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Authors: Greil Marcus

The Doors (20 page)

BOOK: The Doors
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It was a sometimes excruciating performance, sometimes confusing and alive, the band bashing atonally, refusing any rhythm, Morrison singing and reciting and roaring and whispering—and on
Boot Yer Butt!
, a strange four-CD collection that the remaining Doors released in 2003, it's just one more spectral, all but illusionary moment in a waking-dream account of the band's career, from their earliest live recordings, from a show at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco in March 1967, to the last city save one in which they would ever step on a stage. “Our record album is only a map of our work,” Morrison had said of
The Doors
in 1967, though as a record album it was as close as they got; this is the territory.
Beginning with “Moonlight Drive” and the band's cover of Howlin' Wolf's “Back Door Man,” ending almost four years later, this meandering walk down an endless beach—you can
see people carrying bulky tape recorders and extension mikes following the four guys in the Doors as they walk through the sand, their bootleg mission not to let a random sigh or curse escape—is not drawn from soundboards or well-made audience tapes. It is a compilation of absolutely horrible recordings made with damaged equipment and originally pressed into illegal vinyl that warped and splintered as soon as you tried to play it. On these recordings, Morrison can sound miles and miles away from the little handheld microphone that's picking up his messages, messages that sometimes feel as if they're coming from the bottom of a well. You may not be able to make out a single instrument behind his voice—or, even more displacingly, you may hear one instrument only. The band can emerge and disappear, as if it's playing a séance, not a show. You can listen to the entire set straight through, more than forty performances collected or, really, smeared together, and then start all over again, trapped in its faraway, incorporeal spell, and part of that spell is the drama that emerges as the spool unwinds: the drama of a band at war with its audience.
In the beginning, you hear discovery and embrace: an audience embracing a band, a band's embrace of its audience, but most of all a band's discovery and embrace of its own music—a band's laying claim to music that, whatever its legal status as something they owned, might have still been beyond their reach in a manner they could not deny. The way they find their way into “Break on Through” at the Continental Ballroom in Santa Clara, California, on July 9, 1967—the way they break through the song—is a storming assault. Hundreds of soldiers are climbing the stairways of a once-impregnable fortress and burning it down from the inside—but not before
they stop to gaze upon the wonders of the place, the arching ceilings held up as if by mere air, the walls as thick as horses, the marble floors, the gargoyles in the eaves. They dance in a circle, and then, as the fire begins to rise, they only dance faster. No one here gets out alive, Morrison would announce two years later in “Five to One,” but this performance begs that cheap song's question: who would want to?
A few months later, at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, on December 16, Morrison is falling all over “Alabama Song,” losing the words, the song slithering away from him in disgust. The shows become erratic. With “Light My Fire” drawing fans who don't care if they hear anything else and often enough are drunk enough, or stoned enough, to take anything else as an insult, a rebuke, at best what they have to put up with to get what they want, there is an edge of contempt in the halls, though it isn't obvious where it's coming from.
Morrison reached for the skies. A version of Muddy Waters's “I'm a Man” at Winterland in San Francisco, on December 26, is expansive, open, churning, with Morrison and the band improvising long, slow vamps around a sing-songy speech about taking over the world—something, as Morrison digs into the music, the song itself is suggesting. Isn't that what a man is supposed to do? Does the song say there are any limits to what a person can do? That's the last thing it says. With the grunge of gray, mottled, echoing sound around him, Morrison is raving as if he is the first to discover what the song always wanted to say, because he has discovered the nerve to say it.
It all blows up in Miami, but there is anger breaking out well before. In Amsterdam, on September 15, 1968, Morrison collapsed after swallowing drugs in order to get through
customs; Ray Manzarek ended up singing every song, turning the Doors into a bar band covering Doors songs. Everywhere, the distance between the band and its audience is thrown into relief, perhaps more symbolic than—night to night in any given town—real, by the distances in the sound itself: the way the music is muffled, as if the band is playing behind a curtain, the singer in front, except when he grabs it in the middle and drapes a length of it over his face.
The set proceeds chronologically, except for the very last song: “The End,” from the Singer Bowl, in Queens, New York, on August 2, 1968. Because any version of the Doors' career had to end with “The End”? Because nothing could follow these bizarre, ugly seventeen minutes?
Robby Krieger's insinuating guitar line is clear; the little filigree he plays turns the song over. The crowd is loud, drunk, screaming. “Come on, Jimmy!” shouts a man. “Jimmmmyyyy-ayyyyyy, light my fire!” screeches a woman. She sounds like someone running through an asylum while orderlies with syringes try to bring her down. “We just did that one,” Morrison says reasonably. There's an organized chant, five or six people shouting together: “Come on light my fire!” “Hey,” Morrison says, sounding a little surprised. “This is serious.” There's more yelling. “SSSSHHHHHHHH,” Morrison whispers.
“Fuck you!” someone shouts.
The sound now muffled, his words unintelligible, Morrison tries to talk through the rising noise. “Hey, it ruins everything,” he says. “SSSSHHHHHHH,” he says again. The band keeps time behind him. More than two minutes have gone by and they haven't been able to start the song.
“This is the end,” Morrison sings, clearly, the sound picked up loudly. The crowd is silent, but Morrison sounds distracted,
as if he's losing faith in the song: losing faith that it's worth singing. “You'll never follow me,” he sings. “In his face!” someone screams. Morrison tries to sing but he can't find the song. His voice turns oratorical. The woman in the insane asylum is rushing all over the hall, and you can't tell if she thinks she's on stage or that the people on stage are trying to kill her. Morrison improvises lyrics that turn into doggerel. People seem to respond in kind: “MORRISON IS IN HIS CAVE!” “UP WITH MARTIANS, DOWN WITH—” if that's really what anyone is shouting.
Morrison—the band is barely present now—tries to float over the noise, but the scratch of the woman's voice, a sound that feels like someone is tearing her nails down your face, makes it impossible. You're getting to know these people, this small knot in the cauldron of the recording standing in for everybody else. It's a mosh pit where sounds do all the slamming. People are screaming parodies of the lyrics that Morrison isn't singing. In the murk he has more presence than ever—but the huge, godlike voice is nothing compared to the far more powerful, mocking crowd.
Morrison is again making up words for the song, to throw the crowd off, to summon the song from the dead: “A creature is nursing its child, soft arms around the head and the neck, a mouth to connect, leave this child alone, this one is mine, I'm taking her home, back to the rain”—he sounds like a cowboy stuffed with books. There are long, unintelligible passages from Morrison, and then the image of the rain carries through the static of the audience and out of nothing a story shoves itself forward.
“Stop the car,” Morrison says, plainly; it's a film noir set piece. “Rain. Night”—he lets loose a muffled scream. He
could be in
, the killer driving straight out of the ditch with the body in it, which in this moment is in Queens, which is worse. “I'm getting out. I can't take it anymore. I think there's somebody coming.” He half sings: “There's nothing you can
about it.”
There is silence; the band isn't playing, for a second no one is talking, or yelling. The moment is so anomalous the silence seems absolute. Someone screams something about cake. The madwoman screams—every scream from her is the same. If she were just a face you could look away. In the back of his mind, a story about “The End” that Morrison would tell a friend the next year is already there. “I went to a movie one night in Westwood,” he'd say, “and I was in a bookstore or some shop where they sell pottery and calendars and gadgets, y'know . . . and a very attractive, intelligent—intelligent in the sense of aware and open—girl thought she recognized me and she came to say hello. And she was asking me about that particular song. She was just out for a little stroll with a nurse. She was on leave, just for an hour or so, from the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. Apparently she had been a student at UCLA and freaked on heavy drugs or something and either committed herself or someone picked up on her and put her there. Anyway, she said that the song was really a favorite of a lot of kids in her ward. At first I thought: Oh, man . . . and this was after I talked with her for a while, saying it could mean a lot of things, kind of a maze or a puzzle to think about, everybody should relate it to their own situation. I didn't realize people took songs so seriously and it made me wonder whether I ought to consider the consequences . . .”
“The killer awoke before dawn,” Morrison says stiffly. He seems to rush the song, as if he wants nothing more than to get
this part of it over with. The band is still not there. “He took a face from the ancient gallery,” Morrison announces. “And he walked on down the hall,” several male voices answer him. “And he walked on down the hall,” Morrison says, as if they've reminded him of what he's supposed to say. “WALKED ON DOWN THE HALL!” the woman screams. You can't tell if he's taunting the crowd or taunting himself, because he knows every word will come back at him, stupid grins on the faces of the people in the crowd, “And he walked on down the hall” now a punch line to something that didn't start out as a joke. The band is vamping behind him. “Father,” Morrison says. “Yes, son,” a guy in the crowd answers. “YES SON!” answers the woman. “I want to kill you” says a man from the audience. “I want to kill you,” Morrison repeats without expression. He tries to take the song back: “Mooootherrrr—”
Screams rise up as if out of the ground, without human agency. “I . . . want . . . tuh—” The band speeds up, then stops. There are strangled sounds out of Morrison's throat, he tries to shout, the crowd is quiet, Morrison is speaking in words that aren't words, as if he's trying to explain the song to himself. He sings in self-parody, then locks into sounds inside the words, sounds as demented as those anyone in the crowd is making. His voice is over here and his body is over there. Then the crowd is screaming at him in a way that hasn't happened before: in the face of the screeching, crows flying out of people's mouths, you can see Morrison as the people in the crowd are seeing him, a freak, the Elephant Man, the crowd thrilled at how grotesque he is, how crazy, everybody pointing, and though the band is playing, now the real music is coming from the crowd, a tangled skein of sound moving through the hall without a brain.
There are crashing sounds from the band, then from the crowd, we're-all-going-to-die-and-I-can't-wait sounds. It's scary. Anything could happen except anything good.
Morrison tries to sing the end of the song; he does, but all of his trust in the song is gone. Someone in the audience puts two fingers in his mouth and blows. He does it again.
It all comes to an end. You've listened to all four discs, for more than five hours, mesmerized. You can start over. You can't imagine that the group could have. You remember that this is a false ending, that the chronologically last song of the set, “L.A. Woman” from the State Fair Music Hall, in Dallas, on December 11, 1970, was all shadows, figures disappearing into the mist, a singer trying to find the face that would explain everything, and maybe succeeding. You can't believe the band pushed on that far, that long. They were tougher, maybe, or as Charlie Poole sang in “If I Lose, I Don't Care,” in 1927, four years before he drank himself to death, “The blood was a-runnin', I was running too / To give my feet some exercise, I had nothing else to do.”
Boot Yer Butt! The Doors Bootlegs
(Rhino Handmade, 2003).
Jim Morrison, “You give people what they want,” from Jerry Hopkins, “The Rolling Stone Interview,”
Rolling Stone
(July 26, 1969), collected in
The Rolling Stone Interviews
(New York: Paperback Library, 1971), 229.
———, “only a map,” from “The New Generation: Theater with a Beat,”
Chicago Tribune
, carried in the
San Francisco Chronicle
, September 28, 1967.
BOOK: The Doors
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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