Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Modern Pilgrim, Chewing-Gum Version

The grave of Jim Morrison. I made a pilgrimage here, under protest.

          I used to read about people making pilgrimages to various shrines and sacred sites and think that the modern world where I lived was, alas, sadly lacking in that type of journey and in the stories it engendered.

          Pilgrimages were the original road trip. You know: band of adventurous misfits sets out on a journey, meets strange cloaked figures, sees bizarre and wonderful sights, makes friends—and enemies, arrives at their goal to find that it was not what they expected, then returns home wiser, possibly sadder, and with tons of frequent-flyer miles.

          "But wait," you say. "You just equated a pilgrimage with a road trip. Surely you've taken to the open road, felt the wind in your hair, met strange cloaked figures, seen bizarre and wonderful sights, shuddered at the state of gas-station restrooms, yadda yadda yadda. What are you griping about?"

          Well, yes. But I always thought it wasn't a real pilgrimage if I didn't have a pack and staff. Also a hooded cloak.*

          My sister the folklorist convinced me otherwise by the simple expedient of demanding that we make a pilgrimage to see Jim Morrison's grave.

          Here is my response: No way I am putting on a cloak and finding a pack and staff in order to go look at a dead rock star's grave when he only ever sang one song that I like, and that only because it was written by Kurt Weill** and not Jim Morrison. 

          My sister: Have I ever steered you wrong?

          Me: You once forced me to wear the Hair Band of Fashion Death to keep my hair from falling into my face.

          My sister: Yes, and after I did, you quit banging into walls because you couldn't see through the hair falling into your face. Also, you were already wearing the Shirt of Fashion Death. The hair band was small potatoes compared to that shirt.

          Me: Fine. We'll go see Jim Morrison's grave. But I won't like it.

          So we go, and J photographs all the gifts and notes people leave at Morrison's grave because that is what folklorists do, and I stand around wishing that there was at least some decent funerary sculpture on it because it is the World's Most Boring Grave.

          And then, nearby, I notice this tree. I think I can say with complete assurance that it is the World's Most Disgusting Tree, and a singularly fitting monument to Jim Morrison.

This is the Jim Morrison Memorial Tree. Can you guess what those blotches that cover it are?

          For it is covered in wads of chewing gum.  A kind of "I came; I saw; I chewed some gum and stuck it to a tree in honor of Jim Morrison" monument.

Someone loves "Light My Fire" enough to scribe it into a wad of used gum.
I feel that this is pretty much the perfect rock & roll metaphor.

          After J finishes documenting the grave and the chewing-gum tree, she says, "I told you it would be a real pilgrimage." She mimes taking out a notepad and pencil. "It has all the elements: adventurous misfits—" she looks around at our fellow pilgrims, one or two of whom are rocking very LOTR-style cloaks, and pretends to make a checkmark next to an invisible item on her imaginary list. "—check. Bizarre and wonderful sights—" I point to the "Light My Fire" wad o' gum. "—check. "Goal not what pilgrims expected—" we both stare at the chewing-gum tree, and J then observes that Morrison's actual grave looks more like the grave of an accountant than a wild, transgressive rock star who may or may not have OD'd under suspicious circumstances. "—check," I say.

          She puts her imaginary notepad and pencil away. "You know what I've always wanted to see?" I ask her.

          She shakes her head. "Fairy wells," I say.

          We stroll down the row of tombs, away from Jim Morrison. She cuts me a sidelong glance. "Road trip," she says. "Go get your cloak."

*Yes, J.R.R Tolkein and Chaucer are principally where I got my ideas about pilgrimage. Also some third-hand stories from medieval lives of the saints. And fairy tales. Where everyone wore cloaks. I thought it was required.

**"Alabama Song."


  1. Ya' got me, I couldn't figure out how a tree could be disgusting, but there ya' go.

  2. Well it's a rare day when people are actually encouraged to stick chewing gum on things, it certainly makes an extraordinary effect!