"Finding James" | By Gabriel Tellez
Mr. Mojo risin'.
Ray and James met again by coincidence around mid-July 1965 on Venice Beach, right down from Fraser Avenue, where Ray and his girl, Dorothy, lived. James skipped his UCLA graduation and told Ray he was planning to go to New York. However, in the last few months, James had been residing at a friend's rooftop at Speedway St., where he was getting high and writing songs extensively from a concert he kept hearing in his head while looking at the sea.
Ray asked him to sing some of his songs; James hesitated; Ray listened, and then Ray proposed to form a Rock & Roll band - "that's what I want to do!" said James. So he moved into the Fraser Av. apartment, and they started work on James' singing while Dorothy was working to support them. Ray had no keyboard at home, so part of the routine was to travel to UCLA's rehearsal rooms in the basement of the Schoenberg Music Hall to work on the songs written on Venice's rooftop.
Ray said on that beach: "There's only one problem; what do we call the band?"; "The Doors", James answered; "is that about The Doors of Perception book by Huxley?" asked Ray; "yes!" replied James.
Ray invites someone from his meditation class to jam with them on the drums- John. The latter brings his long-time friend Robby to play the guitar, which has been playing the electric guitar for a short time. The traditional guitar is his specialty, particularly flamenco.
The rest is history.
The Doors' music was unique, addressing controversial topics such as sex, drugs, and social justice issues while exploring themes of rebellion, freedom, and self-discovery. The band's popularity grew during great social and political turmoil in the USA and the world as the counterculture movement emerged, challenging mainstream values and norms.
After recording their final album (L.A. Woman) with The Doors, James decided to travel to Europe. The possible reasons for his departure may have been his conviction for "indecent exposure" at a Miami concert, The Doors' concert cancellations, and the desire to get clean. Unfortunately, after several months of alcohol & drug abuse, his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, discovered him dead in his apartment's bathtub. James passed away on July 3rd, 1971, at the young age of 27, with heart failure listed as the cause of death. During his last days, he resided in the city of his literary heroes, and it's known that he enjoyed visiting Père Lachaise, where he frequently paid his respects to the graves of Molière, Wilde, and other notable figures he admired.
James, Ray, John, and Robby were considered (Jim Ladd, 2002) "highly-educated, well-read, smart people" who recorded six studio albums and became one of the most controversial yet more influential rock bands of the 1960s.
Their music sounded -and keeps sounding- like no one else's.
Strange days found us.
After recovering from a suicide attempt in 1991, my brother became a rebel and a bigger fan of The Doors' music - probably because in March of that year, The Doors movie by Oliver Stone was released. Even though it received critics for its historical inaccuracy, including how James was portrayed, many people think the film brought back The Doors and Jim Morrison into popular culture. Including also going against the established authority & rules - in my brother's case: high school & my dad's.
Suddenly my brother was constantly listening to "Light My Fire", "Roadhouse Blues", or "Touch Me", wearing my dad's Ray-Ban shades and his leather jacket and showing erratic behavior that my parents didn't have any experience with how to deal with. Those were strange days for us, and especially for me as his youngest and closest sibling. Essentially, he was going through adolescence with a mix of bipolar disorder on the horizon.
Back in the day of 1991, if you cranked up the radio, you'd catch the likes of Freddie Mercury belting out with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", Kurt Cobain's raw vocals from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Metallica's shredding guitars in "Enter Sandman", Michael Stipe's haunting melodies in R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion", and Axl Rose's raspy screams in Guns N' Roses' "November Rain".
That same year, the Gulf War had just wrapped up, with many glued to their television sets watching the intense live coverage. Meanwhile, Mexico, the USA, and Canada were in the early stages of NAFTA talks, laying the groundwork for increased trade and economic cooperation. But it wasn't all heavy news - in May of that year, history was made when a Mexican beauty queen was crowned Miss Universe for the first time.
Still, one place to go.
Eventually, my brother recovered and joined the local gym, where he discovered Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a bodybuilder), making him his new idol. After being stable for several years and graduating in Economics in 2000, he gained independence from my parents. Then, however, he went into a manic episode while working at his first job, requiring immediate hospitalization. Unknown to us, this condition was called manic-depression, and in the early 2000s, my brother was finally diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.
Despite this setback, he earned an MBA and later became a personal trainer, earning a Bachelor's in Physical Education in 2017. With time, my brother acknowledged that he had a disorder but thought he'd be able to fight it without medication - this was wrong. A few months after my mom died, he went into a profound depression, and suddenly, in April 2018, he went into a manic episode. However, he developed psychosis this time, resulting in a nasty beating by angry people on the street and a five-day disappearance. Thanks to the missing person's bulletin on Facebook, we were very fortunate to find him and bring him back to reality.
Bipolar disorder usually emerges in late adolescence (teen years) or early adulthood, with symptoms varying over the years, requiring constant family support, therapy, and a prescribed lifelong treatment plan to improve the quality of life and manage the symptoms. However, the disorder is degenerative and ultimately attacks the patient's cognitive abilities.
Since the 1990s, The Doors' music, along with my brother's bipolar disorder, has constantly been in my life. So in 2022, while scrapbooking my brother's suicide attempt from 32 years ago, I started to read into the band's history, only to discover that we live 6.6 miles away from where everything started. This sparked a new quest to find James, which involved using my dad's Yashica FX-1 1970s camera and shooting primarily in B&W film.
The photos & text presented here are a glimpse at my "Finding James" quest, which, at the same time, represents an attempt to understand things I wasn't aware of when I was eight, and my brother was fifteen.
I'll finish this with an extract from Rolling Stone magazine from April 4th, 1991:
"The Doors' lead singer - who only two years before had been one of rock's smartest, scariest, and sexiest heroes - was now a heart-rendering alcoholic and clownish jerk. He needed help; he did not merit cheap veneration, and he certainly did not deserve the horrid, moralistic brand of jail-house punishment that the state of Florida hoped to impose on him. Of course, Morrison never received - or at least never accepted - the help that might have saved him."
This photo essay is dedicated to my brother Roberto and his challenging yet rewarding life.
...Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing
Or find a new town...
Gabriel Tellez is a software engineer and a photographer drawn to architecture, engineering, and history. Gabriel, his wife, and one boy reside in Playa del Rey, CA.