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Behind the Doors

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.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts