Paris#6 – The Tomb of the Lizard King

We all go through periods of fixations… perhaps ‘fads’ is the right word.  Whether it be karate, surfing or playing the drums – a parent has got to be ready for the 5 minute attention span that these ‘hobbies’ nearly always entail.

Then we have our musical fads.  Periods of time in our lives where we are consumed by a band that seems so monstrously ahead of its time, or game changing that all others fall by the wayside.  After the passing of the fad these bands will often slip from view, occasionally pulsing like a beacon on the mini screen of that motion-detection gadget from Aliens.  Punk, Zeppelin, Brit-Pop… I’ve been totally absorbed and then I’ve ended up slowly backing away… right up to the wall.  I now admire from a distance… and some of the fads actually mature, in this way, over time.  I can certainly appreciate Zeppelin now more than ever for the great blues rock band they were.  I no longer need to hold aloft Jimmy Page as some kind of guru.  In fact he’s quite a messy guitar player.  And Robert Plant screeched too much… and used too many cliched lyrics.  There… I’ve said it.  Ha ha!  For you see… the fad consumes you to the point of not quite seeing the horizon.  But with your back against the wall you can survey the scene of the crime for what it really is.

I really loved the Doors as a teenager.  I bit hard on the hook of the Oliver Stone film and was drawn into the story of Jim Morrison.  Now… Morrison is one of those historical musical personalities that really divides opinion.  If you google him you’ll find a whole army of people ready to tell you that he was a good for nothing, alcoholic, drug-addled, narcissistic lay-about with no talent and a modicum of luck.  Then you get the fervently Morrison-religious faction who declare ol’ Jim as the second coming of Christ.  And never the twain of opinions shall meet.

I think the reality is somewhere in the middle.  For me, Jim Morrison was an important rock and roll character.  Even now, he epitomises the archetypal rock frontman.  In ‘that’ series of photos he was the very definition of the ‘lead singer’.  Naked torso, beads and straggly hair.  The man every girl wants to screw and every guy wants to be.  A triumph of image over content?  That’s what I hear all the time.  Hmmm.

Listening to the Doors brings back youthful memories.  Like the way a smell takes you immediately back somewhere in your past.  These songs take me back to being a teenager.  And so I listen, aware that for many, the Doors‘ music is considered a joke.  Let me just make my stance clear… I think the negative viewpoint of the band’s output is wrong.  This is a band that has  in its repertoire songs such as Break on Through (To the Other Side), Light My Fire, The End, Love Street, Touch Me… the list goes on.  I suggest you dig out the final album, LA Woman, now…  stick it on and listen to some authentic rock and roll.  The majesty of the title track… and the serenity of perhaps the defining Doors‘ song, Riders on the Storm.  Truly epic, beautiful music.

Morrison’s lyrics have faced accusations of being no more than adolescent, naive claptrap.  Well… for me… I feel there is definitely some justification for calling Morrison’s lyrics poetry.  Morrison certainly believed he was a poet.    And when you tie the words to the music they assume a new level.  It’s easy to criticise the naked word on the page.  Banal… meaningless… nursery rhyme-esque.  Yet in the context of the music I believe Jim Morrison was indeed a poet.  Hell… shoot me.  There are lines in those songs that any lyricist would kill to have written.  They may not admit as much… but I guarantee that there are a lot of envious  eyes and ears out there.

Jim Morrison, a man who seemed to have accomplished so much and caused such ‘incident’ in such a short amount of time.  His antics rivaled Axl Rose and yet Morrison was dead at 27.  Did he die a boy or a man?  Spoilt, molly-coddled rock star or boozy, extravagant genius?  Again… the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I don’t think I would have liked Jim Morrison as a person.  I would probably have crossed the road to avoid him.  A drunk, nasty, self-absorbed egotist.  And yet I’ve heard tapes of some of his drunken rambling and he actually sounded pretty coherent.  Probably just a product of the flower power generation – even if he was trying to be the antidote to peace and love!  A young man, given a lot of money and thrust into the lime light.  Having viewed many documentaries on Morrison I feel that he is not quite the character as portrayed in the Oliver Stone film.  In reality Jim Morrison seemed a little less charismatic, quieter… hard to reconcile with the footage of the ‘incidents’.  I think the mix of alcohol and fame brought Morrison to his knees… and many others to their knees around him. 😉

So… where do the Doors, and Jim Morrison feature in the pantheon of great rock bands?  Well… I think they reckon a lot higher than many a list you’ll see.  And for a ‘fad’ of many an alienated youth this is a rock icon who deserves to live forever.  I visited his grave… and if I have absorbed a fragment of his balls, of his attitude, of his artistry then I will be a happy man!

When You’re Strange

I had a spare moment last night so I watched “When You’re Strange“, a new film about the Doors.  Well… about Jim Morrison (no matter how much it stresses it isn’t).

So, before I go any further, this one’s quite simple.   All fans of the Doors have to watch this film.  There you go… there’s your review.

For the rest of you it may not be quite such a straightforward decision. This is how it is… I’m a huge fan.  Being a huge fan means there’s stuff in this film that will astonish.  I had never seen Jim’s ‘movies’ before and much of this film is taken from the ‘road movies’.  Therefore you’re getting to see images of Jim Morrison that you may never have seen before.  It’s one of those instances where it’s actually quite strange seeing such an iconic figure actually ‘moving around’ – In footage that isn’t from the Hollywood Bowl etc. This is footage of him actually walking/driving around.  Doesn’t sound like much of a revelation?  Well, believe me, it actually is!

The film starts off brilliantly.  Beautifully you might say.  I won’t spoil it too much… but the way the very beginning has been edited is perfect.  Jim driving along, listening to the reports of his own death on the car stereo.  Just superb.  So I sit back and think “wow, this is really going to be something”… and, well, it kind of is and it kind of isn’t.

For those of you who are less aux-fait with the Doors you might very well be better off watching the much derided Oliver Stone film.  It is a far more enjoyable re-telling of the myth that became the Doors.  Val Kilmer was excellent in my humble opinion… and although it showed Jim Morrison in a pretty angelic light, it still hangs together better as an “all you need to know” account of the Doors.

So, why doesn’t this ‘documentary’ work quite as well as it should?  Mainly due to the horrendous script.  At times it is jarringly bad!  I can only hope that it is that way on purpose.  But I have the horrible feeling that it really is just plain bad.  A kind of antithesis of the Oliver Stone movie that I can only assume has been written that way to please the haters of that film.  To dispel a lot of the ‘mystical’ elements and try to show Jim Morrison as a human being – towards the end a shambling alcoholic who went off the rails.

And, just to give a little extra polish to the awful script comes one of the worst narrations I have ever heard.  Note to everyone – DO NOT GIVE JOHNNY DEPP A JOB AS NARRATOR EVER AGAIN!!!  I cannot stress this enough. Talk about taking the soul from a film.  He is a drag.  He sounds bored… he probably was bored.  I’m not even sure from watching the film whether Jonny Depp even likes the Doors?!?  It really is that bad!

Anyway… ha ha!  The good points!  Hmmmm… look, for everything I’ve just said there are actually many good points.  There’s the reminder of just how great the Doors were.  The (brief) reminder of how great each individual was within the Doors.  The footage of them behind the scenes and the carnage of some of those gigs.  A reminder that even though I view the Doors as a bit of an art house band… in their time they were actually pretty much a pop act.  And a reminder that Jim Morrison really was the most iconic rock singer of all time.  He built the image of ROCK STAR that we see today.  And… maybe most importantly… all by the age of 27.  That most unlucky of ages for a lot of the rock stars of the past.  27.

This film is one that I’m glad was made and I’m glad I watched.  It’s a piece of history.