A few days ago I attended last concert to date of Spanish singer Iñigo Coppel at Galileo Galilei equipped with my recording gear. Fortunately I was able to tape the soundboard and next day, as I was listening to it, I paid attention to a new song of his, dedicated to a woman he met at Jim Morrison’s grave while visiting Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Apparently she was writing a poem and, with a flower in her hand, she stroked the name on the stone of the legendary artist. That event inspired the song, beautiful and melancholy, indeed. And that gave me the idea to start now this article about The Doors, the eponymous album of the band, first of their discography, recorded in August 1966 and published in January 1967.
I was a teenager of 16 and that afternoon we celebrated a party with friends at the home of one of our regular colleagues. Someone’s brother had recently traveled to the United States and bought the album in question, which our friend brought to our satisfaction, borrowing it, maybe without permission. Of course the LP was still unavailable in Spain, so it was a treat for all of us to have a chance to listen to and dance to it. As we were listening to “Light My Fire”, bewitched under the spell of Ray Manzarek’s keyboard, someone turned most of the lights off. As the disc was still spinning on the turntable we were feverishly dancing in the gloom. “Crystal Ship” sounded like a requiem, seemingly written for a funeral party, but it was beautiful and contributed to making us fall into a trance. When the last track organ solo started we were already feeling as if we were on a trip to an unknown land. The magnetic, bewildering chords of “The End” caused a mesmerizing effect on us all. As the song progressed we were abducted into a different mind level, as if we had taken drugs or something, which of course was not the case. We felt like we were on acid, though we had not even drank any alcohol, most likely. We didn’t know why but we abandoned ourselves to the mantra of such intoxicating music. And we danced ’til the end like zombies, sharing the same feeling, enjoying together such an unforgettable experience.
I wonder why it happened and it makes me think of mind power and the role of music and arts in general. We were very young, that’s true, and of course we were through the psychedelic era, but still there was a sense of freedom that the sound instilled and the way the words were sung, along with the rhythm and harmony, made it all new and provocative. What I mean is that their music, especially Ray Manzarek organ riffs, beside Jim Morrison bold delivery, allowed us to free our minds and get further into an unknown world of something that was for us forbidden. We felt like drugs could make us cross the barrier between consciousness and the subconscious mind and we realized we could do it without them. That was a release, a liberation of our prejudices, without going further into a sinful world that would have been an overwhelming hurdle for our sense of dignity and the concept of degradation that substance abuse might have meant for us at that early age.
We still didn’t have any idea about Jim Morrison’s rebel attitude, but his particular sense of freedom and his willful transgression of conventional morality that led him to provoke several kind of scandals while performing live, such as the infamous incident at Ed Sullivan show, obviously transcended the phonographic work and reach out to our still tender sensibility. For those of you who never heard of the incident at the Ed Sullivan TV show, here’s a brief summary of the event:
The Doors were told before the performance that they couldn’t use the word “higher” included in the “Light My Fire” verse, on national CBS television,
‘You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher’
Therefore, they agreed, but Morrison decided it was integral to the song so they concluded they wouldn’t change a word and sang it like that anyway. Those shows were live at that time. After their performance the producers rushed into the dressing room, Sullivan foaming at the mouth, and The Doors were told they could never appear again on national CBS TV. They were banned from the show. Their 1st and last.
Jim Morrison reportedly replied to the producer’s rejection in a defiant tone, “Hey man, we just ‘did’ the Sullivan Show!”
A friend of mine told me that, even being different circumstances, Ed Sullivan reaction reminded her of Pete Seeger with an axe trying to cut the cords at Newport Folk Festival in 1965 in order to avoid the sound (they would call it “noise”) coming out of Dylan and the Butterfield Blues Band electric guitars and instruments. Maybe not quite similar, but one might say it had to do with the same kind of intolerance.
Of course Jim Morrison’s rebel mind was probably something we found seductive and intoxicating. His performances had that urgent desire to take on the world, tearing all of life to pieces.
We didn’t know then anything about him. But we know now he was a kid with a huge imagination and dark ideas. For some reason he had this affinity to the obscure side of life. Anyway, he soon became a wayward young man who grew up influenced by Nietzsche and the existentialist stream of the Beat Generation, something that was probably the sign of the times.
Jim graduated from UCLA film school, where he met Ray Manzarek. Young Morrison was already writing brilliant lyrics inspired by Rimbaud, filled up with imagery derived from Antonin Artaud’s surrealism. His schoolmate Ray thought his lyrics were excellent rock stuff and it didn’t take so long for him to convince Jim that they should make a rock band. John Densmore joined them immediately and Krieger was later added to the lineup.
They soon recorded their debut album achieving national recognition after signing with Elektra Records in 1967.
The album was a fascinating introspection into the psychedelic world. I didn’t know the name of the band was a reference to unlocking the doors of perception through psychedelic drug consumption, but it seems to be true. The idea came from Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” which in turn was inspired by William Blake’s line from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which read like this: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
And certainly their music sounded infinite to us. We didn’t know what was happening, didn’t know anything at all. But we were there spellbound, getting deeper into the sign of the times, seduced by their proposal of an open world seen from a different perspective with an open mind. It was like suddenly being aware that there are other worlds but they are in this one. I could never forget the way the album impressed me, how those songs made a deep impact on me and the life we were living at the time.
I think of what the Doors represented in the evolution of music and how they influenced young people like us, how we were moved by their rhythm and harmony with Morrison’s wild and rebellious temperament. They were even embodying a certain freedom of expression despite their commercial appeal. More than introduced to, we were impregnated with this homespun existentialism which we easily assimilated without much awareness of where it would lead us. However it helped us to find a path through suggested readings which we instinctively agreed with. It would be a path we would walk fully aware of where we were going.
The LP was a big success. “Light My Fire” became one of their greatest hits, especially through Jose Feliciano’s cover, which granted the song a huge popularity. But I guess the most relevant event was the inclusion of “The End” as part of “Apocalypse Now” soundtrack, spreading all around their meaningful conceptual work, making them one of the most celebrated bands in rock’s history.
However, as much as his own songwriting, it was Jim Morrison’s controversial figure and bold character, along with the drama surrounding his life and death, that entitled him to be considered one of the most iconic rock stars ever. His alcohol dependence and frequent abuse of heroin and hallucinogens was well known, but his improvised poetry to a rock beat could always redeem him. He was once arrested for showing his male attributes on stage at a pitiful concert in New Haven, CT. This incident appeared in the Oliver Stone movie, “The Doors”, further reinforcing his myth. His death in Paris under strange circumstances apparently due to an heroin overdose, though still never verified, finally contributed to the legend.
The Hypnotist Collector