid rockers whose "Light My Fire" and searing dark-side anthems sound-tracked the turbulent Vietnam/Flower Power era.
On his good nights, the angelic-looking performer was mesmerizing. On his bad nights, he got busted.
Morrison in memoriam has achieved mythic status -- a drugged- out, beer-swilling Lord Byron/Valentino. James Dean overdosed on pharmaceuticals.
"He's Hot! He's Sexy! He's Dead!" Rolling Stone declared a dozen years ago.
And while Elvis' fans wouldn't dream of disturbing a blade of grass at Graceland, Morrison's night of the necromantic cult has turned the small crypt that he may (or may not) occupy into a hieroglyphic carnival -- a bold, crayon-bright shrine. Buried in Paris' 160-acre Pere-Lachaise, JIM is the most infamous intern of Europe's most famous, celebrity-filled cemetery, rubbing remains with the likes of Molie`re and Chopin, his stenciled portrait bearing a golden crown of thorns.
In further tribute, fans have remade this graffiti Mecca a thousand times -- carving, marking, marring, scarring and spraying everything within sight of his grave with acres of sentiments. They do him homage with black-humored encouragement ("Get well soon, Jim"), pieces of song ("Break on through, Jim"), quotes, cartoons, laments in a dozen languages. Most vow to keep alive the unbridled "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" spirit that earned JIM his place in their hearts. And here.
They praise with empty Johnny Walker pints and wine bottles, centimes and tokens arrayed beside fresh sprays of tiger lilies, roses, gladioli and red carnations on his headstone. And they dress his grave with trash.
And 16 years after, their children come by the hundreds. Daily.
Vagrant-spirited and very young, mostly in their early twenties. Some idly curious. Other drawn on a trail of tears for an ageless idol. Largely dressed in regimental black of mournful anarchy. Jeans. Leather. Black and Decker haircuts.
"We come because this is something of Paris' things, like Tour Eiffel, like the Louvre," Luca, 23, from Bologna, Italy, says. "Also so because I like the Doors." His girlfriend Antonella spreads her souvenir map across an adjacent stone, suggesting other tombs she wishes to see. "Maria Callas ... Daumier ... Modigliani ... Balzac," she calls. Luca pulls a camera from his backpack and begins photographing everything.
Discovering that the rain-specked paper JIM's statue wears as a crown this morning is a fan's poem in Italian, Luca wipes his spattered glasses and begins reading scraps aloud, offering halted translation:
... my black angel, has a song in his heart ...
Silently, three pale blond boys amble into the courtyard, assuming seats atop an adjoining slab. "We want to see his grave," says the palest, Dutch punker Addy Speckmann, 20, "because we are his fans. It's difficult to explain. How shall we say it? It makes me sad."
"You ever stop to think," another of the trio asks quietly, betraying an American accent, "what he would have turned into if he'd lived? Think he would have turned into a fat old drunk? Or some cheesy rock star like Mick Jagger?"
There is a muffled discussion of whether JIM is even dead at all. At the center of his cult is the mystery. And rumors. The quick signing of the death certificate without a public funeral. A fast burial in a foreign land. For years, the rumors have persisted and grown. Tired of the stage, Morrison supposedly staged his own death. Fans whisper that he's gun-running in Africa. Fighting on both sides in Central America. Alive and well in Paris, still recording that just much-delayed comeback album.
The American, Tom Sneed, says he "used to get into the Doors lots, but not so much anymore. My brother used to like them. That's how I got into them. He's older; he was a hippie."
Looking at the tombstones' dates, Sneed, 23, of Chicago, muses, "1971 ... I was only 4 when Jim died."
The third punker, Michael Winkler, 21, of Arnhem, Holland, noting the graffiti, admits "There doesn't seem to be much respect for him. Not for someone who had such philosophy. Such influence on people."
"No," Sneed insists, "Jim would have liked this. He used to get drunk with friends at graveyards. He'd like this." They settle beside the grave, legs wedged between stones. A wine bottle appears. A couple wanders up the hill. "I used to worship Jim Morrison," Marc Williamson, 25, of Annapolis, confesses, "but I haven't listened to him in six or seven years. It's not a very good likeness," he says, indicating the day-glo bust.
New York University law student Melissa McAndrew, 24, agrees, offering a corkscrew to the Dutch contingent. "In my junior or senior year of high school, my friend's father played the Doors for us and we started listening religiously." "We're second-wave Doors fans, okay?" Williamson adds. "Don't make us out to be fanatics."
" ... has a song in his heart, to teach the living," Luca continues to read, as Antonella, fingers limning the map, replies, "Proust ... Seurat ... ROSSINI! ..."
"I always said if I ever got to Paris, I'd come see Jim," explains Mark Musella of Woodbridge, N.J. "He's influenced my life. It's his attitude. Kind of said 'live for today.' Times, I wish I could be more like that." Musella, 25, nods toward his friends, clambering into the courtyard. "We believe he's dead. But I think he's in the States."
Others arrive with beer. Conversation drifts about JIM, Hendrix, the possibility of spending the night here, JIM, Lennon, and the Grateful Dead. The wine passes. Damp air clouds with the perfume of hand-rolled cigarettes. More youths arrive to replace those wandering away from the grave watch.
There is no talk of Madonna.
"I've run out of things to see in Paris after a day and a half," smiles Susan, 21, of San Francisco, clutching her straw hat against the rain. "This is just something if you're young and American, you have to see.
"It's also, you know, if you're away from home, well, it's nice to see something American."
Rain suddenly falls heavily through the high cathedral of trees shading the plot. Several black umbrellas emerge to shelter the 15-odd strangers huddled together. The emptied wine bottle is ceremoniously placed beside the stone. Drifting off toward Callas, Luca continues declaiming the orison for Morrison to Antonella:
... to teach the living,
and tell the dead ...
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, Now touch me babe ...
In death, JIM remains authority's nightmare. One uniformed gendarme attached to the cemetery for 13 years says, "The fanatics of rock degrade other memorials," creating problems with drugs and vandalism. Each July 3rd, thousands overrun the park. "Playing guitars," he complains, miming, "smoking, drinking, doing drugs in the arm.
"The fools come from all countries," he says, his orange mustache bristling below his blue kepi, "because the young are the same everywhere."
Younger, tan-uniformed security patrols pass JIM's grave several times daily. Privately, they say the body's no longer here. They believe, several years ago, it was exhumed and quietly returned to the United States.
Outside the cemetery's high, ivy-draped walls lies Brigette Gomez's small flower shop, abutting the busy Pere-Lachaise Metro entrance.
"Jim Morrison's the most popular," she insists. His fans and others visiting the cemetery buy mostly roses and lilies at her shop. And maps. A few years ago, maps were small, greasy photocopies. These days, they're printed on slick paper.
"I like the fans," Madame Gomez laughs, "the punks with the long green hair ... pointed straight up. They come in six or seven together to buy him flowers. They're very polite and buy many bouquets. People ask most about Jim Morrison. The Americans, English, Italians. Then, they ask about Piaf, Chopin and Allan Kardec.
"You know Kardec? The father of spiritualism?" she asks, indicating a display of 10-franc souvenir maps and post cards. Bright pictures of Balzac's bust and Oscar Wilde's stone sphinx tomb rest beside rows of Kardec's books and pamphlets. "The French and the Africans come to visit him."
The cemetery, she says, "has a little bit of everything for all generations."