Jim Morrison: Riding Out The Final StormJanuary 31, 1981
And so it came to pass that the Erlking met the Changeling and touched him. And the Changeling turned to dust.
London lay flickering like a tiny jewel in the soft summer fog. The humid twilight rushed in, blotting out the death of the sun.
A violent squall was forming over the Channel. Sheets of water, lividly lit by blue and white lightning, brushed and then drenched the Dover cliffs.
A man on the run all his life, Morrison fled L.A at the completion of the last album, L.A. Woman (Elektra), and entered Paris alone, tired, and afraid.
Flashback: Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum. The house lights dimmed, the Doors were announced, and a peculiar tension built in the air; an excitement pulsed and moved from the shadowed corners, lacing the room with an emotional current. “Hullo,” said Jim. And the Doors began to play.
“Five to one, baby, one in five,” he sang. Grabbing the mike in a whiplike motion, he began to stamp around the stage, approaching the audience, “No one here gets our alive/You get yours baby/I’ll get mine/Gonna make it, baby, if we try.” He exhorted them, clawing with fingers and voice: “The old get old and the young get stronger/May take a week and it may take longer/They got the guns but we got the numbers/Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over!” (Five to One)
Morrison was a reviled figure: hated by the press; never taken seriously by critics who felt themselves lost amid his cinematic imagery. He had dressed himself in funeral leather, dropped his pants, shouted obscenities, and was guilty only of believing a myth he had created. And after all, that’s something almost all rock stars are guilty of.
Yet of all the self-created myths in the rock world, Morrison could be forgiven for believing his, precisely because his image, and with it, the success and power of the Doors, depended on his being a myth. For as long as he lives, Morrison was less the rock star and more the Lizard King, intoning. “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin.” He was the misunderstood poet living within the constrictive confines of the rock medium. Critics judged the Doors solely on their (the critics’) limited musical terms (they were and American band who neither played the blues nor accepted the West Coast Sound that Rolling Stone revered); friends listened to what the Doors were saying because to deny them that courtesy was to negate the purpose of the band entirely.
When Morrison sand “No one here gets out alive,” he wasn’t talking about the theatre, he meant life itself. That was his rationale for revolution, one of the topics that obsessed him and that runs throughout most of his songs: No one’s getting out alive, so we might as well do what we can to change it and ourselves:
“I’ll tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn!”
(The Wasp – Doors © Doors Music Co.)
Flashback: Strange Days. Morrison was a man who knew people. He wrote about what they were really like, and much of it wasn’t pretty or pleasant; “people are strange. “ Yet he wrote with an impossible kind of romanticism that was supremely gentle:
You’re lost little girl/You’re lost little girl
You’re lost, tell me who are you?
(You’re Lost Little Girl)
“You’re Lost Little Girl” begins with a tripping bass line that runs though out the song, simulating the soft padding of bare feet, and, along with a percussion that comes in next, presents us with the musical image of the running girl Morrison’s words paint.
All things considered, Strange Days is the Doors’ best album, despite the fact that it never sold as well as the first. And maybe, here at last, have a clue to Morrison. Certainly this LP, revolving around one concept, from brilliant music to brilliant cover, is the Doors’ most cohesive effort (Waiting for the sun, for in stance, there third LP, contains excellent songs, but they don’t fit together; there’s no motion from one to another) and certainly at least two years ahead of its time. If it were to be released now, it would be hailed as a masterpiece.
Listening to Strange Days is like watching Fellini’s Satyricon. Morrison’s words are so cinematic that each song begins to form pictures in the mind. More that any other American songwriter-lyricist, if you will – he had this quality. Like the firm, Strange Days builds its storyline (of people trying desperately to reach each other through the choking haze of drugs and artificial masks) through the images and characters in a series of vignettes. And the whole becomes more and more visible the deeper one gets into the film and/or the album. Because Strange Days has been set up that way. The more impersonal, scene-setting “Strange Days” begins, descending organ leading to: “Strange days have found us/Strange days have tracked us down/ they’re going to destroy/Our casual joys.” Here’s Morrison’s world then, where dark, nameless, forces are at work destroying lives; where Robby Krieger’s guitar echoes frighteningly off the constricting alleyways that make up this world.
“Love Me Two Times” follows “You’re Lost Little Girls,” as if sex were the only solution the persona of the song could think of to help the girl, but of course that isn’t the answer. “Love me two times, girl/one for tomorrow, one just for today/Love me two times/I’m going away.”
“Unhappy Girl” serves as a prelude to the second part of the album, which deals with the effects of drugs on people. The beginning physical nightmare of the drug in “Horse Latitudes” gives way to the euphoric feeling of “Moonlight Drive”: Let’s swim to the moon, uh huh/Let’s climb through the tide/Surrender to the waiting world/That laps against our sides.” (© Nipper Music)
But beginning on side two, the world begins to change drastically on the inside. “People are strange when you’re a stranger/Faces look ugly when you’re alone/Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted/Streets are uneven when you’re down/When you’re strange/No one remembers your name.” (People Are Strange – Doors - © Nipper Music)
When you’re strung out and looking for your connection, you’ve no eyes for women and no matter how many people you’re with, you remain alone; no one wants to know you.
The completely depersonalized “My Eyes Have Seen You,” Which represents the gradual letting go of reality in favor of the drugged vision sweeping over the “television skies” of the city, leads directly to the very personal “ I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind.” These two songs are a reprise of the duality theme stated in “Strange Days” and “People Are Strange,” moving from the diffuse to the specific. And the album ends: “When the music’s over turn out the light/The music is your special friend until the end.”
(When the Music’s Over)
Flashback: L.A. Woman. It’s ‘sonic cinema.’ It came to us directly after the superb Absolutely Live two record set that, despite its flaws, is both and excellent example of a ‘live’ recording and an accurate representation, atmosphere and all, of the Doors on stage. Part of the Doors’ success on the record is due to the sure production of Paul Rothchild. This was never more apparent than on the live album, where the clean mike setups and the inclusion of active audience participation along with the pre- and post- concert announcements helped create the clearest aural picture of the Morrison magic on stage. Like Strange Days, A b-solutely Live creates a totality of sound and image that is the farthest thing possible from the usual cut-up tapes that constitute the majority of live LP’s.
Especially fascinating is Morrison’s epic, “Celebration of the Lizard.” It first made its appearance in print on the inside cover of the Waiting for the Sun album, and there is described as “lyrics to a theatre composition by the Doors.” It seemed then, in that form, to be rather pompous and a little much – even for Morrison. Yet when heard on stage it became an incredibly moving statement or rather, a series of statements. Up there, in the glaring spotlight that breathed life into Morrison, he imbued the ‘presentation’ with such powerful vitality that it became impossible to ignore the seriousness of what was happening. “He fled the town/He went down South and crossed the border/Left the chaos and disorder/Back there over his shoulder.” Again that imagery of violent movement and destruction that obsessed Morrison. And: “Once I had a little game/I liked to crawl back into my brain/I think you know the game I mean/I mean the game called ‘go insane’/Now you should try this little game/Just close your eyes/Forget your name/Forger the world/Forget the people/And we’ll erect, a different steeple/… And I’m right there, I’m going too/Release control/We’re breaking through.” (Celebration)
Consider, then, the similarity between “Celebration” and the “Soft Parade,” which begins by Jim screaming, “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!” back there in seminary school. Softly he sings: “Can you give me sanctuary/I must find a place to hide/… Can you give me soft asylum/ I can’t make it anymore/The man is at the door.” Insanity is just around the corner, peeping in from the pressure of reality.
Yet it’s the imagery itself, not necessarily the words, that’s central to Morrison’s lyrics. For instance: “There’s only four ways to get unraveled/One is to sleep and the other is travel/One is a bandit up in the hills/One is to love your neighbor till/His wife gets home.” (both ‘Soft Parade) When you can’t get make it anymore, you’ve got four choices: remove yourself from the area, turn against society in a legal context, or turn against society in a moral context. In effect, in the ‘Soft Parade, ‘Morrison says:
I can’t make it in your society – “The man is at the door” (or Doors, which is equally true). The course he decides on at the song’s end is the third of the four choices: “Meet me at the crossroads/Meet me at the edge of town/Outskirts of the city/Just you and I” (and here he means all those who are listening and understand) “And the evening sky/You’d better come alone/You’d better bring your gun/We’re gonna have some fun!”
Long before the story line of Easy Rider was born in the minds of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Morrison and the Doors were taking us on nightmarishly real trips through America. Forever restless, obsessed by motion, change, death and highways, Morrison moved from town to rural village to jumbling city, always following the snake highways, describing the old and new guard American.
This is never more apparent than on the Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café album. It’s the least interesting Doors set in a melodic sense, but then traveling down the highways, crammed into car or cycle for those endless, dustladen miles cannot be described in soft, flowing notes. The music that accompanies the lyrics must, of necessity, be hard-bitten and spare; grabbing on to a riff and re[eating it, to achieve the effect of motion: “Keep your eyes on the road/Your hand upon the wheel/… Roll all night long.” (Roadhouse Blues – Morrison/Doors - © Nipper/Doors). And right off, the group begins that chunky, rolling backing, peculiar to this album, that creates the traveling effect.
Night turns into early morning and the racing car, continually chasing the dawn over the lengthening hills, slows and sits by the side of the snake highway. Only the crickets and the frogs are heard over the sighing of the wind. Dawn arrives. “At first flash of Eden/We race down to the sea/Standing there on freedom’s shore/Waiting for the sun…/Waiting for you to come along/ Waiting for you to hear my song/… Waiting for you to tell me what went wrong.” Again it’s that special sort of lyric Morrison uses over and over that seems, on the outside, to deal with one person – usually a girl – while he’s actually speaking to his audience en masse. I’ve told you what’s wrong with this country and with us, Morrison is saying; now I’m waiting for you to realize that I want you to tell me what’s wrong so that we can change together. That, more than anything else, is what Morrison wanted. He felt (and probably quite rightly so) that it was the only way to achieve change.
Blood in the streets in the town of
Blood in my love in the terrible summer
Bloody red sun of fantastic L.A.
Yeh! Blood in the streets it’s up to my
Blood in the streets its up to my knees
Blood in the streets of the town of
Blood on the rise it’s following me.
(Peace Frog – Morrison-Krieger © Nipper/Doors)
Paris sits wet and steaming under a summer downpour. Deep grey clouds laced with violet roil the skies, and despite the heat it’s a time for shivering; a time to shut the windows; a time to close the doors. The rain hurls itself with the hysterical strength at the dripping trees and the unyielding pavement. Planes taxi out onto the Tarmac at Orly, trucks lumber slowly along the snake highways, lovers huddle in doorways to escape the full fury of the storm as thunder crashes seconds after the lightning flickers.
Into this life we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
And an actor out alone.
And somewhere, in a hospital, a bloody orderly pulls a sheet over the face of Jim Morrison, aged 27, American – The Lizard King, the Changeling, the poet, the man – who had been found in the bathtub of his Paris apartment.
(Riders on the Storm © Doors Music, lyrics used by kind permission)
Statement regarding death of Morrison
“I have just returned from Paris, where I attended the funeral of Jim Morrison. Jim was buried in a simple ceremony, with only a few friends present.
The initial news of his death and funeral was kept quiet because those of us who knew him intimately and loved him as a person wanted to avoid all the notoriety and circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the deaths of such other rock personalities as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
I can say that Jim died peacefully of natural causes – he had been in Paris since March with his wife, Pam. He had seen a doctor in Paris about a respiratory problem and had complained of this problem on Saturday – the day of his death. I hope that Jim is remembered not only as a rock singer and a poet, but as a warm human being. He was the most warm, most human, most understanding person I’ve known.
Bill Siddons, Doors manager
July 8th, 1971
For the late Jim Morrison, there was never enough time to wallow in the mire. The next whisky bar was always just around the corner – as was the next little girl. Morrison unerringly found his way there. In the words of Doors organist Ray Manzarek, “There was nobody more poetic, and there was nobody crazier than Jim Morrison. He was talking about going all the way to the edge and looking over the other side.”
This adventurousness, this flying in the face of convention and danger alike, characterized Morrison and the Doors from their beginnings on a Venice, California beach. Everything they would do, no matter how bizarre or suggestive it might seem to those who watched them, was forecast in their earliest numbers like the Bertolt Brecht-penned “Alabama Song.” The whisky-and-woman braggadocio of 1967 became the weakness of 1968, and in the end, a 1971 death sentence for Jim Morrison.
After almost a decade of silence between Circus Magazine and the surviving Doors, Ray Manzarek and guitarist/hit writer Robby Krieger consented to a pair of interviews that put in perspective the strange mixture of glamor and hellishness that defined their years with the Doors. Except in the public imagination, Jim Morrison is dead; the three remaining Doors, however, are alive and well and living in Los Angeles.
Affable, soft-spoken Robby Krieger has an album in the works. Though he hasn’t yet pacted with a record company, he’ll be rocking out with an assortment of oldies and contemporary songs, an expects to go on the road with that material after releasing his already – completed jazz LP, which features Apocalypse Now keyboardist Don Preston. Percussionist John Densmore has been drumming with the Bess Snyder Dance Company, and hopes to break into films as an actor. Ray Manzarek is producing a new band, the Zippers, in L.A., and is waiting to strike a deal for a movie version of No One Here Gets Out Alive. Former Doors producer Paul Rothchild is at work on a record with Fast Fontaine, the L.A. lungsman who sang with Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek at a recent Doors reunion at the Whisky a Go Go.
The response of Krieger and Manzarek show that there’s still light to be shed on a subject that has already filled three biographies and reams of newsprint. Manzarek speaks in an articulate and sometimes over-rehearsed way, his words resonating like those of some deep voice from the grave. Krieger is less the public relations man, and more the technical musician who seems to have take then Doors experience in stride. He aims mainly to please himself – not some amorphous public – with his guitar and his songs. Manzarek looks back, organizes and justifies; he probably could have been a social activist if he hadn’t been bitten by the Bill Evans/Jack Kerouac music-and-poetry bug. Ray’s junior by seven years, Krieger (34) seems more relaxed. The viewpoints of the two rock innovators don’t always dovetail, and the occasional contradictions in their answers are more illuminating than any prefabricated official position put forth by the Doors’ office or their biographers.
Circus: Was there a turning point for the Doors, a time when you realized things were getting out of control and going downhill?
Krieger: There’d always be a good show here and there but basically when we moved into the really big halls [mid-1968], that’s when it got bad.
Manzarek: I don’t think I ever felt worse on a stage than I did at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium [Summer 1967]. I didn’t know whether I was playing Forest Hills or Forest Lawn Cemetery. We were in hell. What an awful gig. That was one of the all-time lows.
Circus: Who was taking the band downhill?
Manzarek: Jim was starting to drink a lot. That when we got worried that he would do something inadvertently because he was drunk.
Also the establishment. In places like the Ed Suillivan Show, the rock band was treated like the geek act. All they cared about were Topo Gigio and the “lovely Kess;er Twins.” It became a matter of life and death with the establishment and the Doors: the Doors “went too far” and “they had to be stopped.” It wasn’t that Jim was doing anything. [It was the way they perceived him.
Circus: Was Jim’s drinking a reflection on the repression?
Manzarek: Of the pressure [the repression created], sure.
Circus: What other pressures were he and the Doors under?
Manzarek: Personal pressures. Trouble with his old lady (Pamela Courson). He was always having fights with her. She was always trying to get him to quit the Doors and stay with her. He’d say, “But I am the Doors.” And when his poetry book was reviewed as “good writing for a rock star,” that killed him. He never called himself the “Lizard King”; people couldn’t see beyond the image, and that got to him also.
Circus: What happened to Pamela when Jim died?
Krieger: [Reportedly] she dies of a heroin overdose [in 1974] in L.A. (Hesitantly) She was very depressed after Jim died. Every time I saw her, she was really sad. And I can see her turning to drugs,
Circus: Weren’t there more opportunities for dissipation as your stardom increased?
Krieger: Sure. And they became harder to resist as we went along. There were always drugs around, and you felt that by saying no, you were slighting somebody.
Manzarek: It was wild a ride. That was a real roller coaster we were on. Sometimes fear and acid did me in. I went through hell trips.
Circus: Just how excessive did it get?
Manzarek: One night we finished a gig in New York. It was the middle of the week, 1 A.M., raning, and there was nothing to do. Jim and I went into the workingman’s bar next to the hotel. We started drinking Jack Daniels, chasing the shots with beer the way my dad drank in Chicago. We were there till 3:30.
One in the afternoon I got a wake-up call: “Be down in the lobby in an hour.” That phone rang and I thought they were making steel inside my head. I was sure there was a blacksmith inside there. I got to the lobby at two, and I was dead. I said, “Where’s Jim?” Bill Siddons, our manager, said “He’s in the bar.”
I walked to the bar, and Jim was sitting there with [American Actor] Tom Baker, drinking. Jim turned to me and said, “Ray! What’s the matter? You don’t look so good.” I said, “Jim, I’m practically dead!” So Jim said, “Sit down here and have a drink. You’ll feel better.”
I didn’t have a drink for two weeks after that.
Krieger: One time when we were mixing Waiting for the Sun (Elektra) at TT & G Studio in L.A., this girl drive up with Jim in a pink XKE. They just fell out of the car. Jim had drunk at least a quart of Jack Daniels, and this girlfriend has given him 18 or 19 reds, or Tuinal, and he was drinking on top of this, right? And he still wasn’t dead; he wasn’t bad enough to be taken to the hospital. But I don’t think he contributed much to the session.
Circus: No wonder they’re called mixing sessions. Did Jim’s behavior put more pressure on you to be straight?
Krieger: It did. John and I were into meditation, so we weren’t getting real stoned anyway. I think to balance off the aspect of Jim, I stayed straighter than I normally might have.
Manzarek: We had to be more careful. They were watching us so much it was crazy. The vice squad would be at the side of the stage with our names filled in on the warrants, just waiting to write in the offence. Waiting for Jim to do something indecent, obscene; waiting for him to instigate a riot. “Narcs to the left of them, vice squad to the right, into the valley of death rode the four.”
Circus: What was the appeal to Jim of his dangerous life style?
Manzarek: Don’t forget his naval military background. He didn’t like the authorities. He saw rock & roll as the ultimate freedom: drugs and chicks and rock & roll and poetry. He was doing the ultimate bad thing by becoming an artist, as far as his parents were concerned.
Circus: Did you think Jim was finished when he went off to Paris in 1971, after the group had completed L.A. Woman?
Manzarek: I didn’t think he was doomed. I thought it was the best thing he could do: go to Paris, sit in a café, drink, meet artists and poets, and write. He did get into it over there; he was having a good time. He was trying to write a book about the Miami trial [for alleged indecent exposure] and what it all meant.
Circus: Did he die because he’d been pushed too far?
Manzarek: Yeah, his body gave out. It couldn’t take anymore… One too many falls – fall from a window – one too many bottles. He couldn’t take any more. He just exploded.
Circus: But were you surprised?
Manzarek: I was surprised.
Krieger: Not surprised; I didn’t believe it at first. After it sank it, it felt weird not to have him around. It was the sense of unreality. I figured that guy would never dir. With all the stuff he did, he’d never seem to get hurt. He’d crash the car, he’d jump off roofs, and then to hear that he’d die of a heart attack seemed ridiculous.
Then again, I’d seen him on amazing quantities of drugs, and he’d never OD’d. I didn’t really think he would OD, either.
Circus: Does a lack of self-control naturally go with stardom?
Manzarek: It seems to be the other side of stardom. People become stars because they lack self-control. What makes them a star also kills them.
Circus: Or at least makes them more vulnerable.
Manzarek: Yeah, more than you or I. You put a bottle in front of ‘em, you put a line in from of ‘em, or a needle, and they can’t resist it.
Circus: Did the principle apply to you?
Manzarek: No, I wasn’t the star. I created the star. I was the musician behind the star.
Krieger: Sometimes I’d get drunker than I should have been, and didn’t play as well. I would never OD and not be able to make a gig.
Circus: Is No One Here Gets out Alive [Warner Books} an accurate account? Doesn’t it sensationalize the Doors?
Manzarek: No. Everything in that book is true. In fact, its style is rather Joe Friday, Dragnet-style reporting, just the facts: “At 2700 hours, he sliced his finger and dropped blood into the cocaine. He then for the girl to drink it.”
Krieger: I think everybody would have written a different book about Jim if they could have written one.
Circus: Weren’t there normal things going on, too?
Krieger: Yeah, but who’d want to read about ‘em? Although I do think a different side of Jim could have been explored – the poet side. But the estate of Jim Morrison wouldn’t let his poetry be used in the book. It’s too bad; that would have helped a lot. In the book, he just seems like a raving madman most of the time.
The house lights dimmed, the Doors were announced, and a peculiar tension built in the air; an excitement pulsed and moved from the shadowed corners, lacing the room with an emotional current.