I was casting around for a significant anniversary to write about when I found mention that this Fourth of July weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s mysterious and shabbily-documented death in Paris. I wasn’t listening to a lot of Doors when I was in junior high, but Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had died within that same calendar year so I remember Morrison’s passing mostly because it completed that trinity of rock n’ roll tragedies.
I better remember Morrison’s “resurrection” about ten years later. The Doors’ song, The End, had been featured in several of the scenes in the movie Apocalypse Now. Coppola used the eerie song to build to a hypnotic and frenzied climax as Colonel Kurtz was killed by President Bartlet (well, Martin Sheen) and again later, during the credits, when the Colonel’s jungle empire was napalmed. To a new generation of listeners for whom the truncated AM radio version of Light My Fire was the Doors, this music was fresh and seductive, qualities once again personified by the late Jim Morrison. Rolling Stone magazine ran a cover of Morrison declaring, accurately, “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead”. Jim Morrison, already gone for a decade, was a sensation all over again and possibly more popular than he’d ever been when the Doors were touring and releasing records. Better yet, he was by then incapable of the kind of antics that could jeopardize this second coming as they had the band’s first.
In 1981 the Doors were everywhere. During a trip to Wildwood, NJ my friends and I gravitated to a bar where a Doors cover band was playing. Doors shirts, hats and posters filled the boardwalk stores. In one of these a chatty salesperson quizzed my friend Dave and me about whether we thought Jim Morrison was still alive and living incognito in Africa. Our response was kind of noncommittal, but our new friend declared “If anyone could pull this off it’d be Morrison!” An English professor we knew even overheard one of his freshman comp students claim that, when the Doors next toured Pittsburgh, he’d definitely be there! That was a sure sign that at least some of the Doors new-found fans didn’t truly understand the mania of which they were a part.
The Doors frenzy eventually died down and now it’s been forty years since Jim Morrison, and by extension the Doors, disappeared. I remain a fan but I still wonder how good Jim Morrison really was. He fancied himself a poet but, if what he wrote wasn’t good poetry, it often made for lyrics that were a cut above those of most songs. If he wasn’t a great singer his vocals still rumbled with passion and a touch of menace. Morrison’s dissolute lifestyle aside, at least his legacy is one of flaming out suddenly…no showing up on late night television, shilling for the latest Time Life collection of Sixties music. (I’m looking at you, Tommy James!) Still, his notoriety tends to unfairly diminish the accomplishments of the band. Loving the Doors’ music is like loving the movie Platoon; it’s really great and maybe even a classic but you still feel like you need to apologize for Charlie Sheen. Even 40 years later.
The following are among the Doors items available through your DeKalb County Library System:
- The Doors by The Doors with Ben Fong-Torres
- Riders on the Storm a memoir by drummer John Densmore
- The Poet in Exile a novel by keyboardist Ray Manzarek
Many of the Doors recordings are also available. Visit your local branch to find out more.