For reasons that will probably be clear in retrospect, I have begun listening to the Doors again recently, especially their final album. The popular wisdom has it that L.A. Woman, despite having the worst of all the band’s album covers, was a powerful comeback that ranks among their best. Which, considering they only had six, that’s not a hard call. Think about that. Their self-titled debut came out in 1967, and the last one was 1971. Six albums in four years. That is productive.
The other popular wisdom is that Morrison’s poetry is bad: jejeune and pretentious.
Danny Fields: Jim Morrison was a callous asshole, an abusive, mean person. I took Morrison to Max’s and he was a monster, a prick. And his poetry sucked. He demeaned rock & roll as literature. Sophomoric bullshit babble. Maybe one or two good images.
Patti Smith was a poet. I think she elevated rock & roll to literature. Bob Dylan elevated it. Morrison’s wasn’t poetry. It was garbage disguised as teenybopper. It was good rock & roll for thirteen-year-olds. Or eleven-year-olds.–Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
I took this take seriously for a long time, but looking back, Danny Fields is not an authority on what is and is not poetry (did he write any, or did he just drop acid and badly manage The Stooges?). The worst artist is better than the best critic.
I also don’t know what provoked me to actually read any of his work, but it was probably a quotation that I read somewhere else. In any case, I have read a collection of his first two volumes: the originally self-published (!) The Lords and The New Creatures, and I can faithfully report that, while his poetry may not be the greatest, it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.
I saw a lynching-Jim Morrison, “The New Creatures”
Met the strange men
of the southern swamp
Cypress was their talk
Fish-call & bird-song
Roots & signs
out of all knowing
They chanced to be there
Guides, to the white
Whatever this is, content-wise, it has a flow, a music, something that begs to be read aloud. These are themes of blood and nature, they also echo an almost Lovecraftian vibe: men in the dark swamps killing for their cruel antient deities, speaking in mystical semiotics. Morrison quite self-consciously viewed himself as a shaman, here and as the Doors’ front-man.
On a deeper level, The Lords is a poetic meditation on cinema: a set of statements that have surprising resonance to Current Year, living under the Panopticon:
Cinema is the most totalitarian of the arts. All-Jim Morrison, “The Lords”
energy and sensation is sucked up into the skull,
a cerebral erection, skull bloated with blood.
Caligula wished a single neck for all his subjects
that he could behead a kingdom with one blow.
Cinema is this transforming agent. The body
exists for the sake of the eyes; it becomes a
dry stalk to support these two soft insatiable
Keep in mind that this was written nearly sixty years ago. We lament Stuck Culture, and the lack of new franchises/product since the early ‘oughts, but people with eyes to see were warning us of the fix we were in back in the Sixties. And were laughed off the stage. A prophet has no respect in his home country.