Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Mar 3, 2005 17:04:54 GMT
"Though the favorites of the gods die young, they also live eternally in the company of gods."
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
The Doors were somewhat of an anomaly in the rock pantheon. In their heyday they weren't folk or jazz and while some rock critics called their music "acid rock" they weren't part of the peace-and-love Airplane-Dead-Quicksilver acid-rock sound of San Francisco. They had nothing in common with the English invasion, or even pop music in general though they generated three Number 1 hit singles, and while New York City was good to the Doors-almost to the point of adopting them as their own-they were still a league apart from the Velvet Underground, despite a mutual affinity for dark and somber themes. They weren't even part of the folk-rock scene which dominated Los Angeles in those days, in the music of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the like. Even among the hierarchy that includes Elvis, Joplin, and Hendrix, they were a world unto themselves. " A strange and haunting world," as Jim himself once said, "suggestive of a new and wild west."
To get the best view of Jim Morrison you must go through the Doors and the most important thing to remember about the Doors is that they were a band and each individual formed a side of the diamond that was the whole. One night, on the road, just before the concert was to begin, a disc jockey climbed on the stage to introduce the act: "Ladies and gentlemen, " he announced to the audience, "please welcome Jim Morrison and the Doors!" There was the customary applause. As the DJ walked down the stairs leading from the stage, Jim pulled him aside and said, "Uh-uh, man, you go back up there and introduce us right." The DJ panicked. "What did I say? What did I do? " "It's The Doors, " Jim said, "the name of the band is The Doors."
Here was a band whose unexpressed goal was nothing short of musical alchemy-they intended to wed rock music unlike any ever heard before with poetry and that hybrid with theater and drama. They aimed to unite performer and audience by plugging directly into the Universal Mind. They would settle for nothing less. For them that meant risk, no gimmicks, nothing up their sleeves, no elaborate staging or special effects-only naked, dangerous reality, piercing the veil of maya with the music's ability to awaken man's own dormant and eternal powers.
The Doors constantly courted their muse-that is to say, Morrison courted his muse, and the band followed; the band stayed with him. Jim believed one cannot simply will the muse; the writer or artist's power lies in his ability to receive, as well as invent, and it was the artist's duty to do everything possible to increase his powers of reception. To achieve this end the nineteenth-century poet Arthur Rimbaud had advocated a systematic "rational derangement of all the senses." Why? "To achieve the unknown." How? Any way possible.
Jim's fondness, and search, for the unknown is well documented in the following pages. "There are things known," Jim would say in a quote often attributed to William Blake but in fact Jim's own, "and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors." But Blake did say, in his first Proverb of Hell, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." And the next line down, "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity." It needn't be added that Jim did not court the maid and courted capacity whenever he could. Jim drank and yelled and pleaded, cajoled and danced in inspiration to unite the band, to ignite the audience, to set the night on fire, once and for all, forever.
Sadly, it was Jim's commitment to this standard, set so early in his professional career, that finally did in both the man and the band. Jim Morrison was a man who would not, could not, and refused to compromise himself or his art. And herein lay his innocence and purity-his summary blessing and curse. To go all the way or die trying. All or nothing. The ecstatic risk. Because he would not manufacture or cheapen what he wrote, he could not fake despair or pretend ecstasy. He would not merely entertain, or go through the motions; he was brilliant and desperate, he was driven by an unrelenting need to "test the bounds of reality," to probe the sacred, explore the profane. And it made him mad...mad to create, mad to be real. And these qualities made him volatile, dangerous and conflicted. He sought consolation and solace in the same elements that had initially inspired him and helped him to create: intoxicants.
Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Mar 3, 2005 17:05:23 GMT
The French Surrealist Antonin Artaud's theories regarding confrontation, as expounded in his thesis The Theater and Its Double, were a significant influence on Jim and the group. In one of the book's most powerful essays, Artaud draws a parallel between the plague and theatrical action, maintaining that dramatic activity must be able to effect a catharsis in the spectator in the same way that the plague purified mankind. The goal? "So they will be terrified and awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are already dead."
Jim would, in time, scream "Wake Up!" a thousand times, a thousand nights, in an effort to shake the audience out of their unconsciousness. I can still remember the first Doors concert I went to, scared to the very depth of my thirteen-year-old soul, thinking: This guy is dangerous. Someone's gonna get hurt, probably him. Or me. Or all of us. No one here gets out alive, he sang in the song "Five To One" and when you confront that sort of fear-or the unholy terror a song like "The End" can engender-something inside you shifts. Confronting the end, eternity blinks. That concert changed my life. I knew: it doesn't get any better or more real, than this. Today, more than twenty years later I still feel the same way. I still don't know exactly what happened to me that night back in 1967. But I know it was transcendent. Jim Morrison changed my life. He changed Jerry Hopkins's life. He had power, he worked magic, Mr. Mojo Risin'.
"Mystery festivals should be unforgettable events, casting their shadows over the whole of one's future life, creating experiences that transform existence," Aristotle wrote. Doors concerts-Jim's performances, when successful, accomplished such a transformation. Plutarch attempted to describe the process of dying in terms of a similar initiation: "Wandering astray, down frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then immediately before the end of all terrible things, panic and amazement." There are magical sounds and dances and sacred words passed, and then "the initiate, set free and loose from all bondage, walks about, celebrating the festival with other sacred and pure people and he looks down on the uninitiated..."
Which comes damn close to describing the Doors at the peak of their powers: Riding the snake, the serpent, ancient and archetypal, strange yet disturbingly familiar, powerfully evocative, sensuous and evil, strong, forbidding. When Morrison intoned, "The killer awoke before dawn and put his boots on/he took a face from the ancient gallery/and he walked on down the hall," we were walking down that hall with him, in dread, paralyzed, powerless to stop, as the music wove a web of hysteria around us, wrapping us ever tighter in its web, Morrison enacting the tragedy, the patricide, the horror, unspeakable torment. WE SAW IT, WE FELT IT, we were there. We were hypnotized. Reality opened up its gaping maw and swallowed us whole as we tumbled into another dimension. And Morrison was the only guide: "And I'm right here, I'm going too, release control, we're breaking through..." And then we did.
"Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain." It wasn't merely a line in a verse. It was an epitaph for the moment, a photograph of the collective unconscious. The symbols were timeless and the words contained stored-up images and energies thousands of years old, now resurrected. Early in the group's career, Jim tried to explain some of this to a journalist: "A Doors concert is a public meeting called by us for a special dramatic discussion. When we perform, we're participating in the creation of a world and we celebrate that with the crowd." A few days before he flew to Paris, to his death, Jim gave to me what would be his last statement to the press: "For me, it was never really an act, those so-called performances. It was a life-and-death thing; an attempt to communicate, to involve many people in a private world of thought."
It was the mid-to-late 1960s and bands were singing of love and peace and acid was passed out, but with the Doors it was different. The emerald green night world of Pan, god of music and panic, was never more resplendent than in the Doors' music: the breathless gallop in "Not to Touch the Earth," the incipient horror of "Celebration of the Lizard," the oedipal nightmare of "The End," the cacophonous torment of "Horse Latitudes," and the dark, uneasy undertones of "Can't See Your Face in My Mind," the weary impending doom of "Hyacinth House," the alluring loss of consciousness found in "Crystal Ship."
When the music was over, there was a stillness, a serenity, a connection with life and a confirmation of existence. In showing us Hell, the Doors took us to Heaven. In evoking death, they made us feel alive. By confronting us with horror, we were freed to celebrate with them joy. By confirming our sense of hopelessness and sorrow they led us to freedom. Or at least they tried.
An account of initiation into the mysteries of the goddess Isis survives in only one in-person account, an ancient text that translated reads: "I approached the frontier of death, I saw the threshold of Persephone, I journeyed through all the elements and came back, I saw at midnight the sun, sparkling in white light, I came close to the gods of the upper and the netherworld and adored them near at hand. "
This all happened at night. With music and dance and performance. The concert as ritual, as initiation. The spell cast. Extraordinary elements were loosed that have resided in the ether for hundreds of thousands of years, dormant within us all, requiring only an awakening.
Of course, psychedelic drugs as well as alcohol could encourage the unfolding of events. A Greek musicologist gives his description of a Bacchic initiation as catharsis: "This is the purpose of Bacchic initiation, that the depressive anxiety of people, produced by their state of life, or some misfortune, be cleared away through melodies and dances of the ritual."
There is a strange tantalizing fascination evoked by fragments of ancient pagan mysteries: the darkness and the light, the agony and the ecstasy, the sacrifice and bliss, the wine and the ear of grain (hallucinogenic fungi). For the ancients it was enough to know there were doors to a secret dimension that might open for those who earnestly sought them. Such hopes and needs have not gone away with time. Jim Morrison knew this. Morrison was the first rock star I know of to speak of the mythic implications and archetypal powers of rock 'n' roll, about the ritualistic properties of the rock concert. For doing so, the press called him a pretentious asshole: "Don't take yourself so seriously, Morrison, it's just rock 'n' roll and you're just a rock singer."
Jim knew they were wrong, but he didn't argue. He also knew when the critics insulted him they demeaned his audience. Jim knew that music is magic, performance is worship, and he knew rhythm can set you free. Jim was too aware of the historical relevance of rhythm and music in ritual for those transforming Doors concerts to have been accidental.
From his favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jim took solace and encouragement in the admonition to "say yes to life." I never believed that Jim was on a death trip as so many have claimed, and to this day still find it difficult to judge the way he chose to live and die. Jim chose intensity over longevity, to be, as Nietzsche said, "one who does not negate," who does not say no, who dares to create himself.
Jim also must have been braced to read the following Nietzsche quote: "Saying yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems; the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types-this is what I call Dionysian, that is what I understood as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous effect by its vehement discharge, but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity. "It was Jim's insatiable thirst for life that killed him, not any love of death.
. . . Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Poe, Blake, Artaud, Cocteau, Nijinsky, Byron, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Jack Kerouac, the ones who felt life too intensely to bear living it . . . the mad ones, the doomed ones, the writers, poets, and painters, the artists stubbornly resistant to authority and insistent on being loyal to their true nature, at any cost-this was the lineage with whom Jim most passionately identified, and it was to their standard he aspired. To be a poet, to be an artist, meant more than writing or painting or singing; it meant having a vision and the courage to see that vision through, despite any opposition. What didn't kill you made you stronger, and if you had what it took, you were rare and wondrous, and if you didn't, it couldn't be faked.
Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Mar 3, 2005 17:06:11 GMT
When Jim was asked by a fan mag how he prepared for stardom he answered, "I stopped getting haircuts." What he didn't say was, "and started dropping acid." Like so many many others, Jim took drugs to expand his consciousness, to gain entry into worlds otherwise locked and sealed off. Aware of a shaman's relationship to his inner-world via peyote, and Castaneda's experiences with Don Juan, Jim ingested psychedelics. Like Coleridge and the opium eaters, he was held spellbound by the artificial paradise, the hypnagogic architecture, the milky seas and starless nights. As with Huxley, Jim marveled before the splendiferous geometry and ancient secrets trembling on the verge of revelation. And like the romantic poets, he reveled in the altering of his senses with anything available-wine, hash, whiskey. If absinthe had been around during his lifetime, Morrison would have been an absinthe drinker.
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote what Jim already knew: "Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes." And when the visions no longer pleased or surprised him, when intoxication no longer provided him with the expansive awareness he sought, as Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, became Bacchus, the representative for drunkenness, Jim turned more and more to alcohol to numb the pain and to revel in unconsciousness. At first he drank for the pure joy of it. "I enjoy drinking," he admitted. "It loosens people up and stimulates conversation. Somehow it's like gambling; you go out for a night of drinking, and you don't know where you'll end up the next morning. It could be good, could be a disaster, it's a throw of the dice. The difference between suicide and slow capitulation."
And at the end he got drunk for the sad and simple reason that this is what alcoholics do. To be a poet meant more than writing poems. To be a poet meant making a commitment: to embrace the tragedy fate has chosen for you and fulfill that destiny with gusto and nobility.
And now, twenty years after Jim's death, the Morrison/Doors story has blossomed into the realm of myth. Jim's short tragic life is the stuff of which our heroes and our gods of youth and resurrection are made. Like Orpheus, he is forever young, and like Dionysus, he dies to be born again. And as with the murder of Adonis, the sacrifice of Mithra, and the accidental death of Antinous, he could not have lived without destroying the myth on which his audience has founded itself. One of the main reasons Jim went to Paris was he could no longer live up to the mythology he himself had helped create.
Because Jim Morrison didn't want to be a god. Jim Morrison wanted to be a poet.
Surely, no modern poet has written better of the alienation and feelings of isolation, dread, and disconnectedness than Jim Morrison. We've been walled-in, malled-in, insulated, air-conditioned, cine-plexed, programmed, brainwashed, unalterably directed by materialism, consumerism, and capitalism, unaware of our own heartbeats, only dimly aware of our diminished, starving spirits. Jim was aware of this modem schism, this sense of dislocation, our angst: "If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it's to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel."
When asked at a European press conference how he would describe the Doors' music, a drunk and jet-lagged Jim described it like this" "The feeling I get is a kind of heavy, sort of gloomy feeling, like of someone not quite sure about anything...I'd like to do one just...um...of being totally at home."
Before freedom is achieved, before one arrives home first you must be lost, wandering, devoid of hope; first you have to traverse the abyss. Before the dawn by necessity comes the relentless night, what St. John of the Cross called "the dark night of the soul" and Dante referred to as "the Dark wood." It is a mandatory chapter of the hero's journey. And as Joseph Campbell has written, it's this path the true artist must travel. Inching up to the abyss compelled Rimbaud to write, "I have felt the wing of madness pass over me." Baudelaire fought with the chilling and terrible winds emanating from the same depths when he wrote, "The wind of fear has made my blood run cold."
In a poem titled simply "The Abyss," Baudelaire tries to describe the wordless horror, the indifferent void. Sartre called this pit "No Exit." Jim sang, "Some are born to sweet delight and some are born to the endless night" and there could be little doubt from whence Jim had hailed. Morrison called to us his sightings ("Out here on the perimeter there are no stars") and invited us to join him ("is everybody in?") but we couldn't, and he couldn't wait. ("No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.") And he wouldn't take a step backwards or alter the destiny fate had chosen for him. Knowing the cost, knowing the risks but driven by his insatiable thirst to see all, feel all, and do everything, Jim ran up to the edge of that abyss and found a freedom so complete and vast it was terrifying. And then he dove in.
I don't believe Jim's goal, his ambition, his ultimate destination was this dark place. I think Jim wanted enlightenment. But Jim knew that the road of excess leading to that palace of wisdom is fraught as much with despair and disaster as with ecstasy and great joy. And that despair must not be suppressed but experienced.
Jim's dying wish was to be taken seriously as a poet. While he was alive, his behavior blinded many of us to his words. Today his life still fascinates and amazes us, and his work as a poet is finally gaining the recognition it deserves. Jim did what all good artists aim for and, when they are successful, accomplish: to arouse us from the lethargy of our set ways and routine lives, prick us into consciousness, provoke a reaction (whether positive or negative, it matters not) within us; and to make us think. That in itself is a rare enough occurrence so that we should be grateful indeed whenever we have the good fortune to encounter it. Get ready, here he comes.
During his lifetime, Morrison had been compared to an angel and called the devil, and almost everything in between. From Mephistopheles to the ultimate Barbie doll, from the King of Acid Rock to Mickey Mouse de Sade. He was Dionysus come to earth, a shaman in a foreign body. Rock star and poet. Genius and holy fool. He amazed his audiences by giving all he had, more than they expected. And then the audience grew in size as well as appetite, returned, demanding more. Jim had grown larger than life and he tried to rise to the occasion and it probably killed him.
Still, Jim got what he wanted. Jim wanted to be like a shooting star; now you see him, now you don't, but for that brief moment he burns as the brightest star in the galaxy. Yet at the same time, Jim wanted to transubstantiate the temporal energy and light of life into the lasting immortality of art. What he hadn't counted on was that the impact he made would last so long. I think he'd be pleased. I think he'd be proud.
And in the end, after conquering America and the rest of the Western world, after being shackled by the courts and laws of the land that he loved, and after being ridiculed by the press, he escaped to Paris, home of so many expatriate artists of the past, to further his life as a poet. But his body was too worn down, his heart too weak; he had already seen and done and drunk too much. He had lived life on his terms, he had reaped the rewards, and now the bill was due. His spirit was tired. Death was simply closer and easier than returning to America, or the stage it represented.
Jim Morrison is not dead. His spirit lives on, in his music and in these lyrics, shining with incandescent brilliance, a fusion of light and dark made diamond bright and eternal. "Cancel my subscription to the resurrection," he sang. Not likely, Jim. This is not the end.
Introduction to the revised edition of No One Here Gets Out Alive
Danny Sugerman, Los Angeles, California - 5/12/95