Monday, September 7, 2009

The Doors

I think that probably pretty well everyone in the universe knows this album better than I do, so I’m not going to even attempt to describe it to you here. But its impact on me, listening to it several times since I first bought it a couple of months ago, has been so overwhelming, so profound, that I thought I might talk about that instead.

I was already vaguely familiar with a couple of songs from The Doors. I knew the "Alabama Song" really well, because it is written by Kurt Weill, who I have worshipped since I first saw his opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (from which the "Alabama Song" comes, incidentally) in 1975. I’m sure I had heard "Light My Fire", and "The Crystal Ship", probably a hundred times before; and I knew “The End” because I had seen Apocalypse Now.

But I hadn’t really sat down and listened to any of this until a couple of months ago, and the self-indulgent part of me can’t help but wonder how different my life would be now if I had really listened to this music properly when it first came out over 40 years ago, and if I had let its allure drag me down into its dark, lurid depths. I can’t imagine that, as an impressionable child, I could have resisted its call, if I had let myself listen to it – the dark, seductive voice of Jim Morrison, calling me, in just the first few seconds, to “break on through to the other side”.

And that “other side” is certainly one that you can’t help but be drawn into, even though you know, from your first steps into it, how dark, dingy and ultimately deadly it is. It takes you through moments of vulnerability, like in the almost faltering, hesitant lines of “The Crystal Ship”; moments of insatiable passion, as in “Light my Fire”; or the feverish beat of “Back Door Man”; or the unfathomably haunting steel guitar howling its way through “End of Night”.

But, of course, the undisputed pinnacle of this album is “The End” – towering like a symphony of Mahlerian proportions over everything that had gone before it. Every time I listen to this track it seems to shake me just a little bit more with its intensity, and to bowl me over just a little more totally with its brilliance. Everything seems just so perfectly and chillingly placed on this song, every note, every entrance, every twitch of every instrument, and every sound that comes, ragged and haggard, from Jim Morrison.

The haunting guitar notes at the beginning seem to come out some dark place, like a blackened, beaten face, scared to show itself because of the horrors carved within it. When Jim Morrison’s voice eventually breaks into this eerie soundscape with that line, “This is the end”, I felt I was hearing a man’s most intimate moments of loss and despair – reading his suicide note, almost. He sings a few lines, barren and hopeless, the drum rolls in a spine chilling crescendo and suddenly my body temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees because I could see that I was no longer listening just to one man’s end but rather the end of everything. This is now a world where nothing is as it should be – all the children are insane, and fear and desolation loom everywhere.

Into this bleak, barren world a tale of Oedipal hate and lust intrudes for a moment, everything is whipped up into some kind of surreal frenzy, and you feel you really might be in the very pit of hell.

But the frenzy dies away as quickly as it started, and we are left with those ghostly snatches of notes, and those haunted, empty lines from Jim Morrison, that we began with – until they, too, die away to nothing.

But, really, there is no way of describing this song that can do it justice. You just have to listen to it, absorb yourself in it, and let it wash over you and, perhaps more importantly, in you.

Every time I listen to it I seem to find something more in it – be it the way the organ drives the music forwards, soft and eerie, in the background, before you even realise it’s there, or a tortured twisted note here or there from the electric guitars, or a beat from a drum in just the place that makes your blood run cold.

Sorry to have babbled on so much about this album and about this one song in particular – but there are some things in music that you feel you could talk about for a hundred years and still not feel you have said enough.

Something brighter tomorrow, I promise!


  1. Hi Ian
    Ah yes! Jim Morrison - an extraordinary man and a virtual synonym of The Doors (anyone remember the names of the other members?). On the one hand, he sang/performed monumental feats of self-indulgent introspection, but on the other, he chronicled the horrors and excitement of contemporary US city life in a way few other musicians have matched. (But try following the Doors' 'L.A. Woman' with Bob Seger's 'Hollywood Nights'.)

    Anyone contemplating a trip to the USA should listen to Doors' songs like, 'The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)', 'The Changeling' and 'Roadhouse Blues' before confirming their flight! ('Roadhouse Blues' is even strong enough to survive a 'remix' by Crystal Mix.)

    Set against that sort of gritty urbanism (!), Morrison's more lyrical songs (e.g. 'The Crystal Ship', 'End of the Night', 'Touch Me' and 'Wishful, Sinful') sound a touch fey. They remind me of Arthur Lee's early songs with Love (e.g. the 'Forever changes' and 'Da Capo' LPs), but the Lee songs form a more coherent body of work and, therefore, don't sound as precious.

    (Let's hope that Google is more welcoming of my latest post - I've kept a copy, just in case!)

  2. Looks like Google and you hae made their peace, Patrick ... thanks for the comments. When I bought The Doors' self-titled album, I bought it in a box set with all of the other studio albums as well, bt am hyet to plunge into the others - you've inspired me to do just that!