Published in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner
By Richard Baxter
The horse latitude lie at sea, 30 degrees north and south of the equator. They are characterized by unpredictable clams and storms and, in the day of the sailing ship, were treacherous.
Vessels, becalmed or doomed to a brutal storm, dumped many a cargo to improve their chances of survival. Often the cargo was horses –hence the horse latitudes.
This morsel of historical obscurity might have been lost but for occasional digressions in lectures about 18th-century commerce. It has been preserved, perhaps immortalized bot by Melville, not by the Martitime Commission, not even the SPCA, but by the Doors.
They did so by putting these lyrics to nonmelodic sound effects that approximate the latitudes at their nastiest:
When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monster,
True sailing is dead.
And the first animal is jettisoned,
Legs furiously pumping
Their stiff green gallop,
And heads bob up
In mute nostril agony
And sealed over.
Not a real finer snappy, it doesn’t even appear to commercial –to the teenyboppers who keep the Doors eating, anyway.
That it’s respectable free verse, and the Doors will unblinkingly tell you it is, seems little explanation for putting it on an album and hoping yet to compete for sales with sweet, danceable melodies and conventional lyrics, repeated for assured understanding and emphasis.
But that cut, the album, entitled “Strange Days,” and the Doors are doing well. They are the most successful Los Angeles rock band and are being received as artists across the country by those who decide such things.
To say the least, the Doors are another milestone, in the new-idea sense in the fruitful evolution of rock ‘n’ roll.
They are poets, of a degree, and they make unique, imaginative music. While there are better musicians in modern rock, there are few groups that exploit the lyrical end of their product as well as the Doors. Their use of words communicates more explicit moods –degrees of clarity usually found in mediums other than popular music.
Jim Morrison, whose smooth, deep throated voice sings all the Doors’ verse, calls it “an excursion into the dramatic, as opposed to pure song.”
“We’re getting into a form that would permit telling stories, even using characters with dialogue, then creating an atmosphere with music and effects.”
Ray Manzarek, the organist who dominates Morrison’s accomplishment, describes it as a “ritual with a line of action.”
“We want to create music with a dramatic spine to it. I’m not talking about an extension of ‘Oklahoma’ –I mean ritual drama that could be performed anywhere, in a theater, a ballroom. A rowboat, or a sand dune.”
Morrison, when pressed, names three themes in their music: Love, death, and travel. And these are indeed discernible in their compositions. But their overriding mood seems to be more the fatefulness of it all –that things are bizarrely, infinitely inevitable.
“Latitudes” is a case in point: Horses abandoned, a futile struggle, an agonizing end – no comment that shakes. “The End,” an 11-minute cut off their first album, is perhaps the Doors’ most representative piece, and they are disarmingly proud of it. But if you don’t use the title, it defies summary. Witness these excerpts:
The killer awoke before dawn,
He put his boots on,
He took a face from the ancient gallery,
And he walked on down the hall.
He went to the room where his sister lived,
And he paid a visit to his brother,
And then he walked on down the hall.
And he came to a door,
And he looked inside
“I want to kill you. Mother, I want…”
This is the end, my only friend,
It hurts to set you free, but you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies,
This is the end.
Not all of the Doors’ music is a dour, but they do smack of the eternal helplessness – of aimless wanderings into agony and ecstasy.
The Doors are as confident as they are untypical. They do not worship the Beatles.
“They read like yesterday’s newspaper,” asserted Manzarek. “You listen to their music once, and that’s it.” Such statements are sacrilege to most rock musicians.
The Doors will claim their music in ageless. Manzarek, who studied at the Chicago Conservatory, explained, “Our lyrics, I think, are better than much of the modern poetry. And I think our music makes a perfect blend.”
And they have believers. They said Norman Mailer has heard them and offered to write commendatory liner notes on their next album. A publisher plans to put the Doors’ lyrics into book form.
And acceptance by the highbrows hasn’t slighted the Doors’ draw on the teenagers, who stil buy their records and attend their concerts, two of which they will give at the Shrine Dec. 22 and 23.
They like to awe in the concert hall too, related guitarist Robby Krieger.
“We try to connect everybody in the audience to everybody else. We want them to become one mind, one entity. We are revivalists as well as musicians, and we want our audiences to undergo a religious experience.