On the Limitations of Jim Morrison

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Today is Jim Morrison’s birthday (1943-1971). Influenced by all the right people (Neitzsche, Artaud, Rimbaud, the Beats, the Living Theatre), his own writing and performance have to be said to fall far short of where he seemed to be aiming. Camille Paglia (whom I admire) calls him Byronic, but it has to be conceded that he is that in image only — and only then to one wearing rose colored glasses. There is no Childe Harold or Don Juan to his credit; he fought in no wars. Less an exponent of Dionysus than of Bacchus, ultimately one has to think of him and his bandmates as the garage band equivalent of H.P. Lovecraft, producers of fun, unintentional camp.

To me, the Doors seem perpetually stuck at a fork in the road…they’d have been so much better had they taken one or the other of the paths open to them. One: pure camp, as in their earlier records, with Morrison’s spectral, mock-ominous spookhouse voice interplaying with Manzerek’s funeral organ and Robby Krieger’s LSD freak-out note-bending on guitar. Ultimately, this is the same direction as the Count Five (the garage band whose members all wore Dracula capes) and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The other direction…the one of high seriousness, was also open to them, but as I say, while they seemed to aspire to it, they (I am sorry) did not have the chops, musically, lyrically or theatrically. This path is most appealing to me, by the way. If someone could nail it, it would be the most amazing thing ever. But the Doors fall, both comically and tragically, short. I enjoy them, by the way. I listen to them all the time…in the same spirit I watch the films of William Castle and Roger Corman. Here’s why: (I suppose I wouldn’t change a song like this for all the world.)

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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For more on silent film don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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