If you're looking to live on the edge there are few better places than California. Jim Morrison had that idea when he bailed from his native Florida, and a rigid military family (his dad was an admiral), for the aptly named, left coast. But Morrison was no happy-go-lucky Jan & Dean/Beach Boys, So-Cal college student. If anything, he thought of himself as a dark and brooding poet while attending UCLA's film school. By most accounts his films were incomprehensible and so was his poetry, which often played on his fascination with snakes and lizards.
Morrison was always the Doors' focal point, even if it was reluctantly. Rock lead singers have to put on a show but during early Doors gigs Morrison sang with his back to the audience, facing the rest of the group. Let 'em in Jim. He eventually turned around in a big way. His performances featured stage roaming, collapsing and tossing his body about with abandon.
Morrison also came up with the whole Oedipus bit in "The End." A more graphic rendition, than appears on The Doors' debut, got them fired from the Whiskey A-Go-Go, one of the Sunset Strip's premier clubs. Fan response got them re-installed. The club's manager had a simple rationale for re-hiring the group. "The Doors are sick and demented, especially that damn singer, but they draw a crowd."
Once signed to Elektra Records, Morrison was pushed even further in front. Not only was he the lead singer but he was the best looking member of the group. A fact the teen magazines and TV cameras jumped all over. Morrison, in his black leather pants, was the very definition of a sex symbol.
On stage Morrison could be magic or an out-of-control mess - usually the latter. But even then he was something to behold. When the Doors returned to their home turf for an important Hollywood Bowl show, Morrison, prior to the concert, dropped acid and during "The End" began "Ode To Grasshopper." The ode was to a small creature Morrison had seen out of the corner of his eye, fluttering across the stage. Morrison continued his spiel until, under the harsh spotlights, he realized it was only a moth.
For The Doors' third album Morrison composed a lengthy poem "Celebration of the Lizard." No matter how hard the group tried, the poem would not hang together. Only a small sliver entitled "Not To Touch The Earth" made it on to the album. At the end Morrison intoned, "I am the Lizard King, I can do anything." Yes, the new Morrison persona had arrived but it became more of a joke as The Doors seemed unable to match past glories.
Sidebar: The entire "Celebration of the Lizard" is on The Doors "Absolutely Live" album.
As fame engulfed the group, Morrison was able to build a lengthy arrest record. Mostly public drunkenness or disorderly conduct (resulting from public drunkenness). It all culminated in the infamous Miami bust. Morrison was accused of profanity and exposing himself. The legal fees were costly but the subsequent trial took the Doors off the road, which was very costly.
Bottom line, Morrison was found guilty and the ruling was appealed. Meanwhile, the Doors, and to a large extent Morrison (as he went, they went) rebounded creating their best album since their debut, "Morrison Hotel." But on a personal level Morrison was in a funk drinking heavily. Following the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Morrison told bar room friends, on more than one occasion, they were "drinking with #3." The Miami bust and trial probably killed any Morrison desire to continue as a Rock Star. He grew a bushy beard and gained weight. It was a sharp contrast to his sleek, "leather pants" look of just a few years earlier. Following, the recording of the "L.A. Woman" album, Morrison split to write poetry in Paris with his longtime girlfriend and probable soulmate, Pam Courson, leaving his status with the group undetermined.
A few months later on July 3rd, 1971, Morrison, proving prophetic, died of what was ruled a "heart attack" under extremely mysterious circumstances. There was no autopsy and no one saw the body expect the doctor who wrote the death certificate and Pam. Rumors abounded that Morrison had staged his death to finally escape his "image." It may have made some sense but it was only wishful thinking.
Morrison was a young and free spirited Rock god when the Doors made their debut. That was the first attraction. But the subsequent trials and tribulations really resonated. The group, and especially Morrision, fell from favor, due to spotty albums and Morrison's lengthy arrest record, but managed to stage an impressive comeback. That added to the legend.
Another aspect was Jim Morrison - the poet. While never really successful in that vocation, he did get two slim volumes published ("The Lords" and "The New Creatures," that were later combined) and often suggested that poetry would be his post-Rock career, whenever the opportunity arrived. The trip to Paris, where he died, was to be the beginning of that effort. Of more immediate impact were Morrison's abilities as a wordsmith. He suggested people think of the Doors as "erotic politicians," That term got plastered all over the mainstream media. Nice bit of PR. Morrison always gave thoughtful and interesting interviews. That too set him apart from most of his contemporaries. He proved you could be smart and Rock.
Morrison lived by his own rules or lack thereof. And that was part of the myth. Even though the group's biggest hit "Light My Fire" was licensed for a Firebird car commercial the Doors weren't sell-outs. Finally, Morrison died at the relatively young age of twenty-seven. He had deteriorated significantly during those four-plus years of fame, but he still had his looks. His death froze his image in the public's mind. In '80, nearly a decade after his death, there was a Doors revival and Rolling Stone magazine featured a front cover photo of a young, clean shaven Morrison, with the cut line: "He's Hot, He's Sexy, He's Dead."
The Doors - 1967: "Break On Through (To The Other Side)," a potent Rocker and the Doors' first single (it stiffed), opens the record. And like all great 1st track songs it sets the album's tone. The Doors' world is dark, troubled and threatening. There are some innovations that the Doors should get credit for. First, there is the extended Rock theatre piece "The End." Though not their best extended piece it was a groundbreaker. Starting as a "goodbye" song it develops into a mystical journey. Secondly, the Doors clearly reflected their L.A. environment with "Twentieth Century Fox" and "Soul Kitchen." These Rockers capture the mood and temper of the city. And even though they had a strong and powerful personality in their singer, the group was not afraid to flex its instrumental prowess. The extended version of "Light My Fire" is the prime example. An edited (shortened) version of "Light My Fire" was the Doors' first major hit. The five-minute organ/guitar instrumental was something they wouldn't return to until "L.A. Woman" four albums later.
Strange Days - 1967: "Strange Days" was often dismissed as a prime example of the sophomore jinx. But any album with the title track and the hot Blues of "Love Me Two Times" can not easily be dismissed. The Doors are even more haunting, mysterious and strange. The Blues derived "People Are Strange" and the rollicking "My Eyes Have Seen You" are hard to beat. Also, "When The Music's Over" was their best extended piece.
Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café - 1970: When it was released many critics viewed "Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café" as a comeback album. Morrison's impressive arrest record and legal proceedings kept the band inactive for months. Also, they had produced two disappointing albums. So now it was do or die. "Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café" is the most Blues drenched recording the group's catalog. Also, Ray ditches his Vox organ in favor of a piano. "Roadhouse Blues" is a classic. Down and dirty Blues. No mercy. Morrison even pulls off a Blues scat. "You Make Me Real" is a psuedo-50s Rocker. Given all their troubles, lesser bands would have hung it up or attempted to repeat past successes but the Doors press on. The capper comes during "Waiting For The Sun" when Morrison intones, "this is the strangest life I've ever known." No kidding.