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Jim Morrison, 50 years later

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Jim Morrison, 50 years later

A fan holds a Doors album to commemorate Jim Morrison's death in this undated file pic.

When I think Jim Morrison, I don’t see board meetings and customer research and planning of marketing campaigns designed to net the millions and entice them to part with their money, fake celebrities, reality TV shows, Instagram lives. I see art.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

It’s 3 July 2021. The world is a mess. The pandemic is still brutalising the rapidly heating planet, and the billions are still hungry, and unvaccinated. The war in the Horn of Africa appears close to exploding. US forces are pulling out of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan, a move that will in itself precipitate untold deaths as the Taliban moves in. The possibility of war over Taiwan lurks in the background, not yet happening, but not too far either. Democracies of the world are under concerted attack from the reactionary forces, all of them using the same autocratic playbook that threatens to pull us back at least half a century.

The world exactly 50 years ago was not a fun place either. The Vietnam War was to continue needlessly, and meaninglessly shed lives for four more years. Not too far from there, Bangladesh was being born out of East Pakistan at the cost of up to three million lives (estimates vary). China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution was in full swing. Europe was gripped by a wave of anarchist terrorism.

On 3 July 1971, another horrible thing happened: a young man died in Paris. His name was Jim Morrison. To me, he was always, of course, Jim Morrison of The Doors.

By the time he died, aged 27, Morrison and his friends Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore had managed to squeeze six albums into four years of unbelievable artistic heights. They were true revolutionaries who pushed the barriers of modern music and expression like few did before, or after.

Morrison was a shooting star who, we can say now with the benefit of hindsight, could never have lasted for long. His raw emotions were spilling into his lyrics with an intensity that had to burn the material body that contained such a restless soul. The Doors’ first big hit on the first album, The Doors, Robby Krieger’s Light My Fire, got a final spicing up by Morrison, who added, to an already daring song, this line:

… And our love become a funeral pyre.

It had not been done before. Even in the revolutionary year that was 1967, the songs were not supposed to be dark and murderous, love was not supposed to lead to death.

To allay any doubts of The Doors not being just another hit-making band, the first album’s other big hit, The End, announced the arrival of the daring, the brilliant, and clearly tortured genius of Morrison. Just listen to it. It was several generations ago, and yet it is still shockingly strongly concentrated and raw. He was just 24 at that moment, but could have been 24,000 years old.

I personally always thought their final album, LA Woman, was the pinnacle of their art and Morrison’s deathly lyricism. LA Woman the song is a tour de force of The Doors’ mastery as a band of supremely accomplished artists. But if you’re looking for the proof of Morrison’s genius, just listen to Cars Hiss By My Window and try not to get the chills. Then turn to Riders On The Storm, the final song that he recorded.

Even if you didn’t know it was his last, there’s something eerie that permeates every microsecond of it. The genius ease of the melody was countered by Morrison’s deathly vocal softness. It was almost as he felt, or something deep inside of him knew, that this was to be the last.

Riders On The Storm entered the US charts the day Morrison died. How fitting – as his material life was over, his immortality was all but finalised.

His death was a final blow to a special generation of talent that burnt so brightly and yet so briefly. Jimi Hendrix died on 18 September 1970, Janis Joplin was gone by 4 October. Their departures finally ended the spirit of the 1960s, together with the never-to-be-repeated Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals.

Many more talented people emerged in the decades that followed, and much more great and meaningful music was created. And yet, when I think of Jim Morrison and The Doors, and their generation, I think of the true meaning of art and lives lived fully for that art. I think of young people who were mediums who channelled the zeitgeist, whose souls were touched by divinity even if they couldn’t understand it.

When I think Jim Morrison, I don’t see board meetings and customer research and planning of marketing campaigns designed to net the millions and entice them to part with their money, fake celebrities, reality TV shows, Instagram lives. When I think Jim Morrison, I think art, I think how I still remember the day he died and how, 50 years later, I still can’t wait to hear the LA Woman album again.

I think art. Not mindless consumption. Art. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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  • I heard “Light My Fire” at a party when I was 14. It blew my mind and decided the course of my life – although it’s likely I was already pointed in that direction. But, also in hindsight, the band’s compilation “American Prayer” is I believe Morrison’s artistic pinnacle. Words be nimble, words be quick, words resemble walking sticks. I’ll always be a wordman better than a birdman. Thanks for the memories.

  • I truly don’t even know where to start. Thank you Branko. “The age of authenticity.” Even now listening to Jim and The Doors takes me to a rare and special place. It truly is my favorite band ever.

  • WHAT a great article! Thank you. Also for that Light My Fire video; it looks as though it was filmed yesterday! I’ve been a Doors fan since I was 14 in 1969; I still occasionally check in on YouTube for a 20-odd minute relaxation and listen to The End. Timeless!!

  • If he did not die young (whether by accident or intent), he would be definitely be up there with Waters, Knopfler, Jagger, Springsteen in terms of writer composer performer singer.

    For me, none of the Beetles have the depth.

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