“Finding James” | By Gabriel Tellez
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 get together 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 amount of time, being the traditional guitar his specialty, particularly flamenco.
The rest is history.
After recording their last album (L.A. Woman) with the Doors, James announced his intention to go to Paris. However, after some months, his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, found him dead in the bathtub. James died on July 3rd, 1971, at the age of 27. The cause of death was ruled as heart failure. James spent his final days living in the city of his literary idols, so it's known that Père Lachaise was one of his favorite places, frequently visiting their graves.
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.
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 probably also going against the established authority & rules - I believe in my brother's case: high school & my dad.
In 1991, if you turned on the radio, you could listen to Queen, Nirvana, Metallica, R.E.M., and Guns N' Roses, among others. In addition, the Gulf War (the first live broadcasted war) had ended in February of that year, with its aftermath lasting years. Also, in early February, Mexico, the U.S.A., and Canada started the NAFTA conversations. Then, in May, a Mexican was crowned Miss Universe for the first time in history.
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 at that time was called manic-depression, and in the early 2000s, my brother was finally diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.
He got on his feet again and earned an MBA, and later on, he switched careers, became a personal trainer, and got a Bachelor's in Physical Education around 2017. With time, my brother acknowledged that he had a disorder but thought he'd be able to fight it without medication - this turned out to be 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 his disappearance for five days. Thanks to the missing person's bulletin on Facebook, we were 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 a degenerative one that, in the end, attacks the patient's cognitive abilities.
Since the 1990s, The Doors' music has constantly been in my life. So in early 2022, while scrapbooking my brother's attempt from 31 years ago, I started deep-diving into the band's history, only to discover that we live 6.6 miles away from where everything started. This is where my quest to find James began with the requirement to shoot most of the photographs using B&W film with a 1970s camera - my dad's Yashica FX-1.
The photos presented here are a glimpse at my "Finding James" quest, which, at the same time, represents an attempt to pick up the pieces I didn't understand back 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...
is a software engineer and a photographer drawn to architecture,
engineering, landscaping, and history. Lately, he has been
traveling & documenting nature, architecture, and people.
Gabriel, his wife, and one boy reside in Playa del Rey, CA.