Morrison and America. The 60s Dream
edited: Monday, May 20, 2002
By Jeff R Wilder
Posted: Monday, May 20, 2002
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Commentary on Jim Morrison and the 1960s American scene.
In 1967, the man we know as Jim Morrison was 23 years old. In 4 years he would be dead. Yet in between those two events he would release some great music and offer some of the most astute commentary on the American scene that the 1960s would produce.
When people think of Morrison, they usually pigeonhole him into one of three categories: Wannabe poet, rock star or arrogant junkie. While Morrison was, in one sense, all three of them, he also offered some of the most accurate observations on America and where it was going.
Make no mistake: Morrison was a junkie. No question about that. Some people feel that his music was inspired by his drug use. To them I say that you don’t need drugs to be inspired creatively. However, some of literature’s leading men did some of their best work while drunk or stoned.
Whether or not Morrison was actually a poet is more or less subjective. I once wrote a whole college term paper on whether or not he was one. Some people have called him one but added words like mediocre (George Will) while some have called him a songwriter masquerading as a poet.
But I maintain that Morrison was first and foremost, an observer and commentator of the American scene.
In 1967, on the last track of The Doors self-titled debut album, Morrison sang what would become one of his most infamous songs, The End. The song received a great deal of attention for a verse that referenced that classic known as Oedipus in a rather candid way. But the most accurate verse went like this:
Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain.
In an era where many other rock singers were singing about peace and love, Morrison was singing very frankly about what the thousands of American servicemen were doubtlessly experiencing in the jungles of Indochina. To those men, the jungles were by far a metaphorical wilderness of pain surrounded by insanity. Although one could argue that the children in question were our leaders.
In the first song on that album, Morrison encouraged the listeners to “break on through to the other side”. That, in one sense, was what he wanted everyone to do. Break through and push out the boundaries that restrict you. There is a whole wide world out there. Don’t be afraid to go out in it.
The main difference that separated Morrison from many of the others of his ilk from that era was that while his vision was (like theirs) often clouded (by intoxicants and other things) he also had a pretty good sense of the good that could have come out of the 60s. The good in the move toward more individual rights and more acceptances of all people.
One can clearly tell Morrison’s antiestablishment tone in the lyrics to the song “Five To One” from 1968’s Waiting For The Sun album. As he sang that “They’ve got the guns/But we’ve got the numbers” one could sense that he was calling for people to band together. He seemed to sense that just getting high and wishing for better things wasn’t enough, one had to act to get those better things (A sad irony in that he towards the end found himself in the position of getting high and wishing for better things).
Morrison saw where all the excess of the era was taking us and he commented on it very clearly. He encouraged his listeners to “Go real slow, you’ll like it more and more/Take it as it comes/Specialize in having fun”. It was apparent to him even then that excess was most likely the thing that would do him in and encouraged other everyone else to not let it get them, even as he himself couldn’t avoid it.
The pain of war and damage to the world was felt in his song “When The Music’s Over”. As Morrison asked us: “What have we done to the earth. What have we done to our fair sister? Ravaged and hit her and stuck her with knives”. This offered ominous warning of what the world was in danger of turning into and would more or less turn into. In that same song, he would try to offer some encouragement to his followers by announcing “We want the world and we want it…now? Now? NOW!!”
While those words can still arouse passion in some people even today, at the time they did not lead us into a new communion based on something that could last. The generation he was speaking to was angry about the way things were being run. But how many of them carried that anger on with them? Indeed, how many of those sixties liberals would later go on to become what they once loathed: the establishment.
Knowing Morrison (Not personally. But from all I’ve read about him), if he had seen what became of many of the freethinkers of the time, his reaction would have gone one of two ways. Either he would have enjoyed the irony in the whole thing or he would have been appalled and betrayed. The fact that he didn’t live long enough to see it was ironic in itself. Consider that he died two years after the dreams of the era started going into eclipse under Nixon. Three years later, Watergate and the pullout of Vietnam blew what little was left of them to smithereens and left us with what would become the “ME first generation” and of course set the stage for where we are today.