THE POET BEHIND THE DOORS:JIM MORRISON’S POETRY AND THE 1960S
submitted to the Faculty of the
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
of Georgetown University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Master of Art
Steven Andrew Erkel, B.A.
April 20, 2011
iiCopyright 2011 by Steven Andrew Erkel
All Rights Reserved
THE POET BEHIND THE DOORS: JIM MORRISON’S POETRY AND THE
1960S COUNTERCULUTRAL MOVEMENT
Steven Andrew Erkel, B.A.
Thesis Advisor: Ricardo L. Ortiz, Ph.D
While there has been a wealth of literature on Jim Morrison, the lead singer of
the Doors, little work has actually been done to engage in a serious critical study of his
poetry and lyrics. As a result, critics have continually misrepresented his work (usually
linking it to a drug culture), the poetic tradition from which he built, and, most
importantly, his place within the context of the 1960s. Looking at both his poetry and
his lyrics, this thesis begins to discover reasons for Morrison’s fractured relationship
with his generation. This relationship can be better understood by examining
Morrison’s work alongside two cultural phenomena that were incredibly popular during
the 1960s: Eastern religion and also communal living. While, on the one hand,
Morrison uncompromisingly insisted upon individuality, allowing people to become the
creators of their own reality through their imagination, the spiritual practice of Eastern
religion and the material practice of communal living on the other hand insisted upon
people following specific creeds and doctrines to reach a higher level of spiritual
cognition and/or inner peace. By understanding the reasons for this fractured
relationship, we can not only better understand the context of “Five to One” and his
notorious 1969 concert in Miami – two instances where Morrison insults his generation
for their lack of willpower and their enslavement to a fixed system of order – but we
can also see that Morrison himself was highly aware that his core message that he
preached throughout his career (1966-71) was radically opposed to the messages and
visions embraced by his generation.
I would first like to thank my thesis advisor, Dr. Ricardo Ortiz, who not only allowed
me to pursue this project, but he has provided me with nothing but support throughout
my stay at Georgetown University. I would also like to thank Dr. Libbie Rifkin, who
was also on my thesis committee; her insights on the 1960s, patience, and
encouragement have proved invaluable to me. I would also like to thank my mentor,
Kevin Jennings, who is with out a doubt one of the finest people I have ever met; he has
not only inspired me to pursue my present course, but his advice, care, guidance, and,
most of all, friendship goes well beyond words. Thanks, Kevin! I am especially
grateful to my partner, Kara Spencer; from my first week at Georgetown University, she
has been with me through all of my present and rather wayward pursuits, showing me
nothing but love, encouragement, and support throughout these last two years – I know
this thesis would not be possible without her. Above all, I would like to dedicate this
thesis to my family – Meghan (who actually got me interested in Jim Morrison!), Ricky,
Al, and Donna Erkel – all of whom have given more, demanded less, and have been
with me through all of my life’s ambitions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 1
Morrison’s Origins: William Blake ................................................................................. 9
“Break on Through to the Other Side”: ‘Open Form’ and the Creation of Reality ....... 29
Morrison and the 1960s Counterculture ....................................................................... 40
Conclusion ..................................................................................................................... 63
Bibliography .................................................................................................................. 67
Take the highway to the
end of the night
End of the night
End of the night
Take a journey to the bright midnight
End of the night
End of the night
Realms of Bliss
Realms of Light
– Jim Morrison, “End of the Night,” 1-9.
Jim Morrison – undoubtedly one of the most celebrated performers of the Rock
era, one of its most successful songwriters, and one of its most charismatic figures – has
since his death in 1971 invited discussions from critics and fans regarding his life, work,
and impact on the radical decade of the 1960s.1
While Morrison always considered himself to be a poet, the vast majority of
critics of his work have never taken into account his poetry, instead choosing to base
their examination on Morrison’s myth or legend, concepts which have little
resemblance to who Morrison actually was or what he tried to accomplish. Perhaps this
“myth” began in 1980, when Danny Sugerman, an assistant to Morrison and former
manager of the Doors, wrote in the Foreword to No One Here Gets Out Alive: “Jim
Morrison was a god.” (Sugerman vii).2
However innocent this line may be, I argue it
poses an inherent problem: Jim Morrison was not a god nor did he see himself as one.
Sections of this thesis appeared in another essay entitled “Fanny Howe and Jim Morrison: A Vision
Beyond the Senses.” The sections of that essay that appear in this thesis have since been modified and
In his introduction to The Doors: The Complete Lyrics, Sugerman contradicts (or corrects) his earlier
remarks on Morrison, writing: “Jim Morrison didn’t want to be a god” (Sugerman 13).
What is more troubling, indeed, is that these lines were written in the first major
biography on Morrison, and have reached more than a million readers.
Not surprisingly, then, Sugerman’s perception of Morrison in No One Here Gets
Out Alive has become a catalyst for other critics and fans to propel the “Morrison
myth.”3 Like Sugerman, Wallace Fowlie, the late professor at Duke University, refers
to Morrison as the Greek figure “kuros” (Fowlie 105).4
William Cook, who responds to
Fowlie’s remarks here, argues that:
[…] Fowlie ignores the literary qualities of [Morrison’s] poetry. Like most
people that encountered Morrison, either through books or in person, Fowlie
never seems to get past the myth. In view of this unfortunate aspect of his
discussion of Morrison’s poetry, his approach is neither scholarly nor
enlightening (Cook 3).
For the best biography on Jim Morrison, see Jerry Prochnicky and James Riordan’s Break on Through:
The Life and Death of Jim Morrison. In the opening pages of their biography, they recognize the decades
of writing that fabricated the Morrison myth. As they write:
[…] I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not easy to separate truth from myth and the
bigger the legend the more difficult it becomes. All good myths soon become self-perpetuating
and each person who recounts them tends to add a little something of his or her own. Add this to
the fact that there are a host of people out there consciously perpetrating the Morrison myth for
their own financial gain, and the maze because a considerable one. The funny thing is that
Morrison never needed exaggeration. His truth is indeed far stranger than the fiction that has
grown up around him.
Nonetheless, the passage of twenty years [the book was written in 1981, twenty years after Morrison’s
death] has clouded the issues and led to many obstacles – lost documents, an absence of witnesses,
selective memory, and even worse, creative memory – people remembering what they wish would’ve
happened instead of what actually did (Prochnicky and Riordan 9-10).
Fowlie further writes:
As far as I can ascertain, it is not the name of a god, or even a minor god. It is a general term
designating in Greek a young man, an adolescent: kuros […] The word is applied to a youth
attractive to men and women. At times it is in praise of beauty. At other times it is hurled
almost as a curse at those youths who insolently torment older people. This name I suggest as
representative of the nonhypocritical innocence of Jim when he was not aware of the power of
his appearance and his personality (Fowlie 105).
While I would not suggest that Fowlie’s “approach is neither scholarly nor
enlightening,” as it is the first piece of scholarship to at least engage with Morrison’s
poetry, I agree with Cook that “by concentrating on the myth of Morrison” in this
instance, Fowlie’s work continues to propel the Morrison myth, rather than engaging in
a serious academic analysis on the “literary qualities of” Morrison’s “poetry.” In other
words, by continuing a dialogue that fosters the Morrison myth, Fowlie has failed – and,
in so doing, has encouraged others to follow in his path – to judge Morrison based on
the platform upon which Morrison invited his readers to judge him, his poetry.
Take, for instance, three other prominent books on Morrison – John Densmore’s
Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors (1991); Patricia
Kennealy’s Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison (1992); and Ray
Manzarek’s Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors (1998) – which have all taken the
form of a memoir. While these authors’ personal narratives of Morrison and the Doors
are clearly worth sharing with the public, the overwhelming amount of literature on
Morrison has taken a variety of similar forms, but none of which has sought to examine
his poetry and lyrics.5
Far too much has been written on Morrison’s life, his relationship with the
Doors, and his myth; by extension, far too little has been written on Morrison’s poetry
Prochnicky and Riordan support this argument, writing:
The image Jim Morrison created for the media was considerably different from the real person.
The press saw the side of Morrison that best suited their needs. Predictably, their accounts were
steeped in paradox: Writers praised the emotional insights in Morrison’s lyrics and then
criticized him for trying to be a poet. The press called him ‘King of Orgasmic Rock’ and
attacked him for being pretentious. They praised him for the fusion of rock and drama that The
Doors created and then put him down for carrying it too far. They hailed him as the chief
shaman of new religion and then questioned his sanity for taking himself too seriously
(Prochnicky and Riordan 20).
and lyrics. We cannot understand Morrison, his lyrics and his poetry, his life, his
understanding of the human form, and his relationship with the 1960s countercultural
movement – areas in which Morrison critics have continually tried but failed to
understand – unless we begin to extract Morrison the “poet” from how decades of
critics and fans have seen him, and begin to have a serious examination of his poetry
and lyrics. Strictly as a poet, Morrison’s place in history remains to be seen, not
because his lyrics and poetry are not worthy of critical study, but because critics and
fans have only engaged with his legacy through the lens of his celebrity.
This thesis will be one of the first attempts to critically engage with Morrison’s
poetry and lyrics.6
In so doing, it traces Morrison’s understanding of the human form
back to the radical theories that William Blake set forth within his work. It will thus
show that Morrison’s understanding of reality – one that defies Truth, form, unity, time,
and space – cannot be linked to a drug culture that critics, as Sugerman and others, have
suggested. Instead, this project links Morrison’s vision of the human form to a rich
poetic tradition originated by Blake in the British Romantic period. The question that
Blake’s work inspired Morrison to consider is not what is possible, but what can
become possible, through the imagination.
For the purposes of clarity, I will refer to the poetry of James Douglas Morrison in this thesis as written
by Jim Morrison or Morrison, though Morrison himself insisted that his legal name be used when his
poems were published and mentioned.
There is no doubt that Morrison wrote at a time of spiritual and intellectual
awakening, a time in which younger Americans began to explore and expand their
reality through a myriad of social and cultural practices: drugs, sexuality, communal
living, Eastern religion and philosophy, to name some important examples. And there
is no doubt that American youth’s rebellion against conventional Western practices
(conservatism, materialism, Christianity) inspired Morrison to form the Doors, allowing
him to participate in the intellectual movements that came to define the 1960s.7
many respects, we can see that the ambition of the countercultural movement to reach a
higher level of cognition parallels Morrison’s ambition to become a poet and public
performer. What the movement, in other words, attempted to accomplish in its
rebellion against Western conventions strikingly resembles what Morrison attempted to
accomplish in his poetry, lyrics, and stage performances.
Such a parallel might lead us to believe that Morrison was indeed part of the
movement, or even shared its defined ideologies; however, exploring this relationship in
greater detail shows us instead a striking dichotomy between the messages and visions
that Morrison preached within his poetry and lyrics, and the ideas, beliefs, and practices
that emerged from the movement.
This thesis explores this relationship in greater detail. It begins with Morrison’s
earliest works, in sections 1 and 2; there it argues that Morrison’s major poems in The
Lords: A New Vision, “Power,” and “The Original Temptation,” in addition to the songs
he wrote for the Doors’ first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days, build from
Blake’s understanding of the human form and its potential. In his early work, Morrison
In particular see Oliver Stone’s portrayal of the formation of the Doors in his film The Doors (1991).
argues that the human imagination could free men and women from what he saw as
their societal oppression and allow them to become the creators of their self-images, as
well as their external reality. Indeed, instead of perceiving the world based upon the
edicts of the government, school, parents, our five senses, and religion, Morrison argues
that we have the potential to manifest a world within our imagination, free from
external influence, oppression, or dictation.
For Morrison, liberation can only be achieved if individuals free their minds
from any exterior influence. Morrison, like Blake, uncompromisingly insisted that if
people are subject to influences outside of themselves, they could not be considered
free, as their lives are still subject to dictation and pressures created outside of
themselves. Instead of allowing their infinite desires and expression to create their own
reality – free from time, space, and unity – their reality generates through the
framework that others impose upon them. As a result, people cannot be considered free
within this world, but rather slaves to it, as how they think, act, and perceive their
reality is controlled by the external systems to which they conform.
Section 3 discusses why this point served as a barrier between Morrison and the
1960s counterculture movement. Beginning in 1969, the year after the Doors were
largely regarded as the number one band in America, Morrison’s work became
increasingly hostile towards his generation; in both the Doors’ third studio album,
Waiting for the Sun, and his notorious 1969 concert in Miami, Morrison repeatedly
attacked his generation for its failures, its lack of willpower, and what he deemed as its
slavery to a closed system of order. Several critics have been perplexed by what
spurred this anger in Morrison’s work. What was it about the counterculture
movement, many of whose followers hailed him as “The Lizard King,” that inspired
Morrison’s vehement hostility? Critics, like Fowlie and Stephen Davis, have noted that
Morrison’s hostility can be traced to the countercultural philosophy’s preaching peace,
on the one hand, and Morrison, on the other hand, preaching chaos and destruction, for
freeing individuals from unity and order.8
While Fowlie and Davis’ claims make sense
up to a point, this aspect of his work deserves to be expanded, complicated, and further
researched, in order to allow us to have a better grasp not only of Morrison’s poetry, but
of his poetry within the context of the countercultural movement.
I find that this fractured relationship can be better understood by examining two
cultural phenomena that emerged within the movement: the spiritual practice of Eastern
religion and philosophy, and the material practice of communal living. The messages
and ideals that emerged from these two cultural practices can be seen as diametrically
opposed to the ideas that Morrison presents in his poetry and lyrics. Indeed, while
Morrison’s message insists upon individuality, freeing people from any impeding or
outside dictation, the ideals and creeds that emerged from Eastern religion and
communal living usually encouraged followers to work within a framework given to
them by a spiritual leader, guru, or community. By examining these two cultural
phenomena in greater detail, we can better understand the composition of “Five to
One,” as well as his notorious 1969 concert appearance in Miami, where Morrison
repeatedly attacks the counterculture for living within a closed system of order. Thus,
See Fowlie’s Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: Rebel as Poet, 78 and Stephen Davis’ Jim Morrison: Life,
Death, Legend, 153.
Morrison’s hostility towards the 1960s counterculture, which he expressed in his work
since 1969, shows us that the visions and ideals that he expressed throughout his career
radically differed from those of the generation to which he spoke.
I have two audiences in mind for the present project: a scholarly audience and
fans of both Morrison and the Doors. This thesis, I hope, will serve to engage both
parties. For a scholarly audience, this thesis will allow us to see a different perspective
of the 1960s countercultural movement from one of its greatest voices. While scholars
may disagree with Morrison’s vision, we must agree that he was a cultural icon of the
1960s and helped shape the direction of the movement; as a result, what he said about
the movement must be taken seriously, as he was taken seriously during his lifetime. In
addition, by separating Morrison the “poet” from his “myth,” this thesis will give
Morrison’s poetry and lyrics more credibility within serious scholarship of literature.
For the fans of Morrison and the Doors, this thesis will redirect how we perceive (and
have perceived) Morrison, examining his career based upon his poetry and lyrics, not
upon his myth; it will thus produce a better understanding of who Morrison was, what
his poetry and lyrics say, and what his place within the history of 1960s should be.
MORRISON’S ORIGINS: WILLIAM BLAKE
Like so many others, Jim took drugs to expand his consciousness,
to gain entry into worlds otherwise locked and sealed off. Aware
of the 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.
– Danny Sugerman, The Doors: The Complete Lyrics, 11.
No one would ever argue that Danny Sugerman did not have the best intentions
when he spoke or wrote about Morrison or the Doors. Sugerman not only was an
assistant to Morrison and the manager of the Doors but he also authored the first major
biography on Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980), in addition to editing The
Doors: The Complete Lyrics (1991). In most circumstances, Sugerman, especially
when it comes to biographical detail on Morrison and the Doors, has provided
scholarship with a wealth of reliable biographical knowledge.
That being said, what is most troubling about Sugerman’s analysis of Morrison’s
poetry and lyrics – as seen in the epigraph above – is that Sugerman constantly links
Morrison’s poetry and lyrics to drugs. On the one hand, no one would claim that
Morrison’s poetry and lyrics, especially his earlier work (1964-67), were not influenced
by his use of LSD. On the other hand, no one would ever argue that Morrison did not
drastically reduce, if not stopped altogether his use of LSD around 1967, yet continued
to produce and publish an array of poems and lyrics that contained visionary elements.
Thus, to overly emphasize Morrison’s use of drugs in creating his poetry and lyrics – as
Sugerman does – both misses and dismisses the rich poetic tradition by which Morrison
was influenced, while at the same time diluting Morrison’s poetry of its artistic
There are more intrinsically stimulating approaches to Morrison’s poetry than to
simply categorize it as drug poetry. Yet such a literary appreciation would be hard (if
not impossible) to grasp unless we understood Morrison’s earliest poetic influences.
Indeed, to understand the poetic tradition from which Morrison built, we need to first
understand Morrison’s philosophy of the human form, which can be credited to the
theories developed by William Blake in the British Romantic period.9
While William Blake’s influence on Jim Morrison has been well documented,
little work has actually been done to examine this relationship in great detail. The ideas
that Blake set forth in his poetry should not only be seen as the origins of Morrison’s
poetry and lyrics; perhaps more importantly, Blake was Morrison’s greatest poetical
influence. Most notably, Blake’s poetry had an overwhelming impact on Morrison’s
understanding of the human form and its potential. In so doing, Blake’s poetry inspired
Morrison to categorize humanity into two parts: a state where people live within a
system of order that produces how they perceive their identities and reality, what I am
calling “closed form,” and, in opposition to this state, Morrison posits that people have
the capability to liberate themselves from this oppression to “open form,”10 a state in
The relationship between the British Romantic poets does not cease with Blake, especially in the few
pages that I have designated for Blake within this thesis. We can also see Morrison’s relationship with
William Wordsworth (see The Prelude; or Growth of A Poet’s Mind), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see
“Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream” or “Frost at Midnight”), and Percy Bysshe Shelley (see “Mont
Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni”).
10 I borrow these terms from Anne K. Mellor’s Blake’s Human Form Divine in a slightly different
which people can live free from the confines of a fixed existence and begin to see the
infinite in all things.
William Blake’s poetry marks a clear shift from the ideals set forth in the
Enlightenment Period – a period during which philosophy tried to make sense of the
world through reason, order, and the five senses – arguing, instead, that our self-images
and reality are not fixed or innate, but “Infinite,” chaotic, and constantly in motion.11
Underlying this theme, Blake argues in There is No Natural Religion: “The desire of
Man being Infinite, the possession is Infinite & Himself Infinite” (Blake Plate B).
Indeed, if man’s (or woman’s) desires, possessions, and his essence are all, according to
Blake, “Infinite,” then not only does man’s identity fail to be confined within his bodily
framework (skin, bones, organs), but his identity cannot even be classified based upon a
singular term (gay, tall, rich, poor). What the human form can potentially become, then,
fails to be understood in terms of a utilitarian function, as its infinite thoughts, desires,
and perceptions constantly create and, most importantly, re-create, identity.
Blake extends this philosophy not only to the creation of our identities but also
to our exterior world. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake writes:
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 (Blake Plate14).
11 See Anne K. Mellor’s Blake’s Human Form Divine, Saree Makdisi’s Romantic Imperialism: Universal
Empire and the Culture of Modernity, and William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790’s.
If “the doors of perception” – the “doors” that reside between the world of the infinite
and the world that is generated by our five senses – “were cleansed,” Blake argues, we
would see the world as it truly is, “infinite.” This passage marks, to use the words of
Saree Makdisi, “an escape into the infinite as a simultaneous dissolution of political
formations and the psychobiological modes of existence which correspond to them”
(Makdisi 183). As Makdisi notes, by seeing the world through any framework, that
framework, in turn, dictates the boundaries of what is and, most importantly, what is
not, possible. This can either be within a framework of religion, philosophy, literature,
parental authority, or government; however, what all these entities and doctrines have in
common is that they teach people how to perceive their reality. Yet, as Blake writes,
“f the doors of perception were cleansed,” we would no longer see the world based
upon a system of order, but instead as “infinite,” allowing ourselves be “free” to
experience a myriad of different possibilities and visions that refuse boundaries.
This passage also identifies the closed world system, one that determines how
we perceive our reality. Though our world, as Blake argues, is “infinite,” we can still
live within a system of order that confines an “infinite” world into a fixed essence,
dictating the boundaries of our perception. As Blake laments: “For man has closed
himself up, till he sees all things / thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” As Blake argues,
men and women in Nineteenth Century England fail to see the world as “infinite,” but
rather “have closed” themselves “up” until they see “all things / thro’ [the] narrow
chinks of [their] cavern.” For this mental entrapment – what Blake calls “mindforg’d manacles” in his poem, “London” (8) – occurs when people begin to abide by
principles or doctrines originating from outside themselves, principles that are
systematically designed to teach people how to perceive their reality. In so doing, our
identities and reality are not infinite, which would allow us to have power over nature,
but rather our identities and reality remain fixed, manifested within the principles and
beliefs to which we conform our lives.
This is a rather simplistic reading of one of the most complex poets in the
English canon. Nevertheless, Blake’s radical re-conceptualization of the human form
was perhaps Morrison’s greatest poetical influence. Morrison, drawing from the
theories of Blake, once famously stated that: “there are things that are known and things
that are unknown and in between are The Doors” (qtd. Prochnicky and Riordan 68).
This statement should be familiar to readers, as it is almost identical to Blake’s
statement earlier. Like Blake, Morrison argues that there are two worlds: a world that
we can perceive through our five senses – a world that is fixed, and thus “closed” – and
a world that is infinite, allowing us to experience unrealized opportunities through our
imagination. Instead of living within a closed world system, one that generates how we
perceive ourselves and our world, Morrison, like Blake, posits that if we can move
beyond our own “Doors,” then our perceptions, identities, and experiences become
infinite, a state that I call “open form.”
Open Form: An ‘Open’ System of Order
When “An object,” as Morrison writes in The Lords: Notes on Vision, “becomes
cut off from its name, / habits, / associations…it becomes only / the thing, in and of
itself.” In so doing, “the object,” as Morrison argues, “is free to become endlessly
anything” (Morrison 78). Morrison, like Blake, clearly draws a distinction between
what is and, most importantly, what is not possible through the imagination. Like
Blake, Morrison glorifies the imagination in his work, arguing that when generate our
reality through our imagination, our imagination does not see that reality as fixed; very
much to the contrary, it allows us to see beyond a fixed set of structures, perceiving our
reality, like Blake argues, as infinite. To be clear, Morrison does not intend for our
imagination to change the physical parameters of our bodily existence, or, for that
matter, any other physical structure, such as a house. Morrison, like Blake, glorifies the
imagination precisely because it does not abide by the principles of a physical world; as
a result, when we separate ourselves from every influence, structure, or binary that may
dictate how we perceive reality, our imagination becomes free, free to achieve
“endlessly anything,” precisely because nothing stops our imagination from
accomplishing what it can accomplish.
In “Power,” a poem in Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Morrison
celebrates just the potential of the human form, writing:
I can make the earth stop in
its tracks. I made the
blue cars go away.
I can make myself invisible or small.
I can become gigantic & reach the
farthest things. I can change
the course of nature.
I can place myself anywhere in
space or time.
I can summon the dead.
I can perceive events on other worlds,
in my deepest inner mind,
& in the minds of others
I am (1-15).
Morrison’s overt use of “I can” celebrates the power of the human form. Take, for
instance, Morrison’s understanding of his identity; indeed, like Blake, Morrison refuses
to define himself as a fixed object, but rather an object that is constantly in motion.
In so doing, Morrison shows us the true elasticity of his identity. In “Power,”
Morrison re-defines his identity three times (“invisible,” “small,” or “gigantic”). All
three of these terms are merely adjectives; modifiers that describe how Morrison
perceives his identity. They are not terms, in other words, that encapsulate his identity
within utilitarian taxonomies (house, dog, human). Morrison thus showcases the
amorphousness of his identity, as his identity can be radically altered based upon the
language he deploys to describe himself. When Morrison says that he can make himself
“invisible,” “small,” or “gigantic,” he is not actually changing the height of his bodily
image; to re-create his identity, he does not need to change the physical structure of his
body, but rather he needs to change the terms he uses to signify his relationship to his
body. Indeed, by deploying radically opposed adjectives (“gigantic” and “small), he, in
turn, profoundly alters both how he and the readers perceive his identity. While, on the
one hand, the physical matter of his bodily image will remain stationary, the
construction of his identity – that is, how he perceives himself – can become profoundly
altered through switching the terms which he uses to articulate his infinite thoughts,
desires, and expressions.
This deserves more detailed attention. By constantly altering the terms he uses
to describe his identity, Morrison shows his readers that he does not see himself as a
fixed image. What does Morrison’s self-image resemble? How does Morrison describe
his identity? These questions, of course, are rhetorical and refuse definite answers; yet
because these questions are ineffable, Morrison, like Blake, illustrates that he refuses to
see his identity as confined to a singular term (“big” or “small) or within the confines of
a singular answer. His identity, therefore, is left open, undefined, and thus potentially
infinite. My use of the term “infinite” here describes the full elasticity of Morrison’s
identity: at one moment he describes himself as “big” and at another moment he
describes himself as “invisible.” Thus, by refusing to describe his identity (not
necessarily his bodily self) within a stable structure of binaries, Morrison refuses to
permit the reader to define his identity within the confines of any notion of categorical
knowledge. As a result, because Morrison’s identity refuses to have limits, it can
become anything through the power of his mind.
But Morrison is not only concerned in “Power” with his relationship to his
identity, but also with his relationship to the exterior world. Morrison makes three
different references to his reality: “I can change / the course of nature”; “I can place
myself anywhere in / space or time”; and “I can perceive events on other worlds.” Here
Morrison refuses to base his reality upon a fixed system of order, one that would, in
turn, generate how he perceives his exterior world. Thus, in allowing it to move beyond
the physical structures of his world, Morrison’s imagination can “perceive events” not
simply on one world, but on multiple “worlds.” Again – as with his identity – this
mobility can only be achieved because Morrison refuses to base his reality upon a
system of order that systematically teaches him to confine his reality to a limited
existence. As a result, when Morrison engages with his imagination, his perceptions of
his identity and of his reality become infinite, allowing him to perceive a myriad of
different and unrealized visions that are free from the confines of fixed reality.
This significant theme is reinforced in the opening moments of his song,
“Moonlight Drive” from the Doors’ 1967 album, Strange Days:
Let’s swim to the moon
Let’s climb thru the tide
Penetrate the evenin’ that the city
sleeps to hide (1-5).
While “Moonlight Drive” does not contain explicitly philosophical lines like those in
“Power,” Morrison’s whimsical lexicon is every bit as centered here upon the human
form’s potential through its imagination. For instance, in “Moonlight Drive,” Morrison
shatters the boundaries of his perception by reversing the use of the terms swimming
and climbing: instead of “climbing” “to the moon,” he wishes to “swim to the moon.”
The same is also true for Morrison’s use of the word “climb”: rather than “swim” “in
the tide,” he wishes to “climb through the tide.” Thus, in abolishing the structures
within which his body is accustomed to working, Morrison’s world becomes a cosmic
playground for him. He asks his companion not only to “swim to the moon” and “climb
thru’ the tide” with him – an act that can only be achieved by refusing to work within a
fixed system of order – but Morrison encourages his date to “surrender” herself “to the
waiting worlds [...]” (13). Not world, but “worlds.” Here Morrison evokes an argument
similar to the one that he made in “Power”: by moving beyond his five senses and
engaging with his imagination, his world becomes infinite, allowing him (and hopefully
his companion) to experience unrealized opportunities on not just one world, but
“Power” and “Moonlight Drive” thus both evoke the freedom that can occur
when we move beyond “The Doors.” “The Doors” are not solitary objects, such as one
solitary “Door”; “The Doors,” on the contrary, operate within all binaries or structures
that systematically dictate our reality to us. Indeed, as we have seen in both works,
when Morrison’s imagination moves beyond certain structures (what I am referring to
as “The Doors”), he perceives his identity and his reality as “infinite.” The question
becomes: does this ability come because Morrison uses drugs? While critics like
Sugerman and Fowlie have suggested otherwise, I wish to offer another explanation.
This phenomenon finds articulation in the passage examined earlier in this section:
when “An object is cut off from its name, / habits, [and] associations,” it “is free to
become endlessly anything.” Indeed, when Morrison’s imagination moves beyond the
limited structures of his existence – binaries, terms, his bodily framework, his senses,
and religion – his imagination enables him to see his identity and his exterior world as
infinite; as a result, Morrison’s identity and reality are not bound by a stable structure,
but instead are open, fluid, and constantly in motion, allowing him to live within a
world that exists within his mind, one that refuses to have limits. Thus, what is and,
most importantly, what is not, possible is not dictated by a system of order, but rather is
determined imaginatively by Morrison, allowing him to become, achieve, and perceive
“endlessly anything.” In other words, in living in a world without a fixed system of
order, Morrison can freely experience “anything,” as there refuses to be a structure,
boundary, framework, or doctrine that can keep him from achieving what his
imagination sets out to accomplish.
Thus far in this section I have suggested that Morrison perceives his reality and
his identity as infinite. Yet the interesting question becomes: does Morrison believe
that we can achieve this kind of liberation once we have conformed to a fixed system of
order? Does Morrison argue that we live only in a linear fashion, in that we can never
go back to a pure, open form of existence once we have been conformed to social
mores? If Morrison were to take this position, then one may rightly argue that
Morrison’s poetic ambition – that is, to use his creative imagination to free men and
women from their social oppression and allow them to become the creators of their own
reality – would fail. If, for instance, we could never achieve an open-form existence
once we have conformed to society, then we could never acquire the power to perceive
our identities and our reality as infinite.
Morrison’s poetry and lyrics do, however, suggest that we can liberate ourselves
from our social oppression and revert back to a state of pure, open form existence. In
“The End” (from The Doors, 1967), to give the most prominent example, Morrison
argues that liberation back into an open-form condition symbolically represents a
rebirth into our primordial state of existence. Morrison writes:
The killer awoke before dawn
He put his boots on
He took a face from the
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his
And then paid a visit to his brother
And then he walked on down the hall
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
I want to kill you
These lyrics have been subject to much scrutiny.12 A majority of readers (and listeners)
interpret these lines literally, arguing that Morrison wishes to kill his father to pursue a
repressed, Oedipal sexual desire to have sexual intercourse with his mother. While this
interpretation is arguable, I must take Paul Rothchild’s interpretation:
Kill the father means kill all of those things in yourself which are instilled in you
and are not of yourself. They are not of your own. They are alien concepts
which are not yours. They must die [….] Fuck the mother is very basic. And it
means, get back to the essence. What is the reality? Fuck the mother is, very
basically, Mother: mother-birth, real, very real, you can touch it, you can grab it,
you can feel it. It’s nature, its real, it can’t lie to you (qtd. Prochnicky and
When Morrison states that he wishes to kill his father, he, as Rothchild argues, wishes
to symbolically “kill” off everything that is not pure, everything that has been instilled
in him to fertilize (such as sperm) his existence. Killing the father symbolically,
therefore, becomes the act of abolishing everything that has been foreign or anything
that asserts external authority over him. Thus, “fucking” the mother, should not be read
12 In fact, these lines did not appear in the earliest versions of “The End.” The first time that these lines
appeared was not in a recording studio, but actually during a live performance in the Whisky a Go Go in
1966. For more information see Davis’ Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, 117.
literally; instead, these lines should be read as having an intimate relationship with his
primordial state of existence, one we possessed within our mother’s womb, before the
act of birth.
Yet, in symbolically killing off the father and having sex with the mother,
Morrison illustrates not only the death of an artificial self – one that has been
constructed through his father’s sperm – but also a rebirth into a pure state of existence.
If these lines suggest that we have the ability to revert back into our primordial state of
existence, one that is free from an artificial consummation, then Morrison does not see
existence as strictly linear. Because we have the ability to kill off a foreign world –
what one could see as “The Doors” – that has shaped our existence, and then liberate
ourselves back into an image of our primordial self, we, as Morrison demonstrates, gain
the ability to possess a state of existence that we held before our fathers fertilized our
mothers’ womb. This only validates Morrison’s poetic ambition; indeed, because we
can achieve an open-form existence at any moment, then Morrison’s poetry and lyrics
are not contextualized in remembering any past self or theory that cannot ever become a
reality. Very much to the contrary, because the worlds and visions that Morrison
praises inhabit our imagination, a realm outside of our senses and our physical world,
Morrison insists that his visions and messages are entirely possible for individuals to
Closed Form: A ‘Closed’ System of Order
While Morrison’s poetry aims to move readers beyond “The Doors,” allowing
their identities and realities to be free from any restrictions or boundaries, Morrison,
like Blake, was also critically aware of a closed-form environment. Closed form
denotes a closed system of order, created outside of ourselves, that generates how we
perceive our identities and our external world. Morrison’s most vehement criticism of a
closed world system comes not from the individuals who succumb to this limited
lifestyle, but to the established order – parents, teachers, religious authorities,
governments, and even friends – who confine individuals to a rigid system of order in
order to retain their power over them.
In a telling interview with Lizzie James, Morrison protests against:
[…] teachers, religious leaders-even friends, or so-called friends – take over
where the parents leave off. They demand that we feel only the feelings they
want and expect from us. They demand all the time that we perform feelings for
them. We're like actors-turned loose in this world to wander in search of a
phantom ... endlessly searching for a half-forgotten shadow of our lost reality
[….] When others demand that we become the people they want us to be, they
force us to destroy the person we really are [….] Society, parents; they refuse to
allow you to keep the freedom you are born with. There are subtle ways to
punish a person for daring to feel.
Morrison’s central criticism here is against social institutions that teach people how to
live. Instead of allowing members of society to “keep the freedom,” a state that he
describes more fully in The Lords, Morrison argues that social institutions create
doctrines and systems that force people to live in a specific manner. When this
conformity occurs, our “feelings,” as Morrison describes, cannot enjoy free expression,
allowing us to “achieve endlessly anything”; rather we only express the “feelings” that
fall within the particular framework that certain social institutions have created for us.
In so doing, we “destroy the person who we really are” (or could become) in order to
live within the boundaries that society has set forth for us.
Morrison utilizes this significant theme in his first book of poetry, The Lords:
Notes on a Vision (1969), ending his book with a staunch warning to his readers:
The Lords. Events take place beyond our knowledge
or control. Our lives are lived for us.
The Lords appease us with images. They give us
Books, concerts, galleries, shows, cinemas.
Especially the cinemas. Through art they confuse
us and blind us to our enslavement. Art adorns
our prison walls, keeps us silent and diverted
and indifferent (Morrison 89; italics mine).
As Jerry Prochnicky and James Riordan argue: “Morrison saw most people as being
like sheep, a herd, following the leaders. The Lords were the people who controlled
them, the ruler class” (Prochnicky and Riordan 58). At the end of The Lords, Morrison
argues that when we accept the structures that others have imposed upon us, our
perceptions of our own identities and realities are created and controlled by those
structures. As a result, the system of order that “The Lords” manifests closes the world
and its possibilities off to us, dictating what is and what is not possible; in so doing,
“The Lords,” as Morrison argues, “blind us to our enslavement.” Morrison’s use of the
word “enslavement” should not be read as a physical “enslavement” – such as the
Atlantic slave trade or the plantations in the American colonies – but rather it connotes
a mental “enslavement.” This mental “enslavement,” like Blake’s term “mind-forg’d
manacles,” occurs when we live within the structures that others have imposed upon us
– through “Books, concerts, galleries, shows” and “cinemas” – all of which control how
we think, act, and see the world.
Even more troubling to Morrison is our failure to realize our “enslavement” to
“The Lords.” Because the tools that “The Lords” use to control members of their
society are “Books, concerts, galleries, shows” and “cinemas” – in essence art – our
“prison walls” do not resemble a physical prison: dark, concrete, and metal bars. The
“prison walls” that Morrison envisions here are instead decorated with “Art,” which
both “divert” us from and “blind” us to our societal oppression. This deserves
more attention: because the structures that “The Lords” use to control people seem
physically harmless, people fail to realize that these devices are actually extremely
harmful, controlling both their minds and bodies. Thus, the spark that would cause us
to revolt against these evil forces fails to exist, and the authorities responsible for their
oppression remain – at least in their eyes – “silent.”
Morrison’s poetry and lyrics suggest that he saw our lives as a lived
performance. Morrison himself was a powerful public performer; in addition, poems
such as “Power” and The Lords suggest that we can free ourselves into the infinite,
almost through a self-performance.13 However, if, on the one hand, Morrison argues
that our self-performance, free from the confines of any structure, could allow us to
move into the infinite through the expression of our infinite desires, thoughts, and
perceptions, Morrison, on the other hand, also argues that our self-performance could be
created and controlled by somebody else. In his interview with James, Morrison argues
that when we accept the structures that others have imposed upon us, we: “trade in [our]
reality for a role. [We] trade in [our] senses for an act. [We] give up [our] ability to
feel and in exchange, put on a mask.” The moment when we allow others to direct our
lives, our self-performance is limited to the role we are given. As a result, we close our
imagination off to the possibility of attaining the infinite, and instead perform only the
actions, thoughts, and desires that our role permits for us.
Blake’s theories became a seminal platform for Morrison to develop his own
philosophies and theories on the human form. As we have seen, Morrison categorizes
humanity into two parties: what I have been calling open and closed form. In so doing,
Morrison vehemently argues against what he calls “The Lords” – governments, religion,
parental authorities – who enslave us to our reality. Yet, in protesting against the rulers
of society, Morrison provides individuals with another option: arguing that we can
13 For more information on performance identity, please consult Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On
Discursive Limits of “Sex.”
potentially move beyond what he calls “The Doors” and allow our identities and our
reality to become infinite.
In making this argument, I have been critical of interpretations that continually
link Morrison’s poetry to drugs. I find that if we fully engage with the complexities of
his argument, we can see that several of Morrison’s theories derive from a rich poetic
tradition set forth by William Blake in the British Romantic period. My main critique
of Sugerman’s analysis is that he continually posits grand claims for Morrison’s poetry
and lyrics that are not supported by Morrison’s work itself. More importantly, to
constantly link his poetry to drugs misses Morrison’s central point. As we have seen in
The Lords, “Power,” “Moonlight Drive,” and “The End,” Morrison never once preaches
the use of drugs to achieve a state of open form existence. Liberation, in all these
works, occurs through Morrison’s ability to separate his imagination from the artificial
structures of his reality, allowing his perception of his identity and reality to become
While Morrison understood that we, as humans, all live within a physical world
that has limits, he nevertheless argued that our imagination could allow us to move
beyond these limits. To reach the infinite or even to become infinite, he need not
literally deconstruct every structure or binary; rather, to become infinite, he simply
needs to perceive his reality, not through his senses or reason that works within these
physical structures, but through his imagination. As Morrison shows us in “Power,”
while, on the one hand, the physical structures of his body will remain the same, his
perception of his identity, on the other hand, can become infinite. The world(s) that
Morrison, like Blake, preach do not take place within the physicality of the world
(buildings, trees, our bodily selves), but reside within our imagination. Thus, even
though our world and our bodily image will remain the same – as in “Power” – that
does not mean that our imagination is unable to move us beyond these limited binaries
and into the infinite; indeed, by allowing our imagination to move beyond “The Doors,”
what we can achieve and create within our imagination becomes infinite. Morrison’s
message becomes a celebration of the human form’s imagination, a concept that will be
crucial for us to understand in the next section.
“BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE”: ‘OPEN FORM’ AND THE CREATION OF
To participate in the creation.
To screw things up. To bring Things
into being. – Jim Morrison, “The Original Temptation,” 7-9.
In “The Original Temptation,” Morrison calls our attention to the act of creation.
In the last section, I suggested that when we abolish the structures that dictate our
reality to us, our identities and reality become infinite. Yet in “The Original
Temptation,” Morrison examines the aftermath of this act. Indeed, for the act of
destruction – “to screw things up” – calls for, in return, an act of reconstruction: “to
bring Things / back into being.” Thus, deconstructing a closed world system allows us
not only to perceive our identities and our reality as infinite; perhaps more importantly,
in achieving this realization, we gain the ability to reassemble the infinite back into our
own system of order.
In this section, I will focus on Morrison’s understanding of creation in “Break
on Through” and An American Prayer. In both of these works, Morrison examines that
by allowing our imagination to move beyond “The Doors,” we not only move into the
infinite, as discussed in the last section, but we gain the ability to frame the infinite back
into our own structural world through our imagination. Thus, what remains beyond
“The Doors” is not a world that lies in wait for us; instead, when we move through “The
Doors,” the worlds that we perceive are a creation of our imagination. Yet, even though
Morrison argues that people can become the creators of their own world, one should not
see these individuals as trapped within this system. Because Morrison encourages us to
not only deconstruct an old world but to then re-construct our own world, he examines
that this power enables individuals to continue this process, ensuring that they remain
free from the confines of a fixed order.
One illustrative example of this concept appears in the Doors’ first hit single,
“Break on Through” (The Doors, 1967). “Break on Through” is more than a hit single
of the 1960s; in many ways, “Break on Through” defines Morrison’s poetical ambition.
In the first section of the song, Morrison reiterates several themes explored in the last
section. As Morrison writes:
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side (1-7).
Here Morrison clearly rebels against the binaries that systematically dictate our reality.
Let us take the structure of the song’s first passage: Morrison argues against the binaries
of “day” and “night,” which can be interpreted as the binaries that plan out what is
possible during the twenty-four hours of a certain day. For instance, if we abide by the
structures of “day” and “night,” we live linearly, planning our days (school, sleep,
arising) and “night” (sleep) according to these fixed binaries. Human freedom, not to
mention the powers that we can possess, cannot be achieved within this rigid structure;
as a result, Morrison does not argue that we should “run” or “hide” from these binaries
– a state that still forces us to still abide by these binaries – but to “Break on through to
the other side,” an act that not only shatters the boundaries of these rigid binaries but, in
so doing, allows us to move through “The Doors” and into the infinite.
Thus, what resides on “the other side” becomes a creation within Morrison’s
imagination. As Morrison writes:
I found an island in your arms
A country in your eyes
Arms that chained us
Eyes that lied
The gate is straight
Deep and wide
Break on through to the other side (19-22, 28-30).
Morrison incorporates Blake’s symbol of “the doors” with the image of “the gate;” that
is, the structure that divides what is real and what can become real. As we have seen in
the opening segments of the song, Morrison protests against basing his reality upon a
fixed structure or binary; thus, the visions that he perceives are not visions waiting for
him, as that would imply that “the other side” contains innate binaries in which
Morrison must live. Rather, his visions are generated through his imagination, which
allows him to create a portrait of the person within the song beyond his or her bodily
framework. For instance, rather than simply seeing the person’s “arms” or “eyes,”
Morrison creates a vision of the person beyond these limited structures, seeing not just
the physical elements of “arms,” but an “island in your arms.” Moreover, instead of
seeing simply “eyes,” Morrison imagines a “country in your eyes.” In his move into the
infinite Morrison illustrates how he frames the chaotic world beyond “The Doors” into
his own portrait of the person under observation.
When Morrison moves through “The Doors,” he abolishes every innate structure
that dictates his reality to him. Yet when Morrison evokes his imagination to create a
portrait of the person, his vision is anything but chaotic; it is defined and unified. His
visions, such as the “island” and the “country,” suggest that Morrison’s vision contains
structures and, most importantly, unity. Thus, in moving to “the other side,” Morrison
not only shatters the boundaries of a fixed system of order (“day” and “night”), but, in
so doing, he enables himself to frame the infinite back into his own unified portrait of
the person through his imagination. In other words, as Morrison moves to “the other
side,” he not only deconstructs the structures of an old world system, but he enables
himself to reconstruct the infinite into his own creation of the person under observation.
Morrison uses the imagination not simply to promote the act of deconstructing
an old world order – though that is, of course, part of it – but to create a new world
order. In his most famous poem, An American Prayer, Morrison writes:
Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages
We can invent Kingdoms of our own
grand purple thrones, those chairs of lust
& love we must…(7, 101-3).
For once we have shattered a closed system of order, Morrison argues that we enable
ourselves to “invent” a world of “our own.” Indeed, the “myths” that our world(s)
embody, in addition to the physical structures of our world (“grand purple thrones,
those chairs of lust”), will become manifested within our imagination. Yet what
becomes just as important here is that the act of creation is an act of crafting an infinite
array of possibilities and elements back into a unified order of existence within which
each individual can live. Our imagination not only allows us, as we have seen in
“Break on Through,” to create our own vision of reality; in fact, it allows us to create
our own world, free from external control or influence. While Morrison does utilize his
imagination to deconstruct the binaries of his former world, he does not intend for us to
live within this arcane, chaotic environment. On the contrary, in “Break on Through”
and An American Prayer, Morrison clearly argues that our imagination enables us to
frame “our own” world, one that corresponds to each individual’s needs, preferences,
Strikingly, then, creation, for Morrison, is highly dependent not only on the
Dionysian spirit but also the Apollonian system of order. In developing this theory,
Morrison draws from the theories that Nietzsche set forth in The Birth of a Tragedy, a
source that Morrison credited as one of his greatest influences.14 As Nietzsche writes:
“the Apollonian spirit rescues us from the Dionysiac
universality and makes us attend, delightedly, to individual forms [….] Through the
14 See Prochnicky and Riordan’s Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison, 183-5.
massive impact of image, concept, ethical doctrine, and sympathy, the Apollonian spirit
wrests man from his Dionysiac self-destruction […]” (Nietzsche 128-9). The birth of a
tragedy, for Nietzsche, occurs when the Apollonian spirit frames the chaotic energy of
the Dionysian spirit into an orderly existence. It is the fusion of these two entities that
births the tragedy, the discourse, and matter. Without the synthesis of these two
entities, as Nietzsche so brilliantly argues, the sheer power of the chaotic Dionysian
energy would drive men and women to their “self-destruction.”
Morrison’s understanding of this relationship parallels Nietzsche’s examination.
Without a unified system of order in the “Apollonian spirit,” creation, for Morrison,
would “self-destruct,” as the overriding, chaotic Dionysian powers would destroy, or
rather disallow, him from crafting his own world in which to live. For instance, in An
American Prayer, Morrison calls for us to “reinvent” both the truths within our new
world (“Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages”) and also a structural,
physical unity (“We can invent Kingdoms of our own / grand purple thrones, those
chairs of lust”). Even in “Break on Through,” his vision of the person in the song is
manifested as a result of him framing the infinite on “the other side” into a portrait of
the person in the song, beyond the person’s bodily structure. Thus, in calling for this
relationship, Morrison acknowledges that his vision is not only dependent on Dionysian
elements to deconstruct his world, but also on the Apollonian elements to frame chaos
back into a unified order of existence. However, once we create our Kingdoms through
the Apollonian spirit, we should not see our Kingdoms as stationary, as the deployment
of our imagination cannot be so static. As Morrison shows, how we use our
imagination to create our world is directly linked to our infinite thoughts, expressions,
and desires. Therefore, because Morrison argues that our imagination is linked to our
infinite selves, our world can never be considered fixed, as our selves are not fixed.
Thus, how we deploy our imagination will allow us to deconstruct the binaries of a
structural world order – even our own created world – and then continue the act of
recreation, filling our world with new thoughts, truths, “myths,” and structures.
Morrison’s poetry argues that not only can we abolish a world that enslaves us,
but also we can create our own world. Each individual can, indeed, take the infinite and
craft it back into a unified system of order, filling it with each individual’s own
“myths,” structures, and “grand purple thrones.” Morrison’s poetry, in other words,
gives rise to the notion that we can become the creators of our own reality through the
power of the imagination, allowing us to create and, most importantly, recreate a world
that is based upon our infinite desires, thoughts, expression, and imaginations. Does
this mean that each Kingdom will be the same? This could be true if Morrison urges us
to create our world universally, such as through our senses. If so, then one could
rightly argue that how we would craft our world would be very similar (if not identical)
to another’s world. Nevertheless, because Morrison argues that creation must come
from the human imagination, how each individual uses his or her imagination will be
different, as each individual is different. And, by extension, how each individual will
resurrect his or her Kingdom will, in turn, be an extension of his or her infinite
thoughts, desires, and perceptions.
In making this argument, however, I am arguing against Prochnicky, Riordan,
and Sugerman’s claims about how Morrison uses the imagination. As we have
examined in section one, Sugerman argues that Morrison uses the imagination – an
imagination that is stimulated first by “drugs” – to “gain entry into worlds otherwise
locked and sealed off.” And, moreover, through Morrison’s imagination, Sugerman
further argues that he can now “unlock worlds” that would otherwise be denied to
Morrison. Thus, Sugerman interprets Morrison’s understanding of creation linearly, as
the world(s) into which Morrison “gains entry” are not products of his own creation, but
an already existing world that he enters into as a result of his use of drugs.
Riordan and Prochnicky, too, share Sugerman’s understanding of Morrison’s
sense of the imagination. And, like Sugerman, Prochnicky and Riordan continue to link
Morrison’s poetry and the poetic tradition from which Morrison built to drugs. As
Riordan and Prochnicky state:
In 1966 and 1967, Jim Morrison used LSD to take his journey to what the
surrealists calls the frontiers of divine madness. He forsook reason and sought
inspiration at all costs. He ventured into the same realms that influenced Blake,
Rimbaud, Poe, and others. The mystical visions and omens Morrison
experienced in this condition were the soul and depth of his lyrics and poems,
and so many of them were clear and compelling, a montage of symbolic
mythological images (Prochnicky and Riordan 135).
Like Sugerman, Prochnicky and Riordan argue that Morrison perceives the act of
creation in a linear fashion. Through drugs, as Prochnicky and Riordan argue, Morrison
“ventured into the same realms that influenced Blake, Rimbaud, Poe, and others.” If,
then, Morrison entered into the “same realms” upon which Blake, Rimbaud, and Poe all
embarked, then all four poets (including Morrison himself) did not create these realms,
but these “realms” were created by another entity. (Who exactly created the “realms” is
not specified in the text.) Indeed, because Morrison experienced these same “realms”
more than a hundred and fifty years after Blake experienced them, then it would be
impossible for Morrison to have created them. Therefore, it is logical to assume that
Prochnicky and Riordan, like Sugerman, argue that when Morrison moves through “The
Doors,” the worlds, visions, and “realms” that Morrison perceives are not an act of his
own creation, but of another entity’s creation.
Of course, the problem that arises with Prochnicky, Riordan, and Sugerman’s
interpretations are that they all posit that Morrison’s visions remain within a fixed
system of order. Because all three critics argue that Morrison needs drugs to “unlock”
these worlds or “realms” that existed prior to his conception of them, these “realms”
operate according to innate binaries (such as “day” and “night”) by which Morrison
must abide. In other words, because he did not invent these worlds, these worlds carry
a certain degree of structure to them that existed prior to Morrison’s arrival. But the
question, therefore, becomes: what is the difference between the worlds within which
Morrison lives as a result of drugs, and the worlds where he lives as a result of his
senses? This question is not taken up by any of the three critics, but I would like to
suggest an interpretation: there cannot be a difference. If Morrison lives within a world
that is created by another entity – no matter what that world is – he must still live within
a system of order that is both created and controlled by another entity. What is and
what is not possible, then, is not predicated upon Morrison’s imagination, but entirely
predicated by whoever created that world. Thus, in keeping with Prochnicky, Riordan,
and Sugerman’s examination, Morrison cannot be considered free within this world;
instead, he is but a guest within that world, living according to someone else’s
structures, rules, binaries, and regulations.
Morrison, however, does not preach this message within his poetry and lyrics.
As we have seen in “The Original Temptation,” “Break on Through,” An American
Prayer, and even in certain elements of “Moonlight Drive” and “Power,” Morrison
gains control over nature within these works, not through drugs, but by allowing his
imagination to refuse to abide by a fixed and innate system of order that dictates how he
perceives reality. Without restrictions or boundaries, therefore, Morrison’s imagination
could move “to the other side,” allowing it to frame and re-frame the infinite into his
own portrait of “the other side.” This constant act of creation and, most importantly, recreation made Morrison highly aware that we could all create a world beyond “The
Doors,” but, at the same time, he did not know what this realm could become. Thus, by
failing to define what the “the other side” is, Morrison allows it to remain open and
undefined, allowing him to invent and “reinvent” his own world, through his mind’s
Morrison imagines and re-imagines his own reality not because he possesses
special powers or uses drugs, but because he can create it through his human
imagination. Like so much of his poetry, Morrison’s message contains elements that all
men and women can accept and utilize. In his “Self-Interview,” Morrison once stated:
“Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all the
doors. You can walk through any one that suits you [….] If my poetry aims to achieve
anything, it’s to deliver people from their limited ways in which they see and feel” (2).
Morrison’s words remind his audience that they, too, can move beyond their own
“Doors.” Yet, as Morrison remarks, this ability must come from within, through the
imagination, which not only “ticks off the possibilities” of what one can become – an
infinite being – but also allows one to “Open all the doors” of one’s imagination. Like
Morrison, his readers can experience a myriad of different possibilities that reside on
“the other side”; in so doing, what resides on “the other side” (as we have discussed) is
not a vision that Morrison has created for them, but a realm that remains undefined,
open, and constantly in motion. Thus, like Morrison, his readers can free themselves
from what he considers “their limited existence,” and create and re-create their “own
Kingdom” through their imagination.
MORRISON AND THE 1960S COUNTERCULTURAL MOVEMENT
You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots. Let people tell you what
you’re gonna do. Let people push you around. How long do you
think it’s gonna last? How long are you gonna let it go on?
Maybe you like it. Maybe you like being pushed around. Maybe
you love it. Maybe you love getting your face stuck in shit [….]
You’re all a bunch of slaves. Bunch of slaves. Letting
everybody push you around. What are you going to do about it?
What are you going to do about it? What are you gonna do? [....]
I’m not going to take this shit. You are a bunch of fuckin’ idiots,
your faces are being pressed into the shit of the world....
–Jim Morrison, Miami, 1969
Critics and fans of Morrison and the Doors have long debated what sparked
Morrison’s anger towards his audience in a 1969 concert in Miami. This was the year
that the Doors were at the height of their popularity, reaching worldwide stardom and
having produced three successful albums (The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting For the
Sun) and just releasing their fourth (The Soft Parade). Though Morrison never went out
of his way to please mainstream audiences – arriving late to concerts, showing up to
concerts drunk and/or high, being arrested onstage, and blatantly ignoring Dick Clark’s
request to remove the word “higher” from the Doors’ live performance of “Light My
Fire” – it is still odd how often he viciously attacked and insulted his audience, the
lifeblood of his and the Doors’ success.
While critics, such as Fowlie and Stephen Davis, have provided insights into
Morrison’s torn relationship with his audience, this aspect of Morrison’s work needs to
be examined in greater detail. Beginning in 1969 – the year that the Doors’ third studio
album, Waiting for the Sun, was released – Morrison’s work started to become
increasingly confrontational with the direction of the countercultural movement. In the
first two sections of this thesis, I suggested that Morrison’s poetry and lyrics attempted
to liberate people from their oppressed existence; nevertheless, even though the Doors
were incredibly successful, Morrison became acutely aware at this time that his core
message was being overlooked (or simply ignored) by the generation to which he spoke.
Two major aspects of the 1960s countercultural movement, the practices of
Eastern religion and philosophy, and the emergence of communal living, give us better
insights as to why Morrison’s work and stage performances began to become
increasingly hostile towards that movement. While, on the one hand, Morrison insisted
upon individuality, freeing people from any influence outside of themselves, the
practice of Eastern religion and communal living, on the other hand, both urged people
to follow specific guidelines given to them by a spiritual leader, guru, or community.
By examining these two phenomena in greater detail, we can not only better understand
both the context and composition of “Five to One” and his notorious 1969 concert in
Miami, both of which are instances of Morrison repeatedly attacking his generation for
living within a closed system of social life. More importantly, we can see that the
messages and visions in which Morrison provided to the countercultural movement
throughout his career were drastically different from the solutions that it advocated.
The Doors achieved world recognition as a result of their first two albums, The
Doors and Strange Days, both of which were critical and commercial successes.15
Songs such as “Break on Through,” “The End,” Moonlight Drive,” and even songs,
such as “When the Music is Over” and “End of the Night,” became an intellectual
enterprise for Morrison to liberate people and allow them to achieve a higher level of
cognition beyond their five senses. However, while the Doors and Morrison were fully
committed to the counterculture’s efforts to rebel against Western conventions – JudeoChristianity, parental authority, governments, school, and reason – Morrison and the
Doors never acknowledged the direction of the movement, or even the movement itself,
within any of their songs. This phenomenon can perhaps be explained due to Morrison
writing a significant amount of the Doors’ songs before the formation of the band; thus,
by never knowing who their audience would eventually be, or even how well their
messages would be received, Morrison and the Doors never had an audience to
acknowledge in their songs.
By 1968, however, the year that the Doors were largely considered the number
one band in America and one of the most prominent bands in the world, Morrison not
only became aware of who his audience was, but also the impact (or lack of impact) he
actually had on it. As Prochnicky and Riordan argue:
Morrison began seeing himself as a misunderstood poet living within the
confines of the rock medium [….] They saw him only as a sex symbol and just
15 See Prochnicky and Riordan’s Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison, 153-7 and 174-
82. In addition, see Davis’ Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, 196-8.
wanted to hear the hits from the radio. The more he realized the words were
being overlooked, the more frustrated he became [….] At first, when the sex
symbol thing began, he was pleased, believing it could only enhance his power
and increase his influence on the people he was trying to reach. But by this time
, Jim had grown to hate it (Prochnicky and Riordan 252).
Prochnicky and Riordan’s argument can perhaps explain the drastic shift in the Doors’
third studio album, Waiting for the Sun (1968).16 For Waiting for the Sun not only
marks a shift towards Morrison confronting the prevalent issues of his time in
“Unknown Solider” – “wait until the war is over / And we’re both a little older” (1-2) –
but it takes aim at attacking the direction of his generation in “Five to One.” Before his
attack in the second segment of the song, Morrison gives his generation momentary
praise, only to subvert it in the song’s next section. In “Five to One,” Morrison begins
the song with a revolutionary chant, much like, as Hopkins and Sugerman note in No
One Here Gets Out Alive, the “revolutionary rhetoric heard on the streets and read in the
underground press” (Hopkins and Sugerman 152). As Morrison writes:
Five to one, baby
One in five
No one here gets out alive
16 Prochnicky and Riordan’s argument is also supported by Morrison’s Paris diary, better known now as
The Lost Diaries of Jim Morrison. As Morrison writes:
I only became a singer due to never having my poems published, or, taken seriously. Then, the
poems were published and my world changed. I thought if I sang some songs I could share my
poems. And, if I was famous that my poems would be recognized, too. Taken seriously.
[f]eel that no one refers to me as a poet. Like they do, Dylan. Then, when I finally had them
published no one says a word! Wh[y] do I write for them? To many, I’m just the fool on the
You get yours, baby
I’ll get mine
Gonna make it, baby
If we try
The old get old and the young
May take a week and it may
They got the guns but we got
Yeah, we’re takin’ over
Come on (1-17).
The first segment of the song situates itself within the counterculture’s revolutionary
rhetoric. The opening lines imply that both Morrison and the Doors were committed to
the counterculture’s revolution, and that Morrison even envisions its victory (“Gonna
win / Yea, we’re takin’ over”).
Yet, as Hopkins and Sugerman suggest in No One Here Gets Out Alive, this
song was “misunderstood by nearly everyone because they listened only to the first two
verses” (Hopkins and Sugerman 151). In the next section, Morrison withdraws his
initial praise for the counterculture, now directly attacking its efforts and direction:
Your ballroom days are over, baby
Night is drawing near
Shadows of the evening crawl across
You walk across the floor with a
flower in your hand
Trying to tell me no one understands
Trade in your hours for a handful
of dimes (18-25).
Here Morrison not only shows his distaste for his status as a sex symbol – “You walk
across the floor / with a flower in your hand / trying to tell me no one understands” –
but he candidly expresses his disapproval for the movement’s direction. As Prochnicky
and Riordan argue, Morrison “reminds the girl [in “Five to One”] that her ballroom
days are over and refers to her walking across the floor with a flower and her saying no
one understands, it is clear that [Morrison] foresees not only revolution in America, but
the failings of the flower children to stop it” (Prochnicky and Riordan 248).17
Morrison’s metaphors of “Night is drawing near” and “Shadows of the evening crawl
across / the years” further support Prochnicky and Riordan’s interpretation. On the one
hand, while the counterculture attempts to spread peace over the world, the natural
order of that world, on the other hand, works against the movement, as the world
suppresses its efforts through the coming of “Night.”
17 For more information about the context of this song, see Hopkins and Sugerman’s No One Here Gets
Out Alive, 151-3.
Moreover, while the movement attempted to liberate individuals from Western
conventions, Morrison argued in “Five to One” that the movement’s direction has
placed itself within a closed system of order. For instance, when Morrison confronts
the flower child within the song, he informs her that she “Trade in your hours for a
handful / of dimes.” What these lines signify, interestingly, is that while the flower
child may believe her actions are revolutionary – as seen in the song’s opening
moments – her actions have nevertheless placed her within a closed system of order.
Instead of the flower child using her “hours” to “break on through to the other side,” as
Morrison suggested in “Break on Through,” the flower child has “trade[ed] in [her]
hours,” for a monetary value, “a handful / of dimes.” Monetary should not be read as
referring to simply money; these lines should rather be interpreted as the flower child
receiving a reward, not produced by her imagination, but given to her from another
source, a source for whom she works. In other words, the rewards that the flower child
receives come not from her imagination, free from external control or influence – as
Morrison and Blake preach – but are provided to her as a result of someone else.
The symbol of the flower in the 1960s – like the one in “Five to One” – is
usually linked to the counterculture movement.18 Thus, in using the symbol of the
flower child in “Five to One,” Morrison does not speak directly to one member of the
counterculture, but instead makes a larger cultural statement. Hopkins and Sugerman
support this interpretation in No One Here Gets Out Alive, arguing that while this song
does not suggest that Morrison had “turned his back entirely on the ‘love generation,’”
18 See Robert E. Fitch’s “Hippies, Hoodlums, Youthmongers - and Students” and John Robert Howard’s
“The Flowering of the Hippie Movement.”
he “remained different in many basic ways.” For instance, Hopkins and Sugerman
Unlike the prototypical ‘hippy,’ Jim thought astrology was pseudoscience,
rejected the concept of the totally integrated personality, and expressed a distaste
for vegetarianism because of the religious fervor often attached to diet. It was,
he said, dogma, and he had no use for that (Hopkins and Sugerman 153).
Hopkins and Sugerman clearly elucidate several differences between Morrison and the
countercultural movement – differences of which Morrison was clearly aware.
Specifically, Hopkins and Sugerman emphasize that Morrison rejected the emerging
alternative practices that were embraced by the counterculture in order to reach a higher
level of cognition or inner peace, believing that they were attached to “dogma,”
“pseudoscience,” and “religious fervor.”
Hopkins and Sugerman’s argument underscore Morrison’s central attack on the
flower child within “Five to One.” Indeed, when Morrison expresses his “distaste” for
the flower child, he argues that the rewards (“dimes”) that she receives comes as a result
of her “practicing” within the guidelines that others have provided her. Could the
rewards that the flower child receives be a result of her practicing these new alternative
lifestyles? While we do not know specifically what the flower child is doing to receive
her “dimes,” we can begin to identify that the reasons for Morrison’s distaste towards
the counterculture, as Hopkins and Sugerman illustrate, are the same reasons he attacks
the flower child in “Five to One.” In both instances, Morrison’s central attack is
towards individuals who follow within the specific guidelines that others have created
in order to achieve a proposed “reward.”
Above all, “Five to One” marks Morrison’s increasing hostility towards the
direction of the movement. In 1969, one year after “Five to One” debuted, Morrison’s
anger towards his generation had escalated, becoming even more direct, more
confrontational. The themes that Morrison evokes in “Five to One” become even more
hostile by the time of the Doors 1969 concert in Miami. There Morrison candidly
insults his fans:
Let people tell you what you’re gonna do. Let people push you around. How
long do you think it’s gonna last? How long are you gonna let it go on? Maybe
you like it. Maybe you like being pushed around. Maybe you love it. Maybe
you love getting your face stuck in shit […] You’re all a bunch of slaves. Bunch
of slaves. Letting everybody push you around [….] You are a bunch of fuckin’
idiots, your faces are being pressed into the shit of the world (qtd. Prochnicky
and Riordan 295).
Here Morrison clearly attacks his generation for working for an entity outside of itself.
Candidly, Morrison remarks that the men and women of his generation are “all a bunch
of slaves” and they are all “a bunch of fuckin’ idiots,” as their “faces are being pressed
into the shit of the world.” The word “slave” appeared earlier in The Lords (1969),
where Morrison argues that “The Lords” (or the leaders of society) “enslave”
individuals through “Books, concerts, galleries, shows” and “cinemas.” The same
metaphors and motifs are re-deployed by Morrison in Miami; indeed, by utilizing the
word “slave” to describe his audience, Morrison suggests that someone – whoever
pushes their faces “in shit” – controls, oppresses, and ‘enslaves’ his audience.19
Critics and fans have long been puzzled over Morrison’s attack on his audience.
Yet with songs like “Five to One,” this attack, perhaps, should not be seen as out of the
ordinary; there were, of course, other songs that debuted before the Miami incident,
such as “The Soft Parade” and “Do it,” that give us evidence of Morrison’s growing
disappointment with the direction of his generation. “Five to One” and Miami,
however, are two incidents that come together, concentrating on one central theme. The
theme is not, as one might imagine, that Morrison’s words are being overlooked by his
audience; the theme, on the contrary, is that for Morrison the counterculture’s directions
have placed it within a closed-form environment. In both circumstances, Morrison
vehemently attacks his generation for living within the guidelines that someone else has
set forth for it.
But the interesting question is: who is controlling and enslaving his generation?
By examining two cultural phenomena that emerged from the 1960s, eastern religion
and communal living, we can begin to direct scholarship towards considering this
aspect of Morrison’s work more fully. The beliefs, messages, and practices that
emerged within these two disciplines can not only be seen as diametrically opposed to
19 It should also be noted that a large portion of Morrison’s attack on his audience in Miami took place
within the instrumental pieces of “Five to One,” further connecting the messages in “Five to One” and the
messages that Morrison expressed in his performance in Miami. Prochnicky and Riordan note that in
Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison that: “When Morrison paused in his rap the band
started playing ‘Five to One.’ That was probably a mistake. Morrison sang a few verses, but after that
his rap became angry and harshly condemning (Prochnicky and Riordan 295).
the messages and visions that Morrison preached within his poetry and lyrics, but this
conflict led to Morrison’s continuous attack towards his generation beginning in 1969.
One of the major aspects of the 1960s countercultural movement was an
increasing practice of Eastern religion and philosophy. Among the most notable
celebratory activists of the 1960s were: The Beatles (especially George Harrison),
Aleister Crowley, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder.20 According to
Marty E. Martine, by the mid 1960s:
[…] many Americans were beginning to send out subtle signals that a change
was in the air. Some of the protest against the war turned pacific; “flower
children” replaced the militants, and some of them retreated to communes where
interest centered in Zen Buddhism, macrobiotic diets, or the Children of God
[….] Eastern religions found Western embodiments on campuses and cities
With the efforts of the leaders of the 1960s counterculture to promote the benefits of
Eastern religion and philosophy in their works (see Kerouac’s “Buddha,” The Beatles’
Sergeant Pepper, Ginsberg’s “Whales Visitation,” or Whalen’s “Sourdough Mountain
Lookout”), in addition to Guru Maharaj Ji and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki teaching these
practices throughout America, Eastern religion and philosophy became a popular
20 See Hugh McLeod’s The Religious Crisis of the 1960s, 132-4.
mainstream attraction among American youth.21 As a result, centers and movements,
such as San Francisco’s Zen Center, Transcendental Meditation (TM), Krishna
Consciousness Movement, the Divine Light Mission, and the International Society of
Krishna Consciousness, were operating throughout Los Angeles, San Francisco, and
New York, and were flourishing even in mainstream American society.22
Eastern religion and philosophy appealed to the people of the 1960s not simply
because they encouraged rebelling against Western religion. The rituals and beliefs that
Eastern religion and philosophy provided people, as Hugh McLeod argues, with an
avenue for “personal exploration” and “individual freedom.” As McLeod further
examines, Eastern religion and philosophy, unlike Christianity, emphasize the
individual’s “experience rather than doctrine, [and] feeling and intuition rather than
rational argument” (McLeod 132-4). Instead of living by a set of rules or regulations
set forth within the canonized Bible, Eastern religion and philosophy were perceived by
the members of the counterculture as focusing on the individual’s own spiritual journey,
through the practices of meditation, yoga, and other alternative practices. More
prominently, however, while Judeo-Christianity insists that individuals cannot transcend
their bodily framework until death – where the individual will experience an afterlife in
Heaven or Hell – Buddhism, for instance, focuses on the individual’s own spiritual
21 See also Camille Paglia’s “Cults and Cosmic Consciousness” for more information about the rise of
Eastern religion in America in the 1960s.”
22 In his book, Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, Davis supports this argument, writing:
Transcendental Meditation was the first of the Asian spiritual cults to invade America in the
sixties. Founded in 1957 in India, by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, as the Spiritual Regeneration
Movement, it arrived in Los Angeles in 1960 and spread through the U.S. and Europe until it
became indentified with the Beatles and eventually mutated into an international corporation
[….] Maharishi taught a practice of deep meditation by means of personal mantra given to the
student by his teacher, a technique based on ancient Vedic scripture orally transmitted to him by
his own teacher, Guru Dev (Davis 80).
journey in the living present. Allan Watts, a prominent figure in bringing Eastern
religions to America, argues that Buddhism, in contrast to Judeo-Christianity, is “all
action,” in that each individual is connected to every aspect of the world he or she
inhabits. Moreover, when the individual’s own “separateness disappears,” realizing his
or her connection to all facets of the world, the individual experiences a state of
“nirvana” (Watts 10).
While Eastern religion and philosophy were perceived in the 1960s as focusing
on the individual’s spiritual journey, several sectors of Eastern religion and philosophy
practiced in 1960s America mandated each individual to follow a specific lifestyle or
creed to achieve a higher state of spirituality. In most cases, students of Eastern religion
and philosophy were led through their spiritual journey by a guru, master, or spiritual
leader; yet the doctrines and creeds that each guru, master, or leader taught took a
variety of forms.23 For instance, at the most radical of levels, E. Burke Rochford, Jr.
argues that “the aim” of the disciples of Hare Krishna is “to become self-realized by
practicing bghakii-yoga (i.e. the devotion to God). Central to this spiritual process is
chanting Hare Krishna and living a lifestyle free from meats, intoxicants, illicit sex, and
gambling” (Rochford 155, n2). In addition, Buddhism mandates that students follow an
eight-step process to achieve inner peace that Buddha himself once outlined: right view,
right aspiration, right speech, right action, right means of livelihood, right exertion,
23 Paglia argues that: “Members of the sixties counterculture were passionately committed to political
reform, yet they were also seeking the truth about life outside religious and social institutions. Despite
their ambivalence towards authority, however, they often sought gurus – mentors or guides, who proved
fallible” (Paglia 58).
right mindfulness, and right concentration.24 Thus, in order to achieve a higher level of
spirituality, or what Watts calls “nirvana,” individuals must be cognizant of these eight
steps given to them by their master or guru.
Even the most popular Eastern religions and philosophies practiced in America
mandated that individuals follow certain techniques or doctrines. Robert J. Trotter
argues that the basic techniques for Transcendental Meditation – the most popular
Eastern philosophy in America in the 1960s – “can be learned in the course of a 90-
minute session of individual instruction. It is then practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day,
during which the meditator sits in a comfortable position with eyes closed” (Trotter
377).25 Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki – perhaps the most influential figure in bringing Zen
Buddhism to America – describes the devotion that the student must show to his or her
The idea of direct method appealed to by the masters is to get hold of this
fleeting life as it flees and not after it has flown [….] Their aim is to have the
pupil’s attention concentrated in the thing itself which he wishes to grasp and
not in anything that is in the remotest possible connection liable to disturb him
[….] We must penetrate into the mind itself as the spring of life, from which all
these words are produced [….] [This] direct method is thus not always the
violent assertion of life-force, but a gentle movement of the body, the
24 See Sangharakshita A Survey of Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Methods Through the Ages.
25 In his book, Transcendental Meditation: What Do They Believe? Val Waldeck supports Trodder’s
argument, stating that TM’s Mantra consists of a:
pleasant-sound […] taken from the “Vedas” (Hindu scriptures). Devotees are required to sit
quietly for twenty minutes twice a day and repeat this sound until they experience ‘transcending
awareness’ [….] This mantra is used to ‘clean’ the mind and to still concrete thoughts
responding to a call, the listening to a murmuring stream, or to a singing bird, or
any of our most ordinary everyday assertions of life (Suzuki 154).
Like TM, for the effect of Zen Buddhism to manifest – to “penetrate into the mind itself
as the spring of life” – students must follow the specific instructions of their masters,
whose “aim is to have the pupil’s attention concentrated in the thing itself.” Though
students of Zen Buddhism, as Suzuki notes, may pick the object upon which to focus,
the master still plays a vital role in his or her students’ spirituality, ensuring that the
individual continues to be “concentrated in the thing itself” and “not in anything that is
[…] liable to disturb him.” Thus, if the students’ attention or impulse directs them
towards another object, the master will work to ensure that their focus does not digress
from the initial object under observation. Suzuki suggests, therefore, that while Zen
Buddhism may provide students with the ability to engage with their own spirituality,
students can only achieve this effect through working within the guidelines that their
master has provided for them.
While these books and articles do not provide us with an encapsulating
understanding of the religious practices of the 1960s, or even their proposed effects,
they do suggest that students practice Eastern religion and philosophy through the
guidelines or instructions of their masters, gurus, or spiritual leaders. Hence, the most
popular Eastern trends to enter into American mainstream culture in the 1960s – Hare
Krishna movement, TM, Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism – cannot simply be seen as
individualistic in their very nature; rather, their effects can only manifest if students
follow certain paths, techniques, or directions outlined by their masters or spiritual
leaders. Granted, not all Eastern religions or philosophies are similar in nature: the
radicalized practices of the Hare Krishna movement are not as strict as the techniques
and procedures of Buddhism, TM, or Zen. Yet what all of these Eastern trends have in
common is how individuals practice them: through following the instructions, beliefs,
directions, or techniques provided for them by their master or spiritual leader.
The other major cultural phenomenon driving Morrison’s fractured relationship
with his generation was the emerging cultural practice of communal living. Ed
Schwartz organizes these communes into four categories:
First, there were therapeutic communes. These were cooperatives built around
working out some mutually shared psychological problem [….]
Next, there are fraternal communes [….] A group of people [are] lonely; its
members want to live with more than one person. The commune gives them the
Third, there are utopian communes. These are the “we-are-out-to-show-theworld-a-new-way-of-living” communes which gather in the rural hinterlands. They
demand an extraordinarily high level of interaction within the group and become
enmeshed in an endless dialogue on “how-well-we-are-doing as a group.”
Finally, there are the organizing communes. These are the communes which
unite around a common ideology, program, or strategy for social change which
members are pursuing in relation to predominant institutions. Usually the
experience of living collectively is part of the overall ideology of the group, but
only part. The commune derives strength primarily from refining its analysis of the
oppressive nature of the system, and from sharing the risks of challenging it
Schwartz’s research shows that the counterculture embraced communal living for the
same reasons that it embraced Eastern religions and philosophies.26 Similar to the
perceived practices of Eastern religions and philosophies, the members of the
counterculture perceived that communal living provided them with an avenue to explore
their own individuality. Or, in the words of Timothy Miller, communal living allowed
them to “live freely without interfering or being interfered with the outside world any
more than was necessary” (Miller 94). Thus, as Schwartz and Miller argue, the
counterculture’s move towards communal living, distinct from society, was perceived
as enabling members to focus on new, alternative lifestyle practices and experiences,
free from societal mores.
In fact, as Scott MacFarlane argues, the individuals of the 1960s counterculture
used communes to manifest a world distinct from mainstream society. As MacFarlane
writes: “The hippies of the late ‘60s were railing against mainstream society in a highly
deconstructivist manner,” yet “the phenomenon evolved into one where those hippies
found constructivist adaptations on the edges of American society” (MacFarlane 233).
26 Timothy Miller takes Schwartz’s observations to a further extent, arguing that certain communes in the
1960s were geared towards the practices of Eastern religion and philosophies. As Miller notes:
New religions were part of the countercultural matrix, and several of them operated communes
for some or all of their members. The Hare Krishna movement, founded in the United States in
1965 and intimately related to the hippies in its early years, was largely communal. The Jesus
freaks who appeared in the latter days of hip founded an extensive network of communes. And
independent spiritual communes were also founded in the considerable numbers. An
independent spiritual communes were also founded in considerable numbers (Miller 94).
In many respects, the hippies’ attitude strikingly resembles Morrison’s belief in
deconstructing an old world and then creating a new system of order; however, the main
distinction between Morrison’s belief and the belief of the hippies is that Morrison
constructs a world within his imagination, and the hippies re-constructed a world
27 In so doing, MacFarlane notes that the hippies could experience together
(or even learn): “healthier eating habits, greater thought regarding the impact of what
they were consuming, a pacifist and collectivist credo, and striving to find a higher level
of spirituality” (Ibid 233). Thus, while Morrison preached for people to construct a
world, free from any influence, the hippies, as McFarlane argues, based their world
instead upon a “collectivist credo.”
Coexistence within certain communes could only succeed as a result of
individuals following specific rules and regulations set forth by the members of the
community. In his 1969 article on hippie communes, John Robert Howard argues that
at first communes “assumed that voluntarism (every man doing his thing) was
compatible with satisfying essential group and individuals needs and with the
maintenance of a social system […]” (Howard 45). Initially, members of several
communes throughout the western United States thought that harmony could only be
reached if individuals were not forced to abide by specific rules or regulations. And,
27 John Robert Howard, in “The Flowering the Hippie Movement,” takes a similar stance to MacFarlane,
The hippies offered, in 1966 and 1967, a serious, though not well-articulated, alternative to the
conventional social system. To the extent that there was theory of change implicit in their
actions, it might be summed upon by the phrase ‘transformation by example.’ Unlike political
revolutionaries, they attempted no seizure of power. Rather, they asked for the freedom to ‘do
their thing,’ that is, to create their own social system. They assumed, implicitly, that what they
created would be so joyous, so dazzling, so ‘groovy’ that the ‘straight’ [Howard’s use of the
word straight signifies, as he states, “honest or forthright.”] would abandon his own ‘uptight’ life
and come over to their side (Howard 45, n 3).
because individuals would now be happier, both with themselves and their respective
communes, it was initially thought that these people would gladly volunteer their time
to the “maintenance of [their] social system.”
Yet, as Howard notes, this theory failed to achieve a reality, and several hippie
communes around Northern California were forced to initiate rules to maintain their
existence. Don S, a former resident at the famous Haight-Asbury, states:
We had all kinds of people there at first and anybody could stay there if there
was room. Anybody could crash out there. Some of the motorcycle types began
to congregate in the kitchen. That became their room, and if you wanted to get
something to eat or beer you had to step over them. Pretty soon, in a way,
people were cut off from the food [….] It was like they had begun, in some very
quiet and subtle ways, to run things (qtd. Howard 47).
Of course, this is just one specific example; nevertheless, what Howard notes is that
“internal contradictions” – such as the one that Don S. mentions – became problematic
for continuing the maintenance of the hippie communes (Howard 47). Indeed, in
“refusing to introduce explicit rules designed to prevent invidious power distinctions
from arising,” as Howard argues, “such distinctions inevitably began to appear”
(Howard 48). Therefore, as Howard writes, in some communes “allocation of task and
responsibility is fairly specific” (Howard 48). Thus, no longer were individuals free to
live without any external pressures; now they were forced to follow a creed – albeit a
creed that they have agreed upon – to ensure that everyone within the community
performs a task designated to better that community as a whole.
We can perhaps see why these two cultural phenomena contributed immensely
to Morrison’s fractured relationship with his generation. In his interview with Lizzie
James, Morrison states: “Nobody can win [freedom] for you. You have to do it on your
own. If you look to somebody else to do it for you – somebody outside yourself –
you're still depending on others. You're still vulnerable to those repressive, evil outside
forces, too.” Morrison argues when we look to “somebody else” – a guru, spiritual
leader, creed, or community – we cannot be considered “free,” as our actions thoughts,
and perceptions are still – even if only slightly – being directed or influenced by
Thus, even though the practices of Eastern religion and philosophy, and
communal living, attempt to reach a higher level of spiritual awareness and inner peace,
Morrison clearly thought that any influence outside of oneself continued to place one
within a state of mental oppression. Because the spiritual practice of Eastern religion
and the material practice of communal living urged people to follow specific guidelines,
people who embraced these cultural practices cannot be considered free, as their road to
freedom is being determined by “somebody outside” of themselves. Therefore, instead
of individuals’ reality becoming a manifestation of their own infinite thoughts,
expressions, desires, and perceptions, all of which are free from outside influence,
individuals who subscribe to influences outside of themselves generate their reality
within the specific techniques, philosophies, rituals rules, or creeds given to them by
Perhaps these two cultural practices can give us a greater insight into Morrison’s
composition of “Five to One” and his public performance in Miami. In both incidences,
Morrison argues that his generation lives within a closed system of order. Indeed, when
he informs the flower child in “Five to One” that she “Trade in your hours for a
handful / of dimes,” Morrison evokes that the rewards (“dimes”) that the flower child
works to achieve (“Trade in your hours”) are given to her by another person. This
reading of “Five to One” suggests that the flower child cannot be considered free from
external influence, but, as Morrison states in Miami, she remains a “slave” to this
system in order to achieve a higher reward. Indeed, because the flower child’s “hours”
(or life) are spent working towards a reward (“dimes”) given to her as a result of
following specific steps, techniques, or rules, the flower child cannot be considered free
from external control, but is shown to be highly dependent upon an external system of
order to ensure that this reward will be given to her.
This reading of “Five to One” and of the Miami rant clearly connects to the
manner in which Eastern religion and communes operated in the 1960s. Indeed, the
rewards that Eastern religion and communes provide are not free from external
influence, but, as with the flower child in “Five to One” and Morrison’s perception of
his audience in Miami, are highly dependent upon a system of order to achieve a higher
level of spiritual cognition or inner peace. While the individuals who practiced Eastern
religion or practiced communal living in the 1960s may not be literally “slaves” to these
system, Morrison’s philosophy would, however, suggest that they were mentally
controlled by these systems to achieve a reward from those systems. Because
Morrison’s philosophy, which unquestionable insist upon individuality, suggest that
because these two cultural practices urge individuals to follow specific guidelines to
achieve a higher level of cognition, spirituality, or inner peace – all of which could be
argued as the proposed rewards that Morrison attacks the flower child in “Five to One”
and his audience in Miami for attempting to possess – Morrison’s theories posit that for
him these individuals are living within a closed world system.
These two aspects of the movement, aspects of which Morrison was clearly
aware, give us a better understanding of how the directions of the movement were
radically different from Morrison’s vision. Indeed, while Morrison insisted that
freedom could only occur if individuals were to free themselves of any external
influence or dictation, allowing them to become the creators of their own system of
order through their imagination, individuals of the counterculture, on the other hand,
used gurus, spiritual guides, communes, and creeds to lead them to a higher level of
spiritual reality and inner peace. This may explain why Morrison in 1969, the year in
which these two major movements reached their full momentum, called his generation
“slaves.” As he argues in his interview with James, Morrison thought that if individuals
were to follow the rules, regulations, beliefs, rituals, steps, or doctrines provided to
them by Eastern religion or their communes, they could not in actuality be considered
free. Thus, while Morrison’s poetry and lyrics illustrate that he thought individuals
could liberate themselves through their imagination, he thought that individuals who
took part in these two major culture movements in the 1960s failed to acknowledge this
power, choosing to instead allow others to direct, guide, and – perhaps – construct their
Do you know the warm progress
under the stars?
Do you know we exist?
Have you forgotten the keys
to the Kingdom?
Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths
of the ages
– Jim Morrison, An American Prayer, 1-8
Riordan and Prochnicky begin their biography on Jim Morrison by identifying
Morrison’s relationship with his generation:
The status quo of the late sixties viewed Morrison as a political revolutionary.
However, he never had any such desire – the last thing he wanted to do was
organize anything. Morrison argued that we should all set ourselves from our
mental prisons and cease playing warden to our souls. His was the voice that
bid us to dance on fire, to listen to the butterfly scream, and to break on through
to the other side away from social and parental conditioning to freedom –
personal freedom (Prochnicky and Riordan 19).
Throughout this project, my aim has been to investigate in greater detail this interesting
point. Morrison’s fractured relationship with his generation resulted in that the
direction Morrison wished to take the counterculture was very different from its actual
Morrison’s poetical ambition was to move his readers beyond “The Doors” of
their own perception and allow them to become the creators of not only their own
identities, but also their own reality through their imagination. From his earliest work
in “Break on Through” and “Moonlight Drive” to even the later works of “Original
Temptation” and An American Prayer, Morrison’s poetical ambition remained the
same; that is, to guide his audience to achieve “personal freedom.” “
freedom,” for Morrison, is freedom from any system of order that directs – even if only
slightly – how we think, act, or perceive our world; in so doing, the reality that we
create becomes a product, not of someone else’s dictation or influence, but purely of our
own imagination. Yet this belief does not suggest that Morrison rebelled against every
system of order. Take, for instance, “The Original Temptation”: “To participate in the
creation. / To screw things up. / To bring Things into being.” For Morrison, once we
have moved through “The Doors” and see the infinite in all things, we, in turn, gain the
ability to “participate in creation” by imaginatively framing the infinite into our own
system of order.
However, as we have seen in our examination of the 1960s countercultural
movement, several aspects of that movement opposed the messages and visions that
Morrison preached. For the practice of Eastern religion and philosophy and also
communal living did not urge individuals to express their infinite desires, expressions,
and thoughts; quite the contrary, these practices urged individuals to follow a specific
technique, belief, ritual, or creed issued to them from either a spiritual leader or a
community. While I have spent the majority of my time within this project focusing on
this one aspect shared by both social practices, it is all that is needed to show how these
practices radically clashed with Morrison’s vision. Indeed, though these practices, like
Morrison’s messages, were an attempt to free individuals from societal mores and allow
them to experience a higher level of personal freedom, Morrison’s work clearly
demonstrates that any influence outside of ourselves continues to place us within a form
of mental oppression. Thus, because other individuals, doctrines, beliefs, creeds, and
techniques were influencing individuals who participated within these cultural practices
in the 1960s, their reality becomes a manifestation of someone else. According to Jim
Morrison, these individuals simply exchanged one form of mental oppression for
another form of it.
Perhaps these aspects of the 1960s counterculture can give us a greater insight
into his work and performances from 1969 onwards. For songs such as “Five to One,”
An American Prayer, and his stage performance in Miami suggest that Morrison was at
odds with some aspects of his generation and saw the potential dangers with its
direction. In 1969, with the debut of the Doors’ third studio album, Waiting for the Sun,
Morrison no longer dominated his album with visionary aspects. In Waiting for the
Sun, and the music even in The Soft Parade (1969) and LA Woman (1971), his work and
stage performances became a repeated attempt to direct and re-direct his readers and the
members of his audience from what he saw as their oppression and allow them to
experience the liberation that can occur behind “The Doors.”
Unlike the practice of Eastern religion and communal living, Morrison’s poetry
and lyrics never influence or dictate to his readers or audience members how they
should live their lives. While Morrison does suggest that genuine liberation occurs the
moment we move through “The Doors,” he never dictates or instructs us on how to
“break on through to the other side”; furthermore, his poetry and lyrics never promises
or describes what resides on “the other side.” Throughout his work, Morrison argues
that our reality is infinite and undefined; yet how we can perceive the infinite or, most
importantly, frame the infinite, is left to our own imagination. As a result, the visions,
desires, and experiences that Morrison encourages his readers to achieve reveals that he
thought his readers could create their own world even if he did not know what this
world could entail. This is, I think, the beauty of his message: he leaves this land of
alternatives to his readers’ imagination, ensuring that the construction of their own
world and the construction of their own identities will become malleable to their own –
and not anyone else’s – discretion.
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