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Authors: Greil Marcus

The Doors (18 page)

BOOK: The Doors
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Over and over, Morrison—who could be in a gauzy nightclub or on Elvis's bare stage, accosting passersby on the street or buttonholing hangers-on in the studio—is going on about how “Money beats soul, every time.” He seems to have made this part of the song—or to be using the line and its costuming—“Ladies and gentlemen, on this stage, for the first time in the Western world, we have: money beats soul, every time”—to keep away the song he has to sing, make, find, prove.
Maybe because of Mack's presence, or the leaping pace he helps set, for the first time the inner size of the song, its rhythmic scope, begins to take shape. The beat is hard for the first time. Krieger still cannot bring the guitar into the rhythm, but
on his own there's freedom all over his playing, and soon he's flying. “Oh, I woke up”—still there is something morally wrong with these lines, there is something in them that pushes Morrison away from his own words, and he sings with no conviction, as if it's a bad dream.
Again, Morrison dives for a monologue—there are two songs here, and one will have to play itself out before the other can speak in its own voice. “Money beats soul,” he states over a nightclub piano, the lounge singer after ten too many requests for “Stardust,” drunk but forming his words carefully in the belief there's someone left in the place he can still fool. He croons: “I-got-something-to-tell-you-about-your-soul.” He stops crooning. “Your soul ain't worth shit. You know how much your soul's worth? Your soul's worth about as much as you can get on Wall Street, my dear. Now, you may think I'm cynical, or dangerous, to tell you that. You may think that I'm, ah, a little hard to take—
hey
—listen, doll, I'll tell you the goddamn truth”—and he garbles his words like his mouth is full of pebbles—“Money beats soul, every time.” There is more of this.
Once more, “Roadhouse Blues.” John Densmore is now giving the music a bounce it didn't have before. His sound is all will—a sound, somehow, that can't be taken back, each beat a step on a journey you can't retrace. There's a confidence in Krieger's guitar playing that lifts the music, that gives everyone a plane to rise to. Morrison is shouting his words, cleanly: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”—with
wheel
pulled down, creating a sense of jeopardy, the use of the formal
upon
throwing the story out of the present, into some past-future where the rules won't be what you're used to, whatever they are. Krieger goes off on long, lucid runs, a tremendous presence. Morrison drifts back to
“Baby Please Don't Go,” but only for a moment, as if to get his bearings as he asks the band to slow down, to wait.
In the performance that was released, the music is all slices, knives cutting into the song, each penetration leaving it stronger, bigger, more a thing itself, impervious to any error. It's a simple story. There's a roadhouse. People go there to get drunk, to have a good time, to find each other. There are cabins out back. The command at the start of the song is so deep, so earned, it almost makes you squint as you listen, as you keep your eyes on the road, keep your speed steady, to get there before it's too late and the band has packed up and the cabins are full. The drumming holds the song together as the guitar goes in one direction, the singer in another. “Musically, as a guitar player, Robbie is more complex,” Morrison said earlier in 1969. “—like, chord changes, beautiful melodies and that—and my thing is more in a blues vein: long, rambling, basic and primitive.” Never as the Doors played would those two sides exert a greater, more sympathetic tension than for this performance. Every instant is a whole song: a story, found on the spot, beginning in the middle, that feels completely open, a story that could break in any direction. Out of nowhere comes a chant: “SAVE OUR CITY! SAVE OUR CITY!”
In Pittsburgh, on May 2, 1970, for the fourth number of the set, the band hammers into the song. It will take them seven minutes to tease, demand, threaten the song to force it to give up every secret it was made to reveal, and the drama unfolds when Morrison, his voice already desperate, preternaturally full, expanding with each line, descends into the bubbling swamp of the tune, the place without words. He disappears into the maw of the music and keeps going,
you gotta cronk
cronk cronk sh bomp bomp cronk cronk cronk eh hey cron cronk cronk ado ah hey che doo bop dag a chee be cronk cronk well rah hey hey tay cronk cronk see lay, hey—
he sustains it all for a solid minute. It's harder than it looks. With each measure of vocal sounds the pressure is increased, the pleasure is deeper, the abandon more complete, the freedom from words, meaning, song, band, hits, audience, police, prison, and self more real, precious, and sure to disappear around the next turn if you don't keep your eyes on the road. In that long minute, Morrison sings the whole song in another language, one only he could speak, but that anyone could understand. There is no document he left behind where he sounds more fulfilled as an artist, as someone who threw down a gauntlet and said, to himself, to you, to whoever was listening, to whoever wasn't, follow
that
.
WHEN THE DOORS RECORDED “Roadhouse Blues” in November 1969, Morrison's arrest in Miami the previous March, the three months of concerts cancelled everywhere in the country that followed, the felony trial looming in the next year, the likelihood of prison, and after that the end of the band, were only the most obvious demons. The specter of the Manson slaughter hung over every Hollywood icon, hanger-on, or rock 'n' roll musician as if it were L.A.'s Vietnam. Everyone—people who had been in Manson's orbit, like Neil Young, or anyone who knew someone who knew someone who had, which was everyone—believed there was a hit list, held by those Mansonites waiting patiently, on the outside, for
the word of the messiah. There were reasons to believe that the Manson bands were just a first brigade—a lumpen avant-garde, you could say—for a web of cults biding their time for years, since the late 1940s, some said, when the British sex-magick maven Aleister Crowley, John Parsons, the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and L. Ron Hubbard practiced Satanist rituals in Pasadena, determined to summon the whore of Babylon and conceive a living Antichrist.
Drink, dread: Morrison did not need more than Manson, or for that matter whatever Hollywood flophouse he was sleeping in on any given night, to keep drinking. He had been a drunk for years—at any time a more determined, violent, serious, reflective, incompetent, untrustworthy, unbearable degenerate drunk than his friends, his girlfriend, or the other members of the group had seen before. “How about . . . feel like discussing alcohol?” Morrison said to Jerry Hopkins in the summer of 1969. “Just a short dialogue. No long rap. Alcohol as opposed to drugs?” An interview where the star is asking the writer for permission to discuss something he cares about? When does this happen? “Getting drunk . . . you're in complete control up to a point,” Morrison said. “It's your choice, every time you take a sip. You have a lot of small choices. It's like . . . I guess it's the difference between suicide and slow capitulation.” “What's that mean?” Hopkins said. “I don't know, man,” Morrison said, then ending the interview with a showman's flourish: “Let's go next door and get a drink.”
All of that was in “Roadhouse Blues”: not as autobiography, not as confession, not as a cry for help or a fuck you to whoever asked, but, as Louise Brooks liked to quote, she said, from an old dictionary, “a subjective epic composition in which the author begs leave to treat the world according to his own point
of view.” Finally, for the master take of the song and almost always afterwards, the last verse of the song came through in its own voice. There was still a tinge of blackface, but no embarrassment. These were the most painful, resolute lines in the song as they were sung—the most convincingly fatalistic lines in the Doors' career.
“After the war,” a friend once said of the quiet, brooding British spy novelist Eric Ambler, whose pre-war heroes were ordinary Englishmen caught up in the breeding fascist hegemony of Europe in the 1930s, and whose post-war thrillers were merely complex entertainments devoid of moral stakes, “he must have lost his sense of dread.” What the Doors rediscovered in “Roadhouse Blues,” what again they found a way to voice, was not any particular style, any return to fundamentals, basics, roots, but the language of dread that drove
The Doors
—not words, but the way words are sung, turned, examined as they shoot by, the way they work like title cards for musical passages, which is where the language speaks.
At first they seemed melodramatic, even self-pitying: “Well, I woke up this morning, and got myself a beer / Well, I woke up this morning and got myself a beer / The future's uncertain and the end is always near.” Morrison bore down on
beer
both times. He let the last line hang in the air, tossing it off like a weather report. It wasn't his death that made the verse stick, that made everything else in the song a road meant to take you to precisely this spot. It was more than forty years on the air, the song keeping up with the times, the song moving on as if it had seen and then countenanced every new twist in history in advance, the song not defeated or reduced or softened by time but matching it beat by beat, step by step.
ZZ Top, “My Head's in Mississippi” (Warner Bros., 1990).
“Push Push” (aka “Guantanamera”), bonus track on
The Soft Parade
(1969) (Elektra, 2006).
Elvis Presley, “Do the Clam” (RCA, 1964, #21). From
Girl Happy
, and best heard on
Elvis' Greatest Shit!!
(Dog Vomit bootleg, 1984). Co-written by Dolores Fuller, who in 1953, in Ed Wood's
Glen or Glenda
, handed the transvestite director the angora sweater he craved beyond all flesh. “Turn and tease, hug and squeeze / Dig right in and do the Clam”—how far is that from “Touch Me”? Pretty far, if you accept the double entendre.
“My Wild Love,”
Waiting for the Sun
(Elektra, 1968).
Josef Å kvorecký, “Emöke” (1963), included in
The Bass Saxophone
(New York: Knopf, 1979).
“Celebration of the Lizard,” bonus track on
Waiting for the Sun
reissue (Elektra, 2006).
“Roadhouse Blues” outtakes, November 4, 1969, “Talking Blues,” takes 1–3, 6; November 5, take 1; “Money Beats Soul,” takes 13–15. Bonus tracks on
Morrison Hotel
(1970) (Elektra, 2006).
Lonnie Mack, “Memphis” (Fraternity, 1963, #5). Included with “Why” on
The Wham of That Memphis Man!
, reissued by Elektra in 1969 as
For Collectors Only
. For “Why,” see GM, “Songs Left Out of Nan Goldin's
Ballad of Sexual Dependency
,”
Aperture
(Winter 2009). Also guesting on “Roadhouse Blues” on November 5 was John Sebastian, late of the Lovin' Spoonful, brought in to overdub blues harmonica that cut through the song like a runaway horse. He was credited as G. Pugliese—to avoid “the fine print of his solo-artist deal with Reprise Records,” according to the liner notes to the 2006
Morrison Hotel
reissue. John Densmore: “Years later Paul confirmed my suspicions that back then John, like some of the public, was embarrassed by the Doors. Sebastian didn't want to be associated with the group. The backlash that had started with us changing our precious Doors sound by using an orchestra on our fourth album had
escalated with the Miami incident, and it was still in force”—even though if he'd used his own name Sebastian probably still would have gotten to sing “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Densmore,
Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors
(New York: Delta, 1991), 236–37.
Jim Morrison, on music, Jerry Hopkins, “The Rolling Stone Interview,”
Rolling Stone
, July 26, 1969, collected in
The Rolling Stone Interviews
(New York: Paperback Library, 1971), 221.
———, On alcohol, as above, 232–33.
“Roadhouse Blues,” Pittsburgh City Arena, May 2, 1970,
Live in Pittsburgh 1970
(DMC/Bright Midnight/Rhino, 2008).
“You Make Me Real”/“Roadhouse Blues” (Elektra, #50).
Queen of the Highway
D
EPENDING ON HOW you hear it, this is Bill Murray's nightclub sleazeball Nick Winters, strolling from table to table, weaving the words of whatever standard or current hit he's singing into the same, all-purpose drool he's dripping over newlyweds or vacationers or businessmen-with-hookers or ready-to-divorce-on-a-dime couples kept only by their own politeness from strangling him on the spot (“‘Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain,' hey, we've all been there, right?”)—or it's the latest of the countless lounge singers who always kept two copies of
Chet Baker Sings
, one LP to play, one still shrink-wrapped, pristine, to gaze at, to hold, to walk around the room with while listening to the other one, murmuring “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “But Not for Me,” “My Funny Valentine.” Or it's a walk away from a career already suspended over a void of nothingness, it's almost any cut on an album that's
meant to pretend it's just a song, not a worthless, desperate bet against ruin. On
Morrison Hotel
in 1970, this song—these words and this melody—comes across as the work of musicians who don't trust themselves. Whenever the song seems about to speak, it's broken up, all but attacked, by melodramatic stops, screeching effects; whatever charm the singing might have is given over to histrionics as soon as a mood threatens to exert its own gravity, its own pull on the story—to cover words like “princess” or “meadow” with regret over chances never taken.
BOOK: The Doors
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