Jim Morrison never wanted the music to stop, and it hasn't.
At his grave site in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in east Paris, his voice wails through the autumn air from a tinny cassette player. A crowd gathers every day for a strange and quiet vigil. There are aging hippies drinking from wine bottles, Euro-teens with blank young faces nodding to the lyrics and, on this day, a couple from St. Louis watching bemusedly and wondering what all the fuss is about.
This is nothing the cemetery planned -- or wanted. This is pure rock idolatry, a following that has spawned graffiti on neighboring tombstones that is so dense that cemetery officials have to blast it off every two weeks. The scrawlings, in many languages, begin appearing at the bottom of the hill leading to the grave, long before the tomb is in sight.
"Jim is resting. Leave him alone." "Jim the last trip is the best." "Wait for me Jim. I'm coming." And the most definitive of epitaphs: "This is the end."
Jim Morrison died 20 years ago, on July 3, 1971. The lead singer for the rock group the Doors -- and a graduate from George Washington High School in Alexandria, now a junior high -- was found dead in his bathtub in Paris. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but other theories -- including one that Morrison didn't die but went into hiding -- have circulated for years.
Had he survived a life of excess sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, Morrison would have been 48 today.
A wavy-haired bust of the idol once marked his grave. Now the bust is gone, replaced by a bronze plaque that reads "James Douglas Morrison 1943-1971." Below the name is an inscription in ancient Greek that translates roughly as: "According to the divine spirit within himself."
Morrison's interest in poetry led to the brooding and often disturbing lyrics he wrote for the Doors, songs that expressed his fascination with anarchy and his desire to live outside all boundaries of authority. Critical and commercial success came quickly to the Doors, whose first album, "Light My Fire," was released in 1967. It went gold.
Other albums quickly followed, and the Doors became the first rock group to record five consecutive gold albums. But within four years, the brash sex appeal of the self-proclaimed "King of Orgasmic Rock" had faded, and Morrison's drunken and taunting performances had lost their fascination. He moved to Paris, ostensibly to lead a quiet life and write poetry.
On a mild autumn Sunday, yellow leaves swirl gently around the tombstone, almost hidden deep within a cluster of headstones and memorials. By noon, the vigil is underway.
About three dozen people mill about the grave. Some sit on neighboring tombstones, including those that memorialize the Famille Brunel; Charles Marie Chardon, a civil engineer who died in 1958; and Marie Jeanne Gilbert, the "bonne epouse" -- good wife -- of Monsieur Latron. She died in 1834. He died in 1841. "Please pray for him," the inscription reads.
The prayer would likely be for a little peace and quiet.
The cassette recorder whirs and Morrison sings: "I want to die in an open field." A book of Morrison's poetry, empty cans of Molson Golden and a bouquet of yellow mums lie on the thick stone. A single red rose springs from a wine bottle. White votive candles sputter. Whispered conversations take place.
For Mingus Lopez , the daily pilgrimage is like a job. The Portuguese-born 40-year-old says he's been here almost every day for the past eight years. He says he traveled through Europe working odd jobs before coming to Paris. Now the self-described "citizen of the universe" restores furniture and artwork between visits to Morrison's grave.
"I'm not a fan. I'm a friend," he says between sips of wine.
Lopez has taken on the mantle of a high priest at this unlikely shrine. He remembers in particular one man who visited last year: a Vietnam veteran, dressed in fatigues and daubed with black warpaint, who draped himself, in tears, across the tombstone. It was an image straight from "Apocalypse Now," the Francis Ford Coppola film that used the haunting Doors song "The End" to underscore the chaos of war.
"He gave his music to the youth of the world," Lopez says.
Michelle Campbell, a photographer from Austin, Tex., has been snapping photos here for the past two years. She chuckles as she points out the regulars and the more obvious slack-jawed newcomers to a visitor. Did Oliver Stone's recent film about the Doors stir up the interest? Not at all, she says. Morrison's mystique keeps them coming. Even she, a fan herself, finds that hard to believe.
"I like his music. I was an original fan in 1967 when 'Light My Fire' came out. I was 17 ... That's the perfect age, I think," Campbell says as she scrambles to capture the image of a kohl-eyed teen, dressed in a black T-shirt, black pants and black boots and sitting on a worn tombstone. "Fourteen for the Beatles and 17 for Jim Morrison. Now I can look back and laugh. These kids are crazy."
Not everyone who comes to this hillside is seduced by the late rock star's music. Just as many onlookers come out of curiosity.
John J. Herman, a lawyer in St. Louis, is not a fan. "In part, it was the crowd of die-hard fans around the grave that I wanted to see. ... It was more than I expected. It's the destruction of the surrounding graves that I find very sad."
Morrison's often fanatical followers resorted to violence in July, when angry youths observing the 20th anniversary of his death clashed with Paris police. Fans set a car on fire and tried to break down the cemetery gates after closing time.
Generally, visitors are peaceful -- but constant. Morrison's tomb is among the most visited -- if not the most visited -- in a cemetery that is the final resting place for many well-known figures. His neighbors here are Honore de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, Georges Bizet, Frederic Chopin, Colette, Jean Baptiste Corot, Eugene Delacroix, Amedeo Modigliani, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Simone Signoret (joined last month by her husband, Yves Montand), Oscar Wilde and prominent Frenchmen for whom boulevards and streets throughout France are named. The grave of Allan Kardec, founder of the spiritualist movement, also draws crowds.
The cemetery is named after the Rev. Francois de Lachaise d'Aix, confessor of Louis XIV, and was laid out in 1804. According to the official cemetery account, it had become apparent during the French Revolution that the existing cemeteries could not hold the thousands of rotting corpses left over from battle.
Parisians at first avoided Pere Lachaise, so the cemetery mounted a publicity campaign, acquiring the remains of famous people who had been buried elsewhere, to gain acceptance as an out-of-the-way resting place. After Balzac began burying characters from his novels there, it grew in popularity.
For some, there was little choice but to go Pere Lachaise. In 1871, in one of several battles fought at the cemetery, 147 insurgents were shot by a firing squad against the southeast wall of the cemetery. They are buried in a communal grave there.
Not far from the vigil at Jim Morrison's grave, a trio of elderly Parisians -- two men and a woman, all wearing heavy woolen coats despite mild weather -- sit on a bench. They say they've been coming to Pere-Lachaise for Sunday strolls for years. "Oui," they've heard of Jim Morrison. But they only know him as a "drogue," a drug user, and as a person whose grave attracts graffiti. Jim Morrison, says one of the three, a slightly deaf octogenarian wearing a tweed cap, personifies the problem with today's youth.
"Young people today have no respect for the dead," the elderly Frenchman grumbles, "or for anything else." Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Boulevard de Menilmontant, 20th arrondissement) is open Nov. 6 to March 15, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends); and March 16 to Nov. 5, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays). Maps are sold at the gates for about $1.50, and tours are available. Nearest Metro stop: Pere Lachaise.