This is the inauguration of what will become a regular weekly column on iRoM: “On Second Thought.” The intention is to call into question certain sacred cows in the history of popular music, separating the myth from the reality and debunking the accepted wisdom. We encourage readers to respond.
by Dave Gebroe
“Break on through to the other side.” Track one, side one, album one. A band’s statement of intent. There it is, clear as day.
And it’s all downhill from there.
In case you’re in desperate need of a helping hand in stamping out the floating embers of lemming-mindedness foisted on the classic rock populace, please allow me: The Doors were a mediocre cocktail jazz outfit fronted by a shirtless magalomaniac capable of a level of lyrical insight no more profound than your standard high school poetry of the misunderstood. If Jim Morrison, the narcissistic clown who fronted this band, hadn’t found his way into the Doors, he inevitably would have stumbled half-drunk into founding a church that promised salvation to his female followers if they bathed 24/7 in pools of his semen.
Morrison thought he was leading a new generation of spiritual seekers into the promised land of self-knowledge by guiding them through prolonged states of Dionysian abandonment, but the real legacy of his work isn’t even his music. It’s not his poetry or “philosophy.”
It’s that goddamned iconic poster. You know the one — arms outstretched, oozing with dead-eyed pomposity. This execrable cornerstone of the head shop industry has adorned many a high school student’s bedroom wall, serving as a reminder to act like a defiant prick whenever the opportunity arose and to redefine substance abuse as a “life pursuit.”
If you already own the poster, there’s no real reason to bother with the records. With a band like the Doors, the music is pure afterthought. “Light My Fire” is like listening to a Bowery bum launch into a long-winded seduction attempt without a clue as to how to close the deal. In fact, with its air of “journeying into the unknown,” the Doors’ debut is littered with boneheaded, below-average dive bar pickup lines. It reminds me of the time I approached a dewy-eyed hippie chick doing the blooming-flower dance in the drum circle and got a slap in the face when I invited her to “ride the snake to the lake.” My only saving grace is that I didn’t utilize a quote from “Back Door Man.”
I do begrudgingly admit that there are a couple of songs that don’t sound like a bar mitzvah cover band winding down the night at a Holiday Inn. “The Crystal Ship” and “End of the Night” are sparkling works of narcoleptic beauty, low-key and graceful in ways the Doors were never to know again. It’s only here that the band truly fulfills any potential that people seem to feel they may have had.
But then there’s “The End.” Take a face from an ancient gallery and let’s walk on down the hall, shall we? The same people who find these lyrics profound stand staunch in their belief that Roger Waters’ toddler-level simplification of pig/dog/sheep personality classifications on Pink Floyd’s “Animals” is the master class of psychological evaluation. Although utilized in an undeniably powerful way in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” freed of its context from the shackle-busting sixties this laborious, droopy-lidded, self-consciously epic psychodrama feels very considered in an “Oh, my stars! Did he really say that?” way. Kill your dad, do your mom and ride Jim’s trouser snake to the west. Because, well…it’s the best. Sure, the moral of this particular story doesn’t quite pack a Seuss-level life lesson, but there is admittedly plenty to take away especially if you’re a misanthrope, or at least stoned enough to get into a misanthropic mind frame for eleven minutes and forty-two seconds. Thus does the mother of all pretentious epics close the mother of all pretentious, ham-fisted debut records.
“The Doors” is consistently ranked as one of the best albums of all time. This has always been a mystery to me. Rolling Stone, asphyxiating on the dusty saliva of the past, ranked it at 42 in their exalted “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Objectively, this is simply incorrect, an opinion born of unquestioned, blind acceptance. As the mold continues to set on this notion and far more talented bands from that time and place — not just seminal, but talented — are relegated to mere footnotes, the concept of what’s fair and unfair in popular culture is brought into play in a big way.
In stark contrast to most other Los Angeles bands of that time, there wasn’t a shred of connective aspiration to be found in Morrison’s approach. He sang like the audience was lucky to be there. Unlike, say, Arthur Lee — a tripped-out head case, to be sure, but a head case with more talent in his little pinkie than all four Doors on a night when they were cooking. And along with that talent came a desire to actully communicate with his audience. When all is said and done, now that the remnants of broken barriers have been washed away in the mists of time, what’s left of the seminal permissiveness of the Doors’ oeuvre is an indecently exposed wiener — a wiener that, in all probablility, suffered from alcohol-induced shrinkage on that fateful night.
Jim Morrison wound up breaking through to the other side, all right. Unfortunately, all he found waiting for him was a bloated parody of himself. There were no blue buses, nor were there any lake snakes, and, frankly, the only weird scene inside the gold mine is that people gave a good goddamn about this record.
While not objectively spot-on in his assessment of rock history, Dave Gebroe can be found diligently toiling away in a multi-faceted, auteur-like capacity in his effort to change the face of the modern-day horror film. (See http://www.zombiehoneymoon.com for more details). He also loves lists, proof of which can be found at http://top101albumsof2008.wordpress.com/2008/12/09/3/