How a lifetime of listening to The Doors helped me appreciate the Lizard King despite his multitude of flaws
The Doors were one of the very first “AOR” bands I got into as a middle schooler (thank you, MTV Closet Classics!).
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
I had a copy of The Best Of The Doors on double-length cassette, and played it more than most of my tapes because it was so long–at least 100 minutes–and teeming with classic after classic. Upon its original release in 1985, perhaps no other “Greatest Hits” collection I’ve owned–especially in my early days of music appreciation–possessed a more formidable impression on the direction of my listening. To this day, it’s a little hard to hear “Spanish Caravan” and not expect it to segue into “When The Music’s Over” like it does on that tape.
It remains a staple in my evergreen music collection over 30 years later, though I certainly don’t listen to The Doors like I did at 15 and 16. And if I’m being perfectly real with you guys, when I want to listen to The Doors my main go-to is the 1972 posthumous singles collection Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine, which I recommend to any music nerd looking to re-acquaint themselves.
That combination of Ray Manzerek’s multi-hued keyboard work, Robby Krieger’s sinewy, labyrinthine guitar playing and John Densmore’s Elvin Jones informed drumming provided the quintessential court for Rock ‘n’ Roll’s first and only Lizard King, Mr. James Douglas Morrison, who died 50 years ago on July 3, 1971, under mysterious circumstances at the age of 27. In the half-century since his tragic passing, Morrison has become this rock idol whose legend has far superseded the man he was in life. Had Jim Morrison existed in the age of Twitter and TikTok, his drunk ass would’ve been dragged through the digital fire. Believe that.
Yet that’s not to discredit Morrison’s legacy as one of the most enigmatic frontmen in rock lore. Two big harbingers that illustrated Jim Morrison in my youth were the Danny Sugerman pulp bio No One Here Gets Out Alive and the Oliver Stone movie, which hit theaters while I was working my first job as a ticket ripper at the local UA. Despite having a great soundtrack and having Kevin fuckin’ Dillon play Densmore, the movie has not aged well at all, especially in the Internet age when an hour-long documentary calling out all of Stone’s inaccuracies is readily available on YouTube. In fact, during an interview I did with John Cale for RELIX in 2012, he mentioned how much he hated that movie on account of the way Stone depicted Nico in such a sensationalist way. Yet Val Kilmer was arguably brilliant as Morrison, portraying him in a way that really balances the character of Jim Morrison and the internal struggle between his poetic heart and a dick for brains.
Yet when you really take in Jim Morrison and his poetry, you cannot help but become mesmerized all over again like you did the first time you heard The Doors. When I think of Jim, I think about the depth of his words, and his ability to transform childhood trauma into high art, as he did in poems like “Newborn Awakening,” which addresses the time when a four-year-old Morrison witnessed a fatal car accident while traveling with his family:
It’s strange to consider there’s a separation of 50 years between his death and his place in the context of modern rock. The dark pop tones of The Doors and Morrison’s peyote baritone have lent themselves to acts as varied as Depeche Mode and Danzig, even though the surviving members didn’t always have the best taste in touring singers (The Cult’s Ian Astbury, yes! Brett Scallions of Fuel, NO!). It’s juxtapositions such as these that made me second guess my appreciation for The Doors as my tastes evolved through the years. But recently, thanks to Rhino’s deluxe editions of the band’s six studio albums (cannot wait to see what the L.A. Woman set entails!) I have come to remember why I’ve appreciated this band for the majority of my life. Because when The Doors clicked, as they do on material like “Peace Frog” (with its proto-Madchester groove), “The End” (particularly when played out during the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now as Martin Sheen descends into madness) and “Riders On The Storm” (especially when it’s soundtracking classic footage of Jim driving his beloved Ford Shelby GT-500 Mustang), they truly did take you on a journey that busted down the concepts of what constituted rock music.
And while I might not be listening to The Doors as much as I did during the whole hippie revival of the late 80s/early 90s, they nevertheless remain a key component of my sonic DNA.