There’s something for everybody on these new Doors collections: Those looking for more reasons to crow about how insufferable Jim Morrison could be will find plenty of ammunition in the concerts documented on The Bright Midnight Sampler and The Doors Live in Detroit. And those who consider Morrison a poet and provocateur who slipped the Incense and Peppermints generation a strychnine cocktail will be similarly bolstered in their beliefs, particularly by No One Here Gets Out Alive, a fawning Doors documentary originally broadcast in 1979 and now finally released as a four-CD set.
The three Bright Midnight releases, available through the Doors’ Web site (thedoors.com), and Stoned Immaculate, a tribute album with an all-star cast including Creed, Stone Temple Pilots and Aerosmith, continue the long-running expansion of the Doors franchise. For a group that managed only six studio albums while Morrison was alive, the Doors never seem to run out of product. Nor does the public’s fascination with Morrison show any signs of abating nearly thirty years after the singer’s death. These latest releases, flawed though they are, tell us why.
In the summer of 1969 and on into 1970, when the concerts collected on The Bright Midnight Sampler were recorded, Morrison had become an international punch line because he supposedly dropped his pants during a show in Miami. The stunt got the Doors blacklisted in some cities and turned the quartet into a circus act for a new mob of “rock & roll voyeurs,” as Ray Manzarek calls them in the Alive documentary, who came not to commune with Morrison but to watch him implode.
“We’re all in the cosmic movie. . . . You better have some good incidents happening and a fitting climax,” Morrison announces at a Philadelphia performance. There are moments when he strains to provide that climax. Track nine, “Bellowing,” is exactly what its title says: Morrison as blustering blooze parody. Caught up in one of his sub-Rimbaud moments, the singer blathers on in “Been Down So Long” about how “love hides in molecular structures” and pleads with a sweet young thing to “dump your load on me.”
Yet it was Morrison’s willingness to appear ridiculous that also made him great. If the other Doors — Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore — reinterpreted rock as the moodiest of blues, Morrison saw it as a theater of chaos, an opportunity to be pursued with reckless, sometimes self-destructive zeal. He enjoyed making audiences squirm in confusion with his “Hello to the Cities” rant, and he thought nothing of interrupting his band to make speeches, browbeat fans or improvise nonsense (“Dead Cats, Dead Rats”). On a seventeen-minute “When the Music’s Over” from Live in Detroit, the quartet journeys from spine-chilling climax to jaw-dropping absurdity and back again: Krieger’s swooping guitar kicks the trapdoor from under Morrison’s feet as he howls like a wounded animal; the singer moans about how he wants to hear “the scream of the butterfly,” and Manzarek responds with a flutter of organ notes; Densmore makes his trap kit quiver, rattle and rumble in anticipation of the concluding scream. It’s a marathon ride with a band at its peak, three superbly conditioned musicians counterpunching with a singer who fears nothing — least of all the possibility of making a complete fool of himself.
A battle-tested looseness makes the Detroit set and much of Bright Midnight a satisfying introduction to the Doors in their latter days. Morrison still veers from bombastic to brilliant, but he sounds like he’s having fun with his monstrous image rather than succumbing to it, especially when he drawls, “Your ballroom days are over, baby” on “Five to One.” The problem with No One Here Gets Out Alive is that it sticks so faithfully to the Morrison-as-rock-deity script, without a single dissenting voice to bring some sanity, or at least a modicum of humor, to the rampant hero worship. Noted literary critic Krieger proclaims his old pal “one of the most important poets of the last fifty years,” and the Doors suggest that they wouldn’t be surprised if Morrison were still alive.
Of course, he isn’t, because if he were he’d probably want to kick the ass of just about everybody involved in Stoned Immaculate, including the surviving Doors themselves. Somehow Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek couldn’t resist participating in their own tribute album — how creepy is that? Creed turn “Riders on the Storm” from a ghostly crawl into an overblown rave-up, and somebody persuaded John Lee Hooker to “duet” with a recording of Morrison’s voice on “Roadhouse Blues” — a stunt that does neither legend any favors. Morrison had his faults, but he was never this calculated. In the end, he was rock & roll by refusing to live up to anyone’s definition of it but his own.