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Pazz and Jop Poll Quotes Jack Rabid / Guest Essay: Tired of Jim Morrison Worship?

10 February 2007

Next week I will start printing my year-end essay on 2006. For now I am pleased to note that the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop music critic’s poll has used two quotes from that piece in their cover story this week.

So, to get a taste of what I’m on about this time, you can view those quotes on their online version here and here.

If you want to see what my top 10 LPs and singles were (a much longer list will appear here next week) you can also do that here.

although one thing to note is that somehow JON AUER’s LP Songs from the Year of Our Demise got credited to “January.” Don’t ask me why. But I was pleased to be included on two subjects of particular interest to me.

Also, I wanted to share an essay that was sent to me by a writer named CHRIS DEVLIN, which I found to be rather interesting on the subject of the social, as opposed to the musical, legacy of THE DOORS—and more specifically JIM MORRISON. As someone who has long admired The Doors’ music but been enormously irritated by the cult of personality worship of the fallen Lizard King, I found this harsh, uncompromising, a tad funny, and completely worthy of debate. Agree or not, it makes for good reading and I am glad to share it here. Mr Devlin:
Mr. Mojo Gonzo
By Chris Devlin

I think he’s finally dead, and I’m glad to believe it. In the decade since the OLIVER STONE movie starring VAL KILMER and the blip of related interest, Jim Morrison seems finally to have faded from the scene, relegated now to that pop-cultural demimonde of head shop posters and classic AOR playlists, where he is safely sandwiched between “Gimme Three Steps” and “Slow Ride.” There haven’t been more books, movies or reshuffled greatest hits collections, and it makes me glad.

Now, I understand that there are some people who think of him as a big deal. But a lot of them belong to the dubious breed that still enjoy hearing “Gimme Three Steps,” and the remainder probably didn’t endure the first Mojo revival at the tooth-grinding proximity that I did.

The Morrison hoopla started around 1981 with the publication of No One Here Gets Out Alive. This was the DANNY SUGERMAN book that was aimed at apotheosizing our Mojo: Here was a great and expressive singer, a serious but misunderstood poet, a charismatic dynamo and a hunky guy to boot. The singer-poet-dynamo-hunk believed in living life to its fullest, and was self-destructive and troubled. The book was packed with stories of Jim drinking himself into a poisoned stupor and of Jim swaying around on the ledge of his hotel window.

The hometown boys thought that all of this was very cool since, as serious partiers, they had a lot in common with this famous guy. Better yet, Jimbo and his suicidal binging were linked to great things. He was the leader of a band that had nosed out in excellence the stiff competition of the ‘60s. Everyone believed that ‘60s rock had reached the peak of greatness, though I don’t know how they figured this, since all I ever heard at parties were MOLLY HATCHET, STYX, and, when the girls got control of the stereo, PAT BENETAR. He was also supposed to be a great poet, though none of us read poetry and would have hated it if we’d been forced to. Still, his literary reputation had the convenient effect of giving Morrison’s expressions an irrefragable claim to high merit, like the work of a Nobel laureate. The upshot of all of this was that Morrison became the hero of a bunch of small town teenagers who, naturally, got it all ass-backwards.

The Morrison infatuation exerted a kind of philosophic influence on my boon companions. The guys got hold of the idea that extreme drunkenness constituted an enunciation of the rebel-romantic’s credo and signified deep spiritual yearnings. Of course, this crowd would have gotten wasted to the nth even if none of them had ever heard of The Doors. It was fun, after all, and there wasn’t much else to do in upstate New York. But it is safe to say that the whole Morrison thing inspired more than one of these kids to keep at the keg with a sense of mission when he might otherwise have gone off to snooze in the backseat of someone’s car.

A more obvious result of the Mojo vogue was studied self-destructiveness. The scene might be a party at which a Morrison scholar would begin to hold forth on the deeds of the great one. The contents of the lecture would come solely from the Sugerman book, which was our only source of information about Morrison. Other au courant teens would chime in with their own book-based tidbits. Sometimes you could predict which anecdote would be brought to match against the one just told, since the book was drilled into all our memories and these conversations tended to follow patterns.

Once everyone got blotto, the Mojo scholar would get revved up to put theory into action. What might earlier have been a diffident suggestion—“wouldn’t it be cool to climb up those electrical towers some day? —became mandate: “We’ve got to get up those things!” The true spirit understood. So, a batch of drunk teenagers in flannel shirts would stagger across a dark field to climb to the windy tower tops and possibly enjoy a round of “Break on Through” at the summit. Failing that, they could always pee on their friends below.

Some of these feats of derring-do were really scary, but most were just contrived bids for attention. In this category came the soccer player sticking his head out of the window of a speeding car to bleat out “Roadhouse Blues” and generally hoot in temporary abandon. There was also my friend Greg dangling a leg over an empty building’s roof. This last episode is one of my great teenaged memories. Picture this: Greg was squatting near the corner of the roof on which one leg remained firmly planted with the other leg, extended to the upper shin off the roof, wriggling around in the air as it were trying to work its way into a sock. A couple of us watched gravely. I can’t say now what Greg had in mind. Was he supposed to be preparing for a climb down the front of the building? Getting ready to dangle a while by his fingertips? We’ll never know since, to what must have been Greg’s stupendous relief, someone yelled for us to all get the hell down, which we did lickety-split.

It won’t come as a surprise that I don’t think much of Jim Morrison. I peg him as a passably smart guy with muddled literary ambitions whom everyone (including him) got to thinking was great because his band became popular. And I’m glad he’s off the scene, not just because I dislike his pop dirges and think that people characterized him as something he wasn’t, but because I can’t break the connection in my head between Jim Morrison and the highly ironic movement of teen conformity that his life inspired.

The Morrison infatuation was a fashion, and the same kids who in another era would have been flashing peace signs and spouting Aquarian jargon were all now playing self-destructive rocker. So they memorized Morrison anecdotes like baseball statistics, and, if they had an appreciative audience, might make some shabby, insincere oblation to the plagiarized notion that their lives were most worth living when their hides were at risk. The whole thing epitomizes the worst parts of being a teenager. The lackluster conformity, the posturing, the incoherent radicalism, were all concentrated in the Morrison kick, so that the credo of individuality was badly enough misread to find us on a rooftop in upstate New York watching Greg swing his leg off into the air, checking back to make sure that we were watching, and hoping ardently that he wouldn’t slip. Is it any wonder I’m glad to see Jim go?


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