One day during lunch in the school cafeteria, my friend Paul slid a dog-eared paperback entitled “No One Here Gets Out Alive” across the table to me. I glanced at the cover, and was intrigued. It was hard not to be, since the character featured there—a hollow-chested, anorexic hippie with wild, feathery hair and skinny, outstretched arms—was so striking.
“Wow, cool,” I said, thumbing through it further and reading a few pages. “So why did he call himself “The Lizard King?”
“It was his nickname,” Paul said. He stuck a fork into his mac and cheese and lifted it out of his tray in a perfect, square-shaped block.
“Do lizards even have kings?” I said, admiring the shirtless, raven-haired form.
“Apparently, they are not a democratic species,” Paul said, placing the block of mac and cheese back into its compartment and leaving the fork sticking out of it. “Anyway, you gotta read it.”
Later that night, I did. I read how this man, “Mr. Mojo Risin’” he called himself, was really the reincarnation of an Indian shaman because when he was a kid, he saw a car wreck where there were a bunch of dead Indians all over the road, and one of their spirits entered his body. I read how Jim hated his father, who was a Navy admiral, and how this made Jim hate all authority figures. I read how Jim dropped acid on Venice Beach and formed The Doors. I read how Jim wore stinky leather pants and was a total alcoholic, but despite being such a drunk, became rich and famous and got laid all the time. I read how Jim hated being a sex symbol and was really a sensitive poet deep down, and how he may have even faked his own death so he could escape being a rock star and write his poetry in peace.
At sixteen, this sincere desire to reject everything, even super stardom, appealed to me greatly. But what appealed to me even more greatly was Jim’s hair. It was a sweeping, flowing mane, a shock of tawny, wind-kissed, gloriously unkempt brambles framing a lean, panther handsome face. A face that was smoldering and intense, a face that had the courage to live in fleabag hotels on La Cienaga Boulevard, quote Nietzsche and Celine, and flash his wang in front of twenty thousand teenyboppers in Miami. The more I read about this king of lizards, the more I liked. The posters of Paulina Porizkova and Christie Brinkley remained tacked to my bedroom wall, but soon they had a neighbor, and one who was far more enticing. My eyes could not help but meet his, and many a night I would stare for long, spellbound moments at the image of James Douglas Morrison, at that bold, daring face and visionary eyes that beamed forth with the unconquerable glare of an eagle or some other magnificent bird of prey.
It wasn’t long before I cashed in my paper route money, bought a cheap stereo, a few tapes, and barricaded myself in my room every night, surrendering my fragile young eggshell mind to Jim’s lurid poetry and Ray Manzarek’s wandering organ solos, which felt like Ray was pressing specific areas of my brain with each searing, conscious-expanding note.
I also surrendered my wardrobe. Like the dead Indian had taken over Jim’s being, the dead rocker took over mine. Shoulder-length, Lucan The Wolf Boy hair, check. Puke-colored, paisley shirt with baggy pirate sleeves, check. Pointy-toed cowboy boots, check. Belt with twin circular metal buckles, check. Spray on pants, check. Cheesy, dime store necklace of multi-colored beads, check. Mirrored, teardrop, gay commando sunglasses, check. Perpetually disinterested, quasi-tortured sneer, check. Willingness to say, “I wanna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames” at least five times a day, check.
Mercifully, these affectations only lasted about half a year, although various parts of the Lizard King’s ensemble would haunt my wardrobe for years. Mainly the hair, which I grew long and shaggy and flailed around at various times to help it maintain just the right amount of lift, bounce and playfulness, not to mention nurturing it, well into my thirties, with an endless array of gels, spritzers, and various styling mousses.
But it was Jim’s love of alcohol that was the biggest revelation, for as shortly after I closed that book, I opened my first beer: a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon pinched from my dad’s fridge out in the garage, which was enjoyed slowly in the moodily lit recesses of my bedroom, where the dark province of my burgeoning adolescent mind grew darker and darker with every sip.