Lester Bangs

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605

An American Prayer [is] the best recitative sluice of American literature on LP since Call Me Burroughs, and hell, even Burroughs never had the sheer nerve to lead with "All join now and lament the death of my cock." In a way Jim was really the end of the Masculine Mystique as celebrated through American culture up to and through rock 'n' roll, because unlike clowns of John Kay ilk, Jim was always in on the joke, in fact ballooned it to full erectile expanse before bending to gulp dirty bathwater in who is to say was not one last attempt at autofellatio? You could hear how wise he was to both the humor in traditional sex roles and their imminent rupture—unlike La Smith or indeed any of his progeny, he was a master of the sly inflectional turn, so that his every utterance no matter how pretentious rolled out oozing irony and sanity.

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Who further is to say that when he finally showed the fans his weenie in Florida he was not oh-so-bemusedly letting them in on the cosmodemonic comedy the whole thing boiled down to, the understanding of which he'd been considerate enough to spare them up to then because he respected virgins as much as the next good Irish Catholic boy? Who's to say the "bubble gum"/"parody" in the third and fourth Doors albums, so dismaying to early believers, was not entirely intentional, premeditated, one juncture in a vast strategy of liberation? A strategy scripted from day one to ultimately reveal that not only did machismo equal bozo in drag, but furthermore that all rock stars were nothing more than huge oafus cartoons (more New Wave foreshadowing!), that in fact these games of both "poet" and "shaman" were just two more gushers of American snake-oil. He knew! And now, eons later, so do we.

This album proves what the emergence of Patti Smith had given us reason to hope: that beatnik poetry is not dead. Jim's whiskey-breathed wordslinging varooms on, not only in Patti, but in Richard Hell and maybe even Bruce Springsteen…. (p. 46)

Jim understands the single kernel of no-mind koan-truth that eluded both philosophers and poets (not to mention P. Smith) over centuries: that death is about as serious as anything else we diddle our imaginations with. Or at least that our attempts to rationalize it are beautifully, lovingly funny. Anybody who thinks this stuff is just dope-noggined gibberish oughta recheck Kerouac's Mexico City Blues and "Old Angel Midnight," or the extra-opiumated latter pages of Lautreamont's Maldoror. Or Patti's Babel, for that matter. All those benighted verbiage-vectors went on at ridiculous length about the tragic communion of sex and death; Jim was hip to the comedy implicit in romantic obsession: "I pressed her thigh and death smiled. Death, old friend. Death and my cock are the world … Hey man, you want girls, pills, grass? C'mon … I show you good time…"

Sociology? "He's rich, got a big car." God-stuff? "We could plan a murder or start a religion." Guru's questions answered? "Will you die for me? Eat me." Allen Ginsberg hasn't written anything this good in 20 years almost. The Beats meant to bring poetry back to the streets and the gutter-mind of the people at large, and they succeeded: they gave birth to Jim Morrison, a giant resplendent in the conviction that stardom may guarantee Chivas Regal till you drown, but to clown is divine and ultimately sexy. (p. 51)

Lester Bangs, "Jim Morrison, Oafus Laureate," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1979), Vol. XXIV, No. 2, January 8, 1979, pp. 46, 51.

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