Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1720
Williams: On interpreting "The End," I considered for the first time the other day, that the lines "This is the end my only friend," and particularly the lines, "It hurts to set you free but you'll never bother me …" at that point, when I heard that, it occured to me that the song was about a murder, and not just a guy leaving a girl. I didn't decide that, but the possibility opened that the whole thing was the murderer's mind and ah, the stream of consciousness starting from and leading back to … Rothchild: It's interesting that you say that, because Jim is fascinated with the concept, not only as physical death, this is my interpretation, we haven't really discussed it, he's interested in spiritual deaths, conceptual deaths, more than physical deaths actually, you'll find this theme in many of his songs, uh, the line in the song, "The end of nights we tried to die …" Williams: That goes right back to "Crystal Ship." Rothchild: Exactly.
Uh, I'm not sure if this is what Jim has in mind but it's almost as if Jim is saying … realize this is my interpretation, and not Jim's cause I've never asked Jim, he presented it to me and said it's for your head, interpret it as you will, Jim's saying almost as a friend, okay, my friend and I take an acid trip, and then I say to my friend this is the end my friend, my only friend, the end of laughter and soft lies, the end of nights we tried to die ah, the line, the end of nights we tried to die, to my mind is a direct reference to the concept that most psychedelics are a form of physical poisoning, that chemicals are a means of reorienting the body through a kind of poison …
Williams: You're saying this is the end, during the trip or before it? Rothchild: The way I feel it, the trip has started and he's saying this is the end. Williams: As a beginning. Rothchild: Right. This is the end. He has had a realization concerning a relationship, now this can be far more universal than a statement to this theoretical friend who is right there, this could be the end of world, the end of laughter and soft lies, or the end of—Williams: Himself.
Rothchild: Precisely. He's saying okay here's a trip, everytime we take a trip there's a death—, of concepts, of bullshit, a death of laughter and soft lies, let's get real with ourselves, let's get real with each other, um … there's one thing Jim used to say during the song which is just a stark death image. It was the blue bus theory, but it was stated in a different way, and he used to use them both, he used the blue bus thing and he'd also say, uh, "Have you seen the accident outside, seven people took a ride and something something something and seven people died," which is really very groovy, "have you seen the accident outside"—the world—seven people took a ride, this trip, looked at the world, and died. All of that that they saw in themselves which before lived, in other words the bullshit concept of the world which had been burned into their brains since childhood, had to die. And with every end there is a beginning, it is a cyclical thing, the end always has in it inherent a beginning, uh, trying to remember … "Can you picture what will be so limitless and free, desperately in need...
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of some stranger's hand in a desperate land." Things are very wrong out there so let us kill ourselves or those things in ourselves that are false…. (pp. 103-04)
[Rothchild:] Of the other imagery in the song, the little poetic bits between the double verse section in the beginning and the double verse section in the end, you have things like the snake—well there he's saying just get down to reality, the snake thing of course is just pure sexual imagery (to my mind), ride the snake to the ancient lake, that comes right out of Negro imagery, blues imagery, which Jim is very familiar with, "the snake he's old and his skin is cold," what he is saying is okay let's get down to the realities of life, there are very few realities and one of the few truly real realities is sexual awareness and companionship, Jim is very lucid in that department…. Oh right, and, the first one of which is very beautiful, "Lost in a Roman"—oh, a piece of beautiful classic imagery—"lost in a Roman wilderness of pain." To my mind all I can see is great crumbling ruins of a great civilization, which of course flashes right back to now, "lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, and all the children are insane," repeated. Williams: The barbarians. Rothchild: Right. "Waiting for the summer rain," let's get cleansed, let's get cleansed people. Another symbolic death by the way. Insanity of course is a symbolic death, it's a death itself, and the cleansing is a rebirth. And then of course there's the incredible Oedipal thing in the middle which is the first giant build…. (pp. 104-05)
[It's] significant that Jim used, chose to use a purely classical image (in modern dress) to do this. The story he tells is basically the Oedipus legend, ah, the killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on, he chose a face from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall. And he came to a door and he walked inside, and he went to the room where his brother lived, and then he went into the room where his sister lived, and then walked on down the hall, and he came to a door and he walked inside, and he said father, yes son, I want to kill you, and then he walked—Williams: No, no, it just immediately becomes mother … Rothchild: Yes, there's a little musical thing, and then he says mother I want to, and then he screams. He screams for obvious reasons, there are even for Jim cultural limitations.
Williams: And it's more effective. Rothchild: Of course, it's more effective, it's basic, it's primal, it's the reason, it's the motivation. Jim is saying, and Jim has phrased it precisely this way, kill the father, fuck the mother, and at one point Jim said to me during the recording session, he was very emotionally moved, and he was wondering, and he was tearful, and he shouted in the studio, "Does anybody understand me?" And I said yes I do, and right then and there we got into a long discussion about just what does this mean, this section, and Jim just kept saying over and over, kill the father, fuck the mother, and essentially it boils down to just this, kill the father means kill all of those things in yourself which are instilled in you and are not of yourself, they are not your own, they are alien concepts which are not yours, they must die, those are the things that must die. The psychedelic revolution. Fuck the mother is very basic, and it means get back to the essence, what is the reality, what is, fuck the mother is very basically mother, mother-birth, real, very real, you can touch it, you can grab it, you can feel it, it's nature, it's real, it can't lie to you.
So what he says at the end of the Oedipus section, which is essentially the same thing that the classic says, he is saying, kill the alien concepts, get back to reality, which is precisely what the song is about, the end, the end of alien concepts, the beginning of personal concepts. Get to reality, get to your own reality, get to your own in-touch-with-yourself situation …
Williams: I was just thinking in terms of getting back to reality, taking that against "Soul Kitchen," with the plea, desperation, the message, it's a message song, "Soul Kitchen" has got to be a message song, learn to forget, in a way, in its totality maybe it implies the opposite. Rothchild: Well, "Soul Kitchen" of course is full of sexual imagery. Williams: But it even goes beyond, you learn to forget, goes beyond everything else in that song and that's the reverse. Rothchild: "Learn to forget" is of course the key in there, otherwise Jim would not be saying it so many times in the song, ah, this is something, this is another aspect of the revolution, it goes back to the same thing as "The End"—learn to forget the bullshit, the alien concepts, get back to the reality, sleep in the soul kitchen. Williams: Although to me it's not as direct as "Soul Kitchen," it says something else too, it's very painful, everything he says in "Soul Kitchen" is very painful for him to say the way he says it, and learn to forget is very bitter. Rothchild: Well let's look at it this way: "Soul Kitchen" is an earlier song. And Jim hasn't learned to forget nearly as well as he did later on when he did "The End." (pp. 105-07)
Rothchild: "Alabama Song," I'm sure you want to know about that. Both Ray and Jim are admirers of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht. For obvious reasons. I guess Brecht was saying in the thirties what Morrison is trying to say in the sixties. They're completely different messages, but trying to declare a reality to their generation. It's sort of the Doors' tribute to another time, another brave time for some other brave men. And the lyric to "Alabama Song" is strangely contemporary. There is one other verse in the "Alabama Song" which the Doors don't sing, the verse missing is "Show us the way to the next little dollar, oh, don't ask why." And that is out of context for the Doors, that's not quite what they had in mind … (p. 113)
Paul Williams and Paul Rothchild, "The Night on Fire: Rothchild Speaks," (originally published under a different title in a different form, in Crawdaddy, July-August, 1967), in Outlaw Blues by Paul Williams (copyright © 1969 by Paul Williams; reprinted here by permission of the author), E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1969, pp. 93-115.