photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
JIM MORRISON of THE DOORS was and will remain a ROCK AND ROLL ICON for the ages. at his peak he was this sort of HYBRID POET / SHAMAN / PROPHET figure that pointed the way to PUNK ROCK decades in advance and tapped into this previously unexploited thread that effectively unleashed the existing DRUG CULTURE and SEXUAL REVOLUTION on an unprepared square, conventional MIDDLE AMERICA mental prison from which he was raised under. ELVIS PRESLEY and THE BEATLES may have hinted at and pointed the way, but JIM MORRISON was culturally the first AVATAR of unbridled DIONYSIAN LUST and UNADULTERATED CHAOS in AMERICAN musical culture. he was the perfect frontman for that period in AMERICA's history that was turmoil at the height of the VIETNAM WAR, CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT and the emergence of the COUNTERCULTURE as a POLITICAL BLOC.
he is identifiably on the short list of his most INFLUENTIAL ROCK AND ROLL singers of all time and his example was picked up on and pushed forward by his legions of later PROTO-PUNK, PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, HARDCORE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK acolytes including that of most notably IGGY POP (THE STOOGES), ALICE COOPER, PATTI SMITH, DARBY CRASH (THE GERMS), IAN CURTIS (JOY DIVISION), DAVE GAHAN (DEPECHE MODE), KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA), IAN MCCULLOCH (ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN), PERRY FARRELL (JANE'S ADDICTION), ROBERT SMITH (THE CURE), MARK LANEGAN (SCREAMING TREES), IAN ASTBURY (THE CULT), NICK CAVE (THE BIRTHDAY PARTY) and ANTON NEWCOMBE (THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE) among countless others. at this stage more than half a century later, his influence on AMERICAN culture is undeniable and self-evident. his CHARISMATIC, MYSTICAL example is irreparably baked into the very notion of being a ROCK AND ROLL star. what has been reevaluated in scholarly circles in the years since his passing is the literary quality of his POETRY and the relative OUTALNDISHNESS of his LOUTISH behavior. for example JOHN LENNON of THE BEATLES is recognized as one of the great songwriters (if not the greatest) of the 20th century while at the same time treated women poorly and was a TERRIBLE, absentee father to his first son. both things are true. so such are the modern evaluative critical fault lines with JIM MORRISON.
the recent documentary JIM MORRISON: THE WILD CHILD (ENTERTAIN ME PRODUCTIONS, 2019) seems to want it both ways, presenting him at times as both ADONIS and ICARUS. there are only a handful of no-name experts of DUBIOUS quality rendering their opinion and no peers or later acolytes rounding out the critical evaluation. at times it seems they cant decide whether this film is a HAGIOGRAPHY or a critical take down of his legacy. i'm game for it either way, but it just felt HALF-BAKED in the end and i felt at the very least THE LIZARD KING deserved a COGENT argument for or against. the guy was COMPLICATED but not that hard to discern and construct a COHERENT narrative around.
this documentary left me disappointed and i would recommend fans of THE DOORS, CLASSIC ROCK and all things JIM MORRISON to seek information elsewhere as this documentary has all the markings of a CHEAP cash grab. people are STRANGE, indeed.
parodies by nacrowe
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i remember around the turn of the millennium attending BOARDING SCHOOL away from my parents, who were stationed in NIGERIA at the time. i was in my mid-teens and it was quite the transition to not only be away from your family, but halfway around the world so. feeling ISOLATED in a bad situation where i was being HAZED upon routinely by upperclassmen and away from any support network was the context from which i discovered and experienced STRANGE DAYS (ELEKTRA, 1967) by THE DOORS within.
sonically the album is almost FELLINI-esque with its swirling organ phrases, specifically on tracks like "STRANGE DAYS," "UNHAPPY GIRL," "PEOPLE ARE STRANGE," "I CAN'T SEE YOUR FACE IN MY MIND," and "WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER." lyrically the album references themes of ALIENATION, SOCIAL/PSYCHIC ISOLATION and UNREQUITED LOVE. i know that for many their teenage experience was not pleasant, but my time in BOARDING SCHOOL was spent avoiding punishment by bored hockey players who saw my painted fingernails, dyed hair and NINE INCH NAILS shirts as target enough for their attention. and the adults just looked the other way. i got out unscathed but others didnt (linked HERE is an example that happened at another dorm during my time at the school). maybe that punishing and unforgiving atmosphere is why i read so much into JIM MORRISON's lyrics at the time. they seemed to revolve around the FUTILITY of trusting authority figures.
i believe high school is also a transformational period where you become aware of your body and your connection to other people. being shy and reserved by nature, i dont believe BOARDING SCHOOL did my any favors in figuring out how i related to the opposite sex. it was a beyond daunting and unreasonable ask to attempt to make connections with people of such PRIVILEGE, WEALTH and POWER. it was an ALIENATING and ultimately a TRAUMATIZING experience. to that end "YOU'RE LOST LITTLE GIRL" is another standout track that i deeply identified with, especially since it had this understated introductory guitar line that seamlessly transforms into a haunting layered organ figure, seemingly mimicking the UNREQUITED LOVE of a misunderstood female protagonist. to my ear at the time, it also was a sonic evocation of my emotionally battered sense of ISOLATION and growing inward trajectory based on living in HUMILIATION. BOARDING SCHOOL was a hostile situation and later attending high school in KUWAIT was even worse.
STRANGE DAYS is easily my favorite DOORS album and one that i constantly revisit since it is inextricably linked to this difficult period of youth. i feel it is an underrated achievement in MOOD and SONG CONSTRUCTION. there is a HAUNTING BEAUTY maintained throughout that is unique in their catalogue. as mentioned before, it was also the soundtrack to some of my darkest moments as a young adult.
it is most definitely worthy of revisiting.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the lasting impact of cultural maven DANNY FIELDS is interesting to contemplate. not a musician, producer or a record executive, FIELDS instead worked at times as a press agent, record scout, manager and general facilitator. known for his time as part of the ANDY WARHOL FACTORY crowd as well as his work with legendary artists like THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE DOORS, MC5, THE STOOGES and THE RAMONES, where FIELDS excelled was in his vision of seeing and appreciating what others couldnt. at least not yet.
born in BROOKLYN, FIELDS was an excellent student who entered the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA at 15 and attended HARVARD LAW SCHOOL thereafter. maybe due to his exceeding intelligence and/or his membership in two minority groups being a JEW and a HOMOSEXUAL, FIELDS developed a sense of empathy as well as aesthetic interest in avant-garde, outsider art. this led him to GREENWICH VILLAGE and the WARHOL scene, and later to counterculture musicians once the 1960s hit. he worked as an artists liaison with ELEKTRA RECORDS and was of use to the machine in that he was a tastemaker of sorts, able to witness an emerging artist in their infancy and communicate their greatness to a wider public. in a sense the man had taste and was willing to stake his reputation on such, even facilitating countless meetings between artists (BOWIE and IGGY POP, PATTI SMITH and her band, etc.) that paid fruit down the line even after his personal involvement had ceased.
it is this role as a facilitator (and sometimes agitator) that i ultimately found made the recent documentary DANNY SAYS (MAGNOLIA PICTURES, 2015) so compelling. here is a guy that gave underground artists an opportunity yet he is largely and unknown, with his worth celebrated internally within the industry by key executives and artists alike. his name isnt highlighted in liner notes or mentioned in interviews, yet his influence is unmistakeable. the bands he directly worked with set the foundation for all modern rock music whereby intention trumps virtuosity. to be a musician didnt mean one had to be a master at their instrument, instead it meant communicating a feeling in the most direct and efficient manner possible. those were the bands he facilitated, managed and garnered press attention for. and we are all the better for it.
makes you consider how many other unknown key industry players there are out there who invisible hand we have all been touched by in our musical tastes and cultural obsessions. the closest thing to this film i have witnessed is the RODNEY BINGENHEIMER documentary (review linked HERE) entitled MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP (2003) about the influential AMERICAN DJ or any number of BBC television documentaries over the years celebrating the ENGLISH DJ JOHN PEEL. whats interesting about the BINGENHEIMER documentary as it relates to DANNY SAYS is how both showcase a life servicing others and getting lost in the shuffle. the idea of making deep connections with talented friends who you help push to artistic and cultural peaks of achievement. but such heights are ultimately not your own and you are left contemplating your own needs and desires. both documentaries showcase two seemingly exceedingly lonely people. both are figures that are very interesting to contemplate.
i feel DANNY SAYS is a must-watch for anyone interesting in modern music history or the nature of the music business, especially as it relates to marketing and the influential yet opaque machinations that take place behind closed doors.
L.A. WOMAN (ELEKTRA, 1971) by THE DOORS is one of those quintessential albums that in essence culturally defines the complex seductive allure and devastating depravity that is the city of angels in the hearts and minds of many. the two standout tracks in that regard are the title track "L.A. WOMAN" and "RIDERS ON THE STORM."
the beauty of "L.A. WOMAN" is how JIM MORRISON personifies the city in that of a young female. there has always been this duality about living in LOS ANGELES whereby you are confronted with the end result of the hopes and dreams of people seeking to make it in the entertainment industry are met with the reality of failure. the optimism and delusional thinking of the daytime and the cruel, stark reality of lonely night-time reflection has been a trope utilized since noir films of the 1940s and 1950s to describe LOS ANGELES, and MORRISON does the same here in "L.A. WOMAN" when he asks "are you a lucky little lady in the city of light, Or just another lost angel, city of night." in MORRISON's hands, LOS ANGELES as a woman is fundamentally a false hope as her optimism and future hope leads to "motel money murder madness, Let's change the mood from glad to sadness." for me, that strange duality of hope and delusion, allure and depravity, camaraderie and jealousy is something that is intrinsically LOS ANGELES and very clearly showcased in this song specifically.
"RIDERS ON THE STORM" and its existential tale of a murder in the desert find THE DOORS at their experimental peak in terms of sonic and lyrical exploration. slow and prodding, it feels like a lonely car ride through a desert with a sublime storm on the horizon making one reconsider their life's path with existential dread. is the storm coming to wash away the world or its sins. hard to tell. again for me this song is also very much about LOS ANGELES, especially the experience of driving through the desert towards neighboring NEVADA or ARIZONA where it feels like civilization has been pulled back leaving you with a raw, harsh, almost elemental landscape devoid of people or responsibility, bother personal and moral. driving there is almost like being in a state of moral flux, where the rules dont matter. its a great metaphor for the city itself, which seems to thrive on an OUROBOROS-like ability to auto-cannibalize on itself, eating its inhabitants, spitting them out on its streets as disfigured and degraded versions of themselves. only to be met with new faces on a daily basis. the family murder on the road in "RIDERS ON THE STORM" always felt to me evocative of the then-recent TATE-LABIANCA murders by CHARLES MANSON and his followers, turning the idea of spiritual connection, hope and shared familiar affection on its head. what was beautiful about AMERICAN optimism (perennially evoked in the cultural image of LOS ANGELES) was now baseless physical cruelty and moral degradation. its a great song.
i have long been a fan of those two songs, which make L.A. WOMAN well worth revisiting and checking out again.
i'm just going to come out and say it, this book plays out a bit like a hagiography. NO HERE GETS OUT ALIVE (PLEXUS, 1980) by JERRY HOPKINS (and 10 years later amended by DANIEL SUGARMAN) is the first published biography on JIM MORRISON, the legendary front-man of LOS ANGELES rock icons THE DOORS. this book was based in part on interviews HOPKINS had done with with MORRISON a decade early just prior to the singer's death.
in a way it is to be expected. MORRISON was a shaman-like, slithering poet of a front-man who exemplified all the FREEDOM and excess of the 1960s DRUG CULTURE and the fervent ANTI-MILITARISM of the VIETNAM WAR protests. i suspect to baby boomers at the dawn of the 1980s he was still a beacon of hope for things to come (too bad TRUMP is part of that legacy now, ouch).
what i took from this book at the time i read it, which was way back in high school, was the moment they inhabited. MORRISON was part of a generation that was challenging notions of RACE, MARRIAGE, WAR and PEACE, SEX and were most definitely in the midst of an INTER-GENERATIONAL divide. drugs and birth-control allowed people to expand their consciousness as well as divorce SEX from its procreative responsibilities in a pre-AIDS landscape.
the book goes into great detail about the music scene in LOS ANGELES at the time including most predominantly ARTHUR LEE and his band LOVE, who were the house band at the WHISKY A GO GO when THE DOORS started out. ironically in a book about THE DOORS, it is his descriptions of LEE that really resonated with me since it expanded on that brief cultural moment when racial and artistic lines seemed to blur however temporarily in the arts scene, which mirrored the concurrent CIVIL RIGHTS and ANTI-WAR MOVEMENTS of the period.
the other big takeaway is how these same indulgences are what did MORRISON in eventually, famously passing away in PARIS in requisite mysterious fashion. his death and mystique didn't interest me, but his downfall did. the manner in which he sequestered himself from the band and those who cared about his well being ultimately getting pushed away as drugs and hangers-on took over. if anything this is a big ROCK N ROLL cliche. a cliche that influenced countless musicians since including IGGY POP, JANE'S ADDICTION and (i'd argue) the entire PUNK movement.
read this book with a grain of salt. if anything pay attention to its descriptions of the cultural and political moment THE DOORS inhabited. i am almost certain that their greatness lies in their innate ability to absorb and reflect the light from a burning nation bent on consuming itself ouroboros-style. i wish we had someone today who could artistically relay that today's fractured state of affairs accurately and authentically in real time. where is this generation's JIM MORRISON?