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Authors: Greil Marcus

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BOOK: The Doors
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Art doesn't have to imitate life to be art—certainly the Doors' music never did. But art may have to translate life, lift it up, cast it down, take it elsewhere, bring it back from the dead, pronounce the funeral oration, again and again. For a time, at the beginning and the end, no artists faced that glamorous void with more flair, curiosity, and heedlessness than a group that, with their faces on their own billboard looking
down from one end of Sunset Strip, with “Twentieth Century Fox” defaced and rewrote the billboards that were already there.
“Twentieth Century Fox,”
The Doors
(Elektra, 1967).
Les années pop, 1956–1968
, ed. Mark Francis (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2001).
Tornados, “Telstar,” (Decca, UK, #1, London, US, #1).
Lawrence Alloway quoted in
The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty
(Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1990), 43.
Eduardo Paolozzi,
I Was a Rich Man's Plaything
(1947). Included in
The Independent Group,
97. See also
The Jet Age Compendium: Paolozzi at Ambit
, ed. David Brittain (London: Four Corners Books, 2009), a collection of Paolozzi's 1967–79 contributions to the galvanic avant-garde quarterly: a chronicle of pinups and Vietnam, as if both are at war over the artist's mind, with Vietnam winning. “The strongest doors in the world are those that guard the treasures in the great banks, insurance offices, and safe deposits,” Paolozzi wrote in
33 in 1967, tracing a theme he would return to over the years. “They are massive pieces of steel, weighing several tons, and boasting a formidable array of bolts, combination locks and placement. The sacrifice of many measures to one, also is often the wisest disposition of forces. Upon the stage, spectacular arrangement is constructed almost entirely on this principle. The greater the number of figures supporting, or wizards. One came to me not long ago with a brainstorm. At that particular time, we had among our clients a large manufacturer of chewing gum and also one of the leading makers of toothpaste. Our boy had an idea for two new products destined for the large Italian population of the States: garlic-flavored chewing gum and garlic toothpaste. After all these years, I am still wondering did we pass up a million?”
Peter Smithson quoted in
The Independent Group,
Dennis Potter quoted in Michael Sragow, “BBC Pro Shows ABC's of Dream Writing,”
San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle,
March 29, 1987.
Chuck Berry, “No Money Down” (Chess, 1955).
Kirk Varnedoe,
A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern
(New York: Abrams, 1990).
Marianne Faithfull quoted in
Behind the Music: Marianne Faithfull
(VH1, 1999).
Richard Hamilton,
Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?
(1956). Included in
The Independent Group
, 69. See also GM, “The Vortex of Gracious Living,” in
Richard Hamilton
, ed. Hal Foster (Cambridge MA: October/ MIT, 2010).
———, On expendability. See
The Independent Group
, 40. Jim Morrison had his own argument. “That's what I love about films—they're so perishable,” he said in 1969. “One big atomic explosion and all the celluloid melts. There'd be no film. There's a beautiful scene in a book called
Only Lovers Left Alive
. . . this guy's making a foray into enemy territory—the kids have inherited the earth; all the adults have committed suicide—and at night he stumbles into this abandoned building and he hears a strange noise. What it is is a gang of little kids between six and twelve years old, huddled around a dead television set, and one of them is imitating the television shows of old. I think that's beautiful. And that's why poetry appeals to me so much—because it's eternal. As long as there are people, they can remember words and combinations of words. Nothing else can survive a holocaust, but poetry and songs. No one can remember an entire novel. No one can describe a film, a piece of sculpture, a painting. But so long as there are human beings, songs and poetry can continue.” From Jerry Hopkins, “The Rolling Stone Interview,”
Rolling Stone
, July 26, 1969, collected in
The Rolling Stone Interviews
(New York: Paperback Library, 1971), 212.
Medallions, “Buick '59” (Dootone, 1954).
Tricky Cad
. See
Jess, A Grand Collage, 1951–1993
, ed. Robert J. Berthof (Buffalo NY: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1993), and
Made in U.S.A.: An Americanization in Modern Art, The '50s and '60s
, ed. Sidra Stich (Berkeley: California, 1987).
———, “demon-stration” (1969). Quoted in Rebecca Solnit,
Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era
(San Francisco, City Lights 1990), 38.
Wallace Berman,
Support the Revolution
(Amsterdam: Institute for Contemporary Art, 1992). Includes many Verifax collages, some in color. See also
Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle
, ed. Kristine McKenna (New York/Santa Monica: D.A.P./ Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2005).
Shawn Kerri quoted in Paul D. Grushkin,
The Art of Rock:
Posters from Presley to Punk
(New York: Abbeville, 1987), 442 (interview), 443 (art).
Wallace Berman, untitled¸ 1964
End of the Night
HE APPEARANCE OF the Doors marked a verge in the history of Los Angeles rock 'n' roll, of Los Angeles, and of the United States. That is because in their music you could hear a portent that the future, the near future, contained stories no one imagined they would want to hear, that people would not be able to turn away from, that would keep people awake, worried at the slightest anomalous sound, terrified and disgusted by their own fantasies. After Charles Manson, people could look back at “The End,” “Strange Days,” “People Are Strange,” and “End of the Night” and hear what Manson had done as if it had yet to happen, as if they should have known, as if, in the deep textures of the music, they had.
As it was published for the first time, in 1971, before it was censored, Ed Sanders's
The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion
portrayed a Los Angeles
that in its secret dreams imagined itself swimming in its own blood. He described a city full of people who, when they awoke on the morning of August 9, 1969, to learn that at 10050 Cielo Drive, Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steven Parent had been slaughtered at the house that Tate, almost nine months pregnant, had shared with her husband, Roman Polanski—slaughtered, it would turn out, at Manson's direction by members of his band, Parent shot, the rest together stabbed more than a hundred times, the bodies left in cryptic postures suggesting the rituals of an unknown church—all but ran to their bathrooms to wash their hands. It didn't matter that early in the morning of the next day, the cult leader along with his followers chose at random the wealthy couple Rosemary and Leno LaBianca to kill, and smeared HEALTER SKELTER, after the Beatles song Manson had deciphered as a call to apocalypse, on their walls, or that earlier in 1969, on their album
, the Beach Boys had included “Never Learn Not to Love,” credited to D. Wilson/Charles Manson, or that the tune, one of many Manson had attempted to have recorded, was originally titled “Cease to Exist.” The exact details of the crimes were so specifically insistent on a separate reality that people seized on them as if they were proof that, in a social sense, the crimes were not real; the desperation with which people fetishized the facts of the horror gave the denial that it had anything to do with them the lie.
Crimes far worse, less obvious, more indistinct, and more common than the singer's murder of his father and rape of his mother lay in wait in “The End”; that is why the really terrifying lines are those where the singer visits his sister and his brother, and you don't know if it's to make sure they're asleep or that they'll never wake up. But even that was too sketched
in, too particular. The real caves in the performance were in hesitations, undulations of the rhythm, the full beauty in Jim Morrison's tone when he let his voice shape certain words—“nights,” “die,” “limitless,” “hand”—or when a line he had written seemed to draw from him a confidence, a far-seeing-ness, that produced phrasing so lovely it could slip right past you, leaving a feeling of peace, not war: “The end of everything that stands.”
In the summer of 1969, people listened again to their Doors albums, and said,
Yes, it was all there.
It was, too. Never mind the Doors of Perception. The name of the band was in the first track on its first album: “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” It wasn't a great song. For all of the contrivance of its battering rock 'n' roll momentum it was as one dimensional as an anti-war protest song. But it meant what it said, and this was part of what you were going to find when you broke down the doors.
“The Doors really should have been at Monterey,” said the disc jockey Tom Donahue on KMPX, the San Francisco FM station that had been playing
The Doors
like a commercial since its release six months before, after the close of the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, wondering why they hadn't been there, though in a way it made perfect sense. “This is the Love Crowd!” poor-not-yet-dead Otis Redding said during his set at the festival; the Doors were not the love crowd. They couldn't have come up with anything more harrowing than Big Brother and the Holding Company's “Ball and Chain,” but Janis Joplin and her boys were nice hippies with big smiles and open hearts, even if two of them were junkies.
The weekend before the Monterey Pop Festival, the Doors appeared at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain
Festival, held on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, an affair cobbled together by a local radio station to provide a real, San Francisco festival in the face of the Los Angeles moguls behind Monterey. The Doors appeared in the middle of the afternoon, under a bright sun, along with the Seeds, a garage band that would be celebrated in years to come for a primitive minimalism that caught the spirit of punk even before the Stooges, and Every Mother's Son, a smarmy, instantly forgotten group with a hit called “Come on Down to My Boat.”
In the middle of the afternoon, the sun was still bright, but with the Doors on stage it seemed like a cloud was passing over. After the speed of the double-back beat of the Seeds' “Pushin' Too Hard,” half of the numbers the Doors played seemed isolated, stranded. I don't recall if they played “End of the Night”; probably not, as they rarely did. But it's this song as much as any other that contained the history that followed, feeling for it in the dark, like a mole in the ground.
“End of the Night” could be the Impressions' “Gypsy Woman” as it opens: a descending crescendo from Robby Krieger that turns off the lights, an answering three lines from Ray Manzarek that says he was waiting for this all along. As so often with Manzarek's playing, you can hear memories of late-night TV creep-show movie marathons, or even more directly the music from early network suspense programs, and those memories are immediately transcended. As soon as you think you recognize the allusions, the music takes you somewhere else, closer to Jody Reynolds's “Endless Sleep,” say, but as always slower than that, more sure, determined, fatalistic, at peace with nothing.
Within seconds, the song is underwater. Morrison swims through it, one stroke at a time, feeling the inner tides between
his fingers. The descending figure from the guitar repeats until it begins to break up in a roll from John Densmore.
The heart of the performance is the way Morrison simply, quietly chants the title of the song, four times, first in the middle of the piece, then at the end. Each time, when he sings the phrase for the fourth time, it makes a single object that dissolves as he sings, as if it was never there at all, as if the clearer, more solid first three voicings of the phrase before it were ghosts. “End of the night end of the night end of the night end of the night”: it's a skull he can hold up to the light, until inside Blake's “Auguries of Innocence” you see “The Tiger” plain.
BOOK: The Doors
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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