My first act of sexuality came before I could drive. I asked my pal Parker to drive me to Berman’s Leather store at Chapel Hill Mall, in Akron, Ohio. I was going to try on a pair of leather pants.
I was 15, and I looked like I was 12, or 11. But I thought that if I got a pair of those pants on, I would look like Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, then 15 years dead.
I asked the sales girl, another teenager.
I put the pants on. I took a face from the ancient gallery, and I walked on out of the dressing room. And I looked in the mirror. “David?” “Yes, son.” “You look like a goddamn fool.”
I tried to convince myself this was just teenage self-doubt, that I really did look like The Lizard King in those pants, and my scraggly blonde mullet. Until I caught the eye of the sales girl, financially motivated to convince me I looked good, nevertheless giggling uncontrollably in the mirror. Also in the mirror I could see Parker, to his everlasting credit as a loyal friend and a man entirely in control of his emotions, standing there as stoic as a Buckingham Palace guard.
In that instant, I decided: Not to buy the pants. And that I had better figure out how to be funny, because I was never going to be sexy—or never sultry, in any case.
Tonight I’m watching “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” the Doors’ best-preserved concert, from 1968, and taking some store-bought drugs.
Lately I’ve been indulging in a revisitation of The Doors, for some reason—a band I put away with other childish things, many years ago.
Was forced to put away, when I was sent away, to drug rehab, as a junior in high school, as a Person Becoming.
By then I had acquired all the Doors albums. The actual records. “The Doors.” “Strange Days.” “Waiting for the Sun.” “The Soft Parade.” “Morrison Hotel.” “L.A. Woman.” The live albums, too: “Absolutely Live,” and “Alive, She Cried.” And the record of Morrison’s poetry, “American Prayer.” There were books, too.
While I was gone, my parents threw it all away, because it was a drug influence.
(And a drug influence, it was.)
Live at the Hollywood Bowl opens with the song that I liked to get high to the most, as a teen: “When the Music’s Over.”
My dad would take my little sister to ballet class when my mother didn’t, and my mother had AA meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When I had marijuana—and not oregano with a bunch of seeds, which I seemed to buy just as frequently—I used the two hours they’d all be gone to: Smoke a bowl through a tinfoil screen outside the side door; go upstairs and turn my Kenwood up to 10 and put “Strange Days” on; take the imaginary microphone stand, standing languidly with my knees together, clad in imaginary Berman’s leather; and over organ and guitar and drums that actually made the lampshades vibrate, close my eyes and sing the strains:
What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered, and ripped her and bit her. Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, and tied her with fences and dragged her down! I hear a very gentle sound. With your ear down, to the ground.
We want the world, and we want it ….
Jesus Christ, no wonder Morrison drank himself to death by 27! He wrote these songs as a clever UCLA undergrad, and now he was trying to convert himself into an adult while getting paid to sing this adolescent nonsense night after night.
I’ve got six or seven notebooks of literarily ambitious gibberish that I wrote when I was in college. I hope my daughter comes across them someday—not to comprehend their banal or nonexistent meaning, but only to wonder fondly at what a desperate, searching, wishing young man her father once was. There aren’t three lines of that stuff that I would foist upon you today.
And if anyone made it my livelihood to recite that bullshit to you night after night, I would not be able to do it sober, I know that.
“Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. Send my credentials to the House of Detention. I got some friends inside!”
Sounds good, means nothing, even after 40 years of contemplation.
I recently joined a Facebook group where people post pictures of Jim Morrison all the time. These 91,000 devotees seem like a bunch of arrested-development types. But I must admit it: The pictures they post appeal to my inner arrested-development type.
It’s also true that James Taylor, to whom I turned in college, simply does not fulfill all of a man’s needs. A well-rounded man cannot live on “Steamroller Blues,” alone.
I would throw myself onto the bedroom carpet! Screaming! Writhing! As close as I’d yet come to sex.
Dad? You’re early!
Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide, penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide.
That one’s pretty good, honestly.
It’s the musicianship, as I’ve reconsidered The Doors as an adult, that impresses me the most. It’s as sophisticated and mature as most of Morrison’s lyrics are not. For instance, the late Ray Manzarek and the living Robbie Krieger and John Densmore have every right to still be proud of lots of these songs. “Light My Fire” is a great song—not because of the lyrics, but because of the melodies. “Riders on the Storm” doesn’t contain any note half as false as Morrison’s lyric, “There’s a killer on the road. His brain is squirming like a toad.”
“The Unknown Solider”? No. I never bought a political song by the Doors, any more than I’d buy a sex song by Pete Seeger.
What happens to someone who gets famous worldwide for sounding like they have something to say, before they really have anything to say? As I mentioned, they drink themselves to death, by 27. (Do you know how hard that is to do?)
“The End” begins. I will not call this song nonsense, because this song woke me up to the notion that what might seem like nonsense might be art. “Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain. And all the children are insane.” Or more succinctly, the song woke me up to art, just like its singer woke me up to sex.
Morrison once said during a concert, “I wanna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.” This Doors act could not have been performed by 70-year-olds. Or even 30-year-olds. You could imagine Janis Joplin performing at 60, and even Jimi Hendrix. But this one went the way it had to go, I’m afraid.
But goddamn, this beautiful young man. In him, I saw my teenage self. My poet self. My possible self.
Beautiful, David. I enjoyed this very much.
Steven Hvale says
David I must say that you nailed this essay. I was 10 when Light my Fire came out. I loved the Doors from the start. Morrison was like an Adonis with a rebel complex. I think he wrote some fabulous lyrics and some not so good. But his imagery and. imagination were unique. Do note that up until 67 most pop music was superficial drivel. And the band rocked. Our friend Jason does not share the same feelings about the Doors. He hates them. I will forgive him because he was not around when Light My Fire hit the airwaves when I was 10, and I still had a fragile eggshell mind.
The epoch of music’s soul-rending, weed-fueled prophecy is over- but maybe only because we’ve aged, and the boys shouting through amps onto reels of tape are still the same 26 year olds they were the day they laid down those tracks.
I recently heard how nice it was of Taylor Swift to play piano and sing with “some old nobody” at a party on New Year’s Eve. The legend is told that they sang an old Beatles tune and the performance gained the old guy some sympathy-admiration in the pop community for doing such a good job. Of course T-Swift’s generosity was the lauded point of the story. Whether it’s true or not, it symbolic of the state of our music:
Rock is dead
Long live rock
(It was McCartney)