“When the music’s over…”:The Story Behind the Most Eloquent Band In History,The Doors by Jesse World Literature, Period 512/9/98 “There are things known, and there are things unknown,and in between are the doors of perception.” –William Blake, author If you ask anyone with good taste in music, who the most unique and influentialband of the late ’60’s and early 70’s is, they’re bound to say The Doors. In a time offlourishing culture and heavy exploration of “mind-expanding” drugs, The Doors “brokeon through” to create their own musical category: a mix of blues, acid-rock, andkeyboards (which, in itself was unusual being that almost all bands of the time basedtheir melodies around heavy-driven guitar). Laid over this cacophony of ethereal guitarand sharp, beat-keeping keyboards was lead singer Jim Morrison’s own special brand ofpoetry amplified through his crooning, sometimes gravely, voice. And very evident inevery song The Doors ever wrote was Jim’s knowledge of historical philosophies andclassical literature which enabled him to create lyrics filled with so many poetic devicesthat they reached the point of purely figurative paragraphs. From the classics (”The End”,”Not to Touch the Earth”, “Five to One”, etc.) to the “not-so-classics” (”Touch Me”) thereis no doubt that poetry and eloquence were always his two main goals. Jim Morrison’svast knowledge of poetry and philosophers, paired with his tremendous vocabulary andcreativity, make him a key contribution to, in my opinion, the most poetic band of alltime. On December 8, 1943, James Douglas Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida. His father, Steve Morrison, was a naval commander and his mother, Clara, was ahousewife. Because of his dad’s position, Jim’s family was frequently moving from baseto base across the country, not allowing him, or his younger brother, Andy, to make manyfriends. This isolation turned Jim on to reading at a young age. But instead of typicalteenage reading material, he liked to read more mature books, thus further isolating himfrom most kids his age. As Jim grew up, he took more and more interest in the greatphilosophers and thinkers of the past. Frederick Neitzsche, Antonin Artaud, Vincent VanGogh, and Edgar Allen Poe are just a few of his many influences. While attendingUCLA, Jim was enrolled in a film class, hoping to major in cinematography. Alsoenrolled in this class was a man by the name of Ray Manzarek, an organist who was in aband with his two brothers called Rick and the Ravens. Ray took an interest in Jim’swork and introduced himself when he spotted him strolling Venice Beach one day. Theytalked and Jim had mentioned that he had been writing some songs over the summer. Ray asked him to sing a few lines. So, Jim gave him the first verse of “Moonlight Drive”and Ray was amazed. He took Jim into his band as the new lead singer and over time,revisions were made with the rest of the band, as well. Drummer, John Densmore, andguitarist, Robby Krieger, were acquired from a local meditation center that Ray attendedand after playing together, they all knew that it was meant to be. But, they needed aname. The aforementioned William Blake quote was a personal favorite of Jim’s, so,after discussing it with the rest of the band, they all agreed on The Doors. Afterspreading demos to what seemed like every agent in town with no avail, they finally got abreak. After bringing in their tape to Billy James, an agent for Columbia Records, theygot a call-back two days later telling them they had been signed. Later, through aconnection, they were hired as the house band at a local L.A. club called The LondonFog, but they were fired. After a lull in gigs or production of original material, Columbiadecided to drop them and the band went through a legal termination of contract. On theirfinal night at the London Fog, Ronnie Haran, the talent booker for the Whiskey a Go Go,a bigger club down the strip, saw their performance and liked it. “I’ve really talked you up, plus, we’ve really been kinda looking for a house band,”she said (Hopkins 84). She also said that if it worked into a regular job, it would meantwo sets a night at union scale ($499.50 for the four of them). Their “fill-in” gig at theWhiskey ended up lasting months and Ronnie ended up informally becoming theirmanager. She urged some connections at Elektra Records to come see The Doors whichled to a contract. Their first album, The Doors, came out in January of 1967, followed byfive other studio albums and three live albums. Jim was on a continuous downwardspiral of drugs mixed with severe alcoholism that finally caught up to him in hisapartment on July 3, 1971, in Paris, France. While taking a bath, he reportedly died of a
heart attack. After Jim’s saddening death, The Doors as the world knew them were nomore. The three remaining members of the now defunct band, released two more albumsafter Jim’s death: Other Voices, and Full Circle. These albums didn’t do much and by1973, The Doors were gone forever. American Prayer, an album of Jim’s spoken-wordpoetry dubbed over The Doors playing in the background, was released in 1978, finallygiving fans of Morrison’s poetry something tangible to whet their palette. Regardless ofThe Doors’ slow, painful decline, they will always live on as one of the greatest, mostenergetic live bands that the world has ever seen. When it comes to poetic devices, The Doors’ lyrics utilized every one of themand probably incorporated a few new ones, as well. Jim was truly a natural poet andcould create a lengthy, hypnotic ballad at the snap of a finger. What some people thoughtof as drug-induced ranting and a lewd imagination was looked upon by many others asthe finest poetry ever created. There was no happy medium to be met. It was a love-hateissue. One of Jim’s two favorite devices to use was personification of ideas or emotionsand natural objects. “What have they done to the Earth?/What have they done to ourfair sister?/Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bither/Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn.” “The music is your special friend…” The two quotes above are excerpts from “When the Music’s Over…” the big finaleon Strange Days. This method of identifying an object or idea as an identity wereabundant in Jim’s work. He liked to make many references to nature, usuallyincorporating the preceding form. Another common device in Doors’ lyrics weremetaphors. Practically every line was a metaphor of some sort. Without translation orunderstanding of their true meaning, one could think that these words were justnonsensical rambling. But, if you dig down and really examine what is being said, itbecomes clear that every line is laced with a hidden meaning. For example, he uses thesymbolism of a reptile to represent rebelliousness combined with a darker evil side. Hence his self-proclaimed title, “The Lizard King.” He also makes reference to “Thesnake” quite often. This is most likely just representative of a general evil character orsomething along those lines. In a famous Morrison poem, The Celebration of the Lizard,he uses these metaphors abundantly: “Some outlaws lived by the side of a lake/The minister’s daughter’sin love with the snake/Who lives in a well by the side of theroad/Wake up, Girl! We’re almost home.” “I am the Lizard King/I can do anything/I can make the Earth stopin it’s tracks/I made the blue cars go away.” Half of the time, I don’t think even the most die-hard Doors’ fans are capable oftranslating these seemingly meaningless lines. Jim was known to start spouting outrandom sentence fragments during live performances. But even in a hypnotic,psychedelic trance that he was often known to be in up on stage, the words that flowedfrom his mouth were still filled with deep meanings and poetic devices. That, along withall of the evidence presented above, is, in my opinion, enough to show that Jim Morrisonwas one of the greatest poets ever to inhabit the Earth. The story of The Doors is not an uncommon one. Many bands rose and fell inthe same fashion, just with different people in a different town. Starting out from variedbackgrounds, four men come together through mutual friends, start as a bar band, anagent spots them, they get signed, put out some records, and drugs and alcohol eventuallytear the band apart. This could be a fill in the blank essay for many bands in The Doors’era, just change the names and the dates. Though, what makes The Doors stand out fromthe rest of the pack is the individuality of their music. They didn’t just have the same oldguitar music that everyone else was producing. They added a whole new sound to themusic scene of the late ’60’s that is still appreciated and borrowed from to this day. Though, not one band in the last 30 years has been able to duplicate or better their sound. Everything I have presented in the preceding paragraphs has hopefully been educationalto you, the reader, and I hope I was able to present enough convincing evidence to showthat The Doors were definitely the most revolutionary, controversial, and, at the sametime, the most poetic band the world has ever seen.
Crisafulli, Chuck. Moonlight Drive: The Stories Behind Every Doors’ Song. CarltonBooks Limited, 1995. Doors, The. The Doors. LP. 1967. Elektra Records.—. Strange Days. LP. 1967. Elektra/Asylum Records. 1985—. Waiting for the Sun. LP. 1968. Elektra/Asylum Records Hopkins, Jerry, and Danny Sugerman. No One Here Gets Out Alive. Warner Books,1995 (revised). Morrison, Jim. An American Prayer. LP. 1978. Elektra/Asylum Records