Behind the Doors

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

The mythology surrounding the 1969 appearance by the Doors at Miami's Dinner Key Auditorium is as thick and obscuring as smoke from a magician's flashpot. Historical revisionists like Oliver Stone, who directed The Doors, a 1991 hagiography of the band, have done their best to turn the late Jim Morrison's arrest at the show (for allegedly exposing his flaccid penis to lucky ticket-buyers) into an allegory about the Death of the Sixties. They see the bust as an act of cultural revenge that exemplifies the manner in which defenders of the status quo crushed the youth of the era, setting the stage for the cynicism and disillusionment that would infect the populace following Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War.

By placing "Five to One," a number cut live at the Key Auditorium gig, in the top slot of The Doors Box Set, a four-CD package just issued by Elektra Records, the producers of the project (Bruce Botnick and surviving Doors Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) underscore the importance of the performance and its consequences in group lore. But the song argues against blindly accepting received wisdom about the incident and about the group itself. The recording proves that on the night in question, Morrison was less a thrill-seeking rebel inciting his contemporaries to shuck their inhibitions and preconceptions than a smug, slobbering alcoholic teetering on the brink of incoherence.

"Nobody gonna come up here and love me, huh?" Morrison jabbers at the beginning of the disc, sounding like a three-sheets-to-the-wind Dean Martin upon being rejected by a Golddigger. "All right for you, bay-bay. That's too bad. I'll get somebody else--yeeeeaaaahhhh." He then goes through the motions of singing, barking out his lines--"The old get young/And the young get strong, girrrrrrrl"--with all the finesse of a man trying to flag down a cab on a rainy night in a bad neighborhood. But sticking to the lyrics soon becomes too restrictive for him. He unleashes a ludicrous scream before declaring, "You're all a bunch a fuckin' idiots! Let people tell you what you're gonna do. Let people push you around. How long you gonna let 'em push you around? How long?" After an instant, his booze-addled brain snags onto a passing accusation. "Maybe you like it," he slurs. "Maybe you like bein' pushed around. Maybe you love it. Maybe you love gettin' your face stuck in the shit. Come on. You love it, don't you? You love it. You're all a bunch a slaves." Several downbeat rhymes later, Morrison is off on another tangent: "Now come on, honey. Now you go along home and wait for me, sweetheart. I'll be there in just a little while. You see, I gotta go out in this car with these people and get fuuuuuucccckkked up!" Finally, the tune having fallen apart entirely, he babbles, "I'm not talkin' about no revolution. I'm not talkin' about no demonstration. I'm talkin' about havin' some fun! I'm talkin' about dancin'. I'm talking about love yo' neighbor 'til it hurts...I'm talking about love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, looooooooovvvveee. Grab your fuckin' friend and love him. Come onnnnnnnnn!"

Divorced from context and italics, these words might strike some as boldly rebellious--a hedonist's declaration of independence. (This seems to be the opinion of Michael Ventura, a journalist and screenwriter who quotes liberally from "Five to One" in an essay that appears in this collection's liner notes.) But actually listening to Morrison deliver them leads to another conclusion. Far from calling to mind thoughts of a gorgeous Dionysus, high on the sensual pleasures of life, the singer's turn conjures up the image of a hideous barroom lush who slings his arm around your shoulder and won't let go. He's repellent, grotesque, pathetic--and undeniably memorable. Try as you might, you won't be able to forget him.

Morrison's indelibility is the key to the Doors, and to The Doors Box Set. Three of the four platters on hand contain material that has never received an authorized release; discs one and three are dominated by demos, alternate studio takes and random concert curios, and disc two captures the Doors live at Madison Square Garden in 1970. (As for disc four, it consists of previously issued "band favorites" chosen by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore.) The accent on tales from the record-company crypt means that the opus will be of more interest to listeners already familiar with the Doors than to novices eager to discover why Morrison, a guy who's been in the ground for nearly thirty years, continues to inspire devotion. But even neophytes are apt to be intrigued by the various Morrisons on display. The narcissistic crooner, the self-pitying faux bard and the bad little boy so desperate to offend propriety that he'd even split the sheets with his mom all make appearances, provoking laughter as often as they inspire awe. And whether or not Doors cultists want to admit it, both of these reactions are appropriate.

Chronology isn't terribly important here. It's not uncommon for five years to separate one cut from another, which is unfortunate, since the Doors moved through several distinct periods that evolved logically. Particularly bothersome is the scattering of songs culled from the act's first demo, made at World Pacific Studios in 1965, shortly after Morrison and Manzarek discovered each other on a Southern California beach. (At the time, both were enrolled at the UCLA Graduate School of Film, where Morrison's original student film remains archived to this day, to the vast amusement of those who followed him to the institution.) These ditties, which feature an unknown bassist and Manzarek's brothers, Rick and Jim, who played with Ray in a blues combo called Rick and the Ravens, are, in many ways, standard garage-band material: That's particularly true of "My Eyes Have Seen You" (disc one), which could pass for a B-side by the Seeds, "Go Insane" (disc three), a near-novelty that finds an incredibly histrionic Morrison aping Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and "Hello, I Love You" (disc three), so jaunty and innocent that you can imagine it being played at a high-school hop. But even at this early juncture, Morrison's pretenses were beginning to surface. "Summer's Almost Gone" (disc three) is a bluesy, piano-driven composition that is reminiscent of late-Fifties Ray Charles, but Morrison's uniquely suburban, thoroughly Caucasian flair for melodrama is already in evidence. These characteristics are even more conspicuous on "End of the Night" (disc one), whose lyrics are liberally peppered with phrases lifted from the writings of William Blake, and "Moonlight Drive," which is based on a Morrison poem the vocalist read to Manzarek when they met.

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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