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
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