The legend of Lizard King

by Claudio Fabretti

The night of 2nd July 1971, Jim Morrison, Doors' leader and great shaman of rock, died. But that was only the beginning of the legend of the band from California... History of a missed cadet who decided to become the "Lizard King" and to pass "the doors of perception"
The night of 2nd July 1971 Jim Morrison came home in his apartment in Paris with his wife Pam, after some time spent on alcohol and cinema. At home, drunk, he faced his last trip: a deadly heroin dose that combined with the alcohol in his body caused a pulmonary edema and a consequent heart failure after a few hours. That's the passing away of the voice and soul of The Doors, one of the most important groups of rock history. Their revolutionary musical season, opened four years before, succeeded in expanding rock music over its own limits, over those "doors of perception" described by the visionary poet William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." The English writer Aldous Huxley, inspired by Blake's quote, titled his essay on mescaline's effects "The Doors of Perception". From here comes Jim Morrison's choice to call the band The Doors.

According to one of the rock tales, the Doors were born on a beach in Venice, California, when Jim Morrison declaimed to Ray Manzarek the verses of a poem he just composed: "Moonlight Drive". Morrison and Manzarek had met at the UCLA School of Cinema. Their common passion was the huge interest for the classics of decadent literature and "poètes maudits" (accursed poets). But the two have different stories. Morrison, originally from Florida, is the son of a Marine high-official, supposed to embrace the same military career. But he's not a simple character, both fragile and charismatic, aimed by an uncommon inclination to poetry and a honest anticonformist attitude. An anxious personality that will make him clash with his family so heavily to make him say to the press he was an "orphan". Manzarek, originally from Chicago, has less charm but more solid musical basis thanks to his classical piano player experience with a peculiar passion for rock and blues. He studied Law for a while, then he dedicated to cinema, making three short films ("Evergreen", "Induction" and "Who I Am And Where I Live"), but he never neglected his passion for blues singing under the pseudonym of Ray Daniels in a little family band, Rick & The Ravens, with his brothers Rick and Jim and the drummer John Densmore.

Jim Morrison joins this formation, recording six demos at the World Pacific Studios. These are the first flashes of dawn for The Doors, that were officially born as a quartet at the end of 1965: with Morrison, Manzarek and Densmore we find the guitarist Robbie Krieger. In America are taking place the golden season of the San Francisco sound under the "Peace and Love" message, it's the hippies, the Jefferson Airplane's and Grateful Dead's acid-blues golden age, but it's also the time of decadent rock of the new yorkers Velvet Underground. Anyhow, The Doors choose another way, different and original from the others.

In 1966, after some rough times in the L.A. clubs (London Fog, Whiskey A Go-Go), they sign with Elektra, the legendary USA label that will promote also bands like Stooges, Television and The Cars. In two weeks Morrison & C. complete the homonymous first album, that is published at the end of January 1967.
The Doors
is one of the most striking debuts and one of the maximum masterpieces in rock history. Visionary, intense, savage, the album is an essay of Morrison's talented poetry, but also of other players' extraordinary skills: Robby Krieger, great composer and guitarist, able to manage tunes from flamenco to bottleneck (a particular guitar technique), Ray Manzarek, keyboard and organ player capable of composing and playing even bass melodic lines, John Desmore, jazz drummer with a perfect empathy for the band's theatrical times and hypnotic rituals.

Doors' musical alchemy fuses blues and psychedelic rock, decadent poetry and theatral attitude, occult rituals and exotic sounds. The stories declaimed by Morrison's wicked baritone voice are a slap in the face for the traditional moral principles. "The End", rock version of the Aesop myth that ends with the famous and multiple-censored verse "Mother, I will fuck you!", it's a lysergic raga of hypnotic fascination (it will become the main theme of the soundtrack of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now"). "Light My Fire", burning blues-rock written by Krieger, shows with pride one of the most famous organ solo of rock history and proposes those explicit sexual allusions that will make Morrison the most famous rock sex-symbol of the 60. The lysergic hymns like "Break On Through" or "The Crystal Ship" are tales of surreal words and worlds far away to be discovered breaking every limit, passing those "doors of perception" that close the human mind. The most intellectual soul of the band arise instead in the freak remake of "Alabama Song" by Kurt Weil and Bertold Brecht, a homage to the European culture of the early '900. "The Doors" jumps at number 2 of USA charts (where will last 121 weeks) and pushes the band up to the limelight of the underground American scene.

Morrison and friends plays at the temples of Californian rock, Fillmore West and Matrix, but did not refuse also some performances for the show-business, as seen in their presence at the Ed Sullivan Show. But it's right in that occasion that Morrison begins his war against the moralistic and conservative American middle-class by ignoring a parent-friendly censored version of "Light My Fire". Concerts make the Doors legend grow. Their exhibitions, that condense all rock esoteric and ritual power, aim to fuse public and players in a symbiosis which is nearly mystic, reaching directly the Universal Mind. Jim Morrison was heard to say: "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.".

On stage they are guided not only by their singer's shaman charm, but by the Muse, too. Morrison, in fact, believes that inspiration is not a product of the human will, but of the maximum adaptability of the artist to "receive" it. The French poet Arthur Rimbaud invoked a "rational upheaval of all senses to reach Unknown". Jim Morrison is following him: "There are things known, there are things unknown, and in between are the Doors".

The visionary and decadent style of their sound is already empowered in the second Doors full-length, Strange Days (October 1967). It's an album that concentrates on the psychedelic aspect, thanks to Manzarek's peculiar organ (used to play the bass lines too) and to Morrison's singing, which is now baritonal, now tender and now angry. It's a trip into America's heart of darkness, into Vietnam tragedy, theme of the hypnotic and fascinating title-track, but also into the alienation of big metropolis. Songs like the struggling "People Are Strange" ("People are strange/ when you're a stranger/ faces look ugly when you're alone") or the desolated "You're Lost Little Girl" (covered in a dark version by Siouxsie) are tragic courses of solitude, of isolation, of metropolitan nervous breakdown. Anyway is not missing the burning blues-rock of "Love Me Two Times" that gives new fuel to Morrison's sex icon, or the lunar ballad of "Moonlight Drive", one of the early works of the band from California.

With the additional help of their singles' commercial success, The Doors reach a good fame (although still far from the one they have today, 30 years after their breaking up). So, in 1968 they leave for the first European tour with Jefferson Airplane. But the next album Waiting For The Sun (1968) partially unsatisfies their fans. The single "Hello I Love You" is too similar to "All Day And All Night" by The Kinks, and the album includes moments of tiredness even with a psychedelic jewel like the spanish-scented "Spanish Caravan". Morrison's poetic soul finds its place inside the disc cover, in the long introspective and metaphoric poem "The Celebration Of The Lizard" that would make forever "the Lizard King" of him. The singer also shows his poetic skills in two collections self-published, "The Lords" and "The New Creatures", wich didn't reach the success he would.

The Doors are moving on the edge now, suspended between their brand new fame and the self-destructive course of their leader, day after day more lost in his excesses and existential thoughts. In this period Morrison lives in a neverending state of psycho physic alteration, caused by alcohol and drug abuse, and doesn't miss a chance to perform his provocations, too often gratuitous and almost never appreciated by the band. To be damaged is the group's creativity and innovation. When in 1969 comes out The Soft Parade, the more commercial intent of the new work is clear, expressed by a single, quite good indeed, like "Touch Me". But the success over the public and over the media gets a heavy strike the 1st March of the same year in Miami: at the acme of a performance become legend, Jim Morrison shows his penis to the audience and immediately gets arrested for obscenity in public. For The Doors is a painful knock-down.

In 1970 comes out Morrison Hotel, album in the end unsatisfying that anyway includes one of the future Doors' classics: "Roadhouse Blues". The same year Elektra publishes Absolutely Live, double live album recorded from summer '69 and the first months of 1970, that takes The Doors back to charts, although the inside break seems now irreparable or even more evident when Morrison refuses to go on tour to consolidate the new commercial success. During those frenetic months the quartet goes back to studios to record L.A. Woman, that seems to show symptoms of recovery. The masterpiece is "Riders On The Storm", struggling epitaph for the end of the album, but also "L'America" (initially wrote for the director Michelangelo Antonioni), "The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)" and the single "Love Her Madly" appear like a rediscovered creative skill. But Jim Morrison crisis is at this point irreversible. In March 1971, with his wife Pamela, the singer moves to Paris, temple of his favourite poets: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine. But just a few weeks later, that tragic 3rd July night: the last, fatal trip through "the doors of perception". Only few days before, Morrison had left his last statement to the press: "For me, 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." Ignored by the family, Jim Morrison is buried in the the famous Paris Graveyard "Père Lachaise", near Wilde, Balzac, Baudelaire, Proust. On his grave, that will become one of the rock pilgrimage places, the words: "James Douglas Morrison, poet, singer, composer".

The other three Doors record two albums between 1971 and 1972, but Morrison's loss reveals their limitations without mercy. The attempts to substitute the singer (even with Iggy Pop) soon totally fail and to the three remains only the old Doors' catalogue and its rich royalities. In 1976 Francis Ford Coppola uses "The End" for his masterpiece "Apocalypse Now", inspired by Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness". In November 1978 "An American Prayer", where Morrison reads his poems over a musical background by the three Doors, is published. But starting from the '80 the Doors legend gets an extraordinary new light, soon joined by the publications of various biographies, anthologies, live albums and videotapes. Jim Morrison is adored by a new young generation in love with his poetry, his music and his charisma. While the groups influenced by The Doors are uncountable, Oliver Stone choose to use the event making the "The Doors", suggestive movie despite very criticized by the fans for being unfaithful to the real story.

The mysterious circumstances of Morrison's death give space to constant suspects, backing out theories and new versions of the facts. That fatal night in Paris has consecrated him to the pantheon of rock burned lives, in company with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, dead just few months before. It was the end of a insane period, made by lysergic dreams, poetry and damnation. It's difficult not to agree with the rock critic Riccardo Bertoncelli, when he writes that "with his sincere but pathetic impetus for an art-truth, with his desire to throw himself as a martyr in the pire of Pure Expression, Jim Morrison ended with killing The Doors and himself, personifying to extreme the inner contradiction of rock: music of joy and liberation that carry also the black clot of chaos and destruction". Anyway the Doors legend is now alive more than ever. Yes, the music is over. But this doesn't seem to be "the end" at all.

(translated by Veronica Rosi)


The legend of Lizard King

by Claudio Fabretti

The night of 2nd July 1971, Jim Morrison, Doors' leader and great shaman of rock, died. But that was only the beginning of the legend of the band from California... History of a missed cadet who decided to become the "Lizard King" and to pass "the doors of perception"
The Doors (Elektra, 1967)


Strange Days (Elektra, 1967)


Waiting For The Sun (Elektra, 1968)


 The Soft Parade (Elektra, 1969)


 Live At The Hollywood Bowl (Elektra, 1969)


 Morrison Hotel (Elektra, 1970)


 Absolutely Live (Elektra, 1970)


 Other Voices (1971)


L.A. Woman (Elektra, 1971)


 Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine (Elektra, 1972)


 Full Circle (Elektra, 1972)


 The Best Of The Doors (anthology, Elektra, 1973)


 American Prayer (Elektra, 1978)


 The Doors Greatest Hits (anthology, Elektra, 1980)


 Alive, She Cried (Elektra, 1983)


 Classics (anthology, Elektra, 1985)


 In Concert (live, Elektra, 1991)


 The Doors (Original Soundtrack, 1991)


 The Bright Midnight Sampler (Bright Midnight, 2001)


 The Doors Live in Detroit (live 2001)


 No One Here Gets Out Alive (2001)


The Best of The Doors (anthology, Elektra, 2000)


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The Doors

(1967 - Elektra)
Il folgorante debutto della band californiana, tra mantra, blues e follia


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