The Doors

 The Doors

 Jim Morrison – circa 1967

 “Five to one / One in five / No one here gets / Out alive” – ‘Five To One’ (The Doors)

It is 1 March 1969.  American rock band The Doors are on stage at The Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida.  Their vocalist, Jim Morrison, seems a bit confused.  ‘A song broken down in the middle, the singer too drunk to even make a pretence of professionalism’.  There are a few cat calls from the audience.  Everyone is waiting for Morrison to do something.  “You wanna see my c*ck?” he asks, ‘waving his flaccid peter’ in the air.  As a result of this incident, Jim Morrison is charged with a felony (lewd and lascivious behaviour) and three misdemeanours ((i) indecent exposure, (ii) open profanity, and (iii) public drunkenness).  The court claims he ‘did lewdly and lasciviously expose his penis, place his hands upon the penis and shake it, and further the said defendant did simulate the acts of masturbation upon himself and oral copulation upon another’.  In September 1970 Morrison is acquitted of lewd behaviour (the felony) and public drunkenness.  But on 30 October 1970, Judge Murray Goodman sentences Morrison to eight months hard labour, followed by twenty-eight months of probation, plus a five hundred dollar fine on the charges of profanity and indecent exposure.  An appeal is lodged, but is fated never to be decided.  Jim Morrison’s behaviour on the night of 1 March 1969 is ‘the beginning of the end for Morrison and The Doors’.

James Douglas Morrisson (8 December 1943 – 3 July 1971) is born in Melbourne, Florida.  His parents are Steve Morrisson and Clara Clarke Morrison.  The family has ‘a long history of career militarists’.  Steve Morrison, ‘a career naval pilot’, becomes ‘a rear-admiral’.  The family moves often.  Jim Morrisson graduates in 1961 from George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia.  He spends a year at St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida, and then moves across to Florida State University.  In 1964, the young Morrisson enrols in the Theatre Arts Department at The University of California in Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.).  He majors in film technique.  And it is in that course in 1965 that he meets Ray Manzarek.

Ray Manzarek (12 February 1936 – 20 May 2013) is from Chicago, Illinois.  He studies piano from an early age.  Although it is classical music in which he is trained, at age 12 Ray discovers rhythm and blues (R & B) music.  After that, he is soon frequenting the blues clubs on Chicago’s south side.  Ray Manzarek takes a degree in economics before moving to U.C.L.A.  While ostensibly studying film in California, he also has his own ‘blues-oriented’ group, Rick And The Ravens.

Both Morrisson and Manzarek drift through the Venice Beach culture, ‘where transience is a given and acid [L.S.D.] the drug of choice’.  Morrisson studies the philosopher Friedrich Nietzche and the poet and artist William Blake, becoming ‘one of the most erudite and widely-read of rock stars’.  One night on the beach, Morrisson recites some of his own poetry to Manzarek.  The piano-player recalls, “It seemed as though, if we got a group together we could make a million dollars”.  They decide to call that group The Doors.  William Blake writes “when the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite.”  This inspires the title of Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Doors Of Perception’, detailing his experience with mind-expanding drugs such as the naturally occurring psychedelic, mescaline.  It’s a pedigree that makes The Doors a very acceptable title to the two aspiring rock musicians.

At first, Ray Manzarek’s brothers pitch in on guitars to flesh out the compositions.  But The Doors take recognisable shape when two new members join: Robby Krieger (born 8 January 1946) and John Densmore (born 1 December 1945).  Manzarek discovers the duo at a Los Angeles meditation centre.  Robby Krieger plays flamenco guitar and bottleneck guitar.  He soon adapts his style to fit with his new associates.  John Densmore is a jazz influenced drummer who has been gigging with a band called The Psychedelic Rangers.  The Doors line-up is: Jim Morrisson (vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums).  The band has no bass player and, for the most part, they manage to get along without one as Manzarek plays a ‘bass foot-pedal’.

Around this time, Jim Morrisson begins claiming (falsely) that his parent are dead and drops one ‘s’ from his surname.  It is also during these early days that Morrison hooks up with Pamela Curson, who will later be legally considered his common law wife.  They never actually marry and Morrison is hardly the most faithful of spouses, eventually attracting more than twenty different paternity suits.

Officially all The Doors songs are written by the band collectively.  Less officially, the usual pattern is for Jim Morrison to either have some lyrics prepared that the group sets to music or he just makes up some words to fit whatever tune the musicians are working on.  Fancying himself a sort of modern day shaman or medicine man, Morrison opens himself up to the muse or some higher power or external force and just lets the magic happen.  Such an approach is a recipe for unevenness, but The Doors maintain a surprisingly high level of quality, whether you attribute this to their own innate skills or the gods smiling upon them.  It is normally Ray Manzarek who takes a leading role in putting together the arrangements.  With Manzarek’s musical dominance, their songs are often constructed about a keyboard figure, but Krieger and Densmore are hardly passengers.  All three of the musicians contribute strongly to the band’s output, and all three of them are in service to whatever spirits are animating their frontman, Jim Morrison.

The Doors make their debut at the London Fog Club on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  They face some ‘hard, discouraging dues-paying months’.  The Whisky A Go Go becomes their usual venue and it is here that they are spotted by Jac Holzman of Elektra Records.  Best known at this point as a label for folk artists, Elektra’s fortunes are fading and Holzman hopes that signing an electric rock group like The Doors will arrest the decline.  He is amply rewarded.

‘The Doors’ (1967) (US no. 2, UK no. 43) is produced by Paul Rothchild, who goes on to produce nearly all the group’s albums.  The first single is ‘Light My Fire’ (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 16), a song usually acknowledged, however unofficially, as having both words and music devised by guitarist Robby Krieger.  On the album it is quite a lengthy piece (7:05), but much of the instrumental mid-section is edited out for the radio-friendly single version.  “You know that it would be untrue / You know that I would be a liar / If I was to say to you / Girl, we couldn’t get much higher / Come on, baby, light my fire / Try to set the night on fi-yah,” urges Jim Morrison.  When The Doors appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on 17 September 1967, the television host asks Morrison to omit the line “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” (presumably because of drug connotations) but Morrison ignores the request.  Even if, in this unusual case, it is Robby Krieger writing the words, he still captures Jim Morrison’s tone very well: “The time to hesitate is through / No time to wallow in the mire / Try now we could only lose / And our love become a funeral pyre.”  The song’s ‘sinister quality’ coupled with its commercial success makes this the classic Doors song.  In ‘Break On Through’ (US no. 126, UK no. 64), Ray Manzarek’s icy organ tones play tag with Robbie Krieger’s volcanic guitar.  Jim Morrison’s vocal similarly transforms from deep and dark mutterings to the shout of a wild man: “You know the day destroys the night / Night divides the day / Try to run, try to hide / Break on through to the other side”.  ‘Crystal Ship’ is appropriately delicate.  The Doors demonstrate the breadth of their influences by tackling ‘Alabama Song’, a composition by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the German duo who devised stage musicals in the 1920s and 1930s.  Fittingly, ‘The End’ closes the album.  This massive (11:41) piece is framed by Robby Krieger’s lingering guitar notes as Morrison declares, “This is the end / Beautiful friend / This is the end / My only friend / The end / Of all elaborate plans / The end”.  As the song meanders along, Jim Morrison’s questing lyrics refer to “weird scenes inside the goldmine” (later used as the title of a 1971 Doors compilation album), and riding “the blue bus” to the coast.  However, ‘The End’ is notorious for its ‘oedipal drama’.  In Greek legend, Oedipus unknowingly slays his own father and, equally unwittingly, has sex with his mother.  When The Doors performed ‘The End’ at the Whisky A Go Go, the manager ‘threw Morrison out of his club’.  When recording the song, producer Paul Rothchild is ‘freaked out’.  In ‘The End’, Jim Morrison sings “The killer awakes before dawn,” walks down a hallway and (at least on record) it goes like this: “Father? (Yes, son?), I want to kill you.  Mother, I want to….waaugh!”  It is ‘the first major statement of The Doors’ perennial themes: dread, violence, guilt without possibility of redemption, the miscarriages of love, and, most of all, death’.  ‘The Doors’, the debut album, stands as the group’s best work.  Drummer John Densmore observes, “On each song we had tried every possible arrangement so we felt the whole album was tight.”

The Doors ‘original roots and support [are] in the underground, but this debut album blows such considerations sky-high, [making] them one of the top U.S. rock bands almost immediately’.  This change in status is also partly due to Jim Morrison’s good looks and charisma.  He may have harboured pretensions to the intelligentsia – or at least the sybaritic fringes – but he is also appearing bare-chested in glossy magazines (like ‘Hit Parader’) directed at teenagers, striking Christ-like poses, and wearing leather trousers.  ‘Morrison exudes animal sexuality with a mere glance’.

The Doors’ second album is ‘Strange Days’ (1967) (US no. 3).  The cover image is of carnival performers and circus freaks rather than the band because, allegedly, the members of The Doors ‘aren’t talking to each other’.  On the title track of ‘Strange Days’, Jim Morrison sings ‘Strange days / Have found us / Strange days / Have tracked us down”.  A disturbing vibration surrounds the tune…and is that a maniacal laugh buried in the mix?  ‘People Are Strange’ (US no. 12) barely varies the theme.  Over honky tonk piano and aching bass tones, the vocalist intones “People are strange / When you’re a stranger / Faces look ugly / When you’re alone / Women seem wicked / When you’re unwanted.”  Listening to the vocalist, ‘you knew he felt the chill and lived it’.  More straightforward is the lusty ‘Love Me Two Times’ (US no. 25): “Love me two times, baby / Love me twice today / Love me two times, girl / I’m goin’ away / Love me two times, girl / One for tomorrow / One just for today”.  Robbie Krieger’s intrusive guitar makes its presence felt with a libidinous charge.  ‘When The Music’s Over’ is this album’s epic (10:55).  “When the music’s over / Turn out the light,” urges Jim.  As the music dies to barely more than a pulse beat, he again improvises word portraits of “A feast of friends” (which becomes the title of a 1969 Doors documentary), “Alive she cried” (used as the title of a 1983 album of vintage Doors live performances), and, accompanied by a sepulchral echo, “We want the world / And we want it now!”  ‘Strange Days’, it is said, ‘takes its listeners not only past such familiar landmarks of the youth odyssey as alienation and sex, but into symbolic realms of the unconscious – eerie night worlds filled with throbbing rhythms, shivery metallic tones, unsettling images’.

On 9 December 1967, at a concert in New Haven, Connecticut, backstage Jim Morrison ‘mouths off to a policeman’ and is maced in response.  On stage, Morrison delivers ‘a tirade about the incident’.  The police turn on the house lights, haul Morrison off stage and charge him with breach of the peace and resisting arrest.

In February 1968, Universal Studios offer The Doors $500,000 to star in a feature film.  The band also announce plans for a television special on the U.S. ABC. network, a ‘humour book’ by the whole group, and a book of lyrics and poetry by Jim Morrison.  Of these four projects, the only one that actually materialises is the last one.

The Doors’ next album, ‘Waiting For The Sun’ (1968) (US no. 1, UK no. 16) is heralded by the single ‘Hello I Love You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 15).  The song boasts ‘a more mainstream rock sound’.  “Hello, I love you / Won’t you tell me your name?” asks Jim Morrison, before swatting away other potential suitors (or maybe upbraiding himself?) with such sentiments as “Do you think you’ll be the guy / To make the queen of the angels sigh?” and “Do you hope to make her see you fool? / Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel?”  Ray Davies of the British band The Kinks sues The Doors for ‘Hello I Love You’ being a ‘rip-off’ of their ‘All Day And All Of The Night’.  The result is that all U.K. royalties from ‘Hello I Love You’ go to Davies instead of The Doors.  Another track, ‘Not To Touch The Earth’, concludes with Morrison’s pronouncement that “I am the lizard king / I can do anything.”  The inner sleeve of the album displays the full libretto of ‘The Celebration Of The Lizard King’ and The Doors have tentative plans to stage it theatrically.  ‘The Unknown Soldier’ (US no. 39) appears to be a reaction to the war in Vietnam: “Unborn living, living dead / Bullet strikes the helmet’s head” and “It’s all over for the unknown soldier.”  This is lent drama by sound effects of marching feet, a firing squad, and gunshots.  Robbie Krieger gets to play some flamenco guitar on ‘Spanish Caravan’.  ‘Five To One’ finds Morrison using his most guttural voice over ominous keyboards and a dirty guitar solo.  On this album, The Doors use a bass player, Doug Lubahn, but it is not a permanent arrangement.  (Note: During these recording sessions, The Doors begin work on a song called ‘Waiting For The Sun’ but it is not completed in time for the album of the same name, showing up instead two albums later.)

On 6 October 1968, a documentary about the group, ‘The Doors Are Open’, screens on British television.

A Miami concert on 1 March 1969 results in charges of indecent exposure against Jim Morrison.

‘The Soft Parade’ (1969) (US no. 6) features ‘Touch Me’ (US no. 3, AUS no. 10).  Unusually, the track showcases a horn section.  Trumpets blare as Morrison sings “Come on, come on, come on / Touch me, babe / Can’t you see that I am not afraid.”  The album is not well regarded.  It is described as ‘an all-time low’ that suffers from ‘lightweight chart-style material and a lack of direction’.

On 5 June 1969 ‘A Feast Of Friends’, a forty minute documentary made by The Doors and their associates is shown at the Los Angeles Cinematheque 16.  It is an arty, experimental effort screened together with a film by pop-art icon Andy Warhol.

Jim Morrison pesters a flight attendant during a trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona, on 11 November 1969.  He is jailed for ‘interfering with the flight of an intercontinental aircraft and public drunkenness’ and faces a ten thousand dollar fine and possible ten year prison sentence.  The flight attendant withdraws the accusation and the case is dropped.

‘Morrison Hotel / Hard Rock Café’ (1970) (US no. 4, UK no. 12, AUS no. 4) is ‘a carnival of crude delights’.  Its ‘hard-edge of raw R & B’ manifests to good effect on ‘Roadhouse Blues’.  Harmonica, piano and rough guitar coalesce with Jim Morrison’s direct vocals as he professes, “Well, I woke up this morning / Got myself a beer,” and then urges “Keep your eyes on the road / Your hands upon the wheel.”  The album also contains the delayed ‘Waiting For The Sun’: “At first flash of Eden / We raced down to the sea / Standing there on freedom’s shore / Waiting for the sun”.  Ray Manzarek’s keyboards on the song are positively iridescent.

The Doors’ ‘Absolutely Live’ (1970) (US no. 8, UK no. 69, AUS no. 20) is a collection of concert performances.  It is notable as the only full recording of ‘The Celebration Of The Lizard King’.

Obviously yet to learn his lesson, after a power failure at a Doors concert in Boston on 10 April 1970, Jim Morrison asks the audience if “anyone wants to see my genitals.”

On 12 November 1970, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore appear on stage in New Orleans.  Although they do not know it, it is fated to be their last show as The Doors.  John Densmore recalls watching Morrison “lose all his energy” as the show drags to a conclusion.

The year of 1970 has been a bad one for rock stars.  Guitar legend Jimi Hendrix died in August and blues shouter Janis Joplin died in October.  Both Hendrix and Joplin were aged 27.  Jim Morrison, just turned 27, informs his friends, “You’re drinking with number three.”

By this time, Jim Morrison is in rough shape.  He ‘has developed a serious drinking problem.  It is damaging his voice, bloating his body, and causing tensions in the band’.  Partly, the change in Morrison’s appearance is due to him trying to be taken seriously as an artist and wanting to disassociate himself from star-struck teenage devotees.  No longer is he the sex symbol of 1967; he is bearded, gruff-voiced and has a body shaped like a barrel.

‘L.A. Woman’ (1971) (US no. 9, UK no. 28, AUS no. 9) is co-produced by Bruce Botnick and The Doors and, again, employs an actual bass player, Jerry Scheff.  According to Jim Morrison, the band’s intent is to “get back to what we did originally; just be very primitive in our approach, very relaxed”.  The speedy title track pictures Los Angeles embodied as a female, a “Lucky little lady in the city of light.”  Morrison pledges his fealty: “If they said I never loved you / You know they are a liar”.  He goes on to recount episodes of “motel, money, murder, madness” as he goes “Driving down your freeway / Midnight alleys roam / Cops in cars, topless bars / Never saw a woman so alone.”  As the song eases back, the singer introduces his alter ego, “Mr Mojo Risin’’.  ‘Mojo’ is a term suggesting mystic or sexual potency, a word derived from blues music and its superstitious antecedents.  ‘Mr Mojo Risin’’ is also an anagram of ‘Jim Morrison’.  One of The Doors’ best known songs, ‘Riders On The Storm’ (US no. 14, UK no. 22, AUS no. 10), is also present as the veritable Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are conjured up amid sound effects of thunder while Ray Manzarek’s keyboards tinkle like raindrops.  “Riders on the storm / Riders on the storm / Into this house were born / Into this world were thrown,” Morrison darkly mutters before pointing out “There’s a killer on the road / His brain is squirming like a toad.”  Although ‘Love Her Madly’ (US no. 11, AUS no. 6) is more pop-oriented, Morrison’s ravaged voice is just as deep as he sings, “Don’t you love her madly / As she’s walkin’ out the door.”  Perhaps more representative is ‘Been Down So Long’: “I’ve been down so very damn long / That it looks like up to me.”

Shortly after completing ‘L.A. Woman’, Jim Morrison departs to Paris, France.  ‘Wearied and disillusioned’, he is weighed down by his legal hassles, problems with alcohol and a general malaise.  There is some dissent about whether Morrison quit The Doors before moving to Paris, or if he is just taking a break to recharge his batteries.  In any case, the rest of The Doors try to coax him into returning to the U.S.A.  On 3 July 1971 Jim Morrison is found dead in his bathtub in Paris.  The official cause of death is listed as a heart attack.  He is survived by his widow, Pamela Curson Morrison.  On 9 July 1971 Jim Morrison is buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin and Edith Piaf are also interred.  His demise is kept secret for nearly a week because, according to Doors’ manager Bill Siddons, those close to him wished to avoid “the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.”

In 1971 Jim Morrison’s poetry is published in two volumes as ‘The Lords’ and ‘The New Creatures’.

Surprisingly, the other three members of The Doors announce on 25 November 1971 that they will carry on, with Ray Manzarek taking on the job of lead vocalist in addition to his keyboard duties.  Iggy Pop (a.k.a. Iggy Stooge) was considered as a replacement for Jim Morrison, but it was not to be.

The three-piece Doors release ‘Other Voices’ (1972) (US no. 31), which is ‘a good deal better than anyone had any right to expect’.  Nonetheless, after one more effort, ‘Full Circle’ (1973) (US no. 68), they bow to the inevitable and break up on 30 August 1973.

Pamela Curson Morrison dies of a heroin overdose in Hollywood, California on 25 April 1974.

In the 1980s, The Doors music experiences a resurgence in popularity.  This perhaps begins with the ‘Greatest Hits’ (1980) set, is aided by ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’ (1981) – the Jim Morrison biography written by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman, and climaxes with Oliver Stone’s motion picture, ‘The Doors’ (1991), in which Val Kilmer plays the part of Jim Morrison.

In 2002, Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger reunite as The Doors Of The 21st Century, with Ian Astbury from The Cult as vocalist.  John Densmore declines to participate and wins a legal fight to prevent his former comrades using the name.  They sporadically continue to work as Manzarek-Krieger or Ray Manzarek And Robby Krieger Of The Doors.

Ray Manzarek dies on 20 May 2013 as a result of bile duct cancer.

There is an unhealthy fascination with Jim Morrison after the singer’s death.  He is viewed as some kind of martyr.  Morrison’s devotion to channelling his muse was genuine and, largely successful.  He was hardly the first creative person to use drugs and alcohol to facilitate such a quest.  The tragedy is these accoutrements became an end in themselves.  In full flight, The Doors touched something mystical and indefinable and that is possibly the true source of their continuing appeal.  ‘Both magnificent and messed up, Doors frontman Jim Morrison remains the embodiment of the romantic / tragic rock ‘n’ roll anti-hero’.  The songs of the band ‘are timeless now because they were created beyond time then.  The music of The Doors is at once both modern and ancient’.

Sources:

  1. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 134, 136, 137, 141, 147, 149, 156, 171, 178, 188, 192, 217
  2. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Doors’ by Lester Bangs (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 388, 389
  3. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 146, 148
  4. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 67
  5. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 68, 69
  6. ‘The Best Of The Doors’ – Sleeve notes by Danny Sugarman (WEA Records Ltd, 1985) p. 2, 3, 4
  7. wikipedia.org as at 7 January 2013
  8. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 95
  9. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 72, 89
  10. ‘Time’ magazine, quoted in 1 (above) p. 136
  11. lyricsfreak.com as at 12 January 2013
  12. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’, ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 66
  13. rollingstone.com (20 May 2013)

Song lyrics copyright The Doors Music Company, ASCAP

Last revised 19 August 2014

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