“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” -- William Blake
Around 4:30 this morning, just as the sun was rising, I woke up with Jim Morrison on my brain. Jim Morrison, the lead singer of ‘60s rock band the Doors.
Later I went online and saw that Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of his death in Paris, back in 1971 at the age of 27.
The BBC report said that crowds of people -- including bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger -- gathered at his grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, as people have nearly every year since his death. Lighting candles and singing songs and such-like. I myself made the vigil when I lived there during the mid-80s.
This morning wouldn’t be the first time that Morrison had visited me from beyond the grave around the anniversary of his death. In July of 1990 I dreamed that he came back to show me a tattoo on his torso, an Aztec-style labyrinth. (This was a product of my imagination; I don’t know whether Jim had any tattoos in real life.) Since I'm not usually in the habit of dreaming about dead rock stars, this was a real treat.
Being such a huge Doors fan way back in high school I knew a lot about Morrison, including, at one point, when he died, so I guess one could say that my memory of the date of his death was basically triggered by the calendar. Or maybe Jim was out there trolling for babes on the ether, and I just got lucky.
Either way it’s all the same. Looking back, I realize that the music of Jim Morrison and the Doors had a huge influence on me, pagan-wise, although I didn’t know it at the time. In 1980, ‘81, I listened to them probably every day for about a year.
I would turn off the lights, lie on the bedroom floor with a stereo speaker at each ear and listen. Until way past my bedtime. I scratched their logo into the wooden desks at school when history class got boring. I loved their music -- it was very dark, during an era when so much music was about love and flowers and sunshine.
Their sound was a mix of psychedelic rock, jazz, and cabaret, with a smattering of blues. All the band members were great musicians, but it was most definitely Jim’s voice and lyrics that kept me mesmerized. Haunting is the only word. I was hooked for life.
Jim Morrison sang about all sorts of mystical, witchy things, like the moon, and ecstatic mind-states, and holding rituals in the forest. He said all we needed to do was “break on through to the other side” and I believed him. I still do.
He was inspired by Greek myths and tragedy, the writings of Nietzche, Native American spirituality, Jungian psychology and voodoun, among many other things. He handfasted one of his girlfriends, who was Wiccan, and strongly identified with Dionysus, the god of wine.
Many people said he evoked that deity on a regular basis, and that Dionysus rode him hard, and that it killed him in the end. Jim sang a lot about death. In one my favorite lines, he juxtaposes the Christian promise of salvation versus a more pagan/earthly sort of transcendence and finds the former sorely lacking:
“I'll tell you this: no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.”
Doors concerts were like shamanic journeys, with Jim and the band going into trance and taking the audience right there with them. He would jump down into the crowd and lead everyone in dance.
A lot of people thought that Jim’s lyrics were pretentious. They didn’t realize that far from performing some kind of schtick, he was dead serious about all of it. When he said, “I call upon the dark, hidden gods of the blood,” he meant it. And in 1970, at the height of the band’s fame, he turned his back on the rock scene and moved to Paris to write poetry. Died of a heart attack several months later.
The Doors were seminal in shaping the ‘60s rock scene, and they still influence today (both musically and mythically; Jim was the first rock star -- to my knowledge -- to inspire stories of being secretly not dead, and lo these many decades later, folks are still saying he’s alive, somewhere in the desert).
Here’s a link to the best essay I could find online regarding the Morrison-pagan connection.
Tonight, when I see the waxing moon going down behind the ridge out back, I will have a glass of wine, pour some out on the grass and think some more about Jim Morrison.