With an intoxicating, genre-blending sound, provocative and uncompromising songs, and the mesmerizing power of singer Jim Morrison’s poetry and presence, The Doors had a transformative impact not only on popular music but on popular culture.
The Doors’ arrival on the rock scene in 1967 marked not only the start of a string of hit singles and albums that would become stone classics, but also of something much bigger – a new and deeper relationship between creators and audience. Refusing to be mere entertainers, the Los Angeles quartet relentlessly challenged, confronted and inspired their fans, leaping headfirst into the heart of darkness while other bands warbled about peace and love. Though they’ve had scores of imitators, there’s never been another band quite like them. And 50 years after their debut album, The Doors’ music and legacy are more influential than ever before.
Morrison’s mystical command of the frontman role may be the iconic heart of The Doors, but the group’s extraordinary power would hardly have been possible without the virtuosic keyboard tapestries of Ray Manzarek, the gritty, expressive fretwork of guitarist Robby Krieger and the supple, dynamically rich grooves of drummer John Densmore. From baroque art-rock to jazz-infused pop to gutbucket blues, the band’s instrumental triad could navigate any musical territory with aplomb – and all three contributed mightily as songwriters.
The group was born when Morrison and Manzarek – who’d met at UCLA’s film school – met again, unexpectedly, on the beach in Venice, CA, during the summer of 1965. Though he’d never intended to be a singer, Morrison was invited to join Manzarek’s group Rick and the Ravens on the strength of his poetry. Krieger and Densmore, who’d played together in the band Psychedelic Rangers, were recruited soon thereafter; though several bassists auditioned of the new collective, none could furnish the bottom end as effectively as Manzarek’s left hand. Taking their name from Aldous Huxley’s psychotropic monograph The Doors of Perception, the band signed to Elektra Records following a now-legendary gig at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.
Their eponymous first album, released in January 1967, kicked off with “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” and also featured the chart smash “Light My Fire”, the scorching “Back Door Man” and the visionary masterpiece “The End”. The Doors arrived fully formed, capable of rocking the pop charts and the avant-garde with one staggering disc. Before ’67 was over, they’d issued the ambitious follow-up Strange Days, with such gems as “Love Me Two Times”, “People Are Strange” and “When the Music’s Over”.
Next came 1968’s Waiting for the Sun, boasting “Hello, I Love You”, “Love Street” and “Five to One”. Over the next few years they minded over new territory on such albums as 1969’s The Soft Parade (featuring “Touch Me” and “Tell All the People”), 1970’s Morrison Hotel (which includes “Roadhouse Blues”, “Peace Frog” and “Queen of the Highway”) and 1971’s L.A. Woman (boasting “Rider’s on the Storm”, “Love Her Madly” and the title track).
They released six studio albums in all, as well as a live album and a compilation, before Morrison’s death in 1971. Their electrifying achievements in the studio and onstage were unmatched in the annals of rock; and though Morrison’s death meant the end of an era, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore collaborated on two more original Doors albums, Other Voices and Full Circle, and a set of tracks they composed to accompany Morrison’s 1969 recording of his poetry, released in 1978 as An American Prayer. They also pursued individual music projects, books, theatrical productions and other enterprises – and remain restlessly creative to this day.
In the decades since the Doors’ heyday, the foursome has loomed ever larger in the pantheon of rock – and they remain a touchstone of insurrectionary culture for writers, activists, visual artists and other creative communities. Their songs, featured in an ever-increasing number of films, TV shows, video games and remixes, always sound uncannily contemporary. No matter how the musical and cultural tides turn, The Doors will always be ready to help a new wave of listeners break on through to the other side.
The Doors were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.
JIM MORRISON Singer for The Doors
At the center of The Doors’ mystique is the magnetic presence of singer-poet Jim Morrison, the leather-clad “Lizard King” who brought the riveting power of a shaman to the microphone.
Morrison was a film student at UCLA when he met keyboardist Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in 1965. Upon hearing Morrison’s poetry, Manzarek immediately suggested they form a band; the singer took the group’s name from Aldous Huxley’s infamous psychedelic memoir, “The Doors of Perception.”
Constantly challenging censorship and conventional wisdom, Morrison’s lyrics delved into primal issues of sex, violence, freedom and the spirit. He outraged authority figures, braved intimidation and arrest, and followed the road of excess (as one of his muses, the poet William Blake, famously put it) toward the palace of wisdom.
Over the course of six extraordinary albums and countless boundary-smashing live performances, he inexorably changed the course of rock music – and died in 1971 at the age of 27. He was buried in Paris, and fans from around the world regularly make pilgrimages to his grave.
In 1978, the surviving members of the band – keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore – reunited to record the accompanying music for An American Prayer, a compilation of Morrison’s poetry readings. He remains the very template of the rock frontman, and his singing, poetry and Dionysian demeanor continue to inspire artists and audiences around the world.
RAY MANZAREKKeyboardist for The Doors
Ray Manzarek was the architect of The Doors’ intoxicating keyboard sound. Manzarek’s evocative playing fused rock, jazz, blues, bossa nova and an array of other styles into something utterly, dazzlingly new.
The group was born in 1965, when Jim Morrison and Chicago native Manzarek — both UCLA film students — met on Venice Beach. The singer’s poetry was a perfect fit for the classically trained keyboardist’s musical ideas, and eventually they decided to form a band. Though several bassists auditioned for the group, none could match the bass lines provided by Manzarek’s left hand. Signed to Elektra Records, The Doors released six studio albums, a live album and a compilation before Morrison’s untimely demise in 1971.
Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore released two albums as a trio under the Doors moniker, with Manzarek and Krieger handling vocals. Manzarek next formed the group Nite City, which invited comparisons to Mott the Hoople and Aerosmith; the quintet released its one album in 1977.
The surviving Doors reunited to create a musical backdrop for Morrison’s recorded poetry on the 1978 release An American Prayer. Manzarek produced and performed on five of the L.A. band X’s albums, including Los Angeles, which remains one of the high-water marks of the punk movement. The keyboardist authored several books, and recorded numerous solo albums. Ray lived with his wife of 45 years, Dorothy, in Napa, CA until his passing in May of 2013 following his ultimately fatal bout with bile duct cancer.
JOHN DENSMORE Drummer for The Doors
Drummer John Densmore was far more than merely the rhythmic engine of The Doors. Strongly influenced by jazz skinsmen like Elvin Jones and the supple grooves of the Brazilian wave, he brought a highly evolved sense of dynamics, structure and musicality to his beats.
Inexorably drawn to music from childhood, Los Angeles-born Densmore honed his sense of dynamics playing with his high school marching band. In the mid-’60s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter they hooked up with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison, and an explosive chapter in the development of rock ‘n’ roll began. A raft of paradigm-shifting recordings and epochal live performances would follow.
Morrison’s death in 1971 marked the end of an era, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer’s recorded poetry.
The versatile musician explored reggae and jazz in subsequent projects, wrote books and articles and became active in L.A.’s adventurous theater community. He earned an L.A. Weekly Theatre Award for the music he created for the Tim Robbins-directed stage production Methusalem. He also co-produced the play Rounds, which was given the NAACP award for theatre in 1987.
Densmore’s autobiography, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors, was published in 1991 and was a New York Times bestseller. He’s written articles and essays for Rolling Stone, London Guardian, The Nation, and many nationally syndicated newspapers.
ROBBY KRIEGER Guitarist for The Doors
With a flair for wicked bottleneck slide, exploratory solos and gutbucket grooves, guitarist Robby Krieger brought a stinging, sinuous intensity to the sound of The Doors. But he was also a key songwriter in the band and penned some of their biggest hits – notably their mesmerizing #1 hit, “Light My Fire.”
Before picking up the guitar at age 17, the L.A. native studied trumpet and piano. The inspiration for switching to guitar came not from rock ‘n’ roll, but Spanish flamenco music. His first guitar hero, however, was jazz legend Wes Montgomery.
After Morrison’s death in 1971, Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore carried on as a trio. They released two more albums as the Doors before calling it quits in 1973, though they did reconvene a few years later to create music for poetry Morrison had recorded shortly before his death, released as the 1978 album An American Prayer.
Krieger went on to enjoy success as a jazz guitarist, recording a handful of records with the Robby Krieger Band in the 1970s and ’80s. Versions (1983) and No Habla(1986) amply demonstrate his versatility. “I think playing guitar is probably the one thing that gets better with age,” he says.Robby Krieger is listed among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
History of the album «The Doors» (1967)
«The Doors» is the first album of Americans united in the band of the same name. It was published by Elektra at the very beginning of 1967. Recognized as the best album of the group, and indeed collected a number of compositions that are rightfully considered masterpieces. On the initial release of the record – the label «Electra» with the image of a butterfly. Further re-releases of the album in this studio with the same catalog number EKS-47007 in the 1970s came out with red labels.
Creation of the group and the birth of its name
The group was formed after a sudden meeting between Jim Morrison and Ray on Venice Beach in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965. Having received a university education, Morrison lived as a representative of the «golden youth» and practically did not leave this beach. He knew Manzarek before – they studied at the film school of the University of California, and Morrison admitted to a former classmate that he composes songs.
Manzarek became curious, after which Morrison sang «Moonlight Drive» to him (this composition will become the main one in the group’s next album). Shocked Manzarek inspired Morrison to create a group.
He already had a similar musical experience – in «Rick & the Ravens» – two of his brothers played there – Rick and Jim. The band included drummer John Densmore of The Psychedelic Rangers (Psychedelic Hawks), whom Manzarek knew from teaching meditation training, and bassist Pat Sullivan was later added to the team. With this lineup, on September 2, 1965, they made a trial recording of 6 compositions on an acetate record at the World Pacific studio. Among them were «Moonlight Drive», «My Eyes Have Seen You», «Hello, I Love You», «Go Insane» (later known as «A Little Game» from the suite «Celebration of the Lizard»), «End of the Night» and «Summer’s Almost Gone». They only recorded three hours, but Morrison was impressed with his own voice on the recording. Only five copies were published, and one of them belonging to Morrison is preserved by Manzarek. For a long time the recording went in bootlegs, and then the studio decided to include it in the CD «The Doors’ box set» in 1997.
There were many attempts to promote this record, but – unsuccessful. After some time, disappointed with the result, the Manzarek brothers – Rick and Jim – left the group, predicting her imminent death. The new line-up included guitarist Robbie Krieger from the same band as Densmore. Sullivan also left the band after Manzarek started playing the bass part on Fender Rhodes keyboards.
It was then that the group began calling themselves «The Doors», a reference to Aldous Huxley’s novel The Doors of Perception (1954). And the author himself borrowed it from the lines of the English-speaking poet and artist William Blake. The idea is that when the «doors of perception» are clear, then all objects appear before consciousness in their original form: in infinity.
Special sound and first luck
The group had its own distinctive character and turned out to be quite noticeable among rock groups: they did not have a bass guitar at concert performances. Manzarek played bass parts with his left hand on the newly created Fender Rhodes Piano Bass module for the Fender Rhodes electric piano, while playing all other parts with his right hand. The debut album was recorded without a bassist, despite the fact that later they began to invite third-party musicians. A number of hits «The Doors» was the result of a joint work. Morrison or Krieger wrote the texts and the initial melody, then adjustments were made after a general discussion, the rhythm and melody changed, and sometimes even individual fragments of the composition: in particular, Manzarek with the organ prelude to “Light My Fire” was remembered.
By 1966, the group had finally become «their own», popular and recognized in the Whiskey a Go Go nightclub in the western part of Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard. He was famous throughout California: The Byrds, Alice Cooper, Buffalo Springfield and Love periodically gave their concerts there. Then Frank Zappa and his «Mothers of Invention» entered into an agreement – it was after one of these club gigs. This famous club glorified Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, there were Englishmen – «The Kinks», «The Who», «Cream», «Led Zeppelin», «Roxy Music» and «Oasis».
It was here that The Doors were noticed by the head of the Elektra studio, Jack Holtzman, who attended the concert on the advice of Arthur Lee from the Love group, who collaborated with the Elektra studio. Together with Elektra producer Paul A. Rothschild, he was pleasantly surprised by the level of The Doors, and on August 18, 1966, a contract was signed. It must be admitted that this turned out to be most welcome for the musicians: a couple of days later they were scandalously dismissed from the nightclub. During the last concert, while playing the long composition «The End», Morrison, under the influence of drugs, hoarsely read his own version of the familiar Greek myth about Oedipus, talking about the intricacies of the famous «Oedipus complex», and then cursed loudly and dirty in front of the audience.
Birth of The Doors (1967)
Less than a week later, the musicians recorded their first record in the studio. The recording was actually live, some compositions – literally from the initial take. The first song «Break on Through (To the Other Side)» and the final one – «The End» – were originally released in abbreviated form – for censorship reasons. In the opening composition, Morrison endlessly and monotonously said: “She gets high She gets high She gets high” (Which means: “She’s crazy …”), and in the final of the last song of the album, “fuck” was repeated in the same tedious and monotonous way. In subsequent editions, these moments were accurately reproduced, as they were intended. And before the band had to accept the requirements of censorship, although the musicians still performed «Girl we couldn’t get much higher» on the famous television show with Ed Sullivan.
«Alabama Song» is a composition created by renowned playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil for their joint opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. «Back Door Man» is a cover of Howlin’ Wolfe.
To sell the album, a film clip was made with the opening song, which was released as the single «Break On Through (To the Other Side)». At this stage, a serious foundation was laid for finalizing the video, shot specifically for the music. The next single «Light My Fire» broke records of popularity: it was published in the summer of 1967 and sold out in a million copies, remaining the leader of the Billboard for three whole weeks! After this precedent, the group began to be compared with the most popular representatives of the American counterculture – «The Byrds» and «Jefferson Airplane».
“Light My Fire” was then shortened for radio broadcast: if the original length of the song was 6:50, then in this version it is 2:52.
The gloomy mood of the album, the gloomy sexuality of leader Jim Morrison, his bohemian lifestyle impressed the Californian public. This rock album is recognized as one of the main ones that stood at the origins of the active protest movement of youth and the development of counterculture. In 1998, Q magazine ranked this album at number 93 on its list of the best of all music history. And «Rolling Stone» in 2003 ranked it at 42nd position among the 500 best.
The Legacy of Jim Morrison and the Doors
Nearly twenty-five years ago, in the middle of a season in which rock & roll was seeking to define itself as the binding force of a new youth community, the Doors became the house band for an American apocalypse that wasn’t even yet upon us. Indeed, the Los Angeles-based quartet’s stunning and rousing debut LP, The Doors, flew in the face of rock’s emerging positivist ethos and in effect helped form the basis for a schism that still persists in popular music. While groups like the Beatles or the many bands emerging from the Bay Area were earnestly touting a fusion of music, drugs and idealism that they hoped would reform — and redeem — a troubled age, the Doors had fashioned an album that looked at prospects of hedonism and violence, of revolt and chaos, and embraced those prospects unflinchingly. Clearly, the Doors — in particular the group’s thin, darkly handsome lead singer, Jim Morrison — understood a truth about their age that many other pop artists did not: namely, that these were dangerous times, and dangerous not only because youth culture was under fire for breaking away from established conventions and aspirations. On some level, Morrison realized that the danger was also internal – that the “love generation” was hardly without its own dark impulses. In fact, Morrison seemed to understand that any generation so intent on giving itself permission to go as far as it could was also giving itself a license for destruction, and he seemed to gain both delight and affirmation from that understanding.
Consequently, in those moments in the Doors’ experimental, Oedipal miniopera “The End,” when Morrison sang about wanting to kill his father and fuck his mother, he managed to take a somewhat silly notion of outrage and make it sound convincing, even somehow justified. More than the songs of Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, Morrison’s lyrics signified a recognition that an older generation had betrayed its children, and that this betrayal called for a bitter pay-back. Little wonder, then, that the Doors’ music (“The End” in particular) became such a meaningful favorite among young Americans fighting in Vietnam, in a war in which children had been sent to kill or die for an older generation’s frightened ideals. Other groups were trying to prepare their audience for a world of hope and peace; the Doors, meanwhile, were making music for a ravenous and murderous time, and at the group’s best, the effect was thoroughly scary and thoroughly exhilarating.
Now, a generation later — at a time when, at home, antidrug and anti-obscenity sentiment has reached a fever pitch and when, abroad, the Doors’ music is once again among the favored choices of young Americans fighting in a war — Jim Morrison seems more heroic to many pop fans than ever before. A film like Oliver Stone’s Doors — which is the most ambitious, epic-minded movie yet produced about rock culture and its discontents — can even make it seem that the band, in a dark way, has won its argument with cultural history. But back in the late 1960s, it seemed rather different. To many observers, it appeared that the group had pretty much shot its vision on its first album. By the Doors’ second LP, Strange Days (October 1967), the music had lost much of its edginess — the sense of rapacity, of persistent momentum, that had made the previous album seem so undeniable — and in contrast to the atmosphere of aggression and dread that Morrison’s earlier lyrics had made palpable, the new songs tended too often to melodrama (“Strange Days”) or to flat-out pretension (“Horse Latitudes”). It was as if a musical vision that only a few months earlier had seemed shockingly original and urgent had turned merely morbid, even parodic.
In addition, Morrison himself was already deeply immersed in the patterns of drug and alcohol abuse and public misbehavior that would eventually prove so ruinous to him, his band, his friends and his family. Some of this behavior, of course, was simply expected of the new breed of rock hero: In the context of the late 1960s and its generational schisms, pop stars often made a point of flaunting their drug use or of flouting mainstream or authoritarian morality. Sometimes this impudence was merely showy or naive, though on certain other occasions — such as the December 1967 incident in which Morrison was arrested after publicly castigating police officers for their backstage brutality at a New Haven concert — these gestures of defiance helped embolden the rock audience’s emerging political sensibility. More often than not, though, Morrison’s unruliness wasn’t so much a display of countercultural bravado as it was a sign of the singer’s own raging hubris and out-of-control dissipation.
In other words, something far darker than artistic or political ambition fueled Jim Morrison’s appetite for disruption, and in March 1969, at an infamous concert in Miami, this sad truth came across with disastrous results. In the film version of this incident, Oliver Stone portrays the concert as part pageant and part travesty, and while it was perhaps a bit of both, most firsthand accounts have described the show as simply a pathetic, confusing mess. The Doors had been scheduled to perform at 10:00 p.m. but had been delayed for nearly an hour due to a dispute with the show’s promoters. By the time the group arrived onstage, Morrison was already inebriated, and he continued to hold up the performance while he solicited the audience for more to drink. A quarter-hour later, after the music had started, Morrison halted songs midway and wandered about the stage, berating the audience to commit revolution and to love him. At one point, he pulled on the front of his weatherworn leather pants and threatened to produce his penis for the crowd’s perusal. (Oddly enough, though more than twenty years have passed, and more than 10,000 people, including band members and police officers onstage, witnessed Morrison’s performance, it has never been clearly determined whether Morrison actually succeeded in exposing himself that night.) Finally, toward the end of the show, Morrison hounded audience members into swarming onstage with him, and the concert ended in an easy version of the chaos that the singer had long professed to aspire to.
At the time, the event seemed more embarrassing than outrageous, but within days the Miami Herald and some politically minded city and legal officials had inflated the pitiable debacle into a serious affront to Miami and the nation’s moral welfare; in addition, Morrison himself was sized up as the foul embodiment of youth’s supreme indecency. The Doors’ nationwide concert schedule ground to an immediate halt, and in effect the band’s touring days were finished. Interestingly, amid all the hoopla that would follow — the public debate, the shameful trial for obscenity — almost nobody saw Morrison’s gesture for what it truly was: the act of a man who had lost faith in his art and his relation to the world around him. On that fateful evening in Miami, Jim Morrison no longer knew what his audience wanted from him, or what he wanted from himself for that matter, and so he offered his most obvious totem of love and pride, as if it were the true source of his worth. The Doors’ lead singer – who only two years before had been one of rock’s smartest, scariest and sexiest heroes — was now a heart-rending alcoholic and clownish jerk. He needed help; he did not merit cheap veneration, and he certainly did not deserve the horrid, moralistic brand of jail-house punishment that the state of Florida hoped to impose on him.
Of course, Morrison never received — or at least never accepted — the help that might have saved him. By 1970 the Doors were a show-business enterprise with contracts and debts, and these obligations had been severely deepened by Morrison’s Miami antics. As a result, the band would produce five albums over the next two years, including two of the group’s most satisfying studio efforts, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman, surprisingly authoritative, blues-steeped works that showed Morrison settling into a new, lusty and dark-humored vocal style and lyrical sensibility. But if Morrison had finally grown comfortable with the idea of rock & roll for its own sake, he also realized that he no longer had much of consequence to say in that medium. In
March 1971, Morrison took a leave of absence from the Doors, and with his common-law wife, Pamela Courson, moved to Paris, ostensibly to distance himself from the physical and spiritual rigors of rock & roll and to regenerate his vocation as a modern poet. Perhaps in time he might have come to a compassionate understanding of what he and his generation had experienced in the last few years, as the idealism of the 1960s had finally given way to a deflating sense of fear and futility. (Certainly there were glimmers in Morrison’s last few interviews that he had begun to acquire some valuable insight about the reasons for and sources of his, and his culture’s, bouts of excess.) As it turned out, Morrison simply continued to drink in a desolating way, and according to some witnesses, he sometimes lapsed into depression over his inability to reinvoke his poetic muse, taking instead to writing suicide notes.
Finally, at five in the morning on July 4th, 1971, Pamela Courson found Morrison slumped in the bathtub of their Paris flat, a sweet, still grin on his face. At first, Courson thought he was playing a game with her. On this dark morning, though, Morrison was playing no game. His skin was cold to his wife’s touch. Jim Morrison had died of heart failure at age twenty-seven, smiling into the face of a slow-coming abyss that, long before, he had decided was the most beautiful and comforting certainty of his life.
INITIALLY, MORRISON’S DEATH SEEMED TO BE the end for the Doors. The year before, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had died as well, also of causes brought on by alcohol or drugs. Now, Morrison’s death — which had been more clearly foreseeable — made plain that early fatalities were likely to be one of the more frequent costs of rock heroism, that today’s brightest prodigy might be tomorrow’s next likely flameout. Though the surviving Doors — keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger — went on to make two albums as a trio under the band’s name, they could never really rebound from Morrison’s death. If, in some ways, Morrison had turned out to be the band’s most troubling and limiting factor, he had also been the group’s central claim to an identity or purpose, and without him the Doors weren’t even a notable name.
Today, though, twenty years after Morrison’s death, the Doors enjoy a renewed popularity that shows no signs of abating — a popularity that might have proved far more elusive had Morrison survived and returned to the group. The roots for this renewal trace back to the middle and late 1970s and to the issues surrounding the advent of the punk movement. By 1976 many younger rock & roll fans and musicians began to feel that the pop world had lost touch with its sense of daring, that much of the music of the 1970s, and the work of the surviving mainstays of the 1960s, had grown too timid in content and too obsessed with privilege and distance. As punk rose, it brought with it a reevaluation of rock history, and as a result, some of the tougher-minded bands of the late 1960s — such as the Doors, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Stooges, all of which had explored some difficult and often unpopular themes during their short-lived careers — enjoyed a new currency that transformed them into some of American rock’s more enduring and pervasive influences.
The Doors’ revival was also helped along by Francis Coppola’s use of the band’s music in his film Apocalypse Now. Watching Coppola’s repellently beautiful immolation of the Vietnamese jungles by napalm, accompanied by Jim Morrison intoning “The End,” made it vividly plain that the best of the Doors’ music had all along been a brilliant and irrefutable soundtrack to one of the more notorious examples of modern-day hell. And finally, the Doors’ comeback owes a great debt to No One Here Gets Out Alive, Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman’s highly sensationalistic (and probably frighteningly accurate) account of Morrison’s life and death. The book’s chief theme (a theme that has also been appropriated and advanced by Oliver Stone) is that “Jim Morrison was a god,” a dark-tempered, visionary poet who was also a heroic example of the wisdom that can be found by living a life of relentless excess.
In other words, Jim Morrison has gradually been rehabilitated into one of the more indelible, widely revered heroes of the 1960s. In part, this has happened because several of the people involved in this reclamation have a stake in redeeming Morrison’s legacy and because they have found that there is still a considerable career to be made in perpetuating his and the Doors’ history. But perhaps it is more interesting to ask why Morrison’s revival has played so well and so consistently with the modern rock audience of the last decade or so. In other words, what does a contemporary rock audience find in Morrison, or need from him, that cannot be found in the musicians of its own generation? After all, we are told repeatedly that this is a more conservative era and that in particular, today’s youth is far more conservative than the youth of the 1960s. If that’s the case, why does such a large audience continue to revere an artist who appeared to be so radically hedonistic (even nihilistic) in his outlook?
The truth is, Jim Morrison is the ideal radical hero for a conservative era. Though he may have lived a life of defiance and rebellion, it was not a defiance rooted in any clear ideology or political vision, unlike, for example, the brand of rebellion that John Lennon would come to aspire to. Morrison’s defiance had deep personal sources – it derived from a childhood spent in a family with a militaristic and authoritarian disposition. Consequently, Morrison’s mode of insurrection was hardly insignificant or without merit; indeed, it was often wielded as a badge of hard-won courage, and that courage is partly what today’s audience recognizes and loves about him.
But Morrison’s defiance often took the form of outright disregard — an absence of concern for how his impulses and temper not only could offend uptight moralists but could damage the people who loved and depended on him the most. In short, Morrison committed his outrages and cultivated his hedonism in sometimes remarkably conscienceless ways, and unfortunately, this habit may also be part of what many rock fans admire or seek to emulate about him. In a time when some pop stars try to engage their audience in various humanitarian and political causes, and in a time when numerous role models and authority figures advise the young to make a virtue of restraint or abstinence, there are many fans who are unmoved by these admonitions. A few artists, such as Guns n’ Roses, are seen as living out this bravado for today’s defiant types, but none, of course, has lived it out quite as effectively as Jim Morrison, who was fond of telling his audience, “I don’t know about you, but I intend to have my kicks before the whole fucking shit house explodes.” It isn’t so much a radical message, since radicalism aims to change something beyond the domain of the self. In a sense, it’s simply a dark extension of the philosophy of self-regard that has become so identified with the Reagan-Bush era. But the costs of this bravado can be sizable, and it would be nice if the custodians of Morrison and the Doors’ history were more scrupulous about how they portray the nobility of his excesses or the fascination of his death. But then, the myth of a young poet and libertine — who sought to test the bounds of cultural freedom and personal license; and who suffered the misunderstanding not merely of established American culture, but of family, friends and rock culture as well; and who died because he just could not reach far enough or be loved deservedly enough — is probably too good, and too damn lucrative, for any biographer to resist romanticizing or exploiting.
After all, in some respects death is the perfect preserving element of Morrison’s legacy. It has the twofold advantage of having halted the singer’s decline before he might have gone on to even worse behavior or art and, to a large degree, of helping absolve him of the failures of his last few years. It’s almost as if, somewhere, somehow, a macabre deal were struck: If Morrison would simply have the good grace to die, then we would remember him as a young, fit, handsome poet; we would forgive him his acts of disregard and cruelty and drunkenness and recall him less as a stumblebum sociopath and more as a probing mystic-poet. Plus, there’s a certain vicarious satisfaction to be found in his end. If you like, you can admire the spirit of someone who lived life and pursued death to the fullest, without having to emulate that commitment yourself. Morrison has saved his less nervy (and smarter) fans the trouble of their own willful self-negation.
And so Jim Morrison died, and then, with the help of former friends, band members and biographers, pulled off the perfect comeback: one in which the singer and his band might never disappoint our renewed faith, because there would be no new music, no new art, no new statements to test their continued growth or our continuing perceptiveness. In short, it was a comeback in which Morrison would be eternally heroic, eternally loved and eternally marketable.
Of course, it’s probably a bit graceless to beat up too much on a dead man — especially one who already beat up on himself plenty during life. So, let’s allow Jim Morrison his posthumous victory: If, in some regards, he was perhaps just a bit too mean-spirited or selfish to be an easy hero of the 1960s, he has certainly proven to be in step with the temper of the last decade. Never mind that he threw away his greatest visions and potential in an endless swirl of drugs, alcohol, insecurity and unkindness, and never mind that he is dead. Never mind, because in the end, death has been this rock hero’s most redeeming and most rewarding friend.
When You Are Strange (Documentary)
Break On Through (To the Other Side) – The Doors
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side, yeah
… We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
… Everybody loves my baby
Everybody loves my baby
She get high
She get high
She get high
She get high, yeah
… I found an island in your arms
Country in your eyes
Arms that chain us
Eyes that lie
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through, ow
… Made the scene
Week to week
Day to day
Hour to hour
The gate is straight
Deep and wide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah