Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Perception of The Doors" or "Light My Fire Under a Bushel"

I’ve never been a big fan of The Doors. That’s hardly a controversial statement within my circle of music nerds. The hipster line on The Doors for years has been, “Pretty cool musically, and obviously important historically, but way overburdened by Jim Morrison’s ego, vocal dramatics and insanely bad songwriting.” I’ve never been an outright Doors hater either – I own a few of their albums and listen to them on occasion – but I’ll admit my gut reaction when I spot someone in a "Jim Morrison: American Poet" t-shirt is to avoid discussing music with him or her if at all possible.

No, as ‘60s music goes, I’m into more obscure stuff. I love poking around the weird little side alleys of hip record stores in search of long-forgotten psychedelic acts. Show me a band that pressed two or three LPs for some fly-by-night California-based label in 1966-71 then disbanded and faded into the ether and I’ll be slapping my Visa card on the counter before I’m finished reading the liner notes. The albums don’t even have to be uniformly good, so long as they’re reasonably interesting and have a standout track or two. I’ve unearthed a lot of good stuff over the years, but true lost classics are hard to come by. My dream find is an album that’s deeply trippy, slightly hooky and as dark as ‘60s rock standards allowed. Sort of like, oh, I don’t know… The Doors?

I was recently listening to a Nico album, and that got me thinking about her cover of “The End,” and that got me thinking about the original Doors version of “The End,” and before I knew it I was listening to L.A. Woman beginning to end. About halfway through “L’America,” it struck me: if The Doors weren’t THE DOORS and instead some forgotten psych rockers I’d discovered in the Oldies section of Rolling Stones Records, this would almost certainly be one of my favorite albums. Everything about it fits my template. It’s grim and grotesque and grimy as hell. It seethes with the kind of menacing organ riffs I adore. Sure, the lyrics are rather cringeworthy, but you could say the same for a whole lot of albums I love (Bullshit philosophizing was just a natural byproduct of the 1960s).

And yet here I sit, still not a huge fan of The Doors. This has made me question a lot of things about my taste in art, my public persona and the very core of my existence. If I read myself correctly, I’m guilty of the worst kind of hipsterism. The Doors’ mainstream success and rabid fan base has led me to hold them accountable for musical offenses that I’d ignore if they were committed by, say, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. If L.A. Woman was an unknown commodity, I would take immense personal pride in having “discovered” it, just like I do with Trader Horne and Joe Byrd and The Field Hippies. I’d be sending my buddy Zachary links to barely read internet articles on the band’s history, just like I did after I first heard Yahowa 13.

That last paragraph gets to the heart of my problem. I didn’t need to name-check all of those artists to make my point, but I did it anyway, because I want you to click on those links and hear those bands. That’s partially because they’re all wonderful artists who deserve a wider audience, but it’s just as much because I want you to check out these bands specifically on my recommendation. I want to bask in their reflected glory and revel in the narcissistic pleasures of my own obscure, impeccable taste.

Are The Doors a better or a worse band than any of those groups? That’s a matter of opinion, obviously. What’s a matter of fact is that Oliver Stone never felt compelled to make an awful movie about Joe Byrd and The Field Hippies. See, quality is only one factor among many in my complex recipe for musical adulation. The truth is that part of the reason I’ve never cultivated a real passion for The Doors is that they’re already well-traveled territory. There’s nothing exceptional about being into The Doors, and I don’t find the band itself exceptional enough to make much of a deal about them. I’m a big fan of plenty of near-universally adored artists – The Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie – but I think all of those performers are remarkable enough to supersede their mainstream acceptance.

On another hand is a band like The Grateful Dead, a group deeply beloved by a huge swath of music fans and intensely hated by just as many. I’ve started digging the Dead more in recent years. It’s because of that very hatred that I feel OK about stating that publicly. A chance to play the contrarian trumps most things for me. In the case of The Doors, though, the contempt isn’t quite feverish enough and the natural talent isn’t quite mind-blowing enough for me to get past their popularity with Budweiser-swilling undergrads.

So I guess it boils down to this: I like The Doors, but not as much as I would if they were more obscure, more talented or more hated. Of those three, only the talent requirement makes any logical sense, and it’s probably the least important to my public embracing of a band. I realize that this is a ridiculous, possibly contemptible attitude. It’s self-absorbed hipster elitism in the first degree, and it does a disservice both to blameless musicians and to me as a music lover. Still, I can’t see myself fully turning away from it anytime soon. My musical neuroses are too closely tied to my fragile self-image and the theoretical scorn of an imaginary peer group.

At least I recognize the problem. Give me time and I might even reach the point where I feel comfortable including a Doors track on my annual summer party mix. I’m thinking maybe “Hyacinth House.” Sure, “L.A. Woman” or “Love Her Madly” would probably be better party-rockers, but that shit’s way too mainstream, man.


  1. On a similar note, because of his huge iconic status I have a hard time getting into Bob Dylan. There, I said it. EVERYONE loves him and insists I should too. This has an overwhelming influence on why I just can't! It feels like I'm biting into something with everyone else's teeth marks already on it, or like a guy might feel sleeping with a well-worn prostitute. The "specialness" has been worn away.
    The same problem plagued me with The Beatles in my teens. My parent and all the other Gr'ups like them so they just can't be cool. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved The Beatles, just not openly in front of other people. Now though I'm an openly avid Beatles lover. For some reason though I just can't develop a similar appreciation I think I should have for Bob Dylan. So far the only Dylan song that has any effect on me is "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".

  2. Don't worry, Ira, I still scorn you.

    And, @auntiecoagualant, we share the same history on The Beatles and I REALLY dislike Bob Dylan. My suggestion is to looks at BD as a songwriter instead of a performer, you may fall in love with all of his songs that were covered/performed by other musicians.

  3. If I can get over my sometimes-unwarranted disdain for cover music.

  4. auntie, I totally sympathize with that take on Dylan. The more people tell me I HAVE to be into something, the more resistant I am to it. It's a big part of why I've never watched 'Mad Men' - I'm sure it's a fantastic show, but I have some kind of inborn stubbornness that kicks in when all my friends insist on its awesomeness.

    I can definitely dig not digging Dylan, though. As great a songwriter as he undeniably is, his recorded output is decidedly not to everybody's taste.