The first time we hear a song that catches us by surprise with interest, awe and that need to hear it over and over again is a unique experience. I can say that happened to me during the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. The opening sequence of palm trees blowing back and forth by the slight wind. And then out of the ether of that wind comes the opening chords of The End. I had no idea who wrote the song but I had to hear it over and over again. Lady’s and Gentlemen!!! introducing The Doors!!
Now all of The Doors fans that I have met are obsessed with them. Their front man, Jim Morrison it still an enigma and a mystery. Dozens of books have been written about him and his escapades. His sudden death in Paris at the age of 27, left many searching for answers as to what happened. He was a god to many during his life, though he did not want to think of himself as that. Throughout his short life, confining to the ones that were close to him, he wanted to be known and remembered just as a poet. As his fellow bandmate and keyboardist of The Doors Ray Manzarek stated “Jim wanted to be known as a poet, first and foremost.” His death cemented his aura, image, and god like rock ability in the minds of many. Today, the image of the poet is still there, however his name and image have become one of a sexualized cult figure. In order for us to understand Jim Morrison and The Doors to their fullest we have to go back to the fifties.
James Douglas Morrison who was born in 1943 was the product of a military family. His father was an Admiral in the US Navy. And at the height of the Vietnam War his father was commanding carrier fleets. At the same time Jim was at the height of his artistic creations as a member of The Doors. Jim refused and could never conform to a military upbringing. He was searching for something more original and authentic within himself. As he stated – “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” That is why after he graduated from high school and after a stint in a college in Florida, he took the road many young eager Americans took in the 60s. He went west to California.
California, home to Surf Rock, The Beach Boys, and Creedance Clearwater Revival just to name a few, a state where liberating new ideas. New ideas in the form of mind expansion. Jim had experimented with marijuana in his high school days, but being in California was where he took full advantage of LSD. The consumption of this drug lead him to write voraciously. Much of his early song writing material was written while under the influence of LSD. During one day in 1965, fresh out of finishing his bachelor’s degree at the film school at UCLA, Jim ran into an old class mate, Ray Manzarek. When Ray asked Jim what he had been up to, Jim said he had been busy writing songs, Ray curious asked Jim to sing one. When Jim sang Moonlight Drive for the first time that day on Venice Beach in 1965, Ray was hooked. That was when they both agreed to form a band and propel Jim’s lyrics on to the new generation.
When the Doors signed a 6 album record deal with Elektra Records, they went from a little known band from LA who got their feet wet playing gigs in clubs along the Sunset Strip (Whiskey A Go Go and The London Fog) to having international appeal.
The exposure, the photo shoots, the concerts and the travel, can take its toll on a band. Jim, early on handled it with calmness and poise, but inside he felt rattled. A momentous breaking point was building inside of him. In a 1969 interview with the Village Voice, a little over six months after the disastrous Miami Concert which Morrison had been later charged for indecent exposure, he stated “If I had the whole thing to do over again I wouldn’t have done it.” He was pointing towards the countless photoshoots, poses and Hollywood processed machine that was show biz that he had go caught up in.
Skipping ahead to 1971 The Doors were wrapping up their 6th studio album, LA Woman. After countless fights, Jim being drunk, and rumours that the band was on the verge of breaking up, the band was in their element. They record the album in their office work space, and the finished product was what Jim had envisioned The Doors sound to be from the very beginning, a Chicago Blues band infused with psychedelic tendencies.
And just like that Jim was headed to Paris. He needed to clear his head and focus on his poetry. The news was sudden for the other band members. But they all thought it was a good idea. Ray believed that Jim should just focus on being a poet and distance himself from the life of a rock star. But the vision of a so called ex patriot American In Paris was not to be. Jim fell back into his past habits of staying out too late and getting drunk. Then on July 3rd 1971 Jim Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of his Paris flat by his girlfriend. No autopsy was performed, though the death certificate stated the cause of death was a heart attack. Mystery shrouded over all of the information related to his death and to this day fans are still asking and questioning what happened to Jim Morrison.
After the death of Jim the three other band members continued on without him. They produced three more albums, however they soon realized that there could be no Doors without Jim. Even though The Doors were together for just under 6 years, what they produced within that time frame could be considered what other bands go through in their 20 years or more life span. That’s what I think made them live on and continue to sell.