Few bands have travelled as deep into the darkest corners of rock as The Doors and few have managed to make it into such great rock n roll.
The LA based band were the dark shadow that hovered over the hippie utopia of the late sixties, their funereal pop marked by fairground keyboards, jazzy drumming and great guitar playing was topped by the brooding presence of Jim Morrison, one of rock’s greatest ever frontmen.
An erotic, shamanic, presence- Morrison managed to play the part of the prancing poet, the Dionysian drunken fool and teen sex god all at the same time, no wonder he had a heart attack by the time he was 27.
The sound they made and the very image they projected has become one of the most influential in rock and their legacy of songs still sounds as great today as when they were first recorded in the late sixties.
The Doors were the culmination of the sixties. One of the late sixties groups who preached revolution and sound like they meant it. With America in a state of turmoil and with the Vietnam war the band reflected the darkness at the core of the American psyche. Morrison’s eloquent poetry and Dionysian presence was the perfect combination for the times and his handsome features also managed to earn him a bona fide pop star status. A pop star with far more substance than they usual teenybop pouting preening post Beatles buffoons.
Morrison understood the power of the pop and pushed the psychosexual boundaries as far as he could. If the sixties was a time of liberation and sudden surging sexual freedoms then this frontman was going to see how far he could push them. From early publicity shots with him pouting with a semi erection all too clear in his skin tight pants to the classic preening, half naked, leather trousered, sex god pouting in teen magazines to the crotch rubbing sex and death frontman on stage for the dark, sex uber grind of the Doors, Morrison oozed a dark hearted sexual power. Obsessed with the only stuff that matters, sex and death, he was the ultimate rock star taking the blueprint laid down by Jagger and Elvis to its erotic, neurotic conclusion.
At the same time he came armed with a poetry and that sonorous baritone that appealed to the so called intellectuals, Morrison had something for everyone, encasing the Doors appeal from the screaming teens just growing out of their Beatles fix to the newly emerging rock intelligentsia and the revolutionary spirit of the beats and the hippies. The Doors were the perfect soundtrack to a new late sixties America of civil unrest and Vietnam war, freewheeling, drug taking experimentation, their dark sound matching the dark soul of a continent that was going insane.
The frontman obviously had the smarts. This was someone with a high IQ who was bored of the sedentary life. He was taking his influences from places in culture that the previously more lightweight world of pop had rarely looked. Modelling his hair on Alexander the Great, he answered probing journalistic questions by referring the interrogatorÃÂ to heavyweight books from dark philosophers like Nietzsche. Even his leather clad look, a mixture of pony and snakeskin was extreme.
His classic ”Ëthink of us as erotic politicians’ quote instantly defined him and the band and their music- it was quite safe to say that there had never been another rock star like Jim Morrison before.
Even now safely separated by 41 years from the Doors original explosion onto the scene they seem strange and out of place, a brief burning presence on the music scene, a band whose influence has been enormous and whose star had burned so bright and so briefly.
And that’s before you even get to the lyrics. Before only Dylan had really got into the world of psycho babble and strangeness but Morrison took it one step further with his quasi poetry dotted with references to sex and death, infanticide murder doom and gloom, insanity, sexual innuendo and the apocalypse.
There was nothing remotely boy meets girl about these songs, although they even managed to touch on that as well, albeit in a twisted and strange way. They may have been erroneously been lumped in with the hippies but there was nothing peace and love and flowers in your hair about the Doors.
Their songs oozed a dark passion when others where all skipping along with sweetness and light. The Doors were definitely riders on a very dark storm and Morrison’s lyrics were stuffed full of fantastic dark images and ideas reflecting the true nature of the times when young men were getting sent out to fight an insane colonial war in Vietnam that they barely even understood.
All this revolutionary spirit was captured in a fantastic parade of wild imagery and crazy tales of lizards and wild nature, of great vistas of imagery and ideas, there had been few performers like Jim Morrison before and his poetry hit home in restless America.
The cost, of course, was high. The Doors only hung around for six albums, the way Morrison live his life meant that there was going to be a shabby ugly end and whether he died or nor in the bathtub in Paris in 1971 and whether or not it was heroine or alcohol that was his eventual undoing is irreverent. Few have lived beyond the law and survive. It’s just not in the rulebook. You burn this bright and you get burned out. Society is hardly set up for free spirits and those not bothered by the strict codes of behaviour laid down by the mean spirited bosses of America will either go mad, burn out or die.
As Morrison himself sang no one gets out here alive’.
He spent his Doors career in a haze of alcoholic and chemical abuse, a novelty in the late sixties when most of the more esoteric pop stars were bombing out in a halucegenic haze. For Morrison it was an almost old school quest to bring on the Dionysian spirit with hard liquor in the tradition of Kerouac or Hemingway, Jim preferring the ”ËSmall choices’ given by the imbuing of the booze and the chaos it left behind.
Jim Morrison lived his life fast and loose but he left a great catalogue of work. Luckily for him he bumped into Ray Manzerack at film school and then on the beach and decided to put a band together.
He would have been an effective frontman in any group but with Manzerack he had a uniquely talented and original keyboard player as his foil and when the Doors were fleshed out with Robbie Krieger’s guitar and John Densmore’s drums they were more than just another band. Each member brought something utterly unique to the group. There are very few precedents to their sound.
They seemed to burst out of a void and they left behind a powerful and influential legacy.
Without the Doors there would have been no Stooges and by extension no punk rock. There would have been no Joy Division and no Goth scene, in fact every dark clad miserablist teenager owes something to the lizard king- whether this is what he and the band intended is a moot point. It’s just a fact that the Doors influence in the rock canyon is enormous.
But just how did four products of the middle class dream of post war America arrive at such a dark and dangerous vision of the world?
With Scottish and Irish blood pouring through his veins Jim Morrison was born on December 8th 1943 in Melbourne Florida Jim Morrison. His father Steve Morrison met his mother Clara in Hawaii I 1941 where Steve Morrison then a navy ensign and was stationed just after he had graduated from the American naval Academy. Whereas Steve’s background had been straight-laced, Clara’s had been very unconventional by American standards, her father had run for office as a communist- an outrage in America, and she had even spent some time in her youth being brought up in a commune.
Her first child, James Morrison was born near Cape Kennedy , The first two years of his life were spent in Clearwater Florida whilst his father saw action in world war two. The family, like a typical forces family, moved around from California to Washington DC and back to Florida, the typical rootless existence of the forces brat. In the meantime he gained a brother Andy and a sister Anne.
Jim Morrison grew up around the family piano with a father who sang with a rich Southern voice. The whole family sang together all the classics and popular music of the time. Andy, Jim, and the Admiral could harmonize like professionals. Jim sang around the piano until about junior college and perhaps a few occasions after. He sang “Heart of My Heart,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” as well as the Sunday school hymn, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.”
In 1949 an incident occurred that would have a marked affect on Jim Morrison’s imagination. Whilst the family was driving through New Mexico with their grandmother they drove past a car wreck. On the road there the dead bodies of a couple of Native Americans, the upset six year old was transfixed by the scene eventually claiming that the souls of one of the Native Americans had entered him. The distraught child’s imagination was running wild just like it would do in his adult life.
His parents are on record claiming that the incident never happened but whatever the truth of the tale the myth is perfect for Morrison, with his father at the time telling the distraught child that it was just a bad dream but the imagery of the incident would return several times in his later songs and poems. The powerful image of the shaman was central to the whole Morrison myth.
The Morrison’s brought their children up strictly, whilst never resorting to physical punishment they would run the household in a very strict manner, this combined with his father’s secrecy about the exact nature of his job created an emotional gap between him and his eldest son that would worsen as the years went by.
A forces child Morrison was always on the move with his parents, from Florida he went on to school in Alexandria Virginia where his father was now posted at the Pentagon. The young Morrison was involved in the usual teenage scrapes, a keen practical joker and troublemaker, he showed an aptitude for art and writing- a keen mind going astray.
The young Morrison came armed with a vicious streak, bullying his brother and tormenting his girlfriend. He was already pushing people to the limits and using his runaway imagination to achieve it, perhaps bored of the slower minded people, he was pushing and prodding them to the brink even whilst still at a school.
Living at home he had his own room in the basement with his own door, living a virtually separate life from the rest of his family. He would paint constantly- impressionistic stuff and fill notebooks up with poetry whilst slugging from bottle of wine he kept in the fridge.
The room was lined with books- a prodigious reader, the trouble making 16 year old was obviously cast from a different mould, devouring first the Kerouac and the beats before getting deeply in to Camus, Balzac, Rimbaud, Joyce, Baudelaire even more obscure stuff that had his teachers dumbfounded and were all heavy duty reading for any teenager. This was obviously a kid traveling fast down a different path than his contemporaries. His IQ was near genus level and yet his school grades were distinctly average. Typical for a smart kid he was bored of the slow world and was burning up time fast.
In 1961 he graduated from George Washington High School. At the same time his father was transferred to Southern California , so Morrison then moved back to Florida to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater Florida. The teetotal grandparents found the increasingly erratic youngster hard to handle with him coming home drunk and his appearence becoming increasingly unkempt. In 1962 the bright student started at Florida State University majoring in theatre Arts. He may have only been there for a year but he made quite an impression with his eccentric and exhibitionist behavior and a dress sense that was years ahead of his contemporizes with a hippy beatnik flair that most students would not catch with till the end of the sixties.
His alcohol intake increased with Morrison diving headfirst into the frowned upon and the dark with the same sort of enthusiasm he reserved for his darker fascinations in literature. He had run ins with cops and there were several drunken escapades. The students at the college remember Morrison as either brilliant or weird, a tightrope that he would balance on for the rest of his brief life.
He was ÃÂ full on. Fascinated by shocking people sexually or in other way, pushing the boundaries, rubbing nerve ends with glee, exposing himself or using choice words, testing testing, testing always trying to get a reaction, his was one genuinely dangerous individual, the most dangerous and intellectual hooligan who read voraciously and was far smarter than al his contemporaries and even had h his dumbfounded college professors looking on in bemused admiration.
In the eighteen months at college Morrison only saw his parents twice, once was when he visited his father now in command on the UUS Bonne Homme, his mother forced him to have a short hair cut and dress down. It was the last time he would look respectable. Photos of the visit show the father and son not looking that comfortable together on the deck of the ship. It was fairly indicative of their relationship.
A week after the visit he got accepted by UCLA. It was a dream come true for Morrison. In 1964 Morrison moved to Los Angeles and started his course in the film division of UCLA where he instantly picked up a coterie of off the wall buddies, a tight clique of well read troublemakers and outsiders whose worldview was similar to his own.
1964 was the year when pop culture took on a new and thrilling twist in the USA. It was the year of the Beatles invasion, when the mop tops broke huge in the states with a thrilling rush. The Beatles were not only thrilling musically they also offered a thrilling artfulness and intelligence in pop that had only been hinted at before.
Meanwhile Morrison was still the itinerant troublemaker. Stories abounded about his behavior from lewd graffiti, a guttural and dirty sense of humour, climbing on the roofs of buildings and hanging off balconies, affronting people, urinating in front of girls, an endless catalogue of incidents, testing and poking at the fabric of common decency.
The flipside to Morrison the malevolent class clown was his creativity. Everywhere he went he carried a notebook stuffed full of film ideas, crammed full of lyrical snippets a non stop flow of brilliant and twisting ideas like his mind was in non stop motion.
Jim made two films while attending UCLA. The first one entitled “First Love and another called “Obscura” – both films were random series of violent imagery underlining their creator’s hostile world view. His tutors spotted his obvious creative power but also noted his lack of concentration and were frustrated by this obviously talented student’s lack of interest in getting the job done.
Whilst Jim was sailing his own erratic course at college in the autumn of 1964 his father was sailing in a very different direction, commanding his carrier into North Vietnamese seas in search of enemy ships that had apparently attacked US ships an incident that resulted in the Tonkin resolution, whereby congress gave president Lyndon Johnson the power to declare war and plunge America officially into the Vietnam war- the defining crisis that underpinned the political ethos of the sixties. Father and Son would be placed at opposite ends of the spectrum of the key political event of the decade. How apt.
By the end of Jim’s first semester in UCLA America was bombing North Vietnam back into the Stone Age. Whilst this was going on pop was reaching new height ,The Beatles and The Stones were leading the British invasion, twisting music into new shapes, the American were coming back with the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Hair was getting longer, attitudes were getting more anti establishment, America was pulling itself in two directions at once with the emergence of a questioning counter culture and a war machine geared up and in action- it was set up for an almighty collision.
In 1965 Morrison drifted up to Venice Beach where he became part of the budding bohemian scene there. The young Morrison lived the Boho lifestyle to the full, his high IQ and natural inclination to a rebellious spirit made him a charismatic presence on the burgeoning pre hippie scene. He was growing into his new role of the beat poet hooligan, his hair growing longer and his lack of food and increasing drug intake saw him shed off the pound of puppy fat that saw him change from the preconscious pudgy college graduate into the lithe rock star that has become so ionic.
On the beach in LA one afternoon he bumped into fellow UCLA student Ray Manzerack, The pair had had met at college, sharing classes, once Ray had asked Jim to make up the numbers in his band Rick And The Ravens- pretending to play guitar. The pair hadn’t known each other that well but Jim had been impressed when Ray had refused to cut some scenes of nudity out of a film that he had made. It was the kind on no compromise attitude that the young Morrison revelled in.
That summer Jim left college and again didn’t bother to pick up his masters which had to be mailed to him. He had lost interest in the college world and was drifting more and more towards a drug fuelled dropout out existence. There were very few drugs he wasn’t interested in taking as he careered along an increasingly erratic road right at the forefront of the drug explosion that would pretty soon engulf the underground and then the pop mainstream.
His creative mind in overdrive with him constantly scribbling in his notebooks and his mind cranked up another notch by a prodigious drug intake, Morrison was turning his mind towards other fields of creativity. He suggested forming a band with a mutual friend, a drummer, this band, he slurred in his deceptively dopey Marlon Brando voice would be called the ”Ëuuuuh Doors’- ÃÂ he was met by a confused silence at his very unusual name suggestion where he had paraphrased Aldus Huxley’s quote about the ”Ëbeing the known and the unknown and what separates the two is the door and that’s what I wanna be”Â¦’
The band would have to be figment of his imagination for the time being. There was simply no one around who understood what he was trying to get at.
Meanwhile Jim was living the Venice Boho lifestyle in full. The tiny beachside enclave in the sprawl of LA was originally perceived as a typically eccentric upscale American seaside resort- a fake Venice by the sea complete with canals and had been an almighty flop. In the late fifties the beats had fallen in love with the place, and turned it into a mini enclave of counter culture which had been festering away in the interim, Of course Morrison fell in love with the place and by 1965 was one of its habituÃÂ©s. He could be seen there smoking marijuana and gobbling acid, scribbling away in one of his notebooks, sleeping rough on the roof of a house or crashing out on the beach, recovering from the previous nights excess with the other freaks.
The poems which he was writing constantly would all one day be turned into Doors songs from ”ËSoul Kitchen’- about the cheap scoff that he was buying at one greasy spoon to ”ËMoonlight Drive’ which was the very same song that he recited word for word when he had first bumped into Ray Manzerack again on Venice Beach in the legendary meeting that would kick start their creative relationship.
Ray had also been attracted to Venice Beach and had moved there with his girlfriend Dorothy after leaving UCLA.
Born February 12th 1939 in Chicago from Polish descent ray Manzerack was a lot older than Morrison. The bespectacled almost respectable looking Manzerack was a very unfilled looking figure to be attempting to be breaking into the pop scene. Manzerack was Morrison’s inelctualmisocs equal and a perfect foil for the wild and wayward youth. His brilliant keyboard playing versed in a classical background and fueled by jazz with a love for the esoteric wandering ion the genius John Coltrane and the rest of the free jazz ilk was hemmed in by a great ear for a pop hook. If there was ever a pair of people who were feted to work together despite being on paper so different it was these two.
A month after leaving college in July 1965 Ray thought he would never bump into Morrison again but there he was swaggering down the boardwalk, looking leaner than he had at college, his hair was longer and he had the charismatic air about him, Roy called him over and asked how he was doing.
They started chatting and Manzerack who was already rehearsing in a band was blown away when Jim told him that he had been writing poetry and then reciting him lyrics from a poem he had written called ”ËMoonlight Drive’. It was one of those meetings that was accompanied by sparks, the pair of them vowed to work together and Ray ÃÂ invited Morrison down to his beach side house to jam with him.
It was to be a wise and fruitful decision.