He said they were were ridiculously good one time, and awful–as Morrison was drunk–the second time.
Maybe it was fortuitous, but I happened to be listening to the local head banger station (sorry, no XM/Sirius for me yet, still) in my car the other day and John Densmore, the Doors drummer happened to be the guest. I always thought both Densmore and guitar player Robbie Krieger under-rated, living in the shadow of the more riff driven keyboard player Ray Manzerak, and of course the specter Jim Morrison.
Densmore shared some nice tidbits (like that Lonnie Mack, with whom the Doors were touring at the time played the bass on “Roadhouse Blues”) and maybe it was a harbinger as Manzarek passed away Monday at the age of 74 in Germany (presumably undergoing some form of cancer treatment not offered in the States).
Morrison was at least enigmatic, and a strong singer, and he played his Lizard King role to the max, but just how good a band were the Doors?
To me, there is no question the band’s first eponymously titled album was a great one. Forget the signature “Light My Fire.” “Break on Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” and their treatment of the Brecht/Weil tune “Whiskey Bar” were all so realized, as was “The End” which found its way to being a pivotal part of the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
“Strange Days” had its moments but to me it was largely a function of rushing a second album out on the tails and success of the first. Uneven, at best is what I would call it.
And then I ran sort of cold with the Doors schtick. I never even owned “Morrison Hotel,” or “Waiting for the Sun,” and I have a vinyl copy of “Soft Parade” I bought at a used record store for $2 mid-70’s.
However, I do love “L.A. Woman,” having bought it both when it came out on vinyl, and like the first album, repurchasing on CD (what a racket, vinyl, to 8-track, to cassette, to CD, to digital download, meaning you could buy the same work no fewer than six times if your timing is bad enough).
But, along with “Love Her Madly,” were “Riders on the Storm,” “Cars Hiss By My Window,” and the killer title track that I was surprised to realize I still remembered all the words to when it popped on my shuffle (in the car, so I am not a total cretin) a few weeks back.
Meaning the Doors at worst had a solid sound and a collection of tunes that more than carry the burden of being remembered.
But, were they great, or was Morrison’s outrageous behavior, that was as much contrived as was a lot of his poetry, the real driver of the band’s perceived “greatness”?
I guess that is a lot of the paradox, for Morrison, when on, was apparently a riveting performer, and certainly he had a powerful and memorable voice.
He was also a lout and buffoon who took a lot of pleasure in pissing off Ed Sullivan, which in 1969 was not that hard to do (remember, the Stones, corporate players that they are, were ok with changing the words of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” although to this day I still shake my head in wonder as to why any of us gives such a shit about who sleeps with whom?).
He was also a drunk, which is pretty well documented and maybe Hemingway could earn a Nobel prize and wear that mantle, but Ernest’s body of work was also a lot more substantial. So was Richard Burton’s for that matter.
I think, though that like Janis Joplin and James Dean (who was vastly over-rated in my opinion, basically playing a role great once, then replaying the same role two more times before he self destructed) and Amy Winehouse and John Belushi (also vastly over-rated) that early death somehow gives the public the freedom to transmogrify “what ifs” into “genius.”
And whatever else be said of Jim Morrison, he was hardly a genius. I mean, if nothing else, most geniuses do not die of natural causes in bathtubs at the age of 27.
But, our desire to apotheosize our fallen idols is probably as out of control as our use of the words genius and classic.
I doubt, were Morrison still alive today, he would be as vibrant and productive as say Darryl Hall. Or even Dave Navarro.