Few have watched a rock star’s or a rock band’s career from beginning to end as intimately as Frank Lisciandro had with Jim Morrison. Lisciandro met both Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek when all three were film students at UCLA. Lisciandro later worked on The Doors documentary “Feast of Friends” as well as Jim Morrison’s “HWY”. His wife Kathy also worked in The Doors office as their secretary. Lisciandro was also one of Morrison’s friends that took him to the airport when he left for Paris. Later, Lisciandro helped bring out editions of Morrison’s poetry, as well as writing about his friend. In 1990 Lisciandro interviewed some of Morrison’s friends and incorporated some of those interviews in his 1991 book “Jim Morrison: A Feast of Friends.” This past January Lisciandro published those interviews in full in “Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together.” Recently Lisciandro was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and his upcoming appearances and book signings in Los Angeles.
DE: How did you meet Jim and Ray at UCLA?
Frank Lisciandro: We met the same way students everywhere meet: in class and during class projects and between classes at the coffee/snack (shop) Gypsy Wagon that was located near the film school’s Quonset-hut class rooms. Jim and I started at UCLA at the same time so we were thrown together in lots of beginning film classes. I met Ray one summer day at the Santa Monica beach parking lot where I was earning some money collecting parking fees. Ray and I shared a passion for Japanese and European cinema so we often went to those films together. And we all saw each other and our other friends every day in and around the UCLA campus and during film screenings at the film school’s little theater.
DE: You conducted the interviews in “Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together” for your 1991 book “Jim Morrison, a Feast of Friends” but you only used partial interviews. Was it always your intention to publish the interviews in full?
Frank Lisciandro: Not at all. When I planned the interviews I thought I would use them as research for my book, “Jim Morrison, Feast of Friends” (Warner 1991);and that’s what I did. It was not until 20 years later when I came across the interviews and reread them that I understood how historically important they were. I was overwhelmed by the honest and candid testimony of Jim’s friends. I was deeply moved by how much these people still admired, even loved Jim. And I was amused and surprised by their witty and detailed recollections about hanging out and working with Jim. Once I started reading the interviews, I knew that I had to share them.
DE: You conducted the interviews with Jim’s friends to enable fans to get an idea of Jim Morrison as a real person. What misconception do you think most Doors fans harbor about Jim Morrison?
Frank Lisciandro: I don’t know what misconceptions fans have. Mostly people have only read the rubbish-filled books and articles that portray Jim as a wild man, or a drunken fool or as a pretentious rock performer. These are myths and distortions that have been served up as truths by the authors of those books; most of them never met Jim Morrison or attended a Doors concert. Readers don’t have a chance if they’re fed a bunch of rumors and urban legends. What are they going to believe? My best advice those who want to know more about Jim is to read his own writings. Or read the eyewitness interviews in “Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together” to know the man as his friends knew him. Or get a copy of my first book, “Jim Morrison, an Hour for Magic” in which I write about the friend I knew.
DE: After going over all the interviews, did you learn anything about Jim Morrison that you might not have known, even though you were a close friend of his?
Frank Lisciandro: That’s a really good question, and one that could take me pages and pages to answer. Within the individual interviews in the book there are many stories about Jim that I had never heard. For example: Bill Siddons talks about Jim’s reaction the time he and Jim were being given a hard time at a Canadian border crossing; Ron Alan tells about how Jim had the inspiration for one of his poems; Vince Treanor describes how Jim was punched and beaten backstage by the New Haven police after he was arrested during a performance; Fud Ford talks about the teenage tricks he and Jim would play on friends including a friend that became a judge; and Ginny Ganahl tells the story of Jim’s amazing acrobatic leap over a parked car to escape being hit by a speeding car! These stories are credible and reliable accounts given by the people who were there.
But the simple answer to your question is that when I was done reading all the interviews I realized Jim’s friends were united in their opinions and observations. They all thought Jim was funny and generous and intelligent and a talented poet. They don’t attempt to cover up Jim’s faults but they liked him for being down to earth and never acting like a rock star. The thing is that Jim Morrison was really a gentle and humble guy, and I don’t think that most people realize that, because they’ve been presented with this crazy, wild, persona that sells albums, books and movies. But that image obliterates the real Jim Morrison that all his friends knew
DE: You have two upcoming events, where you’ll be doing book signings. One is at Book Soup in Hollywood on Saturday, May 31, and the other on the next night (June 1) at Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach. Any special plans for these events?
Frank Lisciandro: I don’t have any plans for my presentations at Book Soup and Beyond Baroque. I’d like the event to be somewhat freeform so that I can steer it towards what interests the people who attend. So what happens, depends on who shows up.
It would be great fun to do dual readings from the book with the people who are in the book reading their own words, so that might be a possibility. Plus, fans that come to these events usually bring questions or their own observations; and it’s always fun for me to engage them and get them to talk about their feeling about Jim Morrison. So a Q&A session is one of the things I look forward to at each event. I might even read and talk about Jim’s poetry. We’ll see how it develops.
DE: Book Soup occupies the same space as the Cinematheque 16 and your reading and appearance there is on the 45th anniversary of Jim’s reading at Cinematheque 16, do you think the reading may invoke any spirits?
Frank Lisciandro: Before I answer that intriguing question, I want to mention that it was my friend and the book’s editor, Steve Wheeler, who put together the Book Soup and Beyond Baroque events. He approached the Book Soup folks about giving us a spot on Saturday, May 31, because he knew (and I didn’t) that Jim and I had been at that exact same location on that same day and date 45 years earlier, on Saturday, May 31, 1969.
Steve also suggested I do an event in Venice Beach because of the importance of that area in Jim’s artistic life. And when he secured a night at Beyond Baroque and sent me the info, I immediately recognized the building as a place Jim and I had been in July of 1969. Back then the Beyond Baroque building was actually the Venice City Hall. It’s amazing that these two events are being held in place where Jim and I both were together.
Now to answer your question: Almost every time I’ve been at a Jim Morrison-based event, Jim shows up. I can usually feel his spirit and energy. That’s why I want to read one of his poems: to honor and acknowledge his presence. I don’t know how strongly those who attend will feel his spirit, but in the past at other events they’ve told me that they could feel Jim in the room. I wasn’t the only one. I’m not inclined to believe in spirits and ghosts and/or supernatural manifestations of the dead, but I cannot deny that I often sense Jim’s presence when a few of his friends and fans are gathered together.
DE: You put together and published the only two posthumous books of Jim Morrison poetry—“An American Night” and “Wilderness“, now more than twenty years ago. Do you think there’s any chance of more of Jim’s poetry to be published in the future?
Frank Lisciandro: Yes, I believe that more of Jim’s poetry will be published. I’m also hopeful that all of his spoken word recordings will be released so that we can enjoy him reading his own works. Unlike the previously released “An American Prayer” album, any new releases should have only Jim’s voice and his amazing words.
DE: You also made two films with Jim—“HWY” and “Feast of Friends.” Do you know if there are any plans for “HWY” to come out at some point?
Frank Lisciandro: I’ve wanted to release “HWY” in the best format possible since the day we first finished the film. I would like to see a large screen 35mm film screening of the film and a professional-quality DVD release. But I don’t own the copyright to the film so all I can do is encourage and help the copyright owners get it released. “HWY” will be released on DVD one day. I trust that the good people who own the copyrights are working towards the day when there will be a professional and authorized release of the film. It’s a beautiful and innovative film that provides insights into Jim’s creativity and thinking. Everything that Jim created needs to be released so that through experiencing the works we can get to know the man and his view of the human.
DE: You’re also a noted photographer; are there any plans for a Frank Lisciandro showing or exhibit any time in the near future?
Frank Lisciandro: Although I don’t have any upcoming exhibits to announce, I am always looking forward to showing my photographs. I’m known for the photographs I made of Jim and The Doors, but that’s only a small part of my life’s work. I’ve been making photographs since I was 14 years old, and I have many worlds to show. Having an exhibit entails sponsorship from a gallery or a public exhibition space. I encourage readers of this interview who would like to see my work to make a request at their favorite gallery, museum or public space. Who knows what could happen? Photography is a craft; photographers need viewers to engage with their work to make it an individual experience. Sometimes that experience, that confrontation between a viewer and an image, raises the work to the level of art which is a form of magic. But it can only happen when people get to see the photographs. And that’s why I’m making this notice: My photographs, are available for exhibition. All I need is an invitation and a bit of support.
DE: Thank you for Frank for taking the time to answer our questions.
Frank Lisciandro will be at Book Soup (8818 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA) on Saturday May 31 at 1pm, and at Beyond Baroque June 1 (681 Venice Boulevard, Venice Beach, CA) at 7:30pm. For more information please follow the links to the Book Soup and Beyond Baroque websites. You can also visit the “Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together” official website or the Facebook page for the book. If you’re interested in Frank’s photography please visit Frank Lisiandro Photograpy or the Frank Lisciandro websites. “Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together” is available at Amazon.
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