Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Jim Morrison’s wild rock ‘n’ roll revue.
In his 2006 review of The Doors: Perception box set, Pitchfork’s Stuart Berman wrote, “The Doors aren’t so much a band as a phase you go through, rarely to be visited again, like so much of the high-school-notebook poetry that Jim Morrison’s lyrics inspired.” While plenty of critics agree with him (including writers on our staff), most will contend that’s quite an overstated opinion. Or, maybe not.
Truth be told, The Doors have always been a polarizing band, and their success to destruction ratio was about 1:3. They burned bridges at Los Angeles’s Whiskey a Go Go, thanks to their 12-minute Oedipal epic, “The End”; they were banned from The Ed Sullivan Show; they pissed off The Kinks with “Hello, I Love You”; they lost the critics with 1969’s The Soft Parade; they ran into a gamut of legal problems, including Morrison’s notorious Miami arrest in 1969; and, to top it off, they were sensationalized in a biopic from Oliver Stone.
That last part isn’t their fault – especially since the band’s surviving members have all since written it off – but it’s still left quite an indentation on the Los Angeles quartet. Morrison, the late poet and frontman, is forever immortalized as a reckless, abusive alcoholic who stumbled around the west in leather pants, muttering inconsistencies about love, death, and… Indians. Who knows how much of that is true, and does it really matter? It’s a part of his legend. Besides, there are countless anecdotes in Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins’ essential Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive, that support half of the stories portrayed in Stone’s film; in fact, they expand on them in some cases.
Still, Berman’s assessment burns. If the music’s sophomoric and Morrison’s remembered as “a drunken buffoon,” to borrow from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Creem Magazine‘s Lester Bangs via Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, then what’s left to mine here? Well, how about their influence? Iggy Pop loved them, so did Ian Curtis, and you could maybe add Jarvis Cocker to that list, but that might be a stretch. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Morrison’s impact, which Berman addresses in that very same review, and there’s no denying that reckless power they trademarked. However, isn’t reckless the sort of thing a high school student strives for? Perhaps there is truth to Berman’s claim.
Whatever the case, in light of their 40th anniversary and the recent reissue of L.A. Woman, the group’s last album with Morrison, we found a reason to revisit the group. This time, we decided to focus a little harder, because if there’s anything we learned from Kids in the Hall, it’s that “…if you want to be a Doors fan, you can’t just buy any album. It’s scientific.”