Behind the Doors

A new box set reveals Jim Morrison with his pants down.

A second "Moonlight Drive"--caught on tape in 1966 after Densmore and Krieger, who had been in a band called the Psychedelic Rangers, came aboard--represents a flowering of the Doors' trademark sound. Krieger's guitar has an edge that's bluesy but quirky (his bottleneck playing focuses on high-pitched whoops), while Manzarek's formal, almost baroque arrangement brims with irony that's hard to miss--although apparently everyone in the group did just that. The contrast between these elements is a bit goofy, but it's also what has prevented the Doors' oeuvre from dating as badly as the work churned out by so many of their contemporaries. Odds are good that their postmodernism was accidental, but it's there nonetheless.

So, too, is Morrison's self-indulgence, especially on the live offerings. Disc three contains a snippet from a 1970 show at Boston Gardens where Morrison declared, "Adolph Hitler is still alive--I slept with her last night. Come out from behind that false mustache, Adolph. I know you're in there." No doubt Morrison meant this as a joke, but the misogyny and mean-spiritedness at its heart is pure Andrew "Dice" Clay. A similar egotism saturates disc two, whose lineup largely duplicates 1970's Absolutely Live. On "Roadhouse Blues" and "Peace Frog," arguably the single most underrated song in the Doors library, Morrison and company work together as a team and come up with music that's weighty, powerful and propulsive. But just when the momentum is building, it comes to a screeching halt with a lengthy ramble through "The Celebration of the Lizard," which Morrison introduces like the new-age huckster he could be. ("This is a little tour de force that we've only done a couple times in front of strangers, and it starts off kinda quiet," he says. "So if everybody would just kinda relax, take a few deep breaths, think about your eventual end and what's gonna happen tonight, we'll try and do somethin' good to your head.") In all probability, most of the people at the Garden that evening had to fight the sneaking suspicion that this suite was about as deep as a thimble; today it's painfully clear.

Then again, disc two's version of "The End," complete with Morrison shouting "Bring out your dead!" like an extra in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is notably forceful despite its overt dopiness--or perhaps because of it. For all his poetic posturing, Morrison was actually a vulgarian who achieved most of his effects via coarseness, not delicacy. But rock and roll was never meant to be polite. Morrison's booming baritone and overarching vanity were frequently preposterous, but without these attributes, his words would have been forgotten a long time ago.

The booklet that accompanies The Doors Box Set is an exercise in spin control; in addition to Ventura's discourse, it contains "The Doors and What They Did to Me--A 30-Year Perspective," a disposable bit from author Tom Robbins, as well as track-by-track comments from Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger that attempt to maintain the Doors' iconic status. The most annoying example of the latter can be found in the section devoted to "Five to One." Manzarek answers the question "Did Jim expose himself?" by pointing out that no photo of "his substantial member" was taken at the 1969 Miami concert, while Densmore writes, "Jim did not expose himself at Miami...'cause if he had, he would have tripped."

But as The Doors Box Set demonstrates, what's important is not whether Morrison had a big dick, but that he was a big dick. And God bless him, he was.

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