Article published in Eye Magazine
Written By: Digby Diehl
Weatherby George Dupree
Care of his mother,
Though he was only three.
Said to his mother,
“Mother”, he said, said he:
“You must never go down to the end of the town,
If you don’t go down with me.”
Like some demonic vision out of a medieval Hellmouth, he hovers over the tightly packed, squirming crowd of girls at stagefront. He peers into the darkness with sweat-blurred eyes. Swaying and staggering, the sonic waves exploding behind him, his distorted face registers a melting look of terror and despair.
“Faaaaaarrrruuuuugh….” The screaming obscenity, massively amplified, forces the fans to recoil, while he reels and pitches even more wildly, almost falling off the stage. His mind is gone; he is a screaming, jellied blur of terror and the excruciating vista reflected in his face is no longer the Fillmore, but an abyss of chaos, violence, and pain, like some nightmare landscape by Hieronymus Bosch. A vision of the ultimate; a vision of love and death seen once by a frozen leopard.
The insistent opening phrases of “Light My Fire” swell form the organ as he stands there with head in hands. Lost, blinded, he gropes for the microphone, at first completely incoherent, then catching the phrase “Got to love you, baby, one more time” from his mental swirl, repeating it over and over…gently, pleadingly, passionately, then cruelly. The “Light My Fire” background rises to a crescendo and collapses in a roar around him. The spotlight goes dark, the shell-shocked hippies disperse, and Jim Morrison and The Doors have forced the American Dream to the edge of reality once again.
This flagitious assault on the libido has proven to be the key to The Doors’ confrontation with American life. Mirabile dictu, the public has responded to this onslaught by making their first album, The Doors, a million-seller, pushing Strange Days rapidly in the same direction, and generally acclaiming the group as black priests of the Great Society. Drawing capacity crowds to almost all of their appearances, the newly arrived group already receives $10,000 to $12,000 for concerts.
Their music is an eerie amalgamation of primitive pulsations and beautiful lyricism that has all the hypnotic decadence of Edgar Allan Poe, Morrison announces the philosophy of The Doors in personal terms: “I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that has no meaning. It seems to me to be the road to freedom.” The hows and whys of the bacchic frenzy that accompanies each of the group’s concerts are puzzling to Morrison, as they are to many overservs, but the suspects it has to do with the Puritan Ethic, repression and Vietnam. “I think there’s a whole region of images and feelings inside us that rarely are given outlet in daily life. And when they do come out, they can take perverse forms. It’s the dark side. Everyone, when he sees it, recognizes the same thing in himself. It’s a recognition of forces that rarely see the light of day.”
The shock of recognition can return people to their elemental sense, says Morrison, likening a Doors performance to a séance. “The more civilized we get on the surface, the more the other forces make their plea. We appeal to the same human needs as classical tragedy and early Southern blues. Think of it as a séance in an environment which has become hostile to life; cold, restrictive. People feel they’re dying in a bad landscape. People gather together in a séance on order to invoke, palliate, and drive away the dead. Through chanting, singing, dancing, and music, they try to cure an illness, to bring harmony back into the world.”
Put on a golden gown,
Drove to the end of town.
Said to herself, said she:
I can get right down to the end of
And be back in time for tea.”
In the pristine warmth of a sandy beach and a sunny day, The Doors were conceived. Their “parent group” was a band called Rick and the Ravens which featured Ray Daniels (“the bearded blues shouter”), and they played at a bar on Second Street and Broadway in Santa Monica, improbably called The Turkey Joint West. In the spring of 1965, Rick and the Ravens had a nucleus of the three Manzarek brothers: Ray singing, Rick on Piano, and Jim on the guitar. They had played together in Chicago, and when the family moved to Redondo Beach, the blues band was formed for weekend gigs. A college crowd, often from the UCLA film school, frequented the bar to hear Ray belt out material like “Money,” and “Louie, Louie,” “Hoochie-Coochie Man”, and “I’m Your Doctor, I Know What You Need” in simulated Chicago style. “I would switch from film-school grubby to a blue jacket with velvet collar and a frilly shirt to be the bearded blues shouter,” recalls Manzarek. “Immediately afterward, I would put my sweat shirt and corduroy jacket back on and return to being a film student.”
Manzarek never liked his piano lessons back home in Chicago, until he learned to play boogie-woogie at the age of twelve. He studied Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky at the Chicago Conservatory, “but I didn’t really enjoy playing other people’s stuff. I dug blues.” He sung around the clubs on Chicago’s South Side to hear the great blues singers like Muddy Waters, not yet discovered by the white world. “I used to listen to Negro disc jockeys- Al Benson, and Big Bill Hill- at home, and developed a stride-piano style.” Majoring in economics as an undergraduate at De Paul University, he went to UCLA to become a lawyer. “I actually did go to law school out here for about two week. I couldn’t believe all the nonsense. I figured those guys must be kidding and went into the cinema department. “ There, Manzarek completed three short films: Evergreen, Induction, and a design film, Who I Am and Where I Live- all autobiographical segments considered very promising work by the faculty. Last December he married his longtime girl friend, Dorothy Fukikawa, a lovely Oriental native of L.A.
During that summer of ’65 Manzarek was living in Venice, an early cradle of Hippiedom on the oceanfront south of Santa Monica. By accident, he ran into Jim Morrison. “I had been friendly with Jim at UCLA, and we had talked about rock’n’roll even then. After we graduated, he said he was going to New York. Then, two months later, in July, I met him on the beach in Venice. He said he had been writing some songs, so we sat on the beach I asked him to sing some of them. He did, and the first thing he tried was ‘Moonlight Drive.’ When he sang those first lines- ‘Let’s swim to the moon/Let’s climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening/That the city sleeps to hide’- I said: “That’s it.’ I’d never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before. We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.”
Morrison and a college Roommate, Denis Jakob, had already joked about forming a rock duo called The Doors: Open and Closed. Their repertory was to consist of two songs, “I’m Hungry” and “Want.” Originally a phrase of William Blake’s (“There are things that are known and things that are unknown; in between are doors”), used by Aldous Huxley for the title of his book on mescaline experiments, The Doors of Perception, this title for the group seemed apt.
One of the first meditation centers of the Maharishi, in which UCLA student were particularly involved, was opening at this time, and Ray Manzarek met John Densmore, a drummer, in his meditation class. Densmore, who had played jazz drums almost exclusively until a short stint with a group called the Psychedelic Rangers, joined the Doors.
His experience with a group of Jazz musicians from University High School, who sat in at Shelly’s Manne-hole in Hollywood, started him listening to drummers like Philly Joe Jones. He attended five southern California colleges and changed his major five times, ending with anthropology at UCLA, but being most affected by San Fernando Valley State’s outspoken McLuhan disciple, Ted Carpenter. After meeting Manzarek and Morrison, he was still uncertain about the group. “Their songs were really far out to me. I didn’t understand very, but I figure I’m the drummer, not the lyricist.”
Densmore is still an active adherent of the Maharishi. “I don’t proselytize about it,” says Densmore, but it turns me on. Turning on doesn’t have to be grass or acid it’s just being aware. The reason for taking drugs is to get where meditation takes you anyhow. Read it in the Indian Scriptures. It doesn’t help creativity; I was trying to do the same thing when I was taking drugs as when I meditate. It’s done something beautiful for me; before, I took a lot of acid and have died, in a way.” Before the recording session for The Doors’ guitarist, spent a week at a meditation retreat on the Monterey Peninsula, and the stay culminated in an Indian jam session with Paul Horn on flute, Kreiger on sitar, and Densmore on tablas. “I think the most exciting thing that’s happened to me was when Robby and Donovan and I spent an hour with the Maharishi. I felt high for a week!”
In September of 1965, six Morrison originals, including “Moonlight Drive,” “Summer’s Almost Gone,” “End of the Night,” and “Break on Through” were recorded on a demonstration transcription at World-Pacific Jazz studios on the Aura label. This recording session (the only copies of which are owned by World-Pacific, John Densmore and Billy James) was Morrison’s first appearance at a microphone, and the instrumentalists included Jim and Ray Manzarek on guitars, Ray Manzarek on piano, Densmore on drums and an unidentified girl bass player. Shortly after the recording session, Jim, Rick and the mysterious girl bass player decided they didn’t like Morrison’s songs. They split for Redondo Beach, and are still presumably playing “Louie, Louie.”
Robby Krieger, who got to know Densmore and Manzarek at the Maharishi’s Third Street Meditation Center (He, like Densmore, is still involved in the discipline), arrived with some hard-driving bottleneck guitar, and the unit was complete.
Krieger had played in a jug band at the University of California at Santa Barbara and about six months of fold and blues at UCLA, where he majored in physics and psychology. His remarkably individualistic guitar playing developed from lessons in flamenco-guitar technique from Arnold Lessing and Frank Chin. For him, Transcendental Meditation “…is a way of getting around the darker parts of life. Like any other form of involvement, it concentrates on lighter things.” As a lyricist for the group, his songs reflect this attitude, including “Love Me Two Times,” and “Light My Fire,” which most people think was written by Morrison.
The Doors continued to audition several bass players, but were never able to find a satisfactory musician. One day, Manzarek saw a Fender piano bass and the problem was solved. He now plays the bass keyboard with his left hand and the organ with his right foot and right hand. The quartet rehearsed for four or five months and played at a few private parties, including one given by Krieger’s parents.
After practicing daily in a friend’s house behind the Santa Monica Greyhound Bus Depot, The Doors made a humorously premature debut on the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall, providing “live soundtrack” to a screening of Manzarek’s design film, Who I Am and Where I live. Krieger played guitar, Manzarek played flute, and Densmore, Morrison and sundry girlfriends pounded on drums, rattles, claves and tambourines.
A small, now-defunct club called the London Fog, located between the Hamburger Hamlet and the Galaxy on Sunset Strip, was the first real club date for the Doors. They played for five dollars apiece on weeknights, double on weekends, seven nights a week, four sets per night. Because at that time they didn’t have sufficient original material for such a long job, over half their repertory consisted of blues and rock ‘n’ roll classics, such as “Gloria,” “Red Rooster,” and “Who Do You Love?” Once again, a faithful core of fans from the UCLA film school followed them, but on the Strip a cross section of other listeners joined. More than anything else, the London Fog job provided the opportunity to play together steadily, experiment with their songs, and to develop as a working group. Jim Morrison in particular changed, progressing from a reserved stage-style to his presently flamboyant manner. Their music was ardently defended by a growing segment of the Strip population; but it also just plain scared a lot of people. Eventually, they were fired. No one in the group can quite recall the reason why.
It may seem hard to believe, but at this juncture The Doors could easily have sunk into small-time oblivion (They were turned down after four auditions at Bido Lito’s and had played at the Brave New World in Hollywood for only a few nights), or disbanded, or at least could have starved a while longer waiting for discovery. But on the very last night of their four months at the London Fog, Ronnie Hara, the chic chick who books talent for the Whiskey –a-Go Go, came in to hear them. “I knew that Jim Morrison had star quality the minute he started singing,” says Miss Haran. “They needed more polish, but the sound was there. Unfortunately, none of them had telephones