Highway 61 (5th installment of a 5 part series.)

On Valentine’s Day in ‘69, Cheryl received a call from Gerry Botic—now a booking agent in Atlanta. He asked Cheryl if the group would be interested in opening for “The Doors.”  The band was scheduled to play one concert in the University of North Carolina’s Carmichael Auditorium March 4th.

Cheryl later learned Highway was not Botic’s first choice.  Graham Nash had turned him down but recommended Highway. No matter—when Cheryl told them, the band was astonished and euphoric. The drummer turned white—the bass player mumbled something about panic attacks at the thought of working the same gig as Morrison.

The group descended into a twenty-four-seven frenzy of anticipation and preparation. All bookings for the next 2 weeks were canceled—a committee of music industry friends went to work finding replacements for all the dates the band declined. Cheryl started working on learning Mason William’s “Classical Gas,” and the group as a whole decided to master a scaled-down version of “MacArthur Park,”—several members of the university chorus volunteered to provide choral back-up.

For the next two weeks Cheryl was obsessed with the very real possibility of meeting Jim

Morrison and what might happen on that occasion. When she wasn’t practicing or sleeping from exhaustion she was consumed by the sense that this was it—this had to be it—the incredible something that her life was moving toward. The thought of meeting, speaking to, touching Jim Morrison seemed to be the moment she had been moving toward since the hour of her birth. Across the entire spectrum of her psyche Morrison towered and permeated like an unstoppable force of nature—he was darkness and light at the same time.

On a previous occasion—a few weeks after she arrived in Chapel Hill—Cheryl discovered what a comforting space Carmichael Auditorium was when it was empty. She knew of a freight elevator that was never locked—on various occasions when she needed to zone out—detach from the swirl and crush of her new life—she would go there alone.

She had a favorite seat way in the back of the highest section she always went to. This was her personal power place—a secret spot in the world where she could see all of her life clearly and thoughtfully. Late at night, several times during the weeks before the Doors concert, she would go to the facility and imagine—not just what the concert would be like, but how her life might change—who she would be—after her encounter with the Lizard King.

Cheryl smoked pot infrequently but on one occasion, seeking a break from the ceaseless rehearsing, she got seriously stoned and, listening to “Break On Through” (to the other side) on headphones, was pulled into the shadows where Jim peered with godlike omniscience into the most private corners of her longing and filled every weeping

emptiness, every taboo and animal lust with overflowing satiation. Every molecule of her being was glutted with drowning passion until even her immortal soul cried out for mercy.

On March 1, 1969, at a near-riot concert in Miami, Florida, the papers and TV news reported an even-more-than-usually drunken Jim Morrison exposed himself to twenty-thousand screaming kids. The concert at Carmichael Auditorium was immediately canceled.

The other girls in the house said what a shame. The other members of the band went to a cabin somewhere and got brutally wasted—one was hospitalized.

Cheryl went to Carmichael Auditorium sitting for a long time in her favorite seat looking at the empty, dark stage where there was nothing—nothing to be seen, imagined, postulated or anticipated. The stage at Carmichael, which had become the center of the universe, the destination of her life until that moment—was empty, silent. Death had come a third time to her life but now there was no bus she could get on and leave town. Once again she sat alone peering quietly into the abyss listening to Morrison’s music in her mind and remembering fully Nash’s—and her uncle’s words. Morrison’s hostile art, his angry genius, spoke for itself. His personal behavior, his  self destructiven lashing out fueled by hatred–how was that any different than what those morally diseased men did to her uncle?

Finally she left the building to walk back to the house. At the edge of the vast parking lot by the street, she recognized the bench she had rested on when she first hobbled into town many months before. She again lay down looking up at the midnight heavens—hoping to lose herself in the stars—trying to assess her American journey. She repeated to herself, some of the lyrics from “The End,”

“This is the end—my only friend, the end,

of our elaborate plans, the end.

I’ll never look into your eyes—again…”

For a moment she was 8 years old again and heard her uncle telling her where his love would be after death—“In the silence between heartbeats when all is well, in the darkness around you when times get tough.” She whispered his words to herself and, tears streaming down her cheeks, felt his love flowing around her on the soft Carolina breeze.

In the caring wisdom of her uncle finding its way to her through Graham Nash, she recognized truth—real love does not die, but the journey goes on. The only worthy goal is not something out there, but the journey itself and the love within, where all journeys of spirit begin and end.

She set aside the disappointment and sadness for a moment, letting the night sky fill her vision and heart.

The stars, in their beautiful, shining indifference, did not encourage her but they did light the way—they were doing their job. Her job was to live through the suffering of the moment and keep putting one foot in front of the other.


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