Will Morrison exhibit light readers' fire?

The Clearwater Library, once a hangout for a young Jim Morrison, is considering a permanent Morrison exhibit.

Published December 28, 2005

CLEARWATER - Before Jim Morrison became the rock icon and lead singer of The Doors, he was just a young man getting shushed a lot at the Clearwater Library.

Morrison lived with his grandparents a couple of blocks from the downtown library when he went to St. Petersburg Junior College in the early 1960s. Back then, friends say Morrison used to get harassed for being different.

"Jim was strange-looking enough, and remember Clearwater was a little bitty town," said Larry Palmer of Clearwater, who was a friend of Morrison's. "It was like Mayberry. And he was kind of a wise ass."

But Morrison felt at home at the library.

"The library is where he didn't get harassed," Palmer said. "It was sort of a safe haven for him. We'd always end up there."

Library officials learned of Morrison's affinity for the library in a Times story in September about Morrison's Clearwater roots and his relationship with then-girlfriend Mary Werbelow. Now library officials are considering a permanent Morrison exhibit in the library's special collections room, in hopes that Morrison's fame as a cult hero might spark a new generation of young readers.

"It might be something we want to capitalize on," said Judy Melges, Clearwater Library Foundation trustee. "We'll have to see where it goes."

Plans are still very much in the "embryonic stage," she said, and will be brought before the full library board in late January.

The tentative plan would be to assemble a special collection of the books that influenced Morrison and his poetry and lyrics. Last month, library officials met with two of Morrison's old Clearwater friends, Palmer and Phil Anderson, to chronicle some of Morrison's involvement with the library.

Palmer said the group of friends would find a quiet corner in the small library where they could chat and read. Sometimes, they'd sneak in peach schnapps in their jackets.

But make no mistake, friends said, Morrison was an avid reader and viewed books like treasure. His room was stacked to the ceiling with books, and he could quote them with near photographic memory.

Palmer said Morrison devoured a wide variety of books, in particular those by authors and poets like William Burroughs, William Blake, Norman Mailer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Palmer remembered that his mother got angry with Morrison for giving him a paperback copy of William Burroughs' sexually graphic novel, Naked Lunch.

"Please don't look at it that way," Morrison pleaded with her, arguing that Burroughs was an incredible writer.

Characteristically, Palmer said, he was forgiven.

In addition to Morrison's favorite books, the library's exhibit might include a more tangible link to Morrison. Triangle Development, the firm that demolished the home of Morrison's grandparents last summer for a massive waterfront condominium/retail development, has offered to donate one of the home's doors.

Before knocking down the old bungalow on the bluffs overlooking Clearwater Harbor, Triangle salvaged some 29 doors, floorboards from Morrison's room, bricks and other memorabilia. They intend to auction those items on eBay, with the proceeds to benefit the Clearwater Library and Narconon and Criminon, drug treatment and crime rehabilitation programs inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The principals of Triangle are Scientologists.

Funds would also go to the local Cherish the Children Foundation, where Triangle's Ben Kugler sits on the board of directors.

"We just want to help Clearwater, to create a renaissance in town," said Karen Scott of Triangle. "We really want to do something big, to put Clearwater on the map, a big benefit for all these worthy causes in our town."

The auction was tentatively scheduled for early next year but Scott said the auction and a planned benefit concert at Coachman Park have been put off until perhaps February or March 2007.

Scott said booking performers for the concert required more advanced notice than she anticipated.

"To pull off something like that, it's not going to happen in a few months," Scott said. "But it's something we'd sure like to do."

It's still unclear who any of the prospective performers will be.

A plan to reunite the remaining members of The Doors, however, seems a long shot.

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek took a pass, Scott said. Via e-mail, he told her the former members were not performing together at the moment.

Maybe that will change by next year, Scott said.

"I don't think the door is closed," she said. "I didn't get that he said absolutely no."

For his part, Palmer is just excited that Morrison's legacy might live on at the Clearwater Library. His friend's passion for poetry and writing was genuine, he said.

"I think kids need to realize there were some cool people into books and their value... and he was a cool kid," Palmer said. "I'm really excited about what the library is trying to do."