Revealing the Identity of “The Phantom” in One of the Most Notorious After-Death Jim Morrison Conspiracies

Posted: April 25, 2012 by Dion in History, Music, Music Review
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It was back in 1997 in the now-defunct “Record Explosion”, a record store chain in New York City that had a large amount of hard to find music and bootleg material, that I first came across one of the weirdest albums of the 1970’s: Phantom’s Divine Comedy, Part 1. This album may ring a bell for hardcore Doors fans, but it isn’t something a music fan may normally come across.

This LP has notoriously been purported to be in fact another Doors album in disguise, something that came out after the death of singer Jim Morrison, adding to the conspiracy-theorists—you know, the ones who believed the singer faked his own death in Paris and went on to lead a secret life in order to dodge the haunting limelight that had plagued the troubled young singer up to his (so-called) death.

The album was released in 1974, and was immediately touted in fan circles as proof not only that Morrison was still alive, but that he had come out of hiding (perhaps from Africa, as some die-hards had theorized), and had in fact recorded a new album. But we must first step back and understand the time in which this album was released. The Doors were one of those bands to hit immortality sadly after the passing of their lead singer, and by the early seventies, as the hippie-rock era died out and Motown begot 1970’s R&B and then disco, the Doors’ music was still hugely popular (though really only the six albums that had been done while Morrison was still alive; the three remaining musicians tried to continue after his death and put out two further LPs, Other Voices (Oct. 1971), and Full Circle (Aug. 1972), before eventually splitting up in 1973). But people still wanted their Morrison-Doors fix, and rumors abounded about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Any life that could be breathed into Morrison’s memory, at that point, was accepted with open arms.

Enter the Phantom. When Phantom’s Divine Comedy, Part 1 was dropped, dubious stories abounded about who the lead singer was, since he was only billed as “The Phantom” in the credits, with musicians “Drummer X”, “Bassist Y”, and “Keyboardist Z” providing accompaniment. At points “the Phantom” did bear eerie vocal similarities to Morrison, which made for immediate speculation. Fans insisted this was in fact Morrison, and that he had come out of hiding.

When I came across this in 1997, it was even filed under the “Doors” section, with a note on the case explaining the controversy. Upon listening to the album, I was immediately able to make two definitive statements:

First, as much as I wanted to believe, this was indeed not Jim Morrison singing. It is very clear after listening to a couple of verses that it is someone else entirely. I cannot think of someone to equate it to in the context of 1974, but basically once the Phantom gets going he begins to sound like a hybrid of Eddie Vedder mixed with a young Scott Weiland. In the opening song, “Tales From a Wizard”, he does have an eerie similarity to Morrison, but only until the second verse, when you can clearly tell is it someone else. As the album progresses, the singer’s sound gets further and further away from Morrison and starts to venture into the Vedder/Weiland realm.

Overall the album isn’t that bad, but brings me to my second big point assessment: The content.

Even a fly-by-night, casual fan of the Doors quickly realizes Morrison’s proclivity for singing about Native Americans, Greek philosophy, morbid subjects such as death, and politics of the era, while it is immediately clear that the Phantom’s subject matter is wizards, magic, knights and kings; all things Morrison never sang about. So unless Morrison used the time after faking his death to read the complete works of J.R.R. Tolkien, one could make a pretty good wager that this is indeed two different people.

Even the band’s sound is different. It has the late ’60s/early ’70s jam-band feel that had been evolving (even the Doors themselves seemed to be heading in that direction), and to me has a kind of Tony Iommi-ish sound and tone to the guitar. But this is clearly not a Morrison related project. Don’t get me wrong, though; the LP does have its highlights. “Tales From a Wizard” and “Calm Before the Storm” (full disclosure: it was in fact the latter title that I borrowed in naming my freshman film in college) are standouts. But with titles such as “Black Magic/White Magic”, “Merlin”, and the aforementioned “Tales From a Wizard”, you can clearly see prevailing lyrical theme on the album, one which could not be further from Morrison’s style.

In doing some research for this post, I found an interesting story that the album’s producer, Gary Gawinek, came forward and said here that “the Phantom” was, in fact, Michigan native Arthur Pendragon, who has now since passed away. There only a few known photos of Pendragon, and funnily enough the ones that are known were taken backstage at a performance with the Doors’ keyboardist and guitarist, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, along with Iggy Pop. There’s a great thread about that on the official forums of the Doors’ drummer, John Densmore.

 

Courtesy of John Densmore's site, http://forum.johndensmore.com

So the mystery of Phantom’s Divine Comedy, Part 1 seems to be solved for now, at least for this Scooby-Doo raised amateur detective.

Phantom w/ Iggy Pop and Ray Manzerek, Courtesy of John Densmore's site, http://forum.johndensmore.com

But I hope this doesn’t discourage the diehard purists out there who think that Morrison may still be alive, because I would be the first to think that would be brilliant; but sadly I think the belief he’s hanging outside the back door of Graceland with Elvis (ever heard of that photo?), or writing his memoirs of working as a banker in Louisiana (as in Bank of America of Louisiana) is a bit of a stretch.

The Phantom with Robby Krieger and possibly Danny Sugerman, Courtesy of John Densmore's site, http://forum.johndensmore.com

Which is sad to say, because as any of the other Podwits can tell you, I am one of the most gullible people you will ever meet. But in the meantime, get a bottle of wine, sit back, and have a listen to Phantom’s Divine Comedy, Part 1, which sadly never received a follow up.

Comments
  1. michael says:

    JIm Morrison is alive and well in Wyoming as a western poet. If you look hard you can see a photo. even c2cam did an age progression and the bone structure is proof.

  2. Daron L. Harrell says:

    IT IS MORRISON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    i HAVE BOTH “PHANTOM’S DEVINE COMEDY, AND THE DOORS FIRST ALBUM. Listen to “Black Magic White Magic” from the Phantom’s album, and then listen to “Moonlight Drive” from The Doors’ first album. There are lyrics from both songs which are almost identical. For example in “Black Magic White Magic” emerges the line “Follow me no more because I have no hand to guide.” This is very uncannily related to the line in “Moonlight Drive” which says, ” You reach your hand to hold me but I have no hand to guide.” Sounds a lot to me like the same man’s lyrics. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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