On December 9th, 1967, Jim Morrison made rock and roll history when he became the first rock musician to be arrested live on stage. In the middle of a performance in the New Haven Arena, The Door’s lead singer would be snatched off stage and charged with inciting a riot, indecency, and public obscenity.
‘The New Haven Incident’, as it is remembered, was sparked after a police officer confronted Morrison kissing a girl in a bathroom in the Connecticut venue. The officer was among a protection detail who had been charged with protecting the band members on the night.
But the state trooper mistook Morrison for just some other long-haired hippy type, one with less money, who couldn’t write lyrics or sing. And so, he ordered the pair to disperse. When they failed to do so, he produced a can of mace and sprayed it in Morrison’s face.
The fracas delayed the gig by an hour, with a furious Morrison driven further into a rage when the apologetic trooper tried to explain away the incident by telling him: “I didn’t know who you were.”
The band’s keyboardist, the late Ray Manzarek, recalled that after Morrison took to the stage, he used the platform to call out the officer, before being bundled off of it by Captain Kelly and his state troopers:
“He was baiting the cops; he was telling the story of being maced. He was in the shower making out with some girl and a cop goes in and says ‘Hey you kids get out of here’.
“Jim Morrison says to the guy ‘We’re just kissing do you mind?’ And the guy hit him with the mace. Then he finds out who he is, Jim comes running into the dressing room, his eyes just watering insane.
“The cop was then told by the manager the man he just maced was the lead singer of the band he was here to protect. He was like ‘I’m really sorry, I didn’t know who you were’.
“It was like, oh if you’re famous you don’t get maced, if you’re just a kid making out, then you are going to get it. Hold it, man, it doesn’t work that way.”
Once Jim began to stride atop the stage, he broke out into one of his trademark monologues, with his band dutifully improvising a backing track as they were accustomed to do. Ray continued: “One by one the officers started to turn. They were looking at the audience and they started to turn to look at Jim. Thick guys with thick necks making double time, working nights, a lot of fun, maybe you get to whack a couple of kids, a couple of teenagers if you could hit a couple of long hairs even better.
“And then Morrison is saying ‘Little blue man in a little blue hat, a little blue pig, they said because I was famous I shouldn’t have been maced, but I’m like you guys, I’m just like you guys, he did it to me and he’ll do it you.’
“And out comes Captain Kelly and he says ‘Stop the show, you’ve gone too far, and arrests him right on stage.”
Reportedly a further 13 people were arrested at the New Haven Arena, as local officers battled to contain the swirling crowd, in a scuffle that has since been dubbed a ‘mini-riot.’
This arrest would not be Morrison’s last, with the singer going on to rack up a string of arrests, including for public drunkenness, lewd and lascivious behaviour, and indecent exposure.
The leather-clad, long-haired Morrison clashing with the law, those uniformed men who, as he saw it, were too small to step through the doors of perception, is a kind of bookmark in American culture, where an old America can be observed in its death throes, as another, younger challenger rises to kill it off for good. The charges laid against Morrison for his New Haven antics were quickly dropped, evidence if it were needed of an old regime unable to hold back the spring.
Featured image credit: New Haven Register