Cancel My Subscription To The Resurrection
by Madeline Jones
There aren’t many bands who can reach into the soul of a person in such a profoundly life-altering way as The Doors do. Their otherworldliness has guided people into realms of thought they never even knew existed. ‘When the Music’s Over’ is a quintessential Doors song and each listener enters and exits this theatre of the mind in various ways.
The opening to this vast landscape is led by a funk-tinged keyboard and drum beat played by Ray Manzarek and John Densmore respectively. This is joined by Jim Morrison’s frustrated yell and Robby Krieger’s guitar drone exploding onto the scenery. The initial madness quickly dies down and after a short pause Morrison begins his release.
The line “when the music’s over” is repeated three times in a drawn-out process that leaves the listener waiting for longer than expected and therefore more curious about the second half of the sentence. And after that wait what does one get?
“Turn out the lights”
It begs the question – what could this possibly mean? Could it be a reference to death? A social or political commentary? Simply describing a concert performance? An ode to the power of music itself? What would happen if music really was ‘over’? Would the death of music, if there is such a possible thing, mean the death of the world? After all, coping in a world like this without music is unimaginable for many of us.
In his Elektra Records bio, Morrison said he considered activity involving revolt, disorder and chaos as the road to freedom, especially when it seems to have no meaning. The effect of many of his lyrics epitomise this philosophy. “When the music’s over, turn out the lights” is arguably a disorderly phrase as it can incite one to think laterally to uncover the meaning, but the ambiguity of it can also leave one feeling somewhat unsatisfied. So perhaps it is both thought-provoking and seemingly meaningless, just like Morrison may have intended in order to liberate.
But there’s not too much time to contemplate what it all means before you’re hit with his next observation:
“Music is your only friend until the end”
The sheer truth of this line is powerful enough to undermine anything you may have heard before it. Because that’s exactly what music feels like, especially in moments of confusion, alienation and loneliness – your only friend. Your only comfort. The realisation of this leaves one desperate to keep listening and find out more. Although for the next minute or so, words are absent as Morrison descends into a brief screaming fit while the rest of the band glide off into a spacious psychedelic tour of any world better than this one.
Slowly, the music settles down into a hypnotic trot with the lines “cancel my subscription to the resurrection/send my credentials to the house of detention” eventually creeping in. These are the words that most stuck in my head when I first heard this song. I wrote them down in a notebook and stared at them. To me, the main message of this was as if Morrison was finally hanging up his boots of normality and accepting his strangeness. Being comfortable with it. Patti Smith, a known Doors fan, once said she was very comfortable with feeling like an alien to the human race. The Doors must have spoken to her in a similar way they speak to many fans who feel like outsiders in one way or another.
Shortly after, Morrison confides in the listener that he wants to “hear the scream of a butterfly.” To imagine something so small and seemingly harmless screaming is an example of the little oxymorons (later with “very near yet very far/very soft yet very clear”) scattered throughout The Doors’ music that forces one think in a very visual way. To evoke such striking images is a testament to the potency of their words and music.
Suddenly, a cry of “what have they done to Earth?” sees Densmore’s drums come alive, punching the music where appropriate, which serves to illustrate the desperation of this point. “Ravaged and plundered”, “stuck her with knives”, “dragged her down.” The imagery is graphic. But it’s not disgusting. It alludes to the truth about human nature and we should acknowledge it.
Up until now the ongoing pulse of Manzarek’s keyboard has left one in a false sense of security. The calm before the storm perhaps. The sudden boom of “we want the world and we want it now” catches the listener off guard. Morrison prompts “Now?” as if to say ‘are you ready’? Of course you’re not ready, no one could never be ready for the chaos that’s about to ensue.
A psychotic crescendo comes crashing down as Morrison’s voice leaps up to a high-pitched scream and unleashes shamanic shouts over the rest of the band who have joined in with this erupting anarchy.
Finally, the song gradually retrieves back to its steady groove and Morrison concludes with what he started with “So, when the music’s over…” Then more defiantly reinstating that music is your only friend, your special friend. It’s a message so many people can relate to whether you like The Doors or not. From an angst-ridden teenager to an old record collector, music – or any other art form – can feel like a very special kind of friend. In a world which often tells individuals that they’re wrong, music can make you feel more right. You listen to it, but at the same time, it’s as if it’s listening to you too. Likewise, it can make you understand that world even better, perhaps even offering an abstract awakening like The Doors often do for their fans. It’s a two-way street – you are both comforted and you learn something. The best kind of music. So why not “dance on fire as it intends”?