No one here gets out alive.
Jimmy Morrison was a rock star and poet who defined a generation. He was an icon of his times, exemplifying and expressing the angst and frustration of millions of youths caught in the clutches of a Cold War, of a society facing the loss of American Innocence, the rise of government at the expense of a Republic, the death of rock’n’roll, the torture of human spirit and free will, the advance of the machine. He was a revolutionary waging war against a system that took him to the top, using the power it gave him to turn its constituents against itself, urging them to break free and unwind from the invisible prisons that had been spun around them.
It was a noble effort, one that led him to his death.
The ride was short but memorable. From the mystifying sunsets of Venice Beach to the jams with Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, to the formation of the Doors and their homage to William Blake’s transcendentalism, to the jam-packed arenas going crazy at the sound of the band’s first note, Morrison put together an act that opened the doors of perception not just to him but to millions of people, letting everyone know that what they knew, or thought they knew, was not all there was; that there was more; that individuals could attain the unfathomable if only they asked for it, if only they sought it and pushed for it and never settled when they were told it didn’t exist. He urged everyone to keep pushing, to never take no for an answer, always go after it, even when instructed it was forbidden to go after it, when faced with threats and scare tactics designed to keep everyone in check, dumb and inhibited. He pushed the limits, traced out the boundaries, the restrictions placed on everyone, tearing through the barricades of ordinary life. He opened the doors to many an individual out there, leading them to the magical, mystical realm he had discovered during his shamanic and psychedelic journeys, offering them alternatives to the established and tired modes of perception.
Then, one day, he had enough of pacing himself and, in a grand Oedipal climax akin to the tragedies he so loved to write and sing about, he rigged the way ahead of him and blasted his way through the obstacles in one big bang that burned and destroyed everything.
And the icon became a legend.
Many said he’d gone crazy. Others that he’d always been crazy. Some claimed he was the sanest of us all, mad at everyone, at how we, such beautiful and intelligent and imaginative creatures, could be so self-absorbed in a mass folly of self-deception of our own making. He couldn’t stand to see humanity sell itself short.
It’s up for debate. The line that separates genius from madness is thin.
Bottom line, whether crazy or not, Morrison was brilliant in what he did. He was electrifying. Sizzling.
And he’d been planning his grand exit all along.
The facts speak for themselves – and so do the man’s words. It’s in his lyrics and writings. Everything in plain sight from the very beginning.
The End: the closing song in the debut album, epigraph to a new career, epitaph of a time to come.
This is the End, my only friend, the end.
The Doors had an expiration date, by default. Morrison was dead set on becoming a legend in a manner that could only lead to a demise. He fed and fueled the band’s run, building up to it gradually and masterfully, taking out stop after stop. He didn’t seem to have it together, his alleged master plan looking more like the ramblings of a drunk on psychedelics with a penchant for self-destruction, no one really knows.
All we can go by are his writings and style, the way he stormed onto the scene. He wrote his poetry and sang his lines and performed with the band with style, doing his thing, letting the flow take them wherever it was supposed to take them, a supernova on its way to flaring up, shining, rumbling, then exploding onto society with a force unmatched by any other, save the Beatles.
There was a difference though. Unlike their British predecessors, this California Venice phenomenon-of-four was from the south side of heaven. Their act was rooted in the element of fire, in forces too strong and visceral for any person to contain. Unadulterated and pure, like the mescaline they ate in the Mojave desert and the acid they dropped between sessions, the Doors charged onto public awareness, hell bent for a riot. They evolved strangely and steadily with each album, venturing into dark and mystical territory, staking their claim on the unnamable and fleeting, paving the way for millions of curious and frustrated youths who, lost in the wake of their times, searched for meaning and substance in the din of modern society, Jim leading the parade, taking them down the path, walking on down the hall, urging them to follow.
A pied piper en route somewhere.
2-07 Graveyard Poem (from Live In Boston – Second Show Con’t) and
2-08 Light My Fire (Con’t.) (from Live In Boston – Second Show Con’t)
It was not easy to follow Jimbo. His ways were dangerous and demanding, his soul insatiable and tortured. He was willing to endure hardships most individuals wouldn’t dream of. He would do so in the name of things they couldn’t even imagine.
How to follow such a man?
One by one, people started falling behind. First his fellow band members, then his production team, then the record company, the sponsors, the critics, the media, the fans themselves. They didn’t get it, the greater message eluded them, the experience flying by them time after time. The man had lost the plot, and he was angry at them. They wanted him to get his shit together. He wanted them to follow him all the way to the end, to the journey’s natural conclusion. They were cowards and leaches, there only for the entertainment, the money, the perks. They were serfs and slaves.
Jim pleaded with them not to fall behind, to keep up and move ahead with him, to search and experience the wonder that befell them. He showed them the doors again, spoke the language, did the dance.
They didn’t understand. They fell back, shaking their heads, mumbling among themselves.
Some called him crazy.
And crazy he became, mad with disappointment, maddened by loneliness, paranoid and lustful for what he was certain was there, hiding behind the denial of those surrounding him, amid their judgment and ridicule and wanton indignation. Abandoned and wild, brimming with rage, tormented as he had been ever since his childhood – when he saw the spirits of recently-killed Indians on a roadside car accident leap inside his body – he reacted the only way he knew how: he took a match, stared the crowd in the eyes, laughed in their face, and lit himself up in one final flare that roared and burned in front of all, making sure they remembered him forever. Martyrdom in the name of spirit, the only way for him to go. A rebel to his own cause.
It took a while to set up and carry out this act. This was not your average celebrity downfall.
It was a poetic swan song infused with the wrath of the Olympian Gods.
Jim began by provoking the concert crowds, pushing them one step further each time, sometimes appealing to their fiery spirit, other times taunting them for their cowardice, inducing states of unrest and unruliness. He called them idiots and slaves. He fumbled his lines and put on crazy, unpredictable acts, ranting rather than singing, falling into incomprehensible trances, out of tune with the rest of the band. He drank heavily and used tons of psychedelics and other drugs, incapacitating himself, both on and off stage.
It was an act of defiance of epic proportions, and it caught the eye of many people, causing an outrage. Morrison was an insult to modern society, to everything they deemed decent. They wanted him punished, shut down, no longer free to corrupt the youth of the world.
Morrison was eventually arrested and charged for inciting a riot, indecent exposure, being drunk and disorderly, and other serious offences.
And that was that. The beginning of the End. His career collapsed as fast as it had been created, his image tarnished and his allure tainted. The rock band everyone grew to love – or loved to hate – their front man most of all, they waned in a dirge of controversy.
Riders On The Storm – into this house we’re born – into this world we’re thrown …
It was an extraordinary run, an incredible, outrageous ride.
Some say it was all him — Jimmy’s Doors, Jimmy all the way, that the rest of the band didn’t matter.
They’re wrong. The Doors were a team, complementing and fulfilling each other in complicated ways. Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore were crucial in creating the fiery cocktail that brought out the flair in Jimbo, holding the wagon together while he steered it down the road to immortality. Each of them brought a unique part to the stage, their own electricity, and together they lit up and gave the crowds a blend of mystifying music and mystical poetry that had never been seen or heard of before, a litany of performances on par with ancient tragedy and shamanic ritual.
The Doors were special. They weren’t simply giving concerts. They were providing an experience, a tribe in trance, Jim Morrison their shaman, leading the way for the audience to follow.
Like a shaman, Morrison was a dubious and unpredictable figure, in desperate need of the audience’s love and respect. The man was brilliant when he had it going and terrifying when he didn’t. Like a dog without a bone – an actor all alone – rider on the storm … A star in a dark sky. Jim Morrison the man.
Jim Morrison the legend.
[This piece is Part One of a series of five tributes to five troubled but brilliant entertainers who at some point in their lives decided to stop pretending and just spoke out, no holds barred, pulling out all the stops, letting the world know exactly how they felt, what they thought, what they were all about. These explosive human phenomena we grew to love or hate made an indelible mark on society and culture. We hereby refer to them as Riders On The Storm, individuals fallen in the line of honesty, personalities too dissonant to their surroundings and perfectly unwilling to settle for anything less than what they believed in, warts and all. It led to their downfall and social demise, but also gave them legendary status, both in their field and beyond.]