John or Paul?
Mick or Keith?
Jim. With all due respect.
Page or Plant?
Hendrix or Clapton?
I want “Bold As Love” to be played at my wedding, and I don’t even want to hear “Sunshine of Your Love” at my funeral.
Cream or The Who?
Beatles or Stones?
Scuzzy Son-Of-A-Bitch #4:
My Black Clad Leather Patronus
Part One“C’mon people, don’t ya look so down You know the rain man’s comin’ ta town
Change the weather, change your luck
And then he’ll teach ya how ta…find yourself “
My Jim Morrison idolization began on a hot afternoon in August, 2003. It was the last day of summer vacation, I was sixteen, and I was about to make out with my new boyfriend for the second time. It had only been 24 hours since our first kiss, and due to our youth and lack of experience (and, perhaps, to his Catholicism), we decided that one make out session equalled monogamy. Despite our official relationship status, I was a bit nervous about that afternoon’s proposed itinerary, and my nervousness only increased when my boyfriend suggested we put on some music. I sat down on his couch, and he began browsing through his record collection. Of course I knew that the music selection ritual was a prelude to hormonal teenage madness, and while that delighted me, it terrified me just the same. In my opinion, it was awkward enough that we both knew we were about to make out — why prolong that in-between phase of the process? How was I supposed to act? Seductive? Casual? What if he lost interest during his hunt for the perfect tunes? What if he forgot what we were there to do? What if he didn’t like the way I looked sitting on his couch? Should I strike a pose? I wondered.
After a few minutes he held up a record that had a dark reddish brown and yellowish gold cover. “All right, herewego. The Doors,” he said, pulling the record out of the sleeve. He looked at me, and I feigned approval. The truth was I hadn’t listened to The Doors since I was in 8th grade and wanted to listen to some “cool” music while I did my math homework. For as much as I enjoyed “Break On Through,” I soon had to turn off the music and concentrate on pre-algebra. Naturally, I didn’t bother telling him this — I didn’t want to say anything that might make him second guess his selection. Plus, I had only been his girlfriend for 24 hours; it was too early to start losing my allure.
He admired the record for a second, and then, all of a sudden, he looked up at the ceiling and said, “Of course we bow down to you, Jim Morrison, in all your rock and roll glory.” He put the record on the player, set the needle down, and turned up the volume. It was “L’america” — track one, side two of L.A. Woman. Four minutes and thirty-eight seconds later, he skipped “Hyacinth House” and went straight to “Crawling Kingsnake.” Whether this action was sickeningly smooth or just plain sickening is up for debate. Either way, it worked; too well. In the midst of all that was happening, I found myself wondering if my parents had any Doors vinyl at home.
When “Riders On The Storm” had long since ended and I arrived back at my house, I went straight for my dad’s record shelf. Sandwiched between Donovan and The Dream Academy was the dark reddish brown and yellowish gold record. I pulled it off the shelf and brought it upstairs to my room, where it remained for many, many years.
Something had shifted, and I knew it. After that day, there was no going back. I devoured the entire Doors catalogue with the kind of voracity that only a 16-year-old girl is capable of. Soon, the aviator sunglasses showed up; then the boots. I’d leave my hair wavy not because I was lazy, but because I realized I actually liked the way it looked unkempt.
For me, Jim Morrison’s music (and I say “Jim Morrison’s music” because it was Jim Morrison who made the music matter) was the perfect soundtrack for adolescence — dark, flawed, and endlessly libidinous. When I felt fantastic I’d put on “Roadhouse Blues,” and when I felt like killing someone I’d put on “The End.” This is not to say that Jim was the first musical artist to speak to my tortured teenage soul; for example, my first two years of high school would have been Hell without Lou Reed. Still, there was something about listening to “Not to Touch The Earth” on a bad day that resonated with me in ways that made the second side of Berlin seem irrelevant. For as much as I loved Lou’s weirdness, I needed Jim’s ferocity. After all, I was a straight edged 16-year-old living in suburbia; a savage hero was a necessity.
Part 2“When the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end”
While Jim’s premature death automatically made him a rock and roll legend, that does not appropriately explain his allure. What it comes down to is the fact that even while he was alive, he was something of a supernatural being. What other popular musician — and I mean Tiger Beat popular — sang about patricide? And “dead President’s corpses”? And horses being blinded with whips? And dared to ask, “What have we done to the earth?” It takes guts to willingly scare the Hell out of your fans, and to do it without the use of fake blood or creepy masks or lighting effects, well, that’s just genius. So much of Jim’s music is dark, and when it isn’t dark it’s twisted.
There are, of course, some safer Doors compositions. Even when they’re safe, though, they’re not that safe. “Light My Fire,” which was originally brought to the table by Robby Krieger, is one of the most well-known Doors songs. Just because it is popular, however, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have teeth. Jim added a verse to the song that rhymes “wallow in the mire” with “funeral pyre” (From Wikipedia: A pyre (Greek: πυρά, pyrá, from πυρ, pýr, fire), also known as a funeral pyre, is a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon the pyre, which is then set on fire), and his delivery is nothing short of primal. When Jim wails, “TRY TO SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE,” there’s nothing safe about it. He’s not just asking you to light his fire, he’s demanding it; who knows what he’ll do if he doesn’t get his way?
His seduction power, his theatricality, his animalistic passion — THIS is what gives The Doors staying power. THIS is what sets Jim apart from other notable front men. THIS… ::sigh::
Although it may feel like it was only yesterday, my junior year of high school was a long time ago. I may not be 16 anymore, but I still wear big black boots, I still hate hair products, and I still love Jim Morrison. I still look forward to the day I can listen to “The Unknown Solider” without feeling angry, I still recite “The Movie” to myself when I’m sitting in dark theaters, and I still listen to “When The Music’s Over” while I’m driving around at night. Sometimes, I wonder what my world would be like if Jim were still alive. Maybe he would have graced the cover of Rolling Stone one more time. Maybe he would have had a minor role in Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Maybe he would have written a book. And Lord knows, his take on George W. Bush’s presidency would have been priceless. Would The Doors be worth seeing live? Would Jim be giving Mick a run for his money?
For as phenomenal as it would be to hear Jim mutter, “Fuck George Bush” on national television, I have no illusions about the situation. Jim was an alcoholic and a drug user, and everything I’ve read about him suggests that he had some kind of chemical imbalance (phrases such as “Manic Depressive Disorder” and “Bipolar Disorder” weren’t spoken as trippingly on the tongue during the 1960’s). Yet, somehow, by some miracle, Jim’s legacy is nothing but rockin’. The image of him in tight leather pants will always overshadow the image of him in his puffy latter-days, and he will always be a vibrant young superstar and never a washed up burnout. The fact that I will never see him live is overshadowed by the fact that I will also never have to watch him perform a painful rendition of “Touch Me” on American Idol. As my younger brother said to me when we watched Bob Dylan mumble his way through his set list at the Santa Monica Civic in 2008, “It’s moments like this when I realize it’s better that Morrison’s dead.” Yes, he’s dead, but he’s not dead dead. He was so full of life he never really died.
Epilogue“It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me…”
One Sunday night in November of 2004, I sat down at my desk to fill out my University of California application. At that point, I wasn’t completely sure where I wanted to go to college. To be frank, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go at all. Why move away? Why leave all the people I loved? More importantly, why move away and leave all the people I loved just to go to school? I didn’t understand it. To me, all college represented was “Goodbye,” and that was torture.
I got through the “Name, Age, Social Security Number” crap in record time, and then, suddenly, I was face-to-face with an essay assignment. TWO essay assignments. The first essay was only supposed to be around 200 words, and the prompt was so simple I don’t even remember what I wrote. After I finished the first assignment, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, no one was there. I looked down at the ground, and sitting on my doormat was a chocolate bar, a white envelope, and a Doors pin. Inside the envelope was a note that said:“This fine European chocolate reminded me of your fine European figure. I hope Mr. Morrison keeps you warm on this cold evening.”
I smiled. I knew my boyfriend had left me the present, but not because of the flattering note. The Doors was still our band. When I got back inside I read the note again, and, quite suddenly, the idea of going away to college seemed ten times as miserable.
Reluctantly, I went back to my room and sat at my desk. The second essay prompt was glowing on my computer screen:
Rationale: This question seeks to give students the opportunity to share important aspects of their schooling or their lives — such as their personal circumstances, family experiences and opportunities that were or were not available at their school or college — that may not have been sufficiently addressed elsewhere in the application.
• Is there anything you would like us to know about you or your academic record that you have not had the opportunity to describe elsewhere in this application?
I was flabbergasted. “Is there anything you would like us to know about you or your academic record“? This pissed me off. Me OR my academic record? In my opinion, those were two very different things. What had I not “had the opportunity to describe elsewhere in this application”? The application asked for my email address, my nationality, and my GPA — none of those things were a reflection of the real ME. Just who the Hell did these UC people think they were?
I was so angry I could scream. I was about to spend a decent amount of my precious time trying to convince people I already hated that they should let me into one of their disgusting establishments. I took a deep breath, unwrapped that bar of fine European chocolate, and took a bite. When I was ready, I placed my hands back on the keyboard and let loose:Before I sink
Into the big sleep
I want to hear
I want to hear
The scream of the butterfly