in 7/1965 in Los Angeles, CA
Disbanded in 1973
Styles - Rock & Roll, Psychedelic
Doors, one of the most influential and controversial rock bands of the
1960s, were formed in Los
Angeles in 1965 by UCLA film students Ray Manzarek, keyboards, and Jim Morrison, vocals, with drummer
John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger. The group never added a bass player, and their sound was
dominated by Manzarek's electric organ work and Morrison's deep, sonorous voice, with which he sang
and intoned his highly poetic lyrics. The group signed to Elektra Records in 1966 and released its first album,
The Doors, featuring the hit "Light My Fire," in 1967.
Doors were somewhat of an anomaly in the rock pantheon. In their heyday
they weren't folk or jazz
and while some rock critics called their music "acid rock" they weren't part of the peace-and-love Airplane-Dead-Quicksilver acid-rock sound of San Francisco. They had nothing in common with the
English invasion, or even pop music in general though they generated three Number 1 hit singles, and
while New York City was good to the Doors-almost to the point of adopting them as their own-they
were still a league apart from the Velvet Underground, despite a mutual affinity for dark and somber
themes. They weren't even part of the folk-rock scene which dominated Los Angeles in those days, in
the music of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the like. Even among the hierarchy that includes Elvis,
Joplin, and Hendrix, they were a world unto themselves. " A strange and haunting world," as Jim himself
once said, "suggestive of a new and wild west."
To get the best view of Jim Morrison you must go through the Doors and the most important thing to
remember about the Doors is that they were a band and each individual formed a side of the diamond
that was the whole. One night, on the road, just before the concert was to begin, a disc jockey climbed
on the stage to introduce the act: "Ladies and gentlemen, " he announced to the audience, "please welcome
Jim Morrison and the Doors!" There was the customary applause. As the DJ walked down the stairs leading
from the stage, Jim pulled him aside and said, "Uh-uh, man, you go back up there and introduce us
right." The DJ panicked. "What did I say? What did I do? " "It's The Doors, " Jim said, "the name of the band
is The Doors."
was a band whose unexpressed goal was nothing short of musical alchemy-they
intended to wed
rock music unlike any ever heard before with poetry and that hybrid with theater and drama.
They aimed to unite performer and audience by plugging directly into the Universal Mind. They would
settle for nothing less. For them that meant risk, no gimmicks, nothing up their sleeves, no elaborate
staging or special effects-only naked, dangerous reality, piercing the veil of maya with the music's ability
to awaken man's own dormant and eternal powers.
Doors constantly courted their muse-that is to say, Morrison courted his
muse, and the band followed;
the band stayed with him. Jim believed one cannot simply will the muse; the writer or artist's power lies
in his ability to receive, as well as invent, and it was the artist's duty to do everything possible to increase
his powers of reception. To achieve this end the nineteenth-century poet Arthur Rimbaud had advocated
a systematic "rational derangement of all the senses." Why? "To achieve the unknown." How? Any way
fondness, and search, for the unknown is well documented in the following
"There are things known," Jim would say in a quote often attributed to William Blake but in fact
Jim's own, "and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors." But Blake did say, in his first
Proverb of Hell, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." And the next line down, "Prudence
is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity." It needn't be added that Jim did not court the maid and
courted capacity whenever he could. Jim drank and yelled and pleaded, cajoled and danced in inspiration
tounite the band, to ignite the audience, to set the night on fire, once and for all, forever.
it was Jim's commitment to this standard, set so early in his professional
career, that finally did in
both the man and the band. Jim Morrison was a man who would not, could not, and refused to compromise
himself or his art. And herein lay his innocence and purity-his summary blessing and curse. To go all the
way or die trying. All or nothing. The ecstatic risk. Because he would not manufacture or cheapen what
he wrote, he could not fake despair or retend ecstasy. He would not merely entertain, or go through the
motions; he was brilliant and desperate, he was driven by an unrelenting need to "test the bounds of
reality," to probe the sacred, explore the profane. And it made him mad...mad to create, mad to be real.
And these qualities made him volatile, dangerous and conflicted. He sought consolation and solace in the
same elements that had initially inspired him and helped him to create:
French Surrealist Antonin Artaud's theories regarding confrontation, as
expounded in his thesis The
Theatre and Its Double, were a significant influence on Jim and the group. In one of the book's most powerful
essays, Artaud draws a parallel between the plague and theatrical action, maintaining that dramatic activity
must be able to effect a catharsis in the spectator in the same way that the plague purified mankind.
The goal? "So they will be terrified and awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are already dead."
would, in time, scream "Wake Up!" a thousand times, a thousand nights,
in an effort to shake the
audience out of their unconsciousness.
"Mystery festivals should be unforgettable events, casting their shadows over the whole of one's future life,
creating experiences that transform existence," Aristotle wrote. Doors concerts-Jim's performances, when
successful, accomplished such a transformation. Plutarch attempted to describe the process of dying in terms
of a similar initiation: "Wandering astray, down frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then
immediately before the end of all terrible things, panic and amazement." There are magical sounds and
dances and sacred words passed, and then "the initiate, set free and loose from all bondage, walks about,
celebrating the festival with other sacred and pure people and he looks down on the uninitiated..."
comes damn close to describing the Doors at the peak of their powers: Riding
the serpent, ancient and archetypal, strange yet disturbingly familiar, powerfully evocative, sensuous
and evil, strong, forbidding. When Morrison intoned, "The killer awoke before dawn and put his boots on/he
took a face from the ancient gallery/and he walked on down the hall," we were walking down that hall
with him, in dread, paralyzed, powerless to stop, as the music wove a web of hysteria around us, wrapping
us ever tighter in its web, Morrison enacting the tragedy, the patricide, the horror, unspeakable torment.
WE SAW IT, WE FELT IT, we were there. We were hypnotized. Reality opened up its gaping maw and
swallowed us whole as we tumbled into another dimension. And Morrison was the only guide: "And I'm
right here, I'm going too, release control, we're breaking through..." And then we did.
in a Roman wilderness of pain." It wasn't merely a line in a verse. It
was an epitaph for the moment,
a photograph of the collective unconscious. The symbols were timeless and the words contained stored-up
images and energies thousands of years old, now resurrected. Early in the group's career, Jim tried to explain
some of this to a journalist: "A Doors concert is a public meeting called by us for a special dramatic
discussion. When we perform, we're participating in the creation of a world and we celebrate that
with the crowd." A few days before he flew to Paris, to his death, Jim gave to me what would be his
last statement to the press: "For e, it was never really an act, those so-called performances. It was
a life-and-death thing; an attempt to communicate, to involve many people in a private world of thought."
was the mid-to-late 1960s and bands were singing of love and peace and
acid was passed out, but
with the Doors it was different. The emerald green night world of Pan, god of music and panic, was
never more resplendent than in the Doors' music: the breathless gallop in "Not to Touch the Earth," the
incipient horror of "Celebration of the Lizard," the oedipal nightmare of "The End," the cacophonous
torment of "Horse Latitudes," and the dark, uneasy undertones of "Can't See Your Face in My Mind," the
weary impending doom of "Hyacinth House," the alluring loss of consciousness found in "Crystal Ship."
When the music was over, there was a stillness, a serenity, a connection with life and a confirmation of
existence. In showing us Hell, the Doors took us to Heaven. In evoking death, they made us feel alive.
By confronting us with horror, we were freed to celebrate with them joy. By confirming our sense of
hopelessness and sorrow they led us to freedom. Or at least they tried.
course, psychedelic drugs as well as alcohol could encourage the unfolding
of events. A Greek
musicologist gives his description of a Bacchic initiation as catharsis: "This is the purpose of Bacchic
initiation, that the depressive anxiety of people, produced by their state of life, or some misfortune, be
cleared away through melodies and dances of the ritual."
Jim was asked by a fan mag how he prepared for stardom he answered, "I
stopped getting haircuts."
What he didn't say was, "and started dropping acid." Like so many many others, Jim took drugs to expand
his consciousness, to gain entry into worlds otherwise locked and sealed off. Aware of a shaman's relationship
to his inner-world via peyote, and Castaneda's experiences with Don Juan, Jim ingested psychedelics.
Like Coleridge and the opium eaters, he was held spellbound by the artificial paradise, the hypnagogic
architecture, the milky seas and starless nights. As with Huxley, Jim marveled before the splendiferous
geometry and ancient secrets trembling on the verge of revelation. And like the romantic poets, he reveled
in the altering of his senses with anything available-wine, hash, whiskey. If absinthe had been around during
his lifetime, Morrison would have been an absinthe drinker. In The Varieties of Religious Experience,
William James wrote what Jim already knew: "Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness
expands, unites, and says yes." And when the visions no longer pleased or surprised him, when intoxication
no longer provided him with the expansive awareness he sought, as Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, became
Bacchus, the representative for drunkenness, Jim turned more and more to alcohol to numb the pain
and to revel in unconsciousness. At first he drank for the pure joy of it. "I enjoy drinking," he admitted. "It loosens
people up and stimulates conversation. Somehow it's like gambling; you go out for a night of drinking, and
you don't know where you'll end up the next morning. It could be good, could be a disaster, it's a throw of
the dice. The difference between suicide and slow capitulation."