The Doors were a band that had its origins in Los Angeles in 1965. Lead singer Jim Morrison, charismatic, unpredictable and poetic was backed up some excellent musicians. RY Manzarek was the keyboard player, who ultimately became the keyboard bass player as well. John Densmore on drums and Robby Krieger on Guitar. The band’s name came from an Aldous Huxley quote of William Blake “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite”.
It was Morrison’s lyrics that drove the band. He emphasised the darker side of the sixties. He seemed unaffected by the “Summer of Love”, but had many references to the Vietnam War and the downside of the LA experience. Manzarek’s keyboard melody drove the songs with a meandering style that echoed the deep portentous lyrical style of Morrison. Ably backed up Densmore and Krieger it was an original sound that almost prophesied the descent into madness from the heady days of 1967 and the damage caused by the drug culture.
They started playing in Los Angeles at local clubs where they honed their skills in live performance. A regular gig at “Whisky A go go” would seem them come to public attention. Here they attracted the industry and they got their first contract.
Their first song was Break on through. It announced the new style and signalled the break through, but it was not successful. Light my fire was, but it was seven minutes long and had to be cut down. It reached number one and they had arrived. Some wild live performances, characterised by Morrison’s anti-authoritarian stance, gave the band notoriety. The continued to tour and produce albums. But by 1968, Morrison was becoming dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs.
Jim was arrested on a number of occasions, drunk and abusive on stage, his last performance in 1970 in New Orleans ended with refusing to carry on performing. Their last album, 1971 produced a couple of atmospheric tracks redolent of LA. The title track, LA Woman, brings to mind driving around the endless freeways in that city, day or night. Riders on the storm written and recorded during a rare thunderstorm in LA, was an evocation of a unique experience of nature in a totally man made environment.
In July 1971, Morrison died in the bath in a Paris hotel room. No reason for death has been given, but his life had long since spiralled out of control with his addictions. Still poetic, still beautiful he remains an icon for rebellion and he had the arrogance to put his words to music for the whole world to hear. The band carried on for two years without him, but it was not the same.
Perhaps his or their legacy was that there are still new listeners to their today. There are few groups that could repeat the poetry linked to the dark music. Maybe the high point was The End. Its filmic quality was displayed in the epic “Apocalypse Now”, so appropriate, enigmatic and mysterious it began and ended the film.
Maybe the constant backdrop of the Vietnam War served the purpose of the band. Playing across almost all of that nightmare, that conflict was always in the back of the minds of the young people of the USA. Morrison’s rebellious stance echoed with the kids expecting to fight the War they hated. The War that for the first time could be witnessed on the nightly news, seeped into every part of the American psyche. To expose the public to that horror, through TV, was to turn the American dream into a nightmare. The Doors music, fuelled by drugs, reflected the madness of a war that permeated into every life and every part of America.
That divisive universal trauma could not be healed in any witness’s lifetime. But The Doors music not only explained the emotion, but even prophesied the End.