Rock is Rock: A Discussion of Doors Song

Published in CRAWDADDY Magazine
By PAUL WILLIAMS

Very few people have the balls to talk about “rock and roll” anymore. Revolver made it difficult. Between the Buttons, Smile, and the Doors’ lp are making it impossible. “Pop music” is definable only by pointing at a current chart; the Doors are not “pop,” they are simply “modern music.” The term applies not because rock has achieved the high standards of mainstream music, but conversely because rock has absorbed mainstream music, has become the leader, the arbiter of quality, the music of today. The Doors, Brian Wilson, the Stones are modern music, and contemporary “jazz” and “classical” composers must try to measure up.

The Doors is an album of magnitude. Thanks to the calm surefootedness of the group, the producer, the record company, there are no flaws; the Doors have been delivered to the public full-grown (by current standards) and still growing (standards change). Gestation may have been long and painful; no one cares. The birth of the group is in this album and it’s as good as anything in rock. The awesome fact about the Doors is that they will improve.

So much for the review. This album is too good to be “explained,” note by note, song by song; that sort of thing could only be boring, since the sophomoric cognitive “review” must be immediately compared to the far-more-than-mere-communicative level of the work of itself, the album. Knowing that my reader is able to stop after any word I write and listen to all of “Light My Fire” before he reads the next word, I should feel pretty foolish offering him a merely textual description of the buildup of erotic pressure in the performance. Is there really any point in saying something like “The instrumental in ‘Light My Fire’ builds at the end into a truly visual orgasm in sound” when the reader can at any time put the album onto even the crummiest phonograph and experience that orgasm himself? Descriptive criticism is obviously a waste of time, where quality is involved. It might be more valid for a reviewer to make a comment like: “the ‘come’ sequence at the end of ‘Light My Fire’ is the most powerfully controlled release of accumulated instrumental kineticism known on record, making even “I’m a Man” by the Yardbirds a mere firecracker, “but where that makes very good reading and even makes pretty good writing under ordinary circumstances, in the context of an album as great and as implicational and as able-to-change history as this one, comments like that dissatisfy and bore the reviewer because to him they’re simply obvious…That which can be simply stated is by its nature already known, and therefore not very interesting to the perennially bored author hoping to find an enigmatic new idea that he can pursue as he actually writes his piece. To write about the unknown is exciting, unpredictable; to write about what you already know, even if you’ve only consciously known it for a few minutes and you’re pretty damn proud of your insight, can in the end be unstintingly boring.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about “Blowin’ in the Wind.” A lot of people misunderstood that song, and it really is Dylan’s fault. He shoved in lines like “how long a time can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” and even “how many times will the connonballs fly” etc. which must have practically been intended to throw people off the track of what was being said. The line, “the answers my friends are blowing in the wind” is so perfect that I doubt that anyone could hear it and not feel what is really being said (in fact, it’s impossible to hear any true statement and not feel it correctly, although you may then go ahead and “interpret” it all wrong). And I’m not suggesting that the verse to “Blowing” should have backed up the theme of the chorus line. The cumulative boredom that finally builds to a head a causes the creation of a line like “the answers are blowing in the wind” (or, as we shall see, “learn to forget”) could not possibly then sustain the creation of an entire three verses or so of equal genius. Besides, three verses of equal genius would destroy the impact. No, I only say that the public-at-large should not have been maligned by a deliberate attempt to throw them off the track, an attempt made only because Dylan ’62 realized that he could with delightful ease present a great truth to the world at large and make it invisible to them at the same time. Like most crimes, it was perpetrated because the criminal knew he could get away with it.

But ignoring for now the clumsy camouflage of the verses, it really is difficult to carefully misinterpret “Blowing in the Wind”…its meaningfulness even overshadows its own ambiguity! If we assume that “the answers are blowin’ in the wind” means that the answers are inaccessible, hard to hold onto, out of reach, then the words are saying that we have no answers to work with, they’re unobtainable, and therefore we must reject our need for answers, and work without them. If, on the other hand, the listener reacts to the concept of “blowin’ in the wind” as implying accessibility, the total availability of all answers, we interpret the phrase as implying the uselessness of mere answers, and/or availability – we toss all top – secret data out the window; grab it out of the air if you want, for it can do you no good – we have all the answers, and still haven’t got the Answer, or Answers. These answers, therefore, accessible as they are, are mere truths-in-context, i.e., they are true whenever they are placed within a context in which they are true. They don’t achieve anything. We can’t work with them because they are too all-pre-sent and part-of-what-clearly-is, and therefore we must work without them. These two opposite interpretations of “blowin’ in the wind” as a phrase inevitably lead to the same conclusion because the two are both part of the statement “the answers are blowin’ in the wind,” which has only one meaning. Proof: the subject matter of such a statement must be the availability of knowledge, “ or he wouldn’t bring up the subject. Since it is highly improbable that one would know everything, and more improbable that one would bother writing a song about it if one did, and anyway unlikely that we would have any trouble recognizing such a song were it written, we can be very certain that the song says: “I (we) know nothing.” Which is the feeling one gets from the line “the answer…wind” before one even starts going through any of this reasoning crap. The vibrations from the line are very strong; you’re probably thinking that I’m fooling around right now, that, as Meltzer says, I could prove anything; that fact, however, does not imply that I would prove anything, since if I tried to prove a falsehood the vibrations – or what you “know” to be true about something, in other words – would make my words no matter how clever look like lies. Indeed, I’ve only run through this whole business to demonstrate how much reliance we place in our own instincts, our own insight, our own ability to pick up vibrations. If you think a song is good I could never convince you that it’s bad, and that means in effect that though anything can be proven, little if anything can be affected by proofs. And no matter how one reacts to a thought like “blowing in the wind” (accessibility or inaccessibility) one does not change one’s assumptions about the full “the answers my friend are blowing in the wind”—one merely changes one’s thought process to fit reactions to vibrations. Ultimately, if I feel something, every other assumption I make will be forced into consistency with the original though. When asked what the words “blowin’ in the wind” meant. Dylan was unable to answer, was in fact amazed at being asked. “They mean: blowin’ in the wind”. In concert in Boston he got the lines to verses mixed up, but he didn’t seem think that was very important.

“Soul Kitchen” is nice. It is so reminiscent of “Blowin’ in the Wind” in terms of message that one almost expects Peter Paul & Mary to make it #1 in the country. It’s just a nice little song about desire, a routine drama in which Jim points out that it looks like it’s time for him to go (beautiful posturing: twiddling of thumbs, glance at the clock, well, um, looks like it’s time for me to leave, uh…) but he’d “really like to stay here all night.” And he does stay, and the Doors do their usual “boy gets girl” instrumental routine, and then Jim lampoons his own posturing, repeating “the clock says it’s time to close now” but then saying “I know I’ve got to go now.” “I’d really like to say here all night” changes from effective plea into bitter irony the words that meant “let me in” before mean “sorry, baby” after. And that’s almost all there is to it, except that the plea “let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen” is so fantastically strong. Jim obviously didn’t give that much of a damn about the girl in this case, so something must have been really bothering him (since the intensity of that plea couldn’t have been faked). This leads us to the really stunning revelation that sexual desire is merely the particularization of some more far-reaching dissatisfaction.

The message of “Soul Kitchen” is of course “learn to forget,” a “message”/phrase at least as powerful as “the answers are blowing in the wind” and very similar in the sort of implications and emotions it conjures up. The actual words, “learn to forget” are repeated four times at the end of the second verse of “Soul Kitchen,” and are never returned to in any way. In fact, the band seems to be unaware of them, and Robbie has been known to say that he considers the song inconsequential! And as compared with the Dylan piece, a great deal of the success of this song is due to the fact that playing, and the words of the song other than “learn to forget,” are almost totally unrelated to the message, and as a result they serve as emphasis instead of confusion. So this truth is totally accessible to anyone listening to the song – and the irony here is that the song is not a single, nor a huge airplay hit, not being heard by more than maybe 20,000 people.

“Learn to forget” – what power that phrase has! It’s possible to get stoned for days by listening to this song…for a while it will seem the one truth available to us. It eventually recedes, of course, into a merely tantalizing command: within the song it’s a post-hypnotic suggestion to the girls being seduced, it’s a bitter comment on the necessity of learning to forget in order to get along in this grubby world, it’s a statement of faith in the ability of a man to will what he doesn’t want out of existence. Above all, it’s an echo of the Sophoclean section of “The End” (echo because the album is programmed circularly for repeated listings) in which it becomes necessary to kill the father. As Paul Rothchild says in Crawdaddy! U#10, #10, “ ‘Kill the father’ means kill all of those things within yourself that are instilled in you and are not of yourself.” Obviously, “learn to forget,” which is a truly beautiful, perfected, polished intellectual level at all. “The End” is great to listen to when you’re high (or any other time), but “Soul Kitchen” will get you high, which is obviously much cruder and more important. “Soul Kitchen,” with its revelation that sexual desire is more complexly motivated than we think (all right, suppose it’s immediately caused by the animal instinct for survival through reproduction of the self; the implications of that are that sexual desire is within each person that individual’s expression of the agony of being and the relationship between man and the future, that is to say, the meaning of life. If I want that girl because deep down I want to assure my own survival through descendants, why does man consider Time a rival he must conquer? That makes sexual need (as opposed to lust) the purest form of spiritual pain known to man, and therefore the most beautiful thing around) and its fantastically ambiguous “learn to forget” (which must relate to the problem I just brought up – the whole “dirtiness” of desire and all the problems involved with sex and therefore all the complications of life on earth probably stem from the fact that in our agony we cannot forget that, indeed, we do not have descendants every time we satisfy our sexual desire, and worse yet, once we have descendants we nonetheless do not cease to feel desire. “Learn to forget” in that context becomes the only message there is – and a contradictory one.) – “Soul Kitchen,” as I was saying before those parenthetical afterthoughts interrupted, is a catalyst with more potential for generating truth – in my opinion – than anything since middle Faulkner.

It is important now to realize that “the answers my friend are blwoing in the wind” by itself has as much potential for truth generation, within the right contect, as “learn to forget.” The much greater value of “Soul Kitchen,” which happens to contain the latter, than “Blowin’ in the Wind” reflects, to my mind. The triumph of rock. Tock, which is less cognitive, allows the creator of the vehicle for the phrase more freedom in subject. “Folk” basically demands a relationship between all words and ideas in a song, unless nonsense words are used, whereas rock may be as totally non-cognitive without being nonesense as “hey ninety-eight point six the love that was the medicine that saved me, oh I love my baby.” Rock gave Jim Morrison the freedom to slip “learn to forget” into the middle of a seduction song, which offers no distraction at all whereas Dylan in order to even say that the answers are blowing in the wind had to provide questions. “Soul Kitchen” has the further advantage, common in rock, that you can’t hear all the words, so that you can pretty much contextualize as you like. And the direct appeal to the mind made by “folk” (straightforward words, guitar, voice) cannot compare, it seems to me, to the abilities of rock to move people’s goddamn muscles, bodies, caught up and swaying and moving so that a phrase like “learn to forget” can actually become your whole body, can sink into your soul on a more-than-cognitive level. Rock, because of the number of senses it can get to (on a dance floor, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and tactile) and the context to which it can pervade those senses, is really the most advanced art form we have.

— PAUL WILLIAMS

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