Wednesday, October 04, 2006

That Man's Voice Is Scary

Riders On The Storm

by John Densmore

In a sensible, rational world Jim Morrison would not be nearly as cool as he his. A junkie who was obsessed with death, and dead by twenty seven, and by most accounts a total asshole to boot, he's nevertheless remembered as one of the twentieth century's greatest musicians simply because he was able to skilfully channel his darkness into song. His voice on songs like 'The End' gives chills every time because he evokes the universally human fear and fascination with death, rendered more poignant because now it is coming from beyond the veil. No one seems to be able to explain just why he headed on such a morbid, self-destructive path, but judging from the two autobiographies written by the other members of The Doors he was one of those rare larger than life figures who sucked everyone in with their charismatic aura. Both Ray Manzarek and John Densmore's books are ostensibly autobiographies, but are more about Jim than their authors. It gives the impression that they've lived in his shadow their entire adult lives.

It's interesting to compare the two books. They both tell more or less the same story, with many of the same anecdotes (and no contradictions as far as I could tell, not like those clowns Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and broadly agreeing on their assessments of Jim's character. The books differ superficially in the style of writing, while Manzarek is flowery and pretentious Densmore is sober and succinct, a contrast that matches predictably with their instruments of choice. More interestingly they differ greatly when sermonising on what the philosophy behind The Doors really was. Manzarek offers a predictably hippy interpretation, about hope for the future and 'Breaking On Through'. Densmore's moral is far darker, claiming that The Doors were about death, darkness and the blues, in counterpoint to the prevailing life affirming hippydom of the time. In this context Jim Morrison's decline and demise is the logical conclusion to such a philosophy; the confluence of sex, drugs, general hedonism and death. A warning both to the pollyanna flower children, reminding them of the myopic nature of their beliefs, and to those of a darker disposition, reminding them of the sad futility of a life of nihilism.

Perhaps it's my own myopic nihilism speaking but I greatly preferred Densmore's book. Not only is his message more grounded and balanced but his style of writing is far more personally affecting. Manzarek often seems to be putting a glossy sheen on the story, as if he is more concerned about preserving the legend of Jim Morrison and The Doors than in truly describing what it was like. Densmore's writing may be blunt and workman like but it is also touchingly honest, and although it ends on an incredibly grim note, pairing Jim Morrison's death with Densmore's brother's suicide, the final message is a very positive one, in which he learns from the mistakes of the dead and puts their shades behind him. It's far more genuine and worthwhile conclusion than Manzarek's flower power clich├ęs.

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