n' Roll's Conduit of History
||Pop-quiz: name the definite
biography on Jim Morrison and the Doors? There really isn't any argument,
is there? No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins. It's
the only choice, and the author is alive and well, and living here
Where should we begin? Well,
how about his biography? Jerry Hopkins has published more than 1,000 magazine
articles and 27 books, including three international best sellers.
|His biography of Jim Morrison,
No One Here Gets Out Alive, went to No. 1 in the New York
Times in 1980 and to No. 2 in 1991. It has sold more than four
million copies, and was a primary source for Oliver Stone's 1991 film
The Doors. A collection of interviews with Morrison, with an
updated and revised biography, was published in 1992. Other biographical
subjects include Elvis Presley (Elvis: A Biography, published
in 1971, and Elvis: The Final Years, 1980; totaling 3.5 million
copies sold), Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Yoko Ono - comprising
a body of work that earned Hopkins the title "The Dean of Rock Biography".
Additional books about popular
music include a history (The Rock Story), and books about music
festivals (An American Celebration), (Groupies and Other Girls).
His other books cover a wide range of subjects including humor, journalism,
the environment, Hawaiian history, behavior modification and strange foods.
For over three decades, Hopkins
served as a correspondent and contributing editor for Rolling Stone
magazine in Europe, Africa, the US, and Asia, and published articles in
the New York Times, Far Eastern Economic Review, Islands, and numerous
in-flight magazines. He has also worked as a feature writer, reporter,
and music critic for daily and weekly newspapers, including the Village
Voice and Los Angeles Times. And he's worked as a radio news
editor; and as a writer-producer in television for Mike Wallace, Steve
Allen, and Mort Sahl, among others. He's been based in Bangkok for the
past ten years.
Recently Scott Murray had a chance
to sit down and talk with Mr. Hopkins about his life and work as a writer.
Why did you decide to stay
"I decided to stay for a number of reasons, not the least of which
is I'm married and have a Thai family in Surin. Much to my delight I discovered
that Thailand was able to continue to surprise me on a weekly basis. This
is part of the country's charm and I think that's what holds a lot ex-pats'
attention and loyalty to the country. There's no place I'd rather be."
Tell us about your marriage?
"I met a woman named Lamyai about seven years ago, and we became
an item about three years ago. We built a house on her family's rice farm
outside of Surin, in what is predominately an ethnic Khmer neighborhood.
We were married earlier this year, twice actually in four languages. I've
never been so married in my life. The first ceremony was held in our home
and was conducted by a Khmer ajarn (the Thai word for teacher, which has
a more priest-like connotation in Khmer). We also had a couple of Buddhist
monks come and chant in ancient Pali in the afternoon.
"Then three days later, with
thirteen of Lamyai's family members traveling to Bangkok by train, we
did it again this time at Father Joe Maier's Mercy Centre with Father
Joe conducting the service in English and Thai. Afterwards, we had a reception,
attended by 40 of Father Joe's street kids. So we asked all of our guests
to bring stuffed animals, which they could then present to the kids.
"Our arrangement sees me spend
a week, or ten days, out of each month in Surin with Lamyai doing the
same in Bangkok so that gives us two to three weeks of every month together
and gives her most of her time in Surin with her family. I sit on the
balcony of our house there, but Lamyai doesn't have 'balcony' in her English
vocabulary yet so she calls it the place where 'papasitdowndrinkbeer'
and I look out on a rice paddy that's about half the size of France. It's
flat as a billiard table and nothing much but rice."
You are known for writing
so many great books about music, how did you get into Strange Foods?
"I still write about music but I tend to write about Gamalan and Mor
Lam Sing and other local music. And what the Strange Foods book
represents isn't really that much of a deviation. I have always been interested
in the road less traveled; I have always marched to a different drummer.
Strange Foods was just one of those things I was always interested
in but never thought of in terms of it being material for a book.
"Over the years, even going
back to my teenage years, when I encountered unusual foods I would want
to try them. In 1972, when my son was born in London I took the placenta
home from the delivery room, cooked it, made it into a pate, and served
it to my guests the next day, who came to meet my new child. I recently
got a letter from the Ripley's Believe It or Not TV show in New
York and they asked me if they came to Thailand would I recreate that
for them. I told them when I did that back in 1972, it was a hell of a
long time before anyone had ever heard of AIDS, and I was using my then
wife's placenta. Can you possibly imagine my calling up a local hospital
in Bangkok and asking for a placenta? I think it would be the first recipe
that included an HIV test.
"The idea for Strange Foods
came about from two small book proposals; one was to be called The Complete
Crocodile Cookbook, which would then be reprinted with one word changed
as The Great Alligator Cookbook; the other would be called The Great Shark
Cookbook. I visualized this as a large format paperback that would be
sold where crocodile, alligator and shark show up on the menu on a regular
basis. I submitted it to a publisher in Singapore who said he wasn't interested
but said he would be if I expanded the scope of the book to include even
more unusual foods.
"Then I heard from a friend
that Michael Freeman has a collection of photographs of strange food.
It turned out that we had both spent significant parts of our lives chasing
the same subject. So with the publisher's approval, we became collaborators
but the project was delayed for a year as Michael continued to take pictures
while piggybacking assignments. So if he went to Japan, I would say while
you're there go to Shimonoseki because I'm going to do a chapter on fugu
and whale and both of those fishery industries are in that city. Then
when he went to Paris, I told him to put aside a Saturday to photograph
the markets and restaurants that sell horse. So over a period of a year
or so, the text was cut considerably to make room for Michael's great
photographs. It's strange foods from the entire world and throughout history.
The chapter that starts out with my cooking a placenta goes back and really
is in large part a history of cannibalism."
Please tell us your thoughts
on Oliver Stone's film based on your book, No One Here Gets Out Alive?
"Oliver Stone bought the rights to my book, and he bought the rights to
my research material, which were essentially the transcripts to 200 interviews
I had done. That was the extent of my involvement in the film. I have
mixed feelings about the movie. Mainly that it was so one-sided. Jim was
a drunken fool, but that wasn't all he was. I knew Morrison. I knew him
to be man who had a sense of humor about himself. He was a man of staggering
intelligence. He read enormously, and he remembered everything he read.
The man put things together in an interesting manner, and he was a great
conversationalist. Very little of that comes out in the movie. Forty percent
of the movie is sheer fiction. Stone merged characters. He ignored chronology.
It was Stone writing his version of the sixties. Stone has done this before.
Born on the Fourth of July also had some major pieces of fiction
in it; JFK as brilliant as it was had me almost laughing.
"Hollywood never has let the
facts get in the way of a good story. People credit Rolling Stone
with inventing gonzo journalism but Hollywood was way ahead of them. The
way Hollywood portrays the American West wasn't the way it was. Oliver
was just being Oliver. He is a terrific filmmaker. What brothers me most
about Stone is that most young people today use movies as their major
information sources and he knows it. If they get misinformation from film
they won't even bother to crosscheck with a book. Oliver's dishonesty,
and he is not alone in this, is a disservice to young people whose ideas
are formed by what they see in the movies."
Is there any truth to the
rumor you introduced Lenny Bruce to Groucho Marx?
"From 1962-64 I worked for Steve Allen as his 'Vice-President of Left
Fielders' - his kook booker. We did five shows a week, and I had to come
up with someone off the wall for every show. Then one of the nights we
weren't filming I arranged for stand-up comedian and satirist Paul Krassner
to host a show at our theater, and most of the big time comedians in Hollywood
were invited. Then near the end of the evening I just happened to be standing
close to two people who had never met each other and I said, 'Lenny met
Groucho, Groucho met Lenny.'"
I also heard that you dated
a movie star for a couple of years?
"Yeah, well, sort of. That was in 1965 when I was booking acts on a syndicated
rock n' roll show for ABC TV in the States, and we had three go-go dancers
on platforms above the stage, and all the top groups lip-synched to their
hits. I went out with one of them. She called herself 'Terry Garr, Movie
Star' although at the time all she had going was a Dial soap commercial.
Later she shortened her name to Teri and became famous for role in Young
Frankenstein, and was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Dustin Hoffman's
girlfriend in Tootsie."
What about the Yoko Ono book?
"I didn't want to do the Yoko book, I wanted to do a book about Cher,
but my publisher didn't and he suggested Yoko. I had been writing about
Yoko's artwork years before she met John Lennon. And though she remained
a minor figure in art, I thought she was underrated and I also believed
she had nothing to do with the Beatles break up. I also thought she deserved
a biography, if for no other reason, than she was John Lennon's wife.
So I wrote the book and I blew it. There were two important themes in
her life that I gave short shrift. One was how an ex-Japanese national
who had grown up in Japan, had become so westernized that she was no longer
accepted in Japan. She was loathed for going blue-eyed. At the same time,
she was loathed in the West for breaking up the Beatles, and for being
Asian. At that being between a rock and a hard place had a lot to do with
her story, and I didn't cover it adequately."
What about the book you were
supposed to do on Raquel Welsh?
"It was actually her manager's idea. She was the great sex symbol
of the 60s and he had read my Elvis biography and wanted me to do the
same thing for her, but with her cooperation. So I hung out with her for
a year, even went with her to Rio when she was doing a round-the-world
nightclub tour. She'd just broken up with her longtime boyfriend and my
wife had just walked out on me, so when we went dancing in Rio's nightclubs,
the newspapers called me the, 'mysterioso barbudo Americano,' (the mysterious
bearded American). But when I finished a draft of the book, she hated
it and I never heard from her again, only from her lawyer, who said if
I even so much as told a story about Raquel at a cocktail party he'd come
after me with hedge clippers."
Tell us about your Hendrix
"My then wife was taking a yoga class in LA when a young black guy made
a move on her and said he was with Jimi Hendrix and would she would like
to meet him. She said, 'Yah and so would my husband who is a writer for
Rolling Stone.' The guy had the class to introduce us both. So
that afternoon, we went to Jimi's hotel, the Beverly Rodeo, on Rodeo Drive
in Beverly Hills, and he was gracious enough to give me an interview.
Jimi was inarticulate except when it came to his guitar, and I don't know
why anyone ever expected him to speak as well as he could play. He had
decided to break up the Jimi Hendrix Experience and start what he called
Skychurch Music, so I got that story for Rolling Stone. There was
another guy in the room who had just gotten out of the army, and he was
going to the bass player in Jimi's new band. So at the end of the interview
Jimi said 'my friend and I are just going to jam for awhile, if you want
to hang out that would be alright.' So we sat there and listened to Jimi
Hendrix jam for an hour."
How did you end up having
the first head shop in L.A.?
"I was working in TV in L.A. and became quite disenchanted and I
had a buddy who just as unhappy as I was so in 1966, a year before the
summer of love, we quit our jobs and opened up a store. We decided to
call it 'Headquarters' and we opened up shop in Westwood, which was close
to UCLA and not far from University High School, where we figured most
of our clientele would come from (it was the third in the country, with
others in New York and San Francisco). Newsweek got on to us, and
came to interview us and I'm not sure how happy I am about this but I
feel I have to take some credit or blame for what happened next. I told
their reporter, and he dutifully told the world, that if we continued
to take in money at the rate we had in the first six months of our business
we would gross US$50,000 a year. As soon as the issue came out, all across
America, I could hear, 'Hey man, let's open a head shop.' Then just like
mushrooms they sprang up everywhere across the country."
How did the idea for the
book No One Here Gets Out Alive come about?
"Jim was not a friend of mine, but he was more than an acquaintance. Our
paths crossed, we drank in some of the same bars. I was the Rolling
Stone correspondent in LA, and I interviewed him a number of times.
He invited me to poetry readings and screenings. After the infamous Miami
concert, where he allegedly dropped his pants, and I am convinced he did
not, he refused to give interviews for a while, even with Rolling Stone
who he was upset with for portraying him as a 'drunken clown.' Eventually
I got the interview though, and I wanted to do it because I knew that
Jim had a lot more to him than the media was painting. During the course
of the interview we discovered that we had the same literary agent.
"The idea of doing a biography
had appealed to me. I considered doing Frank Zappa. I had known him pre-rock
n' roll, and I thought he was intelligent and articulate. Jim said he
would like to read a book about Elvis, so I wrote a book about Elvis back
in 1969. People said, "What are you writing about Elvis for?" He hasn't
even gone back to Vegas yet. He was still making all those dumb movies.
The book was sold to the same publisher that Jim had (Simon & Schuster),
the same editor as well. The book was dedicated to Jim; unfortunately
he died before it was published. Two days after Morrison's death our mutual
editor at Simon & Schuster, Jonathan Dolger, called me and asked me to
do a book on Jim. I told him I had already decided to do one, and when
he asked why I said it was because I was more affected by Jim's death
than our relationship warranted, and I wanted to find out why.
|Jim Morrison was an interesting
guy who wasn't given the respect that he and his group deserved. Today
most of my fan mail comes from teenagers. I think it is one of those
rites of passage books. The continuing new readership is a youthful
one, just as the majority of the recordings are sold to young people
who are just discovering Jim Morrison.
"The music holds up, and at the
end of it all, it's the music people remember. A lot of the hits of the
60s are nostalgia now, and that's all. The Doors' music, however, is just
as easy to listen to today as it was twenty years ago. The themes that
Morrison wrote about, however dark some of them may have been, were universal
themes: rebellion against ones parents, the search for identity, taking
risks. Morrison appeals to people looking for answers. Not that he ever
thought he had any. His whole point was to, 'By God, ask questions, take
risks.' Morrison cut a figure that many have emulated since. An interesting
point about the Doors is that even though Jim Morrison or Robbie Krieger
may have written the songs, the songs always said written by the Doors,
and the royalties were split four ways even though one individual may
have written the song."
What are your favorite Doors'
"My favorite Doors albums are The Doors and Strange Days,
which came out in 1967. I also liked the last LP, LA Woman, which
came out in 1971, and Morrison Hotel from 1970 if for no other
reason than the song Roadhouse Blues. 'I woke up this morning and
I got myself a beer, the future is uncertain, and the end is always near.'
Word to live by."
How has journalism changed
since you first started in the business?
"Checkbook journalism is anathema. When people are being paid for a story,
they make a hell of a lot more of it than they should because they want
to please the guy who has given them a lot of money. For example in the
OJ Simpson case, the guy who sold him a knife was paid US$10,000 by a
supermarket tabloid for his story. What story? There is no story there.
The sensationalist approach to the news bothers me. The trivialization
of major issues bothers me. Many developments are to be applauded though,
as well. Whatever flaws CNN may have, it is a brilliant accomplishment.
It has created a world community something that even the BBC world service
couldn't pull off."
What writers have influenced
you the most?
"The writer who influenced me the most was a World War II correspondent
named Ernie Pyle, who was shot by a sniper on Ie Jima in the final days
of the war. He is buried at a cemetery called the Punchbowl in Oahu. He
wrote about the little guys, the foot soldiers, and he wrote about them
with humanity and dignity. I was reading him when I was nine years old
and I decided then that I wanted to do what he did: travel around the
world, meet interesting people and write about them. I never changed my
mind. Authors I admire included Ernest Hemingway for his sense of adventure,
and Thomas Wolfe for his lust for life."
"Rock n' roll has been very good to me. Both of my kids went to college
thanks to Jim Morrison and the book continues to provide income, but it
is not enough to cover everything. I've led a life that was blessed and
I have taken advantage of every opportunity that was offered, which is
the better part of success very often. But there's a great deal to be
said about being in the right place at the right time."
For more information contact Jerry Hopkins
48 Sukhumvit Soi 8
Klong Toey, Bangkok
Tel & Fax: (02) 254-3189