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Ladies and gentlemen, The Doors

"We are obsessed with heroes who live for us and whom we punish. " — Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison had been dead for less than a year by the time I bought his collection of poetry "The Lords and the New Creatures" in early 1972. As a senior in high school, though, I found an unbridgeable gap between Morrison's poetry and his lyrics for The Doors. I simply couldn't wrap my head around the poetry as much as I wanted to. It was impenetrable.

Having said that, the quotation from “The Lords and the New Creatures” that starts this post has survived intact in my head for the 38 years since I first read it. This is because it is so incontrovertibly true. In fact, it’s possible to come up every day with examples of Morrison's observation taking place in politics, sports and entertainment, to name just three examples.

In fact, I'm guilty of doing the same thing to Morrison: punishing him. As I said, back in high school I was a Doors fans, and it extended into college. But sometime between then and now, I became convinced Morrison had been a fraud who wasted his talent and who maintained his popularity through his antics as a theatrical, self-proclaimed shaman whose onstage rituals were often fueled by excesses of alcohol and God knows what else. Somebody, maybe Lester Bangs, once referred to him as a "Bozo Dionysus," and that was the tag I finally hung on Morrison. I left it there for a long time.

For some reason during the past week, though, I wanted to listen to the Doors' first album. Maybe it was because the song "End of the Night," with its prominent nod to William Blake, came up on my mental jukebox. Anyway, when I checked my CD collection, I found I had neither the first album, "The Doors," nor the second album, "Strange Days." I had a greatest hits CD; the group's third album, "Waiting for the Sun"; and the band's final disc, "L.A. Woman."

So I spent a couple of hours Friday morning at Amazon.com, buying individual songs to fill the gaps in my collection involving those first two records as well as the discs "The Soft Parade" and "Morrison Hotel." The only empty spots in my collection now are self-imposed. For example, I had no reason to want the cheesy Robbie Krieger-written tracks "Tell All the People" and "Touch Me" from "The Soft Parade," which I consider to be the weakest of the six studio albums the band released before Morrison's mysterious death in July 1971 in Paris.

The musical acquaintance I was most glad to renew was the "Morrison Hotel" album. I had forgotten what a great album it is. There are no bad songs on it. "Roadhouse Blues" gets a little self-indulgent vocally in the middle of the song, but that's forgiven because of the line "When I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer." Let it roll, baby, roll.

My favorite Doors album, though, is "L.A. Woman," issued in April 1971. Morrison sounds weary, a weary that encompasses not only fatigue but also a resigned disgust with society, with life and with himself. He sounds like nothing less than a blues man, which isn't much of a surprise for listeners who always had discerned his music's roots were burrowing deeply into the same inspirations that were tapped by performers like Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf.

This ultimate musical honesty on his part—the blues is nothing if not honest—brought me around 180 degrees from where I'd been about Morrison. Sure, the "Bozo Dionysus" tag sticks because it's true, but I let it overshadow Morrison's music. I have a tough time separating arts from artists. My opinion of Warren Zevon plummeted after reading "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," the biography by Zevon's former wife Chrystal. My opinion of Salvador Dali plummeted after reading Orwell's essay on Dali, "Benefit of Clergy," in which Orwell points out that Dali was about as charming as a flea.

Then again, Jimi Hendrix wasn't exactly Mr. All Things in Moderation, and Hendrix remains one of my musical touchstones. The Rolling Stones were, among other things, decadent during their "Exile on Main Street" era, yet I don't hold it against Mick and Keith. Eric Clapton has been a boozer, a junkie and a serial womanizer, yet I still admire him, even though musically, he has seemed to be going through the motions for a long time. I don't think Morrison's rank in the rock pantheon is equal to that of Hendrix, but his contribution to his times merited more respect on my part.

A couple of posts ago, the music of The Doors was cited by a few of the college students who read this blog. They are less than half my age but are nonetheless fans of the band. I think it's because Morrison's music takes them (us) to that place where he and the mystic poet Blake meet: the end of the night. It is where daylight's many boundaries melt, merge and overlap. It is suffused with possibility and yet fraught with frailty and menace. It is the "tails" to the "heads" of the coin of life.

What we do when we arrive is entirely up to us, but we know part of us belongs there. And because of the nature of this particular place, Morrison was—and remains—the only guide to it.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
The Doors used to be my favorite band from about age 7 to age 17. Though they aren't my favorite any more, their music holds some great memories for me. My dad and I used to drive around town blaring "Alabama Song" and singing along (but only when Mom wasn't in the car. She hates that song). I also remember my dad reworking "When I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer" into "When I woke up this morning, I got myself a DEER" during deer season. Yup, good times...
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
One time it was the end of the semester and my roommate had just taken a tough final exam. A couple of the guys from our suite were in to commiserate with Matt. We had the radio on, and the song "L.A. Woman" was playing. When Morrison started singing "Mr. Mojo Rising," the four of us just started singing along, getting louder and louder as the words morphed into "Got to keep on rising, rising, rising." By the time the song swung into its last verse, I was throwing the floor lamp around like it was a microphone, and we were in a frenzy.

Funny how music can take you back to a specific instant, particularly when so much of our past is either lost or dormant in our minds.

Jun. 6th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
Wonderful post.

I seem to recall a creative version of L.A. Woman being sung with great volume and exuberance at a donut shop drive through... "Jelly roll, baby, roll.."
Jun. 6th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Should I remember that?
Jun. 6th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Should? Not necessarily. Could? Only if those particular brain cells survived. The neighbors let us know the next morning how much they enjoyed our singing, but something in their tone hinted at insincerity.
Jun. 6th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Those cells are long gone, long gone. Thanks for bringing the episode up, though! Made me smile just hearing about it.
Jun. 6th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
L.A. Woman is in my top three albums ever.

If I ever went to Paris, I would skip the Eiffel Tower and just go pay homage to good old Jim.
Jun. 6th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
As I've mentioned before, Justina, you were born at the wrong time.

Where are you right now, and how is the road trip treating you?
Jun. 6th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, sir, indeed I was.

I'm currently in Ohio at Bike Week, believe it or not. A tornado barely missed us last night. Scary stuff.

Our blog is legosandliberty.blogspot.com if you'd like to follow!
Jun. 6th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link, Red.
Jun. 6th, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
That was an amazing post. It had a lot of passion in and behind the words, and it was fascinating. And the part about heroes definitely rings true. I was reading some Shakespeare today, and this quote came up that reverberates with the same notion, I think: "That he which is was wished until he were." When a hero errs like us, it's a travesty.

Jun. 6th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it. That's the first "real" post I've done in quite a while.
Jun. 6th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
I was burnt out on the classic rock giants by the end of high school (Doors, Who, Henndrix, etc, basically anyone who kids gravite and absorb completely when they first hear them) thanks to many of my friends but I do find myself going back to the Doors more often. I have all the studio albums on a playlist and will put that on from time to time. I will be sure to include a Doors album for our 13 hour trek home.
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
That's a long road trip, Music Man. Better have some J. Geils Band in the mix to keep the energy level up.
Jun. 7th, 2010 10:12 am (UTC)
It wouldnt be a road trip without J. Geils
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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