“Then I saw things as they really are, that I am, to a degree, just a puppet controlled by forces I understand only vaguely.” ~ Jim Morrison
He became a rock star, a megastar actually, a burning asteroid leaving a luminous trail of disintegration from horizon to horizon. He died, but traces live on. Many called him heroic, but in the end he died pathetic… a tragic symbol of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll gone wrong.
This is a brief review of two books: Stephen Davis’ Jim Morrison / Life, Death, Legend, and Morrison’s own posthumously collected poems called Wilderness, Volume 1.
I was a Doors fan. I owned their albums, listened to them such an extent that I must have known all the lyrics. I had a vocal range like Morrison’s as well, performing "When the Music’s Over" with a band in the courtyard of Scott Quad at Ohio U my freshman year. Yes, for fifteen minutes or so I became Morrison, possibly a highlight of my singing career.
After his death, I found an emptiness in the efforts of his band to create anything significant after Morrison had departed. Their efforts to milk the fame they’d garnered proved futile.
In 1993 my impressions of the band were confirmed by an extra on the set of Iron Will where I spent near three days in a holding area with 250 extras. While sharing our personal life journeys John Heino, a keyboardist with Minnesota’s Centerville All Stars, told how his band had spent seven years on the road trying to “make it” in the music industry. For a season they recorded in the same studio where The Doors, Post Morrison, were recording. It was evident the trio just didn’t have it.
Davis obviously invested a lot of time researching his book. It details Morrison’s childhood and every significant event along the way to his departure from this world in Paris where he finally broke on through to the other side.
Davis details Morrison’s initial self-consciousness, his explorations with hallucinogens, his self-destruction… and motivations, ultimately calling him a misunderstood genius. Unfortunately, the tone of the book feels off to me. The author appears to almost take glee in sharing the ugliest stories, publishing rumors that have no collaborating evidence that serve no purpose other than to make Morrison look bad. Genius or monster? Davis is too often unkind.
The fact is, it does not require rumor and innuendo to make Morrison look bad. The facts speak for themselves. Despite Oliver Stone’s efforts to whitewash the Miami performance where Morrison exposed himself onstage, revising history in his ’91 celluloid tribute starring Val Kilmer (who was remarkable), Morrison himself crossed all the boundaries and paid the price.
The second book is a collection of poems called The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, or Wilderness, Volume 1. I suppose it is one of those “gotta have it” books if you are a Morrison fan, and I did succumb to purchasing the book based on how the following poem touched me.
A man rakes leaves into
a heap in his yard, a pile,
& leans on his rake &
burns them utterly.
The fragrance fills the forest
children pause & heed the
smell, which will become
nostalgia in several years.
I thought this was a pretty powerful image, and I liked it. Truth is, this was the only quality poem in the book. It’s a rambling mess of notes of uneven quality, deep thoughts that are probably deep only when you are profoundly stoned.
Maybe I am being too harsh. There are some interesting observations, couplets, insights. But it’s mostly… well, my guess is he’d be embarrassed that these notes have appeared in print.
Alas, life goes on. Or as Morrison wrote in his wilderness, “Each day is a drive through history.”