I have a love/hate relationship with The Doors. I don’t know quite what it is that makes me unable to make a firm decision about the band. I’ve learned to live with it. Between 1967 and 1971 the Californian rock band released six albums. I have owned all six of those albums on CD. I’ve then sold them. And bought them again.
And now – once more – I am without them. I think, finally, I am at peace with this.
Mad? Possibly. But I went from being something of a disciple to not being able to hear the band’s music at all ever. And that didn’t seem to take long actually – that arc was shaped over about four or five years. Shorter than the lifespan of the band anyway.
My introduction to The Doors was the classic double album, The Best of The Doors. I loved it. And there was the movie – I also loved it; if only because it arrived shortly after my fixation had started. (I had issues with it on subsequent viewings, of course, but I still remember that rush of watching it first time around, because it lined-up so perfectly with my discovery of the music).
For the duration of my high school years The Doors would be a band I would return to. I collected all of the band’s music on cassette tape. Replacing it with CDs. And then selling those CDs only to buy them all again – so in fact I’ve owned The Doors albums three times; weird.
I’ve read books, watched documentaries, studied the music – and I think, only recently, I worked out that I like the three instrumentalists – amazing musicians. But I don’t like Jim Morrison. An idiotic messiah; wishful pariah, poet of dodgy doggerel and hopelessly irresponsible icon…of course he would have a legacy – he was young and beautiful and blessed with the gift of a golden voice. But he was a moron.
He is – still – the lure. He is the hook of (and in to) the band. You arrive at The Doors because of Jim. You enter through him.
And it took me a while to work that out.
You see I saw and heard the musicians as the glue – right from the first listen, right from the first footage I glimpsed. But actually it was Jim that had me hooked. I just didn’t know that then.
But Jim will always be the hook. He had a great voice – and he had a way with certain lines. His poetry sounds better, rewritten, represented half a decade on, delivered by Patti Smith. Her Horses album is too good for Jim but it is, in part, a tribute to him. It exists because of him. And it gives his status as a poetic inspiration some extra level of credibility; a layer that Jim’s own work – once (re)-listened to – cannot live up to.
The first four Doors albums I can take or leave – they probably suit me best (still) when cherry-picked from; selections excerpted, added to the best-of. But the last two Doors album almost exist on their own – away from the band’s catalogue.
Sure, there are some of the best-known hits on those albums – Roadhouse Blues, Waiting For The Sun, Love Her Madly, L.A. Woman, Riders On The Storm – but there is another world within the other songs. And these hits take on another life within that other world.
Funnily enough – these are the albums where the band was morphing in to a slack-jawed blues band; a band in search of anything vaguely resembling authenticity. But it was about as close as the group came, somewhat ironically, to dropping the act.
Those first four albums have a few gems – sure. And I can almost take all of The Soft Parade because it is dizzying and bafflingly eclectic (in fact the title track is, let alone the rest of the album. But it’s all so false; so absurd. As much as I can take it, I also want to leave it).
Morrison was a privileged child who left the landscape of filial obligations to necessitate the journey of manufacturing his own mythology.
(Oh god, I’m just one weird-naked-Indian off sounding like a bad approximation of a Jim Morrison poem).
Robby Krieger is a brilliant, inventive guitarist. John Densmore was rigid but fluid as a jazz-trained drummer with a military precision. His fills spilling out from the wrists, sprawling out from the buzz of his snare-pressed sticks. And Ray Manzarek did a very good job of fooling himself in to thinking that he was the heart and soul of the band; one hand playing the bass-parts, one hand furnishing the melodic trills. Manzarek was a wizard on the keys, Krieger was ace as a guitarist – flamenco, jazz, rock – and Densmore was so precise but still allowed for the tumble and flow of (calculated) spontaneity. Just listen to Five To One for one example of this fearsome, phenomenal backing trio.
But it would have been nothing without the man who pompously, absurdly mythologised and pre-eulogised himself as The Lizard King. The man who “could do anything” – besides, you know, functioning normally, correctly.
My favourite Doors records to listen to – oddly – are Absolutely Live Volume One and Volume Two. And I also have a real fondness for An American Prayer. An American Prayer is the posthumous collection of Jim’s poems and stories augmented by fresh Doors music. Odd that I would pick these albums since they are the shining examples of all Morrison’s indulgences and absurdities.
They also show a band – the instrumental trio – at the top of their game. Three players who knew to play with passion in support; they had largesse but not largeness. Their sound is huge but their personalities are not. They needed Jim. Which means we need him. Even if it creates a love/hate situation.
And much as I want to praise Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman for subverting the blues, for shimmying in vaguely the right direction, they still exist, as albums, because of Jim’s faux-eccentricities and his cloying need to appear as some man out of time; some blues martyr/poetic visionary.
I love so much of the music of The Doors. And I find so much of it close to unlistenable.
I own the albums I need. I listen to them when I need to. I focus on the bits I want to enjoy. And I enjoy being baffled by Morrison, Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek. In some ways you couldn’t get a stranger band that managed to penetrate and dominant at a mainstream level. So close to being as dark and subversive as they probably thought they were being. At other times, often in fact, the music sounds stupid, embarrassing, petulant but almost precocious.
I’ll always return to The Doors. I’ll always rethink how I feel about the music. And for all the impact the music seems to have made the list of bands influenced – in a profound and noticeable way – by The Doors is about as small as Jim Morrison’s list of actual poetic triumphs.
And there it is – just now, my realisation that the reason Manzarek could only ever think he was the heart and soul of this quartet was because The Doors never ever had a heart and soul. It had a brain – on over-imaginative, irresponsible, socially awkward, far-too-sure-of-itself brain. But no heart. No soul.
What do you think of The Doors? Love or hate? Or do you too have a hard time pinning it down entirely; do you fluctuate? And do you agree that the three remarkable musicians were entirely unremarkable as characters, as personalities? And that Jim Morrison was the hook, the way in to the band? In that sense one of rock’s ultimate front-men.