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by Brett Keogh 1991



Harbinger Of Cruelty

Jim Morrison blazed across his generation like a heat-seeking missile pointed straight at the sun. In the few short years he held our attention, he created a counterculture awareness of the dark edge at the abyss of human emotions. Morrison was bone and viscera: a no-moon midnight. With a fascination for the sinister, and an uncontrollable need to defy all expectations, he made himself into a renegade icon of his tumultuous generation.
Morrison's lyrics were filled with dark and contradictory images. His words paint a picture of an individual obsessed with death, pain, blood and suffering. Words that evoke pleasant or comforting portraits- innocent animals, beautiful young women or mothers and children, for example- are deliberately marred in any number of ways. In "Soft Parade" for example, Morrison writes: "When all else fails, we can whip the horses' eyes and make them sleep and cry."
A grotesque event which occured in Morrison's early boyhood affected his inner vision and haunted him his entire life. On a driving vacation with his family, Morrison witnessed the aftermath of a highway acci- dent that left Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death. He called the experience his first taste of fear. He said, "the souls of those dead Indians- maybe one or two of them- were just running around freaking out, and just landed in my soul, and I was like a sponge, ready to sit there and absorb it..."
The memory of those unfortunate victims never left him, often returning in the vast quantities of blood spattered across his writing. On the Mor- rison Hotel LP, a work entitled "Peace Frog" very distinctly refers to this event. "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding. Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind." The tormented victim of this song is nearly saved from his nightmare, only to be left behind: "Just about the break of day, she came, and then she drove away, sunlight in her hair." The lyrics of "Peace Frog" continue through images of blood in the streets and "she" returns again. Again she leaves him behind, suffering herself this time, "Blood screams her brain as they chop off her fingers," He ends with an ominous fear bred in the deepest parts of his memory, "Blood on the rise, it's follow-ing me. Death on the road returns in another song. This one, too, recalls the family outing. "There's a killer on the road," drones the second verse of "Riders on the Storm," from the album L.A. Woman. "Take a long holiday...If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die." Water as well as blood is a constant theme throughout Morrison's work. Morrison's lyrics also reveal a man isolated, a loner in a generation that adored him. In "Cars Hiss by my Window" he laments lone- liness even in company. "I need a brand new friend who doesn't bother me" he wrote in "Hyacinth House." "I need someone who doesn't need me." In this piece the solitude is mixed with paranoia. "I think that some- body's near. I'm sure that someone is following me."
However it's in "The End" that Morrison elevates self-created lone- liness to a fine art. These lyrics address his "only friend" and sound a death knell to their world. Consider these words: "The end of our elaborate plans. The end of everything that stands...I'll never look into your eyes again."
Love, too was a subject of much personal debate for Morrison. He wrote of love as a comfort, yet simultaneously felt it represented the death of the individual. In "Crystal Ship" love is a capricious passion. There is a surprising gentleness to the words of "Blue Sunday." It's unique in that it is one of the few love songs in which he does not set up a beautiful image and defile it with the sub-sequent lyrics. Often, his lyrics were a free-flowing stream of consciousness. Printed on the page, devoid of their music, these words are a psychologist's wet dream. Picking out the crowning achievement is nearly impossible. The suicidal ramblings of "The End," come close, but they pale in com- parison to the playful, be-bopping horror of "The Soft Parade." Morrison described the process as hearing a theme in his head, and fitting words to it as quickly as possible- until they came simultaneously. The images are disjointed, like flashing pictures in an opium dream. These tortured pictures add up to a sum greater than the parts. The total may be horrific or not, depending on the listener's perspective.
It was Morrison's belief that the life force of The Doors was working as a performance band in the rehearsal hall and in clubs. Large, arena- style concerts were alienating to him- too large to develop a rapport with the audience and feed from their experience. It was in the small club concerts and rehearsal halls that much of his better work was produced. A record contract- a sign of success to others- disturbed Morrison's creativity. Recording had, he believed, killed some of their music. Pieces that he felt were alive and continuing to evolve in per- formance became stagnant once put on record. "The End" and "When the Music's Over" were two such recordings. He later called the re- cordings "static and ritualized."
Along with their hypnotic arrangements, The Doors were among the first to bring a revival to the sheer theatrics of music in concert. Live, Morrison achieved his greatest success as both singer and poet. He encouraged audiences to move around. Their energy then spurred him on to even greater work. Along with their repertoire of songs, The Doors frequently offered long musical interludes which accom- panied recitations of Morrison's poetry. These readings include thrash- ing about the stage and speaking in demonic voices. Brief, dramatic vignettes, such as the now-famous mock execution of Morrison before a firing squad during "The Unknown Soldier", peppered their public work. He combined music, drama and literature, drawing on personal experience for content.
The Doors were attracted to the exploration of evil. During the course of a Doors concert, the strange posturing and sounds that they created were alarming and disorienting. Frequently, Morrison crossed the lines of acceptability, walking a tightrope over obscenity. Sexuality was his most powerful tool, and he wore it proudly, flaunting it for all to see. These performances affected Morrison most of all. His romance with live concerts ultimately became a significant part of his down- fall. He pushed the public, testing the intellect and tolerance of the audience, as well as the ever-present police.
Unfortunately, his antics and remarks, intended to assault the senses of his listeners, got away from him. People began to attend Doors concerts not to see the band, but to see Morrison do something- anything- out of line. Police watched for a chance to pull him from the stage. Techies and band members looked on at his work nervously. No one, not even those closest to him, could tell what he might do.
A vicious cycle began. Audiences came to see him be outrageous, and outrage is what he gave them. He tried to slap the public back into seeing The Doors as a great rock band and an important intellectual entity, but his efforts backfired. Morrison had turned himself into a sideshow. His presentations to the public, laced with anger, created more furor and fueled the problem. Ultimately, his high-handed badger- ing got him busted for an obscenity rap in Florida. This incident aborted an entire tour for the Doors, as city after city banned them from theirstages. Morrison represented the limitless power of youth, the revolution in each new adult. He thrust his power and sexuality at the world with a vengeance. He died before he could experience (and we could see him experience) the calming of time. Morrison's passage was a flash of lightening on the horizon, quick as an instant, but forever changing what it touched.
He remains locked in time, with other tragic haunted lives, a frozen icon depicting the vigor of a young rebellion. The image that he left behind will captivate the dark rebels of new generations for a long time, even while his contemporaries soften and age. You can count Morrison's public years on one hand, but his effect on us is im- measurable. As to his work, it is solid and unique- twenty years later.


Masters Of RockThe Life & Times Of Jim MorrisonVol. 1 No.3 1990
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