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Jim Morrison and the Deev Shelf

It all started with Cleo magazine. At fifteen, I bought the magazine every month, not because I gave a crap about sassy office wear or sex tips for women in their twenties, but because looking at super thin fashion models helped me stick to my near starvation diet.

I had recently started at the local high school, having failed utterly at making the grade – socially or academically – at the prestigious selective school I had attended for two years. At my old school I was the fat girl who lost weight, turned into a slut and failed half her classes. At my new school I was the hot girl who had left her previous school in mysterious circumstances. Some said I’d been expelled for drinking in school hours; others had it on good authority that I’d had to leave to escape my possessive older boyfriend. The kids in my year wouldn’t have accepted the boring truth – failure and sadness and a desperate desire to make a new start – any more than I would have shared it.

So, this one night, I was sitting up in bed in the granny flat that used to house my actual granny, but which, since she had moved back to Queensland, had been gifted to me. I was flipping through the new Cleo, smoking to quell the hunger pains and cover the smell of sausages drifting down from the house. I was annoyed because this month’s issue had a focus on men’s style, which meant a good proportion of the fashion spreads were of thin men and so no use to me at all.

I was about to give up and pull out my old copy of Women’s Weekly with the feature article on anorexia, when I saw him. There, in the top left hand corner, taking up less than one-eighth of the page, but filling my vision and rocking my world, was a shirtless man in charcoal leather pants. Dark curls hung over his forehead and the look in his eyes made all my muscles contract. Above the photo it said, ‘Jim Morrison of The Doors.’ Below the photo it said: ‘The only man who could get away with leather pants has been dead for years.’

In the space of thirty seconds I went from being hungry to horny to a tragic figure whose only true love was dead.

In the space of thirty seconds I went from being hungry to horny to a tragic figure whose only true love was dead.

Within a week, I was an expert on Jim Morrison and The Doors. Within a month, my flat was a shrine: Jim posters on every wall, Jim’s poetry books scattered across the floor and Jim’s voice coming from my tape deck every moment. I also bought a Doors live in concert video, but since I had to go to the house to watch it, I mostly just gazed longingly at the cover on which Jim’s hips were cocked at an angle that made me quite faint. Once a fortnight or so, my longing would become too painful and I would enter the house, nostrils squeezed shut against the smell of food, ears deaf to the questions of my parents and the taunts of my siblings. I sat ramrod straight and silent while watching the video, then the second it was finished, ran back to my bed to recover.

My new best friends, Suze and Fiona were sceptical about my grieving widow act. Looking at the pictures on my walls – all of them topless, one of them featuring snail trail and a pelvic bone – the girls suggested that maybe this was just lust.

‘He is kind if sexy…’ Suze offered, scrunching her nose up.

‘If you like dead guys,’ Fiona said.

‘Or old guys.’

‘Or guys with long hair.’

‘And weeds growing on their chest.’

I was deeply offended. Jim was undeniably sexy. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that this wasn’t about sex. This was true, deep, committed love and I would prove it.

Jim Morrison was influenced by William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud and Aldous Huxley, and so, instantly, was I. My English teacher was so impressed by my reading that he began to bring me books from his personal library. At my old school – which was run for and by nerds – this kind of thing would have marked me as part of the elect, an über-nerd, if you will. Here though, it was so outrageous that no one knew what to think. An overheard conversation:

‘Did’ja hear about Emily and Mr Jones?’

‘Nuh. Ew! What?’

‘She borrows books from him.’

‘Huh?’

‘I know. He brings in books and she takes them home to read them and then she brings them back and he gives her more.’

‘Fuck me.’

‘I know.’ My French teacher, too, was impressed with my dedication to her subject. I told her, and my parents, that my new enthusiasm was due to my desire to spend a year working as an au pair in Paris after I graduated. Only my closest friends knew my real plan: to visit Jim’s grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery, where I would (like all the other Jim tourists) leave him a bottle of whiskey and a lit cigarette, after which I (unlike all the other Jim tourists) would be filled with his essence. Thus filled, I would move into the building where he died and become a famous poet, returning to his grave each day for fresh inspiration.

But all that was years away. Reading the books he read, planning to one day sit next to his headstone, these things were not convincing anyone that Jim and I were eternal soul mates. All I had achieved, actually, was better marks in French and English and a reputation as a dag who listened to late-sixties soft rock. I needed to step things up, to really prove my commitment to my man.

I should explain a little more about the granny flat here. It had been built on the back of the garage by the previous owners and consisted of a bedroom, a kitchenette and, down a short flight of concrete steps, a bathroom. When my Nana lived here, she transformed it from barely habitable to downright homey. She lined the kitchen cupboards, fixed the toilet and shower and polished the floorboards. She bought a funky retro second-hand fridge, a single bed and a desk. And she painted the nasty old fibro-board walls a beautiful dusty blue and the skirting boards and picture rails a delightfully contrasting shade of peach. You know in Calamity Jane how Katie Brown and Calamity sing ‘A Woman’s Touch’ and turn that grimy cabin into a dream home? That’s what my Nana did to the granny flat.

So, Suze, Fiona and I were sitting in my adorable, lovingly renovated flat and I was trying to explain to them that I want to live my philosophy and they were not understanding me, because I wasn’t really being very clear, since, you know, I didn’t actually have a philosophy so much as an urge to have sex with a dead rock star which I wanted to explain away by pretending to believe in all the stuff that he believed in.

I didn’t actually have a philosophy so much as an urge to have sex with a dead rock star which I wanted to explain away by pretending to believe in all the stuff that he believed in.

‘I just want to do stuff, that, like, shows people how false their world is. Like, how they cling to material goods and, um, reputation and stuff instead of accepting reality.’

‘Huh?’

‘Like, life is pain, you know? And people need to learn to accept that.’

‘I guess. Got any diet coke?’

Frustrated, I went to get Fiona her drink. And there in the kitchenette, pushed back in the corner of a cupboard behind the vegemite jar glasses and orange plastic picnic plates was a tin of gold spray paint. I don’t know who put it there or why or when, but the instant I saw it I knew how to convince my friends that I was serious.

‘Out of the way,’ I yelled at the girls, who were slumped against the big, bare, beautiful blue wall. As they leapt to the safety of my bed I began to write, as big as my arms could make it, the most profound statement I could conceive of: SHIT HAPPENS.

‘Oh fuck,’ said Suze.

‘You are going to get killed,’ said Fiona.

A wave of nausea hit me. I ignored it and ran down to the bathroom. OPEN THE DOORS, I sprayed, already imagining how I’d explain about Aldous Huxley’s doors of perception to visitors and they’d be so impressed at how well read and insightful I was. Back up the stairs, I hit the kitchen: SO BE IT, I wrote in the space above the sink (not realising I was quoting a Christian Slater movie rather than a Doors lyric).

I stood back and took in what I’d done. Terror and guilt gushed through my guts. My parents trusted me with this place. They were sad, I remembered, that I wanted so badly to be out of the house. They were distressed at my desire to get away from them and my sisters and brother. But because they were worried that saying no would result in me eating even less and dropping out of another school, because they were generous and supportive and selfless, they had agreed to let me have the solitude and privacy I so desperately craved. I had screwed up, big time.

Then I looked to Suze and Fiona and their faces obliterated all my doubts. They were fucking sold.

By lunch the next day I was a legend. Everybody knew what I had done to my granny flat walls. More importantly, everyone knew I lived in a granny flat.

The other thing I should mention about the flat is that it was on the edge of a corner block and it had two doors: one faced the living room window of my parent’s house; the other faced the side street. The latter, I was absolutely forbidden to use.

My poor trusting parents. Over the next few Saturday nights, while Mum and Dad thought Suze, Fiona and I were having girly slumber parties, half the school plus a fair number of random hot boys we’d met around the suburb, slouched through that forbidden door with armfuls of booze and drugs.

Suze and Fiona took charge. While I sat on my bed pretending to read poetry, they sat by the open door, ready to greet visitors and tell them they had to whisper – if a male voice reached the house, it was all over. The only other rule was that anyone smoking drugs had to do so in the bathroom, which was below ground and had no window facing the house. This was obviously the best strategy with regards to parental detection, but it also worked to keep the smoke away from me.

If anyone asked, I’d say that pot made me sleepy, but the truth was that I’d never even tried it, having been scared off by its reputation for causing ravenous hunger. I stuck to binge drinking vodka. It rarely stayed down long enough for my body to absorb any calories, and it killed my appetite for the entire next day.

It was after an extended session in the smoky bathroom that Suze came up with the idea of collecting souvenirs of all the bad-arse stuff we did. I would say it was a typical stoner idea, except I was the one who decided that our souvenir collection needed its own shelf.

While I constructed a dodgy bookshelf (scrap wood from the garage balanced on nails half hammered into the wall), Suze made a biro on lined foolscap sketch of a freckle-faced kid giving the finger. Fiona drew two speech bubbles: ‘Screw You’ and ‘Eh-he-he he-he’, and made a heading ‘THE DEEV SHELF.’

The first item was obvious: the gold spray can. Filling the rest of the shelf would be a challenge. Thing is, we weren’t very bad. We were middle-class girls living in the bible belt of Sydney’s western suburbs. Our parents were kind, generous and hardworking. We had shiny hair and nice clothes and good grades. We wanted to be above it all, but without actually giving any of it up.

So it was that one of our first exhibits consisted of three plastic baubles stolen from a Christmas tree while shopping for expensive gifts at the upscale mall in the next suburb. Another early piece was a dice taken from a board-game at a house party. Then there was the single plastic daisy plucked from a narrow Sizzler table vase into which we had stuffed seafood salad. The ceramic sugar satchel holder beside it was not taken for its own sake, but as a reminder of the night we filled a restaurant salt shaker with sugar.

As witty and original the acts that provided these displays were, the souvenir that best summed up the spirit of the Deev Shelf was the cleaning check card we took from a plastic sleeve on the back of a public toilet door. The card was 10 x 15, pulpy beige cardboard with faded black lines. It was useless to everyone except the cleaner who needed a place to scribble her initials, and it contained information of interest to no one except the cleaning supervisor. It was tacky looking and worthless and its absence would cause – at most – minor inconvenience and befuddled annoyance. Deev to the max.

While the room vandalising and petty pranking brought me and my girlfriends closer, I was feeling further away from Jim Morrison than ever. I had, reluctantly, admitted to myself (though not to Suze and Fiona) that this was, after all, probably just lust, starting as it did with a photo of snaky hips in leather pants rather than opaque free verse set to electronic organ music, but acknowledging this truth did nothing to make it go away.

If anything I felt more frustrated. I would have been willing to work it all out with one of the nice boys in brand new metal t-shirts and carefully ripped jeans who filed into my room every weekend but they were as bold with us girls as we were with crime.

Until Joseph. Joseph was in our year at school, but he hung with the real tough kids, the ones who stole cars instead of cleaning cards. He was tall and lean with black eyes and shoulder length hair, and before he showed up at my door I had never even heard him speak.

‘Hey,’ he said, picking at the front of his holey Metallica shirt.

‘Hey,’ we all said, as if criminals in skin-tight jeans and steel-capped boots visited us every night of the week.

‘Um, you can come in but you need to whisper, okay?’ Suze said.

Joseph walked past her. ‘What?’ he yelled, looking right at me. I was gone.

Joseph had the beef jerky physique and haughty demeanour of a rock star, and I can’t honestly say which attracted me more. When everyone who cared about me told me that he was no good, I thought it was because they were jealous or small-minded. I had yet to learn that – contrary to every John Hughes movie I’d seen – not every gorgeous bad boy is a misunderstood loner with a heart of gold. Some are, in fact, sub-literate, selfish arseholes with anger management issues. In that first rush of lust though, the only real flaw I could see in Joseph was that he thought The Doors were shit. Worse, he said such nasty things about Jim Morrison personally that I was forced to take down my posters just so I wouldn’t have to see him spit ‘Fag’ at them every time he walked through my door.

If Joseph had known that the whole time we were together Jim’s Girl you’ve gotta love your man was on a loop in my head, he might have realised that he should have been sending flowers to the man’s grave instead of insulting him. As it was though, I had to keep quiet about my dead love in order to keep my flesh-and-blood boyfriend by my side.

With the posters down, Joseph turned his scorn on the Deev Shelf. It was, he said, ‘fucking embarrassing’. The stories I told him about the fun Suze, Fiona and I had collecting each item were met with yawns. My friends and I, he said, were ‘babies’ who would probably cry and wet our pants if we were caught stealing one of our silly trophies. When I failed to react to this, he stomped one of the Christmas baubles to smithereens.

A month or so after Joseph and I had started going out, Suze and Fiona presented me with a fresh Deev Shelf display: a crumpled Milky Way wrapper. I was sceptical, alluding to the many such wrappers that lined the streets between their houses and mine. I mentioned also the bag of snack-sized chocolate bars that Suze’s mum kept in the cupboard over the fridge, and the ready supply of Milky Ways at the 7-11 down the end of my street.

‘Yeah, that’s where we got it. We nicked it,’ Suze said.

I looked at Fiona, who nodded.

‘And what? Ate it?’ The disgust I felt was, of course, totally about the common thuggishness of stealing chocolate to eat and not at all about the fact nothing solid had passed my lips that week.

‘Yeah, but only so we’d have the clean wrapper. It’s legit, man, totally in the Deev spirit,’ Suze insisted.

‘Whatever,’ I said. ‘It’s a 30 cent chocolate. Joseph stole a frickin’ microwave last week. Got bitten by a guard dog and everything.’

Suze and Fiona exchanged looks.

‘What?’

‘Nothing,’ they both said, but there was something and we all knew it.

Three months into our ‘relationship’, Joseph stopped talking to me. Well, he’d never talked to me much anyway, so it was more that he stopped turning up at my flat and ordering my friends to leave. I was devastated, not just by the rejection, but by the way it poisoned everything else. My Doors tapes, in particular, were ruined forever. When Jim called on me to Ride the snake I could only think: great idea, look where that got me. ‘Love Her Madly made me especially angry: All your love is gone, Jim sang. So sing a lonely song/ Of a deep blue dream/ Seven horses seem to be on the mark. Huh? What do I do now my love is gone? Seven horses are what? Jesus, did the man ever listen to himself?

Suze and Fiona began to come around every Saturday night again, but now we kept the side door closed. We were bitter about men, the way they changed a room just by being in it, and the way they made bright things seem dull and beloved things less precious. We were especially bitter about the way all these changes remained even after the man had gone.

We knew we couldn’t change it all back, so we started over. We repainted the walls and hung new posters. We played Salt ‘n Pepa so loud my Dad actually started to come down to the granny flat to yell. We spent some weekends at Fiona’s house and some at Suze’s and admitted relief at not having a stream of boys knocking on the door, demanding entry.

And one night we sat up until dawn, slowly dismantling the Deev Shelf. We reminisced about the laughs we’d had, as we reverently wrapped each item in newspaper and placed it in an old school bag. It wasn’t that our Deev days were over, we promised each other, but that our future acts of rebellion would be so large that not even their symbols would fit on a shelf.

Postscript: I did eventually visit Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Sadly, I did not absorb his essence but I did inhale the urine and patchouli stench of several stoners who had set up vigil there. Suze is now a teacher at our old high school, where she marvels at the similarity of teenaged emo poetry to Doors lyrics. Fiona is mother to two adorable munchkins who, if they’re at all like their mum, will be marvellous human beings except for one year of their lives in which they will be unbearable little brats. We are all still deev to the max.