Doors of Life: Always Swinging

doorsMy life long friend Stephen Clayton managed to see the Doors twice during their mercurial rise,and then demise after the death of Jim Morrison.

He said they were were ridiculously good one time, and awful–as Morrison was drunk–the second time.

Maybe it was fortuitous, but I happened to be listening to the local head banger station (sorry, no XM/Sirius for me yet, still) in my car the other day and John Densmore, the Doors drummer happened to be the guest. I always thought both Densmore and guitar player Robbie Krieger under-rated, living in the shadow of the more riff driven keyboard player Ray Manzerak, and of course the specter Jim Morrison.

Densmore shared some nice tidbits (like that Lonnie Mack, with whom the Doors were touring at the time played the bass on “Roadhouse Blues”) and maybe it was a harbinger as Manzarek passed away Monday at the age of 74 in Germany (presumably undergoing some form of cancer treatment not offered in the States).

Morrison was at least enigmatic, and a strong singer, and he played his Lizard King role to the max, but just how good a band were the Doors?

To me, there is no question the band’s first eponymously titled album was a great one. Forget the signature “Light My Fire.” “Break on Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” and their treatment of the Brecht/Weil tune “Whiskey Bar” were all so realized, as was “The End” which found its way to being a pivotal part of the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

“Strange Days” had its moments but to me it was largely a function of rushing a second album out on the tails and success of the first. Uneven, at best is what I would call it.

And then I ran sort of cold with the Doors schtick. I never even owned “Morrison Hotel,” or “Waiting for the Sun,” and I have a vinyl copy of “Soft Parade” I bought at a used record store for $2 mid-70’s.

However, I do love “L.A. Woman,” having bought it both when it came out on vinyl, and like the first album, repurchasing on CD (what a racket, vinyl, to 8-track, to cassette, to CD, to digital download, meaning you could buy the same work no fewer than six times if your timing is bad enough).

But, along with “Love Her Madly,” were “Riders on the Storm,” “Cars Hiss By My Window,” and the killer title track that I was surprised to realize I still remembered all the words to when it popped on my shuffle (in the car, so I am not a total cretin) a few weeks back.

Meaning the Doors at worst had a solid sound and a collection of tunes that more than carry the burden of being remembered.

But, were they great, or was Morrison’s outrageous behavior, that was as much contrived as was a lot of his poetry, the real driver of the band’s perceived “greatness”?

I guess that is a lot of the paradox, for Morrison, when on, was apparently a riveting performer, and certainly he had a powerful and memorable voice.

He was also a lout and buffoon who took a lot of pleasure in pissing off Ed Sullivan, which in 1969 was not that hard to do (remember, the Stones, corporate players that they are, were ok with changing the words of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” although to this day I still shake my head in wonder as to why any of us gives such a shit about who sleeps with whom?).

He was also a drunk, which is pretty well documented and maybe Hemingway could earn a Nobel prize and wear that mantle, but Ernest’s body of work was also a lot more substantial. So was Richard Burton’s for that matter.

I think, though that like Janis Joplin and James Dean (who was vastly over-rated in my opinion, basically playing a role great once, then replaying the same role two more times before he self destructed) and Amy Winehouse and John Belushi (also vastly over-rated) that early death somehow gives the public the freedom to transmogrify “what ifs” into “genius.”

And whatever else be said of Jim Morrison, he was hardly a genius. I mean, if nothing else, most geniuses do not die of natural causes in bathtubs at the age of 27.

But, our desire to apotheosize our fallen idols is probably as out of control as our use of the words genius and classic.

I doubt, were Morrison still alive today, he would be as vibrant and productive as say Darryl Hall. Or even Dave Navarro.




8 thoughts on “Doors of Life: Always Swinging

  1. The question of how great a band the Doors were is an interesting one. Lawr’s right, some great songs, some pretty bad ones, and then some stuff that defies evaluation (I’m thinking The Soft Parade). They didn’t last long, they didn’t really sound like anyone else, and they turned the whole idea of psychedelia into something far more stately and aesthetic than anyone else, while wallowing down in the mire of the blues, too. That seemed deliciously dangerous to me as a tween, hearing them for the first time, even as my mom tried to stoke some love of literature in me by pointing out they were named after an Aldous Huxley book. She didn’t know what she was advocating for.

    Maybe if Morrison had lived he would have turned into Patti Smith, the beloved veteran poet/rocker, but I doubt it. Where Patti has always loved her idols and the romance of them being extreme in thought and action, Morrison loved better actually breaking on through to the other side, regardless of the consequences.

  2. I guess I didn’t really address how great I think the Door were. For me, their peak nestled in with the immortals, but their greatness was a result of the synthesis of Morrison’s heavitude and the Manzarek/Krieger musical vibe, when it worked. When it didn’t the rift between their sensibilities meant that they were less than an outfit. They were more like a convenient organization.

    The Doors made much great music, and their ambitious failures are still of interest, but without longevity it’s hard to call them truly great. For me they’re another edition of Cream, a band with ecstatic but uneven output over a short period of time, with exhalted peaks. That gives them a rank of maybe at 92 on the scale of 100 (where 100 is the best ever). Gods, for sure, but with human attention spans and interests.

  3. Well, I admit to sticking both the Doors and LA Woman on my shuffle after writing this, so that suggests the band certainly did some memorable stuff.

    And, Peter’s point about the Doors sort of bridging psychedelia and the blues is well taken. although, so did Big Brother, and a lot bluesier, I might add.

    However I, am not suggesting the Doors were a bad band at all. Not sure they were a great band (their recording career only lasted three years, so in that context they do live with Dean and Belushi, et al) is my point.

    Even more, not so sure Morrison was the poet laureate he is sometimes thought to be.

    • “I am the Lizard King. I can do anything.”

      Morrison’s power was more shamanic than poetic, for sure. More lariat than laureate.

  4. Here’s my Doors story: It must have been summer of 1971, which meant I was 10 years old. I liked radio hits “Love Her Madly” (still my favorite Doors song, maybe because it doesn’t sound all that much like The Doors) and “Riders On The Storm” which creeped me out in a cool kind of way for a 10 year-old. So I bought “LA Woman.” It must have been an early pressing because mine had the yellow plastic in the window of the album cover that I read about on Wiki. Unfortunately, the family stereo (a giant console, of course) was broken at the time. My dad was a school principal and there was a stereo in his office, so, when he went in off-hours to do some work, I went along with my new Doors album. So, we put it on and it played throughout the office. “The Changeling” went OK. Then, my favorite, “Love Her Madly.” Trouble started (and ended pretty quickly) with “Been Down So Long.” “I’ve been down so Goddamn long, that it looks like up to me. Well I’ve been down so very damn long. . .” My dad got up and the record went off the turntable very soon after. Needless to say, future listenings of “LA Woman” were in private. I listened to the album quite a bit, because in those days, I got a new album probably once every three months. Never got into much beyond the two radio songs. My favorite Doors thing probably eventually ended up being the Weirdos cover of “Break On Through” because the cool guitar part is highlighted, which is buried by The Doors. You can find it on youtube. Even that doesn’t grab me anymore like it did back in the day.

  5. I have extremely limited knowledge of The Doors and so I have nothing to offer to the conversation. I just love reading what you guys have written, thought and experienced here, appreciating your intimacy with it. It’s excellent, thanks for making a place to put it.

  6. OK, my weird take: the Doors were a great singles band. I never bought into the Lizard King thing thang, even as a kid, but I loved the short version of Light My Fire, People are Strange, Hello I Love You, Touch Me and Roadhouse Blues. Great drummer, great voice on Morrison, good guitar style – and (mostly) roller-rink keyboards. Sorry Ray, RIP and all that. Their first album sustained, and I especially loved Back Door Man – until I heard Howlin Wolf. That’s not fair. No one can match the Wolf and it takes balls of steel to even attempt it, and the Doors did add their own touch to it. After the first album they were hit-or-miss and mostly miss with their album tracks, because Morrison took himself way too seriously. Again maybe that’s unfair: it must be very hard to avoid that trap when you are 24 and the whole world is falling at your feet. I heard all their albums after the first and the only one I bought was Morrison Hotel, a good record that stands up. But I was never even tempted to buy LA Woman, a descent into the worst sort of pretentiousness. In the meantime I had heard the Stooges.

    • I wasn’t tempted to buy LA Woman because by that point they were too commercial and I was too pure, but Riders on the Storm and LA Woman are killer classic rock tracks. The Doors were one of those dysfunctional-family bands, hmmm, like the Beatles and the Stones, that got traction from the conflict and their various talents, and made great weird and enduring pop music because of it. Back Door Man is a great example (thanks Gene). Obviously they’d listened to Howlin Wolf, but they made something else that was worthy tribute and a song of their own. You’re better off going back to the original, but the cover is darned good.

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