Nov 6, 2011
I never call into On Point, but when I heard Greil Marcus on there talking about The Doors, I did.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I dialed, I always got a busy signal.
Fortunately, there’s this thing called the Internet where I can tell my story to the whole wide world. Who knows? Maybe Greil Marcus and Tom Ashbrook will read this along with everybody else! <crosses fingers and closes eyes to make that “I’m wishing really hard” face>
Why was I moved to call in? Because I had a story I wanted to tell and a question I wanted to ask.
My story goes like this:
Basically a basement with a bar—I don’t think there was even a band riser—at the Cathay de Grande you were just standing there with the bands. I saw some amazing and some frightening music there and one night I even saw Ray Manzarek sit in with Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs. John Doe was on bass.
They played “Backdoor Man” and “Roadhouse Blues.” In between, Manzarek teased with the opening run to “Light My Fire.” Top Jimmy was in his prime then and the band—which included blues guitar’s unsung hero, Carlos Guitarlos—rocked these tunes hard.
It was as close as I ever got to seeing The Doors (and it might have even been better!).
My question is this:
A while back I was playing music with some friends and we were just bantering and somehow The Doors came up and my one friend said he hated The Doors. A couple others chimed in saying they pretty much felt the same way. I told them that I had been into The Doors since high school and still dug them.
Having encountered this antipathy elsewhere, I would have asked Greil Marcus why it was some people love The Doors—I could tell he did from the way he mooned over “Crystal Ship”—and some just hate them.
I have my theories, of course.
First of all, there is the pretentiousness. I don’t find The Doors especially pretentious, but can definitely see how others might view Morrison’s poetic aspirations, his references to Nietzsche, Rimbaud, and McLuhan, or even his, at times, drama-class deliver, in that light.
Secondly, the outspoken reverence some harbor for Morrison can be a major turn-off. Add to this misguided appreciation a pretentiousness expressed through outright emulation/aping of his style, and it can be understandably repellent.
I have to cop to falling into precisely this camp. When in high school (and even in college, let’s face it), I wrote pretentious poetry about “feathered serpents” and “Satanic South Dakota” (I believe to this day that I was wait-listed at Amherst College because I included one such poem with my application) and at times displayed a shamanic intensity.
In later years, when I sang in bands, I would often adopt a Morrison-esque oracular croon (another musician called it “fishing for Jim”) and once even performed “Roadhouse Blues” at the House of Blues in Cambridge during a battle of the bands thing.
Still, I hope that no one hates The Doors because of me. Give them another chance!
Finally, I think that people dislike The Doors because, frankly, they’re kind of creepy, even scary. I remember hearing “Riders on the Storm” as a kid and it totally freaked me out. All that “killer on the road” “squirming like a toad” “family will die stuff” got to my young child’s fragile eggshell mind.
See, there’s a weird Manson vibe that stalks LA Woman and an amorphous, nihilistic violence simmering beneath their go-go hippie lounge groove more generally. Take the opening words of “The Crystal Ship,” for example: “Before you slip into unconsciousness…” They could refer to someone falling asleep. Or they could refer to someone being drugged by a serial killer.
In other words, some people don’t like The Doors because they don’t like the feeling of pulling back the sheets and finding a reptile in their bed. Who can blame them?
Such are my theories.
I wonder how Greil Marcus, given his adoration, accounts for the disdain?