The Doors and Me
The Doors & Me
A few weeks ago while interviewing Randy Tuten from Los Angeles he began to tell me some stories about seeing The Doors perform live before they hit it big in 1967. His impression of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the band, was very different from my own mythic perceptions.
One story had Tuten lying on the floor in front of the band with a very drunk Jim Morrison singing above his head. As someone who was born way after the 1960s, this image stuck in my head from then on. Eventually it also made me wonder who the truly intoxicated one was if you are laying on the floor with a band playing right above you.
The Doors have been my favorite band since I was 13 years old. I first heard their music through a “Doors Greatest Hits” cassette on my headphones during a family trip out to Arizona in a motor home. After my few prerecorded radio tapes got old I grabbed my parent’s old cassettes and began to listen to them. The first cassette was of something I found very strange at the time, “The Moody Blues Greatest Hits”. “Dear Diary” and “Melancholy Man” stood out, and “Nights In White Satan” was fascinating. It was very different to me to hear spoken-word poetry from a band. Little did I understand then that rap music and most lyrics were poetry, but they were just set to music.
The next Cassette right after that was from The Doors.
The songs that really applied to me at that age were “People Are Strange” and “Riders on the Storm.” To a teenager “People Are Strange” hit to the heart with its simplistic lyrics and universal meaning. “Faces look ugly, when you’re alone… Women seem wicked, when you’re unwanted,” that was teen angst in a nutshell.
That time as a young teenager is interesting because you are exposed to so much that is new, but you truly understand so little. Subtlety is lost on today’s youth (Caddyshack) and all you can read is what is on the surface at that time.
Jump ahead to when I was 20 years old and driving up to Duluth.
What someone who grew up here will never understand is just how the North Shore is viewed through the eyes of a person raised in the Twin Cities. This is the north woods and Duluth is the last stop before leaving up the trail to another country. The beach onLake Superior in Park Point calms the nerves and gives a person from the “Cities” perspective that isn’t seen through the skyscrapers, farm fields, and the Mighty Miss.
Anyway, while I was driving to Duluth for a trip up the shore the song “Alabama Song” came on a mix CD that was playing. For some reason at the moment when the trombone came in, just before the second verse, it changed my ears forever. Maybe other people have a similar connection with other bands, but I still think back to that one note, by that single trombone, and how it made my whole understanding of music change.
The tune that came next on the CD became my favorite song to this day and one I believe is among the best ever written. That song was “The End” from The Doors first self-titled album.
“The End” has a power in it that I have never felt in another song. It was Morrison’s own “Yesterday”, but when seen through the eyes’ of some of his more morbid audience members it had a meaning of death. The problem with that view is that “The End” was a break up song and the genius of the writing shows the connection between the death of life and that of love. It seems very one-dimensional, but the music and aura end up capturing something higher than music itself.
On a PBS rock & roll documentary from about 10 years ago Ray Manzarek, the keyboard/bassist of The Doors, explained that the song grew from his own and Morrison’s understanding of how a movie is written. “The End” is less about the Oedipus reference that Morrison made during his lyrical freestyle section of the song and more about well structured music embracing poetry. It was written before The Beatles Sgt. Pepper, and was truly ahead of its time in 1966.
I still remember subjecting a friend to a live version of “The End” played loud enough to blow our ears out and feeling real power in the music when it went to the famous crescendo and then back down. The story goes that Jim Morrison wouldn’t record the song with people all around in the studio and had to create a sacred place first. He later recorded it in one take, alone, and with only candles lighting the darkness. Later that night he broke into the studio while intoxicated and smashed the soundboard.
Those kind of rocklore stories were what drew me into learning more about The Doors and led me to a complete submersion into older music.
Morrison and Manzarek were huge blues fans as well and brought their love of that music into their band. They especially liked John Lee Hooker and covered quite a few of his songs both live and on their studio albums. “Backdoor Man” was a signature Doors and idyllic Morrison song that was written by blues great Willie Dixon.
On a side note, Dixon had to sue Led Zeppelin to get them to admit that they had stolen his song “You Need Love” in taking credit sole for “Whole Lotta Love” (which is one of the million incorrect entries on Wikipedia). Robert Plant, the lead singer of Zep, always said he was taking from the Small Faces. Coincidentally, Small Faces recorded a song titled “You Need Loving”, which is Dixon’s “You Need Love”, but it is not credited to Dixon to this day.
The Doors released, “Break on Through” as their first single, but it didn’t rise on the charts the way that their second song, “Light My Fire” did. There was a master’s thesis that I read breaking down “Break On Through” lyric by lyric. One cool part focused on the words, “I found an island in your arms country in your eyes - arms that chain us eyes that lied… Break on through to the other side.” It related those lyrics to how the youth of that age were disenfranchised with the war in Vietnam and the government as a whole.
During college my best friend Kurt was the lead singer of a band called Velveteen. His band covered a rare ditty from The Doors, “Soul Kitchen”. It was always a highlight of their shows and sometimes he would break out into freestyle poetry while the band would vamp like The Doors did. He also had a Morrison tattoo on his arm and was once called a “Morrison looking #$@” by a guy in an SCSU Football hat. That same guy attacked him and called him a “long-hair”. It was like a scene out of a movie from back when The Doors were in their heyday in the 60s, but this was in the new millennium.
There was a great book written about Jim Morrison titled “Wild Child” that bothers me about whether it is true or not. The novel has a style and imagery that makes you want to believe that it is true, but according to www.doors.com the dates of the story don’t line up with known records. In the book the author claims that Morrison had planned to return to LA the day after he had died, July 4th. She also said that his longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson murdered Morrison with drugs and put him into the bathtub to change the time of death.
In reading the author talked about how Marianne Faithful was there at the time of Morrison’s death and there was this mysterious French count that no one can find. Recently there have been reports that perhaps Morrison had begun using heroin while in Paris at the time of his death. That was also what killed Courson a few years later as well. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure on Morrison’s death certificate.
This past year I visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris and felt saddened to see it hidden in the back of the cemetery and crammed between many other tombs. What really affected me while walking away was how upsetting it is that such a great American artist sits in a graveyard in Paris, France.
After Morrison’s death the remaining members of the band recorded music to go along with some poetry that Morrison had laid down before leaving to Paris. That CD is titled “American Prayer” and is a masterpiece.
Jim Morrison’s legacy continues to this day and The Doors are known as one of the greatest of rock groups in history. The remaining members of the Doors are playing a show in Iowa in late April... Road trip anyone?
If you like the posters you see here be sure to visit Duluth's Tweed Museum this June to see this last one on display and many more.