But there is another version of the song. Fooling around in the studio, with John Densmore treading lightly, seemingly waiting to make a move even as he does so, with session-man Harvey Brooks on bass and Ray Manzarek dropping down into an afterbirth-of-the-cool piano fantasyâManzarek is playing without thinking, without feeling, the same runs he's used in this song or a hundred others a thousand times before, with no more soul or any less, the music of someone who has nothing else to do, nothing else he can doâfooling around, Jim Morrison can ignore the Doors, their triumphs and their mistakes. He can ignore his bandmates and himself. He can ignore their audience, whatever it might be, and pretend it doesn't exist, that it never did, or that soon enough it won't.
He and the others in this moment can pretend the band never existed, that instead of picking up a guitar player and shopping their 1965 demo, recorded at World Pacific studios, where Chet Baker himself had recorded, they'd stayed right where they were, a why-not? signing by the little jazz labelâand though the Ray Manzarek Quartet never got further north than Santa Barbara or east of Bakersfield, playing Ross Macdonald
country until every road actually looked different, there were those jam sessions after hours, on Sunday afternoons, that no one ever forgot. Like the day, after weeks of
I don't know, if it's cool, man
, Baker really did show up, everybody whispering, even though the word was later that he'd only been there because somebody said it was a connection? That too-beautiful 1950s face already cracking and shriveling, cheekbones like scaffolds? And the tone that came out when he sang,
, someone said, even though it was as if it wasn't there at all? They can pretend that, or they can pretend that after the Doors crashed, two or three of them would show up, unannounced, at the Ruby Red or the Piano Stick, to do that weird slow version of “Light My Fire”â“This is how I always heard it,” Morrison would say to the crowd, half a dozen tables and the people at the barâand then “Queen of the Highway,” this way, so smoothly, the singer with his eyes closed, so at ease with himself that words like “monster” floated out from under his tongue like something he'd already forgotten, all the ideas about theater, the pronouncements about art and chaos, the ambition to be different, to make a difference, all the sense of a verge in time different from any other, all the public meetings, bled out for good, and good riddance.
“He was the exact opposite of his friend Art, who put everything of himself into every note he played,” Geoff Dyer writes of Chet Baker. “Chet put nothing of himself into his music and that's what lent it its pathos.”
The music he played felt abandoned by him. He played the old ballads and standards with a long series of caresses that led nowhere and subsided into nothing.
That was how he had always played and always would. Every time he played a note he waved it goodbye. Sometimes he didn't even wave.
That was something to aspire to. “Queen of the Highway,” as it came to life one afternoon, Densmore tapping his way through the song as he, Brooks, and Manzarek look for its mandated, clichÃ©d, satisfying cool-jazz close, was a wave, but at least whatever it was waving to was no longer there.
“Queen of the Highway,”
âââ, outtake from
from “Without a Safety Net,” in
The Doors Box Set
But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz
(1991) (New York: Picador, 2009), 132. See also Dave Hickey, “A Life in the Arts,” in
Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy
(Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1997), and James Gavin,
Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker
(2002) (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011)âwhich, as a biography, is not just one thing after another, like most biographies, but as the biography of a junkie, the same one thing after another, and, somehow, in Gavin's hands, with every same thing different.
Take It as It Comes
OU COULDN'T CONJURE UP a more stark example of a song whose music runs away from its wordsâcarries them away, runs them to the edge of a cliff, and throws them off.
As one of the first numbers the Doors recorded, it comes on like a conventional rock 'n' roll song, or as close to a conventional rock 'n' roll song as anything else the Doors did, which was not all that close. In 2009 the compilers of
Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965â1968
, a four-CD collection of singles from the likes of the Leaves (“Dr. Stone,” their drug song), the Standells (“Riot on Sunset Strip”), Sonny and Cher (“It's Gonna Rain”), Captain Beefheart (“Zig Zag Wanderer”), and dozens of others, found it sufficiently conventional to sandwich it with the Association's “One Too Many Mornings” (their Dylan cover), the Knack's “Time Waits for No One” (not that Knack, and not the Rolling Stones song
from seven years later), Kaleidoscope's “Pulsating Dream” (which unfortunately tried to live up to its title), and the Seeds' “Tripmaker” (their drug song). But the archivists had to compress the sound, bleed out the bass, turn up the treble, make the sound tinny, small, and itchily complaining, like everything else, to make the Doors fit, and it didn't work anyway.
Like everything else on
, “Take It as It Comes” came out of the box big, full, breathing its own air. Unlike anything else, it seemed to start in the middle of some greater song, opening at top speed, too fast to even turn around to see where the song came from. As a sheet of words it was little more than a quick, cut-down version of the Byrds' shimmering cover of Pete Seeger's “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”â“A time to live, a time to die”âfrom 1965, a gorgeous, inescapable number one hit. If anyone had played “Turn! Turn! Turn!” as a lead-in to “Take It as It Comes,” the Doors' version would have erased it, made its reach and joy feel pious and fey. If the two songs were the Stingray and the XKE on Dead Man's Curve, the Byrds' black 45 would have been a grease spot.
Robby Krieger too begins in the middle, the middle of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”âwith the same glow the Byrds' gave their sound, the same lyricism, the sense of lightness and beauty, beauty as an idea, a concept, something less to create than to quote. But almost before his gesture can register, John Densmore is pressing, pounding, rounding a turn and coming out of it so fast he pulls everyone with him. In an instant the chorus has arrived and everything coming out of Krieger's guitar is percussive, assaultive, matching Ray Manzarek's high, flooded runs through the song. From that point, everyone has
the music in their hands; they can do anything with it at any moment.
“Time to live, time to lie / Time to laugh, time to die”: with eerie composureâas if he's been doing this at least as long as Mick Jagger and is only now hitting his strideâJim Morrison is singing words about how it's necessary not to rush, not to push, to be careful, to hold back, walk don't run. But he takes flight with his first line, an Icarus leap, and the words are either a joke or a dare, the singer daring the listener to believe a word he says.
Don't move too fast if you want your love to last
, he sings, with his hands on the wheel, his foot to the floor, and his eyes squeezed shut.
Halfway through the bare two minutes of the songâthough so much is happening so quickly that when the song is over it can seem to have been playing for two, three times as longâthe band pulls back. Compared to the cacophony of the moment before, the song is almost silent, just Manzarek's bass device counting off time, the effect not of the song moving forward slowly, but the music in complete suspension. This is a conventional deviceâthe old “Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On” trick, the “Shout” trickâbut it feels completely new. Instead of a roadhouse with a screaming crowd suddenly holding its breath, it's midnight on a beach, the waves are almost silent, the sky blue-black, the moon bright enough for faces and close enough to touch. Just like that, you want the song to stay here. You don't want it to go back on the highway. You don't want to move at all. You only want toâAnd then, much too quickly, a house falls on the music and you can't remember that the song had ever stopped, that there was anywhere to go but straight ahead, straight into a wall if that's what's there.
Nearing the endâand again, if someone stopped you, pulled you aside, and said,
Do you realize all this has been happening in about 110 seconds, Jerry Lee Lewis needed three minutes, the Isley Brothers almost five
, you'd say,
âit's all fury, frenzy, Morrison's leap in the first seconds of the song now little more than hesitation. “Specialize in having fun,” he says, but whatever it is that's happening now, it's much bigger than anything such a sentiment could touch. There's too much at stake. Too much has been left behind.
You've been moving much too fast
, Morrison chants in the last words of the song, when everything the musicâthe drums, the organ, the guitar, his voiceâhas told you that you're moving much too slowly, that you're standing still, that you haven't begun.
“Take It as It Comes,”
Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965â1968
(Rhino, 2009). Featuring paint-thinner vocals, crinkly sound, guitars that are supposed to chime but don't, Peter Fonda's “November Night,” such forgotten or hard-to-believe-ever-existed bands as the Common Cold and Pasternak's Progress, Gene Clark's altogether unconvincing “Los Angeles” (“city of doom” he sings, as if someone else wrote it and he's wondering what doom means), a pathetic cover of Sonny Knight's 1961 deep-soul classic “If You Want This Love” by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, “Marshmallow Skies,” Rick Nelson's sententious attempt at psychedelia, and “Back Seat '38 Dodge,” inspired by Edward Kienholz's notorious, still-shocking life-size, or rather death-size, 1964 assemblage, which the Long Beach quartet Opus 1 turns into a little horror movie: “What's in the back seat of my '38 Dodge? I really want to know.” But even the unanswerable Jackie DeShannon's
“Splendor in the Grass,” recorded with the Byrds, promises more than it delivers. No wonder the producers had to squeeze the Doors to get them through theirs.
Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (Columbia, 1965, #1).
The End, 1968
HEN JIM MORRISON SAID that a Doors concert was a kind of public meeting, it was December 14, 1968, hours before the band set up in the L. A. Forum before 18,000 fans. “It was a big deal for us,” Robby Krieger said years later. “Local band plays where the Lakers play!”
By the end of 1968 the Doors were a Top 40 band. Their last two singles were number one and #3âthough they would never again make the top ten. This night they were planning mostly songs from
The Soft Parade
, still more than six months from release. They had a string sextet, a horn section, and thirty-two amplifiers on the stage. There were three opening acts: Tzon Yen Luie, a Japanese koto player; the cloying Los Angeles group Sweetwater; and Jerry Lee Lewis. All were booed as if they were impostors. “I hope you have a heart attack,” Jerry Lee told the audience. When the Doors came on,
there were cheers, but quickly the crowd was drowning out the music with chants for “Light My Fire”âwhich, for once, the band was determined not to play. Unable to get their new music into the air, they gave inâand as soon as they were finished the crowd began to chant for “Light My Fire” again. “Cut out that shit,” Jim Morrison said. He looked out and asked a question as if he truly did want to know the answer, as if he had no idea what it might be: “What are you all doing here?” He began to taunt the crowd with the same lines that would crack open the show at the Dinner Key in Miami three months later: “You want music?” Everybody screamed. “Well, man,” he said, “we can play music all night, but that's not what you really wantâyou want something more, something greater than you've ever seen, right?” In Miami, in a drunken rage, those words would suddenly mean that he should show the crowd his penis, that if only symbolically, because it was his, it would be something greater than anyone had ever seen. In Los Angeles the words hung in the air and someone shouted “We want Mick Jagger.”
Finally, with the show breaking down, Morrison went to the edge of the stage and in an oracular voice began to declaim “The Celebration of the Lizard.” He stopped. People laughed. He went on: “One morning he awoke in a green hotel. With a strange creature growing beside him.” “Is everybody in?” he asked, then again, and again, with each time people shouting: “NOOOOOO!” “The ceremony is about to begin,” he said portentouslyâtry saying the words any other wayâand people laughed out loud at the pomposity of it all, or giggled in embarrassment. Then Morrison stood silently. It went on. “Stupid,” someone mutters. “Asshole!”
“WAKE UP!” Morrison screamed. The band crashed down around him. Many long minutes later, it ended. “When it ends he glares at the audience,” one report had it, “no words need be spoken, and he walks off to almost no ovation.” “You give people what they want or what they think they want and they'll let you do anything,” he would say the next year, looking back and seeing clearly. “But if you go too fast for them and pull an unexpected move, you confuse them. When they go to a musical event, a concert, a play or whatever, they want to be turned on, to feel like they've been on a trip, something out of the ordinary. But instead of making them feel like they're on a trip, that they're all together, if instead you hold a mirror up and show them what they're really like, what they really want, and show them that they're alone instead of all together, they're revolted and confused. And they'll act that way.”