Monday, February 16, 2009

Celebration of the Lizard or...When The Music's Over

"When I was back there in seminary school..."

If you were to ask me now what my favorite band/music artist is, I'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with just one. If you really pressed me on it, I might say
Frontline Assembly, because I really admire their skill in crafting the kind of electro-industrial music that they do so well. But my all-time favorite? Probably not. I might say Van der Graaf Generator because there is just so much history there for me as a musician, prog-rock devotee and music writer. But- if you were to ask "What band do you think has been most influential on your life?" undoubtedly, it would be The Doors. Of all the bands that shaped my 'formative years' as a musician, a person and freak in general, why The Doors? Well, I really owe facets of my musical development, my influences if you will, to a number of other bands/artists from Alice Cooper to Zappa, with a whole lot in-between. But The Doors? They were different. And let me tell you why. Just like most kids who grew up in the 60's, I started out with the typical pop music of the time. I listened to AM radio, had my faves of top hits (those songs that just stuck in your head) but never really got attached to any artist in particular. When Beatlemania struck the U.S. I sort of jumped on the bandwagon, and got my Mom to buy a few of their records for me, like Meet The Beatles. I also collected Beatles trading cards (the kind that came a few to a pack with a flat piece of inedible gum, man I wish I still had them now) and may have even gotten a Beatle wig as a gag gift. Still, they weren't really influential on me, just a fad more or less. Nice catchy songs that got stuck in your head. The "influence" part came with Dylan. Bob that is. A buddy of mine in high school turned me on to Bob Dylan. He was an enigma. Actually, they BOTH were enigmas- my buddy and Dylan. My friend gave the impresson of being an arch-conservative, which was weird for someone who was so into Bob Dylan. He always took right-wing positions on ploticial issues and absolutely looked the part. Yet, when it came to music, his tastes were certainly left of center. Before long, I became embroiled in trying to decipher the meaning of Dylan's arcane lyrics, like-
"He sits in your room, his tomb, with a fist full of tacks
Preoccupied with his vengeance
Cursing the dead that can't answer him back

I'm sure that he has no intentions
Of looking your way, unless it's to say

That he needs you to test his inventions

And before long, I started writing ones of my own. Yeah, they pretty much all suck now, the product of too much inspiration and influence and too little originality and talent. But at least I was trying. I was beginning to go beyond just being your average teenager and developing something that had to to with creativity.
My infatuation with Dylan's music didn't last long. In spite of making me realize that you didn't have to have a great voice to make an impact in rock music, I moved on to other music. The burgeoning music scene of San Francisco was exploding, and before I knew it, there was TONS of great music. Oddly enough, my entry into this new scene didn't begin with the tripped out flower-power psychedelic hippie bands of Haight-Ashbury, but rather a band from L.A. - The Doors. The Doors self-titled debut LP was released in January 1967. I remember I bought it in February 1967. This was the FIRST album I ever purchased completely on my own. (Previously I had bought some 45's, and I'd been given a couple of record albums as gifts.) To me, The Doors were mind-blowing. They seemed to embody everything I had ever been looking for in music- kind of dark and dangerous, musically adventurous while still maintaining a good pop music sensibility, and absolutely charismatic. I was hooked. Although many fine bands and record purchases came afterwards, there was nothing that had a hold on my psyche like Jim Morrison and company. Of course, the history of The Doors has been well documented elsewhere, most notably in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie of the same title. (Best role Val Kilmer ever had, or probably ever will have.) But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, like being there yourself. I got my chance in the summer of 1968. Their third album, Waiting For The Sun, had just been released. The band was at their peak. This was before the shit hit the fan in Miami a little more than half a year later; before Morrison became a subdued, fat bearded drunk. This was prime Doors. I can only say I remember a few things about that concert- Jimbo constantly telling the light man to "turn down the lights" (setting a mood, or fooling around in the dark?); the amplifier reverb crashing and Morrison's extended scream in "When the Music's Over"; the exchange of expletives between Morrison and a female (who was likely very high) in the audience who wasn't sitting very far from me; Morrison's threats to just leave if the audience wouldn't stop shouting stuff (it worked, they stayed); "The Celebration of the Lizard" performed in its entirety which I had only heard part of from "Not To Touch The Earth", and a band that seemed larger than life in so many ways. I also remember Jim Morrison wearing leather pants, and wanting to own a pair myself, but that wish wasn't fullfilled until much later. When I hear live recordings of The Doors, I get a sense of what I experienced. Just a taste. They set a mood that could be simultaneouly the ultimate rock & roll party and the deepest journey into darkness experienced in a concert hall.

"Your ballroom days are over, baby
Night is drawing near
Shadows of the evening
crawl across the years

Ya walk across the floor
with a flower in your hand

Trying to tell me no one understands

Trade in your hours for a handful dimes

Gonna make it, baby, in our prime...
Get together one more time!"

Considering how the band eventually collapsed after a mere six studio albums and one live double LP (I don't count the albums without Morrison or Morrison's
An American Prayer as real Doors albums), they're STILL an iconic band to be reckoned with in the history of rock music. Of course, this is in no small part due to Morrison's mysterious early demise in Paris, July of 1971.(Visited Paris a couple of years ago, made a pilgrimage to Père Lachaise Cemetery and Jim's little grave is still there.) If somehow he had lived, and somehow ended up getting back together with Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, I don't think the fire would have been there. I think events had to play out as they did for the legend to live on. As good as the musicians of The Doors are or were individually, and they most definitely ARE superb musicians in my estimation, there is no comparison for what they were collectively. And that can't be put back together again, not with Ian Astbury, not with Eddie Vedder, not even with someone out of the blue who looks and sounds like a Jim Morrison clone. There ain't no substitute for the original. "So when the music's over When the music's over, yeah When the music's over Turn out the lights Turn out the lights Turn out the lights Well, the music is your special friend Dance on fire as it intends Music is your only friend Until the end Until the end, Until the end" Yeah, I have to credit The Doors with opening the door for to the dark side. I have to credit them with making me really want to play, and write songs that aren't happy pop tunes. For me, the music's never over. It's a never-ending stream or force, that in spite of creative lapses and moments of ennui, nourishes my psyche and galvanizes my being. To this end, I make it, buy it, sell it and immerse myself in the experience of it. As a 'Celebration of the Lizard', I've decided to offer three more Doors-related items in Windhamearl's Black Lodge to replace 3 other items I just sold. They're more relevant to getting a feeling of what The Doors were like than they are rare. One is their 1970 double LP, Absolutely Live. Another is the 2 CD set, The Doors: In Concert. The last is Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors by John Densmore. In time, I'm sure these items will end up being highly collectible, but for now they're as close to the real untainted experience as you'll ever get. Only a band like The Doors could play the garage rock standard "Gloria" for over six minutes and still make it riveting. Yeah Jim, you were the Lizard King. You could do anything.

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