If you're like me, you were forced to read “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad in high school literature class. If you're really like me, you found it grimly intriguing despite being forced to read it. If you're exactly like me, you went on to watch “Apocalypse Now” a number of years later after shooting a bunch of cans in the back yard of a house outside London with an air pistol while smoking Cuban cigars lit by a souvenir Chairman Mao lighter that played “Star of the Orient” every time you opened it. But if anyone out there is that much like me, that would be even creepier than the story.
“Heart of Darkness” is about an English sailor who goes up-river in Africa to bring back a mad genius named Kurtz, who has turned himself into a jungle warlord complete with an army of devoted natives and a fence of severed heads.
“Apocalypse Now” is about an American soldier who goes up-river in Vietnam to assassinate a mad Special Forces colonel named Kurtz, who also has an army of devoted natives and is also really into severed heads. So as you can see, it's pretty much the same story.
One difference with the original book is the soundtrack, which features the epic Doors song “The End” during the assassination scene. The whole thing is undeniably improved by the addition of some Cuban cigars, an air pistol and a bottle of bourbon, but it's still pretty entertaining the way it is.
The Doors are often most remembered for the songs they should probably be least remembered for, and for the simple reason that those songs are the most accessible. Songs like “Hello, I Love You” and “Light My Fire” are far from being their most interesting work either musically or lyrically. They are basically darker interpretations of the popular genre of empty-headed 60s love songs.
Still, those are the Doors' “pop hits.” They got the most air-play back then on rock radio, and they still get the most airplay now on oldies radio. If you listen to either of them, they're pretty silly. The lyrics are far less poetic and nuanced than songs like “Crystal Ship” or “LA Woman.” In fact, they almost verge on being parodies of the genre- how moronic would you have to be to tell a girl you loved her without even knowing her name?
Still, they do have an underlying emotional energy of dark, menacing sexuality, a seductive Dionysian force that is unique to the Doors. And that's why they still work as effective pop songs, despite being much less than the fullest expression of what the Doors had to offer. Both songs can usually be found on any Doors compilation album, and I'm not really sure I'd purge them from the list. If these are the Doors' pop songs, they act to balance out the more avant garde and occasionally pretentious pieces in the Doors canon.
I just wish the folks who put together radio play-lists would open their minds a little, and realize there are a lot of Doors songs they could choose to play- not just these two.
X was one of the more well-behaved of the early Los Angeles punk bands. On the documentary “Decline of Western Civilization,” you can even see them talking about how clubs like to book them because they don't cause trouble, unlike the other LA punk bands. They were also a little bit more musically polished, with the ability to produce a scorching guitar solo that most punk bands simply didn't have (or even approve of, for that matter).
Their album “Los Angeles” was produced by former Doors member Ray Manzarek, and it includes this cover of the Doors' “Soul Kitchen.” Like a lot of punk-rock covers, you could argue that it gets a little too fast in some parts for the feeling of the original song. When doing a punk-rock interpretation of a song in another style, it's hard to capture the emotion implicit in the lyrics instead of just giving it a generic punk sound.
On the other hand, X's version of “Soul Kitchen” is fast, furious and fun, and I've enjoyed it every time I've heard it. That's a lot more than I can say for a lot of cover songs. Marilyn Manson, for example, seems to have the mystical ability to flatten out any song ever written into his cramped little range of emotional expression, so that Pink Floyd and the Eurythmics come out of the meat-grinder sounding exactly the same. Even though I wouldn't call this X cover of “Soul Kitchen” perfect, it does manage to take the original, twist it a little, and come out with something interesting in its own right.
Was Jim Morrison a poet? He certainly wanted to be seen that way, but does his work really deserve the name of poetry? That's a complicated question, because it raises the issue of whether song lyrics are poetry in the first place.
There are poetic traditions, usually oral traditions, in which poetry is always combined with music and never separate from it. Gaelic poetry, for instance, was written this way until the twentieth century, and sometimes still is. That isn't really the same thing as rock lyrics, though, because in poetic song traditions the melody is seen as a carrier for the words, a memory aid more than anything else. The music in these traditions is never seen as being equally important with the words and is never allowed to overpower the words. It is usually seen as being very untraditional to have more than the simplest instrumentation as an ornament to the song. A “good singer” is someone who sings the words clearly so they can be easily heard, and who expresses the emotions in the song- not someone with a powerful or note-perfect voice, and not someone who can deliver a charismatic performance.
Rock music is almost the complete opposite of this. The music is usually seen as being more important than the words, to the extent that it may not be easy to even hear the words. The singer's charisma and personality are on display- and never more so than with the Doors. So, while rock lyrics can sometimes be poetic, rock music is not a poetic song tradition. The lyrics are almost an after-thought in rock.
If rock music is different from poetic song traditions, then any assessment of Jim Morrison as a poet must depend on his words alone, without the benefit of his performance or the music. In other words, what would you think about Jim Morrison's work if you just saw the words in a book? Opinions on that question have been very mixed.
When I referred to the song as being by Echo and the Bunnymen, a coworker informed me (with some condescension!) that it was actually by the Doors. I picked up a Doors album at the mall the next chance I got, and they immediately became my favorite band.
Listening to the Echo and the Bunnymen version again after all these years, I think it still holds up as a good take on the song. The extended instrumental interlude is reminiscent of the Doors without being a slavish copy, and some of the variations on the original are musically interesting. A good cover doesn't just copy the original note for note, but nor does it make a mockery of what the original artist was trying to do. The Bunnymen walk that fine line in this version, and they do it successfully. Echo can't really walk any fine lines, because Echo is just the drum machine- but it does a good job too!
The Doors took their name from a book by Aldous Huxley called “The Doors of Perception,” by he took his title from an older and much stranger work, the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” by William Blake. Here's the phrase in its original context:
“For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt... This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment... But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid... If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite... For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
As bizarre and incomprehensible as this might seem, it can actually be readily understood in the context of the underground traditions of mysticism and internal alchemy. What Blake is saying is that the teachings of organized religion have placed a barrier between humanity and the holiness of the world, preventing us from seeing the world as it truly is. This is essentially a Gnostic concept. According to Blake, when people learn to reject the traditional opposition of body and spirit, and begin to enjoy sensual pleasure rather than rejecting it as sinful, the barriers set up by religious tradition will fall away. The “infinite,” as Blake calls it, is always present, but the barriers to perceiving the infinite have to be burnt away as if with a corrosive acid before we can see the truth.
In other words, Blake saw sexuality and the rejection of conventional restrictions on its free expression as a key he could use to “break on through to the other side.” The Doors could not have chosen a more appropriate name!
It’s not a secret that I love The Doors. I’m probably not the biggest fan out there, but I have enjoyed all of the music and like to think that I know quite a bit beyond the standard trivia. I did watch a great documentary the other day on Netflix that I hadn’t seen before. While it didn’t offer anything that I didn’t already know, the film was put together in a fantastic way.
“When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors” was put together by Tom DiCillo. The narration by Johnny Depp adds to the films mystique, and the use of live footage from concerts and interviews brings the viewer’s right into the life and time of The Doors.
The film was originally released for several film festivals, to high acclaim, in 2009. It did play in theaters across the world, but in limited release. After the success at the various film festivals the film was released on DVD to the general public. It’s now available on Netflix through instant watch.
Even though the film didn’t give me any new information, it was riveting and fascinating to watch. Being able to see the group begin, transform, and slowly fall apart through the eyes of the media and actual footage was amazing. It’s more than just a documentary. It’s fair to call this film a tribute.
If you’re a die-hard fan, or just enjoy learning about the history of some of the most influential groups in music this film is going to be enjoyable.
Just when I think I’ve heard every possible rendition of any Doors song, I stumbled on this. While at first I didn’t really care for it, the second and third time I listened to it I realized how amazing it really was.
The Doors were only together and performing for just under 5 years. They disbanded more than 35 years ago. And yet, here’s a tribute video that shows just how far-reaching their influence has been. I’m willing to bet that the group that created this isn’t even die-hard Doors fans. The influence that Morrison had on the world of music has reached out to tickle musicians from all walks of life. The impact can be heard in modern rock groups like Stone Temple Pilots to artists like Nick Cave and everything in between. I’ve heard the influences in modern country music, jazz and even hip-hop.
So exactly what was it about The Doors that created this global impact on music that has survived almost four decades? It’s hard to know for sure. Many people connect with the tenacious compositions of the songs that somehow managed to melt rock, blues and pop into a single song. For others the poetic lyricism that Morrison possessed is the real draw. And I’m sure for a lot of people the ‘anti-machine’ lifestyle and in your face antics that Morrison was famous for created a pull.
Whatever the reason, the music world has been forever changed. And even though The Doors were before my time, I can appreciate the contribution they made when I listen to them today. Especially when I hear fantastic, outside the box compositions like this one.