The photo takes up less than one-eighth of the magazine page but fills my vision and rocks my fifteen year-old world: a shirtless man in charcoal leather pants. Dark curls hanging over his forehead, a look in his eyes that makes all my muscles contract.
Above the photo it says, ‘Jim Morrison of The Doors.’
Below the photo it says: ‘Reminder: the only man who could ever get away with leather pants has been dead for years.’
In the space of thirty seconds I’ve gone from being bored to horny to a tragic figure whose only true love is dead.
Within a week, I’m an expert on Jim Morrison and The Doors. Within a month, my room is 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 write quotes of his all over my school bag and books, all over my arms and legs.
My friends quickly tire of my obsession. One tells me I should talk to her dad since he loves old- fashioned soft rock too. I am furious. I’m not into soft rock. This is bigger than the music. This is a profound connection. A meeting of minds and souls across time and space and…
Even as I’m saying it I know I’m a fraud. What I care about, what I am literally losing sleep over, are those goddamn snake hips in those goddamn leather pants. My passion for Jim’s drug-induced philosophical poetry is fake; my grief, though, is real:
I will never get to fuck this guy.
This is the condition I am in when Joseph slinks into my life. Hair longer than mine, black eyes, the beef jerky physique and haughty demeanour of a late sixties rock star. Joseph breaks into houses and shops and, one time, our school’s front office. He’s poorer than anyone I know but he doesn’t keep the things he steals, just smashes them on the street outside.
At parties, he nods at me and I follow him to the nearest dark corner, leaving my friends mid-sentence. One rainy night, he sneaks into my room, soaked to the bone, strips off as though we aren’t fifteen and my parents aren’t a scream away. It takes me some time to notice his calf is ripped open. Guard dog, he grunts, falling on to my bed.
It’s midnight and the rain is pounding and his blood is seeping through my sheet, soaking into the mattress and I lie beside him and say This is like a Doors song, man.’
And he says, I hate that shit.
I just meant, I say, that you remind me of Jim Morrison right now.
Wanker, he spits, and I pretend not to hear because there is some very good stuff happening right now, but he repeats it often over the coming weeks. I take down my posters and hide the books and tapes so as not to provoke more invective.
But the whole time I’m with him, Jim is in my head growling Girl you’ve gotta love your man and god, do I listen. Joseph shoulda been sending thank you flowers to the man’s grave instead of insulting him, I tell you.
Three months into our ‘relationship’, Joseph stops talking to me. Well, he’d never talked to me much; it’s more that he stops turning up at laces and pulling me aside. I’m devastated, not just by his rejection, but by the way everything else in my life has been polluted by him. I miss my friends looking at me without disapproval, my parents looking at me without suspicion. I miss having a bedroom untainted by memories of his meanness, a mattress unstained by his blood.
I miss the purity of the desire I felt when listened to my Doors tapes. Now, when Jim entreats me to Ride the snake I think: great idea, look where that got me. And Love Her Madly made me want to smash my walkman. All your love is gone. 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, Jim. Do you ever listen to yourself?
After a bit, the friends I jettisoned for Joseph begin to come around again. We listen to music made in the last decade and put up posters of living idols and talk about boys that couldn’t break our hearts if they tried.
One night Riders on the Storm comes on the radio – a golden oldie – and it’s all falling rain and seeping blood and Girl you’ve gotta love your man and I am stupefied by grief and longing.
But then Suze starts doing these messed-up actions to the lyrics – into this house we’re born – and Fiona joins in – into this world we’re thrown – and knocks the bottles of coke and opened nail polish from my bedside table onto my bed and if we don’t clean it up fast that shit is going to soak right through.
I tell my friends to leave the mess alone. I climb on to my invisible horse and they do the same and we ride on through a storm of laughter, and let the stains form where they will.
Emily Maguire is the author of the novels An Isolated Incident, Fishing for Tigers, Smoke in the Room, The Gospel According to Luke and the international bestseller Taming the Beast. She was named as a Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year in 2010 and again in 2013.
Emily narrated the Riders In The Storm story with The Stereo Stories Band at Write Around The Murray Festival, Albury, New South Wales on 16 September 2017. A much longer version of the story, titled Jim Morrison and the Deev Shelf, was first published in Your Mother Would Be Proud (Allen & Unwin, 2009).