by Brett Keogh 1991
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 generation.
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
A grotesque event which occurred
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 accident 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 Morrison 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 following 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 loneliness 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 somebody's
near. I'm sure that someone is following me."
However it's in "The End" that Morrison elevates self-created
loneliness 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
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 comparison 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
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 performance became stagnant once put on record.
"The End" and "When the Music's Over" were two such
recordings. He later called the recordings "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
accompanied recitations of Morrison's poetry. These readings include thrashing
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 badgering 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 their stages.
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 immeasurable. As to his work, it is solid and
unique- twenty years later.
Masters Of Rock
The Life & Times Of Jim Morrison
Vol. 1 No.3 1990