Jim Morrison Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jim Morrison 1943–1971

American songwriter, singer, poet, and filmmaker.

Morrison's songs are macabre, full of sexual tension, and dwell on subjects not usually thought to be standard rock fare. His songs and poems are alternately tender, violent, literal, symbolic, simple, and profound. The group he fronted, The Doors, complemented his poetry with a jazz-based sound, usually dominated by an electric organ. This combination became one of the most notorious acts in rock in the late sixties.

Morrison was studying filmmaking at UCLA in 1965 when he met fellow film student and keyboard player Ray Manzarek. They formed The Doors and Manzarek began to write music to Morrison's words with the rest of the band (Robbie Krieger, guitar, and John Densmore, drums). Their first commercial success came in 1967 with "Light My Fire," a song which is typical of The Doors's sound. Their first album also contained "The End," one of Morrison's most bizarre songs. It deals with love, death, and Oedipal tendencies, and the words, singing, and music are full of the tension that was carried further in their stage act. However, their concerts were not "acts" to Morrison—they were a slice of life wherein his innermost fantasies could be revealed. He often carried his audiences to the edge of those fantasies, as documented in Morrison's and Paul Ferrar's short film Feast of Friends.

Morrison's songs deal with themes that seemed to bring together the views of the young. "When the Music's Over" is a long piece about rebellion, and in "The Unknown Soldier," Morrison takes the part of a soldier who is executed, yet comes back to life to shout repeatedly, "The war is over!" Symbols which recur in his work are water ("Moonlight Drive," "Wishful Sinful"), dreams ("Horse Latitudes"), and reptiles. The lizard symbolism is especially important, as fans began calling him the "Lizard King," after a persona in one of his songs. He dressed in tight, leather pants and reptilian clothes and apparently thought that, like the Lizard King of the song, he really could do anything, and in 1969, he was arrested and convicted for exposing himself onstage. After this incident, The Doors found it more and more difficult to get concert bookings, their creativity dwindled, and Morrison's lyrics became more trite. Just before his death, however, he had written and recorded one of his finest songs, "Riders on the Storm."

Morrison's poetry is strange, elliptical, excessive—just like the man himself. Its surrealism often passed over the heads of his young fans, who were not aware of Freudian and Oedipal themes. The Lords and the New Creatures, a volume of poetry, and An American Prayer, an album of Morrison reciting his poetry, are full of his excesses—especially his sexual infatuations—but also contain flashes of mystical brilliance. It is fitting that Morrison's death was shrouded in mystery as well. He died of a heart attack in Paris, but no one besides his common-law wife saw the body. In fact, there are those who claim that Morrison is still alive—that he was a god, that his work was his testament to the world, and that his "resurrection" will prove that Jim Morrison still "can do anything." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)