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by Danny Sugarman


The question arises repeatedly: Why are the Doors still so popular? Why the Doors? Why now?

Clearly, it has a lot to do with the unlikely musical elements. Robby Krieger: not only an excellent songwriter, but a fine flamenco guitarist as well, who could also play a unique kind of bottleneck guitar. Ray Manzarek: a classically trained keyboardist with a genuine love for the blues, who also wrote and played the bass lines, keeping them melodic and precise. John Densmore: a jazz drummer with an un- b eatable knack for shamanic rhythm and theatrical timing. Jim Morrison: the baritone, the electric poet with an inborn compositional ability.

The combination of these diverse traits could have been disastrous, conflicting and at odds. But it wasn't. Instead it was eerie and magical, sounding like a cross between a funeral dirge and a Halloween wedding. During the first rehearsals in Manzarek's beach-front house in Venice, California, the magic was already evident to the four involved- they knew. None of them had ever felt like this before. There was more than a musician's innate sense of musical communication. There was chemistry. There was beauty, surrealism, and majesty. It worked.

The band's unexpressed goal was nothing short of musical alchemy- they intended to unite rock music unlike any ever heard before with poetry and that hybrid with theater and drama. They aimed to unite performer and audience by plugging directly into the Universal Mind. They would settle for nothing less. For them that meant no gimmicks, nothing up their sleeves, no elaborate staging or special effects- only naked, dangerous reality, piercing the veil of Maya with the music's ability to awaken man's own dormant eternal powers.

The Doors constantly courted their muse- that is to say, Morrison courted his muse, and the band followed; the band stayed with him. Jim always maintained that one cannot simply will the muse; the writer or artist's power lies in his ability to receive, not invent, and it was the artist's duty to do everything possible to increase his powers of reception. To achieve this end the nineteenth-century poet Arthur Rim- baud had advocated a systematic "rational derangement of all the senses". Why? "To achieve the unknown."

Jim's fondness for the unknown is well-documented. "There are things known", Jim would say in a quote often attributed to William Blake but in fact Jim's own, "and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors". But Blake did say, in his first Proverb of Hell, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." And one line down, "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity." It needn't be added that Jim did not court the maid and seldom knew incapacity. Jim drank and yelled and pleaded, cajoled and danced in honor of divine inspiration, and to hell with the cost, calling on his inspiration to unite the band, to ignite the audience, to set the night on fire, once and for all, forever.

Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore's contribution cannot be under- estimated or overpraised. For it was not only what they gave that counts for so much, but what they were willing to hold back and what they graciously sacrificed as well. It was the only way the spell could be cast, the only possible way for the songs to be born. The musicians were literally able to anticipate the singer during an improvisation, and the singer, sensing this, grew in ability and confidence. They became more daring. The Doors' muscle flexed. They were so strong they were terrifying. But in that terror was beauty, joy, and hope. Sadly, it was the Doors' commitment to this standard, set so early in their career, that finally did them in. Jim Morrison was a man who would not, could not, and did not know how to compomise himself or his art. And herein lay his innocence and purity- his summary blessing and curse. To go all the way or die trying. All or nothing. The ecstatic risk. Because he would not manufacture or cheapen what he wrote, he could not fake desperation. He would not merely entertain, or go through the motions; he was brilliant and desperate, he was driven, he was mad. Mad to create, mad to be real. And those qualities made him volatile, dangerous and conflicted. He sought consolation and solace in the same elements that had initially inspired him and helped him to create: intox- icants.

Jim Morrison was not hooked on any drug so much as he was addicted to peak experiences, specifically the high of the Doors' functioning at the pinnacle of their collective strengths, those times when muse and musician become one and the audience virtually became a part of the band. It was commitment that made this possible, and it was commitment which he refused to sacrifice.

The French Surrealist Antonin Artaud's theories regarding confrontation, as expounded in his thesis "The Theatre and It's Double", were a significant influence on the group. In one of the book's most powerful essays, Artaud draws a parallel between the plague and the theatrical action, maintaining that dramatic activity must be able to effect a cath- arsis in the spectator in the same way that the plague purified mankind. The goal? "So they will be terrified and awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are already dead."

Jim would, in time, scream "Wake Up!" a thousand times, a thousand nights, in an effort to shake the audience out of their self-imposed lethargy and unconsciousness. I can still remember the first Doors concert I went to, scared to the very depth of my thirteen-year-old soul, thinking: This guy is dangerous. Someone's gonna get hurt, probably him. Or me. Or all of us. When you confront that sort of fear- or the unholy terror a song like "The End" can engender- something inside you shifts. Confronting the end, eternity blinks. That concert changed my life. I knew: It doesn't get any better, or more real, than this.

"Mystery festivals should be unforgettable events, casting their shadows over the whole of one's future life, creating experiences that transform existence," Aristotle wrote, pointing out that the objective of the mysterium initiation, learning, was not the end, and that experiencing was the start.

Plutarch had attempted to describe the process of dying in terms of a similar initiation: "Wandering astray, down frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then immediately before the end of all terrible things, panic and amazement." There are magical sounds and dances and sacred words passed, and then "the initiate, set free and loose from all bondage, walks about, celebrating the festival with other sacred and pure people and he looks down on the initiated...."

Which comes damn close to describing the Doors at the peak of their powers: riding the snake, the serpent, ancient and archetypal, strange yet disturbingly familiar, powerfully evocative, sensuous and evil, strong, forbidding. When Morrison intoned, "The killer awoke before dawn and put his boots on/ he took a face from the ancient gallery/ and he walked on down the hall," we were walking down that hall with him, in dread, paralyzed, powerless to stop, as the music wove a web of hysteria around us, wrapping us ever tighter in its web, Morrison enacting the tragedy, the patricide, the horror, unspeakable torment. WE SAW IT, WE FELT IT, we were there. We were hypnotized. Reality opened up its gaping abyss and swallowed us whole as we tumbled into another dimension. And Morrison was the only guide: "And I'm right here, I'm going to release control, we're breaking through....." and then we did.

"Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain." It wasn't merely a verse. It was an epitaph for the moment, a photograph of the collective unconscious. The symbols were timeless and the words contained stored-up images and energies thousands of years old, now resurrected.

Early in the group's career, Jim tried to explain some of this to a journalist: "A Doors concert is a public meeting called by us for a special dramatic discussion. When we perform, we're participating in the creation of a world and we celebrate that with the crowd."

A few days before he flew to Paris, to his death, Jim gave his last statement ot the press: "For me, it was never really an act, those so-called performances. It was a life-and-death thing; an attempt to communicate, to involve many people in a private world of thought."

It was the mid-to-late 1960's and bands were singing of love and peace and acid was passed out, but with the Doors it was different. The emerald green night world of Pan, god of music and panic, was never more resplendent than in the Doors' music: the breathless gallop in "Not To Touch The Earth", the incipient horror of "Celebration Of The Lizard", the oedipal nightmare of "The End", the cacophonous torment of "Horse Latitudes", and the dark, uneasy undertones of "Can't See Your Face In My Mind", the weary doom impending in "Hyacinth House", the alluring loss of consciousness found in "Crystal Ship".

When the music was over, there was a stillness, a serenity, a connection with life and a confirmation of existence. In showing us Hell, the Doors took us to Heaven. In evoking death, they made us feel alive. By con- fronting us with horror, we were freed to celebrate with them joy. By confirming our sense of hopelessness and sorrow, they led us to freedom, or at least they tried.

An account of initiation into the mysteries of the goddess Isis survives in only one in-person account, an ancient text that translated reads: "I approached the frontier of death, I saw the threshold of Persephone, I journeyed through all the elements and came back, I saw at midnight the sun, sparkling in white light, I came close to the gods of the upper and the netherworld and adored them near at hand."

This all happened at night. With music and dance and performance. The concert as ritual, as initiation. The spell is cast. Extraordinary elements were loosed that have resided in the ether for hundreds of thousands of years, dormant within us all, requiring only an awakening.

Of course, psychedelic drugs as well as alcohol could encourage the unfolding of events. A Greek musicologist gives his description of Bacchic initiation as catharsis: "This is the purpose of Bacchic initiation, that the depressive anxiety of less educated people, produced by their state of life, or some misfortune, be cleared away through the melodies and dances of the ritual".

There is a strange tantalizing fascination evoked by fragments of ancient pagan mysteries: The darkness and the light, the agony and the ecstasy, the sacrifice and bliss, the wine and the ear of grain (hallucinogenic fungi). For the ancients it was enough to know there were doors to a secret dimension that might open for those who earn- estly sought them. Such hopes and needs have not gone away with time.

Morrison was the first rock star I know of to speak of the mythic implications and archetypal powers of rock n roll, about the ritual- istic properties of the rock concert. For doing so, the press called him a pretentious asshole: "Don't take yourself so seriously, Morrison, it's just rock n roll and you're just a rock singer."

Jim knew they were wrong, but he didn't argue. Jim knew that music is magic, performance is worship, and he knew rhythm can set you free. Jim was too aware of the historical relevance of music in ritual for those transforming Doors concerts to have been accidental.

From Friedrich Nietzsche, Jim took solace and encouragement in the admonition to "say yes to life." I never believed that Jim was on a death trip, and to this day still find it difficult to judge the way he chose to live and die. Jim preferred intensity to longevity, to be, as Nietzsche said, "one who does not negate," who does not just say no, who dares to create himself.

Jim also must have been braced to read the following Nietzsche quote: "Saying yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems; the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types- this is what I called Dionysian, that is what I understood as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous effect by its vehement discharge, but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity." It was Jim's insatiable thirst for life that killed him, not any love of death.

The band took their name from the poet/visionary/artist William Blake. Blake had written, "When the doors of perception are cleansed, things will appear as they truly are, infinite." English author Aldous Huxley was sufficiently inspired by Blake's quote to title his book on his mesc- aline experiences "The Doors Of Perception." Morrison was impressed enough with both sources to propose the monicker to his bandmates. Everyone agreed that the name, as well as the sources from which it sprang, were perfect to convey and represent who they were and what they stood for.

And then there was the first single, "Break On Through (to the Other Side)", a near-perfect distillation of what this young band was aiming to do. The imagery read like a surreal invitation to a perpetual night world with vague promises of the forbidden. The Doors were thrilling: part joy, part dread.

Nietzche, Van Gogh, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Poe, Blake, Artaud, Cocteau, Nijinsky, Byron, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan.....the mad ones, the doomed ones, the writers, poets, and painters, the artists stubbornly resistant to authority and insistent on being loyal to their true nature, at any cost- this was the lineage with whom Jim most passionately identified, and it was to their standard he aspired. To be a poet, to be an artist, meant more than writing or painting or singing; it meant having a vision and the courage to see that vision through, despite any opposition. What didn't kill you made you stronger, and if you had what it took, you were rare and wondrous, and if you didn't it couldn't be faked.

To be a poet meant more than writing poems. It demanded a commitment to live and die with great style and even greater sadness; to wake each morning with the fever raging and know it would never be extinguished except by death. To be a poet meant making a commitment. To embrace the tragedy fate has chosen for you and fulfill that destiny with gusto and nobility.

Jim's short, tragic life is the stuff of which our heroes and our gods of youth and resurrection are made. Like Orpheus, he is forever young, and like Dionysus, he dies to be born again.

During his lifetime, Morrison had been compared to an angel and called the devil, and almost everything in between. From Mephistofeles to the ultimate Barbie doll, from the King of Acid Rock to Mickey Mouse de Sade. The conflicts raged within. He sought immortality as a poet only to see those efforts sabotaged by his enormous appeal as a rock star. Still, Jim got what he wanted. Jim wanted to transubstantiate the temporal energy and light of life into the lasting immortality of art. What he hadn't counted on was that the impact he made would last so long. I think he'd be pleased- I think he'd be proud.

And in the end, after conquering America and the rest of the Western world, after being shackled by the courts and laws of the land that he loved, he escaped to Paris, home of so many expatriate artists of the past, to further his life on his terms, he had reaped the rewards, and now the bill was due. His spirit was tired. Death was simply closer and easier than returning to America, or the stage it re- presented.

Jim Morrison is not dead. His spirit lives on, in his music and in his lyrics, shining with incandescent brilliance, a fusion of light and dark made diamond bright and eternal.

"Cancel my subscription to the resurrection," he sang. Not likely, Jim. This is not the end.



Introduction to The Doors Complete Illustrated Lyrics
Copyright 1991 Doors Music Co.
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