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Florida To Consider Pardoning Jim Morrison For Indecent Exposure

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Florida To Consider Pardoning Jim Morrison For Indecent Exposure

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Florida To Consider Pardoning Jim Morrison For Indecent Exposure

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GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Tomorrow, in Tallahassee, Florida governor Charlie Crist meets with other members of the state's clemency board. They appear likely to grant an unusual pardon, one that would rewrite a page of rock 'n' roll history.

The story begins in 1969. After a concert in Miami, singer Jim Morrison of The Doors was arrested and charged with, among other things, profanity and indecent exposure.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports, Doors fans and band members have long maintained that Morrison was unfairly convicted.

GREG ALLEN: Even by the standards of Jim Morrison and The Doors, the concert at Miami's Dinner Key Auditorium in March of 1969 was bizarre.

Mr. RAY MANZAREK (Keyboardist, The Doors): The whole night was a Tennessee Williams night. It was hot.

ALLEN: Ray Manzarek, Doors keyboardist, says more than 12,000 people were packed into an auditorium that held 7,000.

Mr. MANZAREK: And you could feel on stage a strange vibration. Strange Southern swamp. The Lizard King was coming back home. And the people knew it, and they were expecting something, and they got it.

ALLEN: Morrison grew up in Florida and attended college here before transferring to UCLA, where he got a film degree and met Manzarek.

On that night in Miami, he was drunk, and he was freely mixing in his poetry and rap with the music.

Mr. JIM MORRISON (Lead Vocals, The Doors): And I'm not talking about no revolution. I'm not talking about no demonstration. I'm not talking about getting out in the streets.

ALLEN: An audiotape of the hour-long concert captures the excitement and chaos of the evening. In the middle of the song "Touch Me," an incident occurred which would change The Doors' career and confirm what many adults and authority figures suspected - that Jim Morrison and rock 'n' roll was a corrupting influence on America's youth.

(Soundbite of song "Touch Me")

Mr. MORRISON: (Singing) Touch me, babe. Can't you see I am not afraid? Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Hey, wait a minute. This is all (bleep). No, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.

ALLEN: The concert ended when members of the audience stormed the stage. A few days later, however, an article in the Miami Herald drew the attention of authorities, saying Morrison exposed himself to the audience. Law enforcement authorities held a news conference in which they announced they were issuing a warrant for his arrest.

Arthur Huttoe was head of the Miami Crime Commission.

(Soundbite of news conference)

Mr. ARTHUR HUTTOE: This situation is a blot upon our community. Certainly, immediate action is demanded and we are demanding that action this day.

ALLEN: Morrison returned to Miami several months later for the trial. In court, he admitted to using profanity, but denied ever exposing himself. Prosecutors produced witnesses who were at the concert who said they saw Morrison pull down his pants.

In an interview with Miami station WTVJ, Morrison said artistic expression was on trial.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. MORRISON: I'm not personally that convinced that nudity is always, you know, a necessary part of a, you know, a play or film. But the artist should feel free to use it if he feels like it.

ALLEN: The jury found Morrison guilty of misdemeanor charges of profanity and indecent exposure. His lawyer immediately appealed, but the damage was done. The Miami concert was to be the first stop on a 20-city tour. The tour was cancelled. Doors manager Bill Siddons says for Morrison and the band, it was a turning point.

Mr. BILL SIDDONS (Former Manager, The Doors): It ruined their career. It ruined Jim's life. He never really fully recovered from it. He really stopped caring about that work anymore and, in fact, retired shortly thereafter.

ALLEN: Morrison's conviction was on appeal when he died in Paris in 1971. But as '60s-era controversies often do, this one lingered. Fans, Morrison's friends and band mates felt an injustice had been done. A few years ago, they began to petition Florida governor Charlie Crist for a pardon. And now, with just weeks left in his term as governor, Crist said on MSNBC he's been convinced.

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Independent, Florida): And the more I looked into the case, the more briefings I got about Jim Morrison and what happened that evening, the less and the more flimsy the evidence appeared to be.

ALLEN: Morrison supporters note that none of the many photos taken at the concert showed Morrison exposing himself. And for 41 years, those closest to him on stage, his band mates like Ray Manzarek, have steadfastly maintained it never happened.

Mr. MANZAREK: I think it was a mass hallucination. He told the audience he was going to do it, and I think they saw it. They saw what they needed to see on a strange, hot Southern night.

ALLEN: Florida's four-member clemency board meets tomorrow to consider the pardon request for Jim Morrison.

Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami.

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