Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Doors - The End

I often wonder what it must have been like attending some of the early concerts of the great classic rock bands. I wonder what the atmosphere was like sitting in a club in Las Angeles in the 1960s and hearing The Doors play live for one of their first sets. Can you imagine trying to make sense of the erratic actions of the incredibly high Jim Morrison, or the strange new sounds coming out of Ray Manzarek’s keyboard? How would the average 1967 person have reacted to Jim Morrison screaming the line in “The End” about wanting to kill his father and fuck his mother? Badly I assume.

I do not think there has ever been a more perfect song to end a live set then The Doors’ “The End.” The simplicity of it all is seemingly such an obvious maneuver, but that is easy to say in hindsight; the song to best to end the night is “The End.” Appropriately “The End” is also the last song on The Door self titled debut album. “The End” is in every way a song about the end of all things, the end of the set, the end of the album, a personal end of everything and an external end of everything.

“This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again”

Morrison opens the song by establishing the theme, the end of our plans, our surroundings, time, and each other. This is no mere song about a closing set, or an untimely death, Morrison sings about the end of all things, physical and non physical.

The main body of lyrics strongly hints to the drug use of Mr. Morrison. He refers to a great many confusing things; Roman wilderness, insane children, riding west, a blue bus, and a ride-able snake. Having read a lot of Jim Morrison’s poetry and having spent an entire childhood listening to every Doors song I have something of a special insight understanding what he is referring to with these strange examples.

“Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land

Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah”

“Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain” is to be lost to an ancient chaos, removing mankind from civilization, suggesting an end to civilization, and the youth of tomorrow degenerate into primitive animals, or are insane. The youth of people is lost, along with civilization, the end.

“There's danger on the edge of town
Ride the King's highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby”

“Riding the King’s highway west” is clearly a reference to going to Morrison’s home of Las Angeles, but a king’s highway? Well Jim Morrison is the lizard king and he can do anything, perhaps he has inherited Las Angeles and its roads in the collapsed future, perhaps he considers himself the monarch of the city now. Also a king is a backward regression in political democratic advancement, yet another suggestion of the collapse of civilization, the end.

“Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake...he's old, and his skin is cold”

From reoccurring imagery in Morrison’s poetry it is safe to assume riding a snake is a sexual innuendo. “The snake is long, seven miles” this could be a humours exaggeration of Morrison’s own member, but my best guess is that it is a reference to a stretch of road as that would tie into not only riding a snake across some distance but also the earlier lyrics about riding the highway west. A highly sexualized quest to the ancient lake does sound like a tripped out adventure our friend Jim would go on, but how does this tie into the end of anything? The final lyric in this verse, “he’s old, and his skin is cold,” the snake is dying, but the sadness of the imagery is that sex and lust are dying, and with it procreation, and therefore the end of humankind.

“The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here, and we'll do the rest

The blue bus is callin' us
The blue bus is callin' us
Driver, where you taken' us”

When Jim Morrison says “the west is the best” he is basically saying “there is no place like home.” Morrison clearly sees Las Angeles as an extremely spiritual place, and he is strongly suggesting in this song that home, in the west, is where he is most comfortable, at peace, and safe, at least as safe and happy as one could be at the end times. I have no idea what the blue bus might be referring too, but I understand the frightful lyrics “driver, where you taken’ us,” I think we all know the final destination of the blue bus, it is the end.

“The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and...then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door...and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
Mother...I want to...fuck you

C'mon baby, take a chance with us
C'mon baby, take a chance with us
C'mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin' a blue rock
On a blue bus
Doin' a blue rock
C'mon, yeah

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill”

“Doin’ a blue rock” is such an obvious drug reference. These lyrics are deep but fail to tie in well to the theme of the end, at least as far as I can see. The killer lacks a clear identity, so he chooses a face from the ancient gallery. It is highly suggestive the reason this man has the title “killer” is that he has murdered his siblings and intends to finish with his parents. Perhaps these grim lyrics are the final destination of the driver, a scene far more graphic and relatable then the strange scenes described to us earlier; this is the end that is death, death through murder.

“This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end”

The most common criticism I hear regarding The Doors is the attack on Jim Morrison and his ridiculous drug abuse and how it affected his music. Ironically this criticism is actual one of The Doors’ greatest strengths. Jim Morrison was more a poet than a musician and it shows in the depth of his words, furthermore you could argue that Jim Morrison was more of a philosopher than a poet, he was a very spiritually man searching deep within and far without for answers to the most confusing abstract questions the human mind can conceive. The allure of drugs for Morrison had everything to do with expanding his mind, and if the drugs harmed his work, it is was probably his work as a philosopher not as a poet, and subsequently not as musician. If drugs clouded Morrison’s mind to greater truths that is unfortunate but it was those same drugs that granted him unique insights as well. The goal of art is to express, and you would need to be a fool or belligerent to miss the multiple layers of thought and feeling that is so powerfully present in every psychedelic Doors song. The mission of philosophy and science is the pursuit of truth, the mission of art is personal expression, but with The Doors we got a lot of the later and some of the former.

“It hurts to set you free”

Of course it does. It always hurts to lose someone. In Morrison’s mind there were planes existence beyond the physical, there was something profound and virtually unknown through the doors of perception, and in the end, when all that we are is lost, Morrison believed we would step through those doors and be free of so many things we never even realized binded us.

This is the end.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

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