Sixty-nine years ago today, give or take some hours, Jim Morrison entered the world. I assume he did so kicking and screaming.
I actually started writing this post a few days ago after a comment on one of my favourite feminist blogs related to a Doors song, then I got caught up in a conversation with a work friend slash bandmate I shall call Mark (because it's his name).
Then I ditched it, because it was the same old "boo hoo me I was a freak at school" toss. Let me try again. Once more, with brevity.
I would not be a Doors fan if I'd been happy at school. The Doors aren't for happy, contented people. The cool kids might put up the poster and wear the t-shirt, but they don't feel it in their souls. They don't need to because they are happy, contented people. Or think they are. Like Alec Guinness as Yevgraf in Doctor Zhivago said of the war: "Happy men do not volunteer."
The Doors are for the outsiders, freaks and despairing children, and you're supposed to grow out of it. Well, I'm still waiting to grow out of it. I suspect I won't now. Every time I think I'm over them, done with them, every time I think he no longer has any power over me, something proves me wrong.
I clung to Jim back in the day. Loved him like the deserts miss the rain, to borrow a line from himself. I needed him, just as I'd needed Lennon a few years earlier, would need Philip Lynott and Rory Gallagher a few years later. Lennon taught me to not give a rat's arse what people thought of me, Morrison helped me believe it. I listened to The Doors' Greatest Hits constantly on the flight to New York City when my mum took me there for a weekend in honour of my 18th birthday (and no, I still can't believe she did such an amazing thing either).
Jim Morrison was literally the sound of my coming-of-age, not just that weekend, but when I began to put myself back together in California. I loved Jim when I arrived in California on the evening of 10th September 2001 (yes, really. My first morning was 'interesting' to say the least) but when I left in July 2002, I was entirely consumed by him. Just click the Doors or Jim tags on this very journal – it's partially recorded here. This post in particular does a good job of reflecting what was going on in my head.
Like the guy in High Fidelity asks: "What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?"
I know the answer for me: I was already dying from the inside out and the music sometimes made it worse but mostly, I was saved by it. I'm truly not exaggerating to say Lennon and Morrison saved my life, far more than they ever made it worse. Jim Morrison was an outsider and a freak just like me and he was there when I needed him the most.
And Mark, if you're reading, that's what I was trying to say and basically took a million words to babble at you. Sorry about that. Pubs aren't really conducive to deep or intricate conversation, are they?
Right, that's the Me Nonsense out of the way. Now for the Doors nonsense and the video we're all here for.
I think it's fair and accurate to say that Morrison's poetry divides opinion. I've seen it described as pretentious and 'Sixth Form' and I've seen it described as fantastic. I think the answer is somewhere between the two. There are some turns of phrase which are quite, quite beautiful and some lines which are cringeworthy.
And I think 'pretentious' is missing the point. He was trying, at least. Had he lived, had he cleared his mind, I think he had the potential to be truly great, but that didn't happen (also something I was trying to say in my pub conversation that got mangled). He could've been the incisive voice of his generation but his personal weaknesses prevented it. That's life, right?
The video I'm posting today is of the first Doors song I ever truly loved, and it's also a fantastic example of the sublime and ridiculous nature of Jim's work. Ladies, gentlemen and those betwixt, between and otherwise, I present to you "The Ghost Song".
"The Ghost Song" was put together after Jim died, using bits of his poetry he'd recorded on his birthday in 1970 and music recorded by the other Doors in 1978. THe music is very much 'of its time' but I like it. Most of all, I love Jim's voice. His voice is the first reason I loved him back then, and I think he has one of the most gorgeous speaking voices I've heard. Up there with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in my book.
There are also some beautiful images conjured up in the song. The first lines are among my favourite in popular music: "Awake. Shake dreams from your hair my pretty child, my sweet one. Choose the day and choose the sign of your day." Just a gorgeous image to me.
There's some stuff in there I could live without. I'm still not convinced by his Native American fixation. There's been too much appropriation of Native American culture by white America, and in some really damaging ways, for me to like or wholly believe it. You might see what I mean in the video. Rich Hall made a great programme about it which you might find on BBC iPlayer but long story short: Native American history and culture are not ours to play with, to find faux-spiritual enlightenment by stealing from a culture which was nearly wiped out and made invisible except for when it suits the victors. Given some of what has been said about Morrison's attitude toward race, it's uncomfortable.
For every beautiful line: "Music enflames temperament", there is another less accomplished: "We need great golden copulations", the sound of someone trying a little too hard. But then there's this: "Oh great creator of being, grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives." I love that so much.
Morrison is the great contradiction of sublime and ridiculous, profound and shallow. He is high art working in the low art form, or the low lurking in the high. From reading more of his work than just the song lyrics, I have a suspicion that he knew that, that it was probably intentional at least to some degree. He wasn't stupid. Up his own arse and as much as he was drunk off itl, yeah. But not stupid. He was baiting us as much as he was consumed by his own high opinion of himself, I think. Or maybe I hope that's true… because otherwise I have to accept that he was a pretentious, cock-fixated wannabe-poet – have you read The Lords and The New Creatures?
In dying so early, Morrison relinquished control over his image, his legacy, his work and gave it to the rest of us. I choose to see one version of Jim, you may see another. He is what we each need or want him to be. To me, he is a deeply flawed human being, a poet of skill with some bad moments, a voice I will love my whole life through.
He asked a question once, in one of his good lines: "Did you have a good world when you died, enough to base a movie on?"
The answer for his life is 'Yes', but did it have to be such an awful film?
Part 20 – The Rolling Stones – "Paint It, Black"
Part 19 – Big Mama Thornton – "Rock Me Baby"
Part 18 – Thin Lizzy – "The Boys Are Back In Town"
Part 17 – Nat King Cole – "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll"
Part 16 – Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"