Friday, August 01, 2008

Learning To Love The Doors Again

Jim Morrison died - probably of a smack overdose, maybe of verbosity - in 1971. The Doors died for me in 1992 after three viewings of Oliver Stone’s movie.

I hate hype. I’m not so silly as to claim total immunity but pragmatic enough to know that when most of it washes over or passes me by, it makes me very happy. So I only ever partially bought into the ‘90s re-birth of the Doors, driven in equal parts by fanboy-turned-posthumous manager Danny Sugerman and ebullient but calculating keyboards man Ray Manzarek. The “No-one Here Gets Out Alive” bio was a great read, even if parts were fabricated to paper over gaps in memories or missing pieces.

In marketing it’s said that all brands have a limited life. When one is re-birthed or revitalized it’s called it a “line extension”. You don’t have to read the late Mr Sugerman’s vastly entertaining autobiography “Wonderland Avenue” to know he knew lots and lots about lines. But back to the subject…

I used to love the music of the Doors even if I found Jimbo’s poetic bent over-rated at times and guitarist Robby Krieger a bit of a one-trick pony. I had all their catalogue on vinyl. One of my housemates in the itinerant ‘80s share accommodation phase had a Jimbo fixation, playing the shit out of those LPs and tripping on whatever was at hand while quoting lyrics ad nauseum. A visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (Morrison’s resting place) was a must on an overseas trip where the prostrated, sobbing/stoned fans, graffiti and gifts confirmed how crazy the more extreme Doors fans really were.

The ‘90s rolled around and so did the movie. Band members dissed it for what it was – Hollywood fucking a dead rock star - but it opened the floodgates for all manner of cross-promotion, re-issues and re-invention. We had band member re-mixes, hand-picked and re-mastered best ofs, a band member hand-picked box set (one disc each) and of course a stream of books, with most of them not saying much. The Jim Morrison McHappy Meal never transpired (“nod off in the bath with a burger”) but I’m sure it was not through lack of trying.

The constant hype just got to me. I switched off. In the ‘00s, I avoided the tour by the remaining members. (Drummer John Densmore eventually did too – probably after he read Manzarek’s less than flattering comments about him in his own autobiography.) “Alive, She Cried” got some turntable time but I eventually shut the door on the Doors.

The door recently re-opened. A re-mastered version “LA Woman” that was a sonic upgrade gave it initial impetus. The bluesy rawness of this one meant it never entirely faded from view. The “Live in Hollywood” disc – culled from post-Miami shows at the Aquarius in LA – helped, even if Sugerman’s liner notes comparing Morrison to Nijinsky is compelling evidence that too many drugs really do fuck your brain. (I never speak ill of the dead but the word “necrophiliac” is somehow appropriate.)

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across the entire studio back catalogue on Rhino (this line extension is Bruce Botnick’s re-mixes from the master tapes) in a chain store for the bargain basement price of 10 bucks each. Digital slut that I am, I took the plunge.

Some of the re-mixes are superfluous and the bonus tracks on the first couple are dubious (outtakes of truncated versions or studio chatter are usually exactly that – outtakes) but I’m warming to some of the tweaks. A few specific observations:

- The mid-period “Morrison Hotel” is right up there with the band’s best. Can any band complain about having its first, last and middle albums rated as “excellent”. Thought not.

- As ravaged as his voice was by then, “LA Woman” is stronger for that fact. That the band says it had run out of songs by then and was making things up in the studio is not necessarily a negative either.

- Even with years of distance, the term “mute nostril agony” has never improved as a lyric.

- The penny has dropped: The reason for the “I see the bathroom is clear” line is because “LA Woman” was recorded in the band’s office with the shithouse set up as a vocal booth. D'oh.

- Did the flawed “The Soft Parade” really take nearly a year to make? Why?

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