Come on baby, Light My Bus Pass

Certain things should be got out of the way swiftly in life : measles, chickenpox, using hair mousse, first love, experimenting with eyeliner, learning how to drive,  working out what the washing machine is for and how not to boil silk knickers at 90 degrees etc.   I didn’t do any of this (with the exception of the eyeliner).  In fact, when it came to the motor car I was practically retarded and wasn’t licensed to drive one without adult supervision until I was 32.  I learnt nothing about the common sense stuff until I was 30.  Carpet shampooing, grown up clothes shopping , where to buy good tights and the importance of the three week wax (I am not talking about the car this time) was all a mystery to me until I hit my thirties.  This is because when I was a charming yet supercilious adolescent I was too busy listening to The Doors LPs and plotting about how I was going to get on an aeroplane and marry Val Kilmer. 

Halcyon days,  kids.  Plotting to marry Val “Jim Morrison on the weekends” Kilmer was basically a full time job because the bastard was married already.  Dammit.  His wife was the florid, fragrant Joanne Whalley, who tagged her new husband’s name on the end of hers just to make everyone sick with jealousy that she’s gone and married him.  Val Kilmer was already firmly ensconced in my heart as the future Mr Bluebird, but then he signed up to be Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors and my cup of Kilmeresque love basically ran over.   Jim Morrison was probably the most delightful thing ever to be on the cover of American Billboard, the prettiest boy sitting on Venice Beach in the late 1960s.  There was some stuff about him marrying a peculiar witch or something, but I still thought he was Mr Hot Stuff.  Unfortunately, he was dead.  (First rule of the Bluebird marriage lottery : pick a live victim).

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison was the most exciting thing to happen to me in 1991 – with the exception of learning how to smoke.  I was very pleased about the latter, as surely Jim would think it terribly rock on roll to have a fag on the go.  Not that Val had a fag on the go, of course.  He was all man.  He quickly jettisoned the brat pack in terms of my posters of the moment.  Rob Lowe?  Bin him.  Moody fashion shots of early 1990s models in imitation early 60s bouffants from Elle?  Get rid.  Kiefer Sutherland avec quiff?  Shred the fella.  Nothing existed but Val, who, for reasons that weren’t entirely apparent, my father started referring to as Valerie.   Operation Val sped with miraculous speed throughout my adolescent world.  I didn’t even notice the Gulf War had started and ended, so busy was I playing the first album, imaginatively titled The Doors, over and over and over again. 

Dad and the whole “Valerie” thing had started to make sense.  In order to truly understand The Doors  in all these Venice Beach, Gothic, William Blake-esque splendour, I was forced to listen to them at top volume.  This meant for either of my parents to get my attention they had to send a carrier pigeon, bang loudly on the ceiling, shout and scream or suddenly appear in my bedroom doorway hollering: “THERE’S PHONE CALL FOR YA” whilst making urgent “telephone” shapes with their left hands.  It wasn’t Val on the phone of course, that would just be weird.  My parents annoyance wasn’t helped by the fact that my bedroom was built in about 1590, and the walls would shudder with every Morrisonesque wail about wanting to have sex with his own mother.   I think the 12 minute version of The End  did my parents heads in in particular.

When The Doors film was in progress, I seriously considered jumping on a transatlantic plane and putting myself forward for the role of Pamela Courson, Morrison’s snake-hipped, smack-eyed paramour for much of his short adult life, but dammit if that Meg Ryan didn’t get in my way AGAIN by taking the role herself.  The Megster and I have had battle lines drawn since that morning in a cafe when she right put me off my sandwich.  Basically, I was sitting there, happy as Larry, with a brioche, and she then started to…..erugh.  I can’t say it.  DISGUSTING, that’s what it was.   With Pamela’s films shoes filled, the only other role open to an aspiring 15 year old actress from Watford was the freaky white witch type character, and hand-fasting aint how I roll.  Desperately upset, nothing remained but to wait for the film’s release.  The only slightly interesting item on the agenda was an imminent trip to Paris, where I could join the other emotive 15 year olds from around the world mooning tragically over Morrison’s grave. 

Soon, in a bizarre death-over-life hostile takeover, I realised Jim Morrison was inhabiting my imagination more than Val “Cheekbones” Kilmer was.  Val Kilmer seemed to be – dare I say it – a little bit dull?  He was more pottery than poetry.  He had a house without a roof in the desert but apart from that he seemed dreary dreary dreary, so I veered over to his character instead.  Soon, I knew everything about Morrison, from his date and place of birth to his father’s military career, to the details of the Miami trial for obscenity and the somewhat gruesome poetry he seemed to churn out by the hour.  When I won a music prize at school I was told to chose an appropriate book for £10.  I chose “Jim Morrison : Dark Star” by Dylan Jones.  I was asked to meet the Deputy Head, and requested to chose another book as she thought Jim Morrison’s crotch jaggedly sticking out from the front of a glossy book would cause the Board of Governors to have a collective stroke.  I stuck my ground.  I got my book, and meanwhile set a precedent; within a year books on Prince and U2 were being given to Fourth Formers who had gone through decades of having to read dreary rubbish about Grieg’s melodies.  Or something. 

When the film finally came out in the UK then, I was so excited that I could barely sit still, and gleefully counted out the days on the calendar on my wall.  I saw it in a Cannon cinema in the West End.  My mother went to the screen next door to see Thelma & Louise, which she wasn’t at all sure about it afterwards, because she said “it made it look okay to kill people”, which boggled my mind a bit.  Nothing was that exciting in The Doors film.  I suppose it couldn’t be anything but a let down.  It seemed to go on for a bit too long, feature a Jim Morrison who had had a humour bypass and lacked pace.  When the screen said ‘1968’  half way through a montage 90 minutes in, my exasperated friend turned to me and said “What year did he die?  Is it soon?”  Meg Ryan was upstaged by her own wig.  Val Kilmer looked doped up , as Jim Morrison would have been, but actually just ended up looking as if he was bored.  He was very pretty, however.  And sang his own songs like a trooper.  But the script wasn’t poor.

Val uses an open shirt to distract from the fact that after 12 years in the Business known as Show, he still can’t quite work out where the camera is.  To your left, son – your LEFT!  Meanwhile, the original version on the right does it all a whole lot better.  Lovely.

Still, it was two and a half hours of Val strutting about in leather trousers, so what’s not to like?  However, I was upset by the whole fat period with beard, sloppy bits of whisky in his hat and big belly.  But at least it prepared us for the Val of the future.  Imagine my horror, dear friends at pictures of Val in the last two years.  He ate all the pies.  And the cakes.  And the KFC buckets.  Nevermind a shadow of his former self, he is now the widescreen version, with eyes like piss holes in the snow and keeping to an average of seven meals a day.  When the loves of one’s youth turn up aged and grisly, we are always shocked, although we shouldn’t be.  Part of the shock is self-referential – if Val Kilmer is 106, how old does that make me?  I am not suggesting for a moment that Kilmer should have taken a leaf out of Morrison’s book and stayed young, having died in a Parisian bath at 27 (very selfish – did he not spare a thought for the chambermaid?).  But growing old disgracefully doesn’t just let him down, but lets all of us down as well.  The passing years are written on him.  One glance at his podgy chops and eighteen years ago doesn’t feel like yesterday anymore.

I hardly listen to The Doors these days, but I do have the film on DVD and find I enjoy it now more than I did then.  I sing along with the songs more than I did then.  I think of the film more fondly than I should.   Although it is a shock that Val(erie) Kilmer is now 50! – 50! – it’s even more of a shock to see that had Jim Morrison lived he would have been a stately 68 years old, and would basically look like Keith Richard.  Never mind all the drugs, they’d just whizz him off to Geneva and give him a complete blood transfusion every couple of weeks and he’d be totally fine.  There’s no dude like an old dude.  But, my Jim Morrison years are, and these days Val Kilmer is more Old Man than Ice Man.   Thank goodness for celluloid then, where youth springs eternal and – for a moment – so do we.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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