Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Fishing for Jim

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:

In the early 80’s I used to go to a club called the Cathay de Grande which was behind the Hollywood Palladium. I went with my girlfriend, Flannery.

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 PigsJohn 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?


Category: Music

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12 Responses

  1. I believe everything you’ve said here except the “Flannery” part.

  2. admin says:

    That made me laugh out loud!

    But, as it turns out, my girlfriend at the time was Flannery. She had the most sophisticated sense of pop culture I’ve ever had the joy (and pain) to be around.

  3. Clara says:

    Dang it, Admin, where’s the like button for Andrew Shields?

  4. Clara says:

    I also saw Top Jimmy with Carlos Guitarlos, John Doe, Ray Manzarek, etc. ’round that time, but not somewhere as uber-cool as Cathay de Grande. I’m embarrassed to say, I think it was the Palace. (Or maybe Top Jimmy should take the embarrassment on that one…not sure.)

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment, Clara (and I’ll work on that “like” button for comments!) Don’t be embarrassed about the Palace. I saw Ornette Coleman there!

  6. Eric Cornell says:

    I remember meeting her at an X concert at the I-Beam: Flannery Plaid, I think it was.

  7. admin says:

    Good memory, Eric – Though I want to say that that show was at the Kabuki and, of course, Flannery’s last name is not “Plaid.”

  8. Eric Cornell says:

    Schnah-pzssht! That was the sound of a synapse sparking that has lain dormant for some 28 years: “Kabuki”. Yes. Billy Zoom with frozen shit-eating grin but blistering licks. But I’ve no corresponding memory of, say, the exterior of the club. The interior was bigger than your average venue. Was it up on Geary St. in San Francisco, or I am just fabricating that memory because that’s where Japan Town was?

  9. admin says:

    I believe it was up off Geary. It’s closed now. That X show was probably the best I saw. They were on fire and John Doe looked like a beatnik shaman.

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  11. It was always good when Ray would play with us. One night on Sunset blvd it was:
    KEYBOARDS Ray Manzarek~Gene Taylor
    DRUMMERS Bill Bateman~DJBonebreak
    BASSISTS John Doe~John Bazz~Gil T
    GUITARS Billy Zoom~Dave Alvin~Phil Alvin~Carlos Guitarlos(me)
    HORNS Bruce Fowler~Spyder Mittleman~Lee Allen~Steve Berlin
    This show was taped by Barry Mc Bride (of the Plugs ,on cassette !)
    I must have this show packed awaysomewhere. The club had giant 10 foot METAL ROACHES ON THE OUTSIDE WALLS !!! It was a FULL sound. T.J.R.I.P.

  12. admin says:

    Wow. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Carlos. I saw you and Top Jimmy a bunch of times back in ’81/’81. You played great!