by Kyle K. Mann
Gonzo Today Editor-in-Chief
Without Mary Werbelow, there would be no Doors lyrics agonizing over her loss: therefore, no Doors.
It was because of the rejection of Jim Morrison by the brilliantly smart, fabulously beautiful and uncommonly charismatic Mary Werbelow, that he sat writing lyrics on the beach in Venice and Santa Monica in the summer of 1965. It is a fact that Morrison, blithered and bewildered by the incandescent pain of losing his 3-year girlfriend and first love of his life, wrote the magical yet mournful lyrics that soon impressed keyboardist Ray Manzarek, on that same stretch of beach, creating what became The Doors.
A new book released here in this odd time of fall 2020 by early Werbelow/Morrison friend Bill Cosgrave gives fresh insight into the formative period that preceded Jim Morrison’s rise to the pinnacle of Rock Godhood.
I became aware of this book, Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary and Me just last night, which happened to be Halloween. Trick or Treat!
I bought and downloaded it and read it avidly. It’s a credible, well-written inside look at the crucial months just prior to the formation of the Doors, and the enigmatic, proud and stubborn Mary Werbelow.
It’s a shock. Over the decades, there have been a number of insider accounts of the pre-Doors era of Jim Morrison, but this one shoots to the top of my list. It’s an intimate, funny and ultimately heartbreaking book. As writer of a number of Doors articles for Gonzo Today, I immediately want to interview author Bill Cosgrave, who was friends of the couple and crashed on Werbelow’s living room couch in the pivotal Summer of 1965. Talk about historic! Cosgrave remained good friends with them both after their breakup, but lost track of them after he left L.A. right about the time The Doors first rehearsed in the late summer/early fall of 1965.
Cosgrave states in his book that neither he nor Mary Werbelow ever heard Jim Morrison sing a note.
Incredibly, I’ve worn out another Doors CD.
It’s much harder to wear out a CD than a phonograph album, which would start skipping and popping within a few months, if you kept playing them. Yes, I miss the old school technology of vinyl, but skipping records used to really bum me out. Especially if I was high.
CD’s last for years, if you treat them right. I admit my car audio is hard on them, since the player is in the trunk of the ‘99 Honda Civic. Hit a pothole and bang! It’s wear and tear. But what the hell. Sooner or later I’ll just replace the car, the system or both.
Point being, I play the Doors incessantly while driving. Up here in the Santa Monica Mountains, location of my Topanga home, the only couple L.A. radio stations I can stand don’t always get good reception. Classical, jazz and news… usually the first two are fuzzy, and the current events on the news station KNX usually send me into a frothing rage or a state of stupefied boredom. So, I switch back to the Doors’ CDs.
I listen to other CD’s, but the Doors dominate my listening even now in 2020, over a half century since I first heard and then saw them. It’s soothing music, even tranquilizing in spots.
Often I begin with “When the Music’s Over.” Yes, I’ve written about this before. The lengthy album track, especially the first half, still totally works for me and I admit it, it always makes me feel like that kid I was and still sorta am.
The epic tune starts with that damned bopping Vox Continental Organ riff, which as Ray Manzarek noted in his autobiography, was a modification of the Herbie Hancock piano riff from Hancocks Watermelon Man though frankly, I think Manzarek was actually more influenced by the funkier keyboards of Rodgers Grant on the 1963 radio hit version of “Watermelon” by Mongo Santamaría. Regardless, that riff is the perfect way to start an automobile journey.
Then Densmore’s drums kick in, the first two snare hits pounding with the bass line. This is just two musicians, but sounds like three. It’s a big sonic palette for two guys.
Ok, here’s where it gets a bit weird. I actually restart “Music’s Over” at various points over and over. Again, this is just two Doors we are hearing at the start, Densmore’s hi-hat cymbals briefly stuttering along with Manzarek’s keys, which include that evil Fender Rhodes bass keyboard atop the Vox. That bass line is hypnotic, compelling and maddening. Then, Densmore’s first two snare hits exactly in synch with the bass notes… man, that’s punchy.
I will play the opening of the track and go to, say, the point where Densmore pounds the snare drum rat-a-tat-a-tat-a riff, about 25 seconds after the opening notes and just before Morrison emits that epic scream. A click on my car stereo instantly starts the track over. I will do this repeatedly. Neurotic? Maniacal? Perhaps. I find it reassures me, somehow. I particularly enjoy blasting it that way in echoey parking structures, or at stoplights.
Eventually I will let the track run longer, with the huge scream and the blasting Robby Krieger guitar intro, out to the point where Morrison starts singing at just over a minute in. Then repeat at that length. Mix it up a bit, so it’s one or the other. It’s like a huge long instrumental intro.
Finally I’ll keep listening as Morrison sings the first verses. It’s oddly comforting. I’ll play the song on to where the music momentarily stops, at about the 2:40 mark. “Music is your only friend…” The song there halts completely for about 4 seconds. Total silence. So, I often start the song over again from there.
If I’m feeling gnarly I’ll go on and run through the insane Krieger double-tracked guitar solo, a multitrack psychedelic extravaganza, with volume cranked. Wild insanity: this, along with Jimi Hendrix, was peak psychedelia from the summer of 1967. Trust me, it can not get any more spaced out than this crazed music by the three Doors. Then I start the whole song over when Morrison starts singing again, about canceling his subscription to the resurrection. What I want is Morrison singing “…confusion…”
That’s right, I prefer much of the original 1966-early ‘67 lyrics, with the slower, scarier tempo. The version I heard in March ‘67 at the Avalon Ballroom, that one time I saw the Doors. That earlier version that was much more about Morrison’s catastrophic breakup with Mary Werbelow. “All my life’s a torn curtain..”
As I have noted elsewhere, there are a couple early versions of the song performed at the Matrix in San Francisco. Not well recorded, but highly instructive. “Something wrong, something not quite right…”
The whole dramatic section about “What have we done to the Earth” and “We want the world and we want it now” was a later revision. The original lyrics make it wrenchingly clear how haunted Morrison was by the specter of his soulmate rejecting him while she becomes a featured dancer on the Sunset Strip at Gazzarri’s, being ogled and hit on by innumerable guys. “I miss my baby.” It’s Morrison being dealt epic humiliation. He didn’t like it. “I want you,” he sings. He means it.
Think about that for a minute. Mary Werbelow pushed Jim Morrison away from her apartment and became a high-class but ultimately cheesy go-go dancer, telling Morrison that they would marry someday after they “discovered themselves.” That’s a colossal, controlling mind-fuck. Yet, without the commission of her harsh act, the crucial early Morrison lyrics don’t get written, much less sung and sold for lots of money and lasting fame.
What an illustration of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Toss the dude out of your home and two years later he goes iconic, and four years after he becomes a superstar, he then dies and becomes legendary. You spend the next several decades watching cycles of Doors’ popularity… discovered and rediscovered by multiple generations. The Ex That Would Not Die. That’s some severe karma.
When the Music’s Over was written and evolved, I believe, just before the Doors started playing at London Fog on the Sunset Strip in May, 1966. This was a crucial time for the band, as Morrison had suddenly developed his singing chops to a startling degree, literally a quantum leap in his vocal prowess. The first Doors demo tape, recorded before Krieger joined, and recorded while the band included Manzarek’s two brothers, was still called Rick and the Ravens. The demo tape has a tentative Morrison singing with Ray Manzarek. You can hear the potential, but it’s still weak and undeveloped.
Oh, to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall as When the Music’s Over came to life.
I guess they couldn’t figure out how to cut this 11 minute-long track down for radio play. Understandable, but too bad, because unlike many of the Doors’ great songs, this one is relatively unknown. It’s too bizarre, edgy, freaky. I love it for those reasons.
The End remains another shoulda-been single hit, as the tune was originally a melodic break up tune for Mary Werbelow without the later-added and notorious Oedipal Section. The lyrics at the start and ending are heartbreaking. The End gained additional cultural clout by being used powerfully in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
“It hurts to set you free, but you’ll never follow me,” is Jim Morrison’s epitaph to his love bond with Mary Werbelow. It’s direct and final. As sung on the breakthrough first Doors album in the summer of 1966, it is his counter-rejection to what was a long, slow break up with Mary Werbelow, who shared, along with his father Admiral Morrison, a distaste for the Doors. Your own family and your true love say you suck… ouch!
“The days are bright, and filled with pain…” Morrison sings in The Crystal Ship. The key fact: Mary Werbelow didn’t believe in Jim Morrison, despite their being each other’s first lovers. The magic of this striking couple, both incredibly attractive, intelligent and cultured young people, was over after three amazing years. Her scornful disbelief in his future prospects triggered not only the lyrics, but a fanatical desire in Morrison to succeed on his own terms. He went from zero to sixty as a singer in a single year.
Yes, Jim Morrison had a lot of help, starting with Ray Manzarek and his patient wife Dorothy. Ray, and soon afterwards John Densmore and finally Robbie Krieger, did believe in their lead singer. They nurtured him, listened to him, celebrated him and backed him up. Hour after hour, day after day as those early Doors fought their way, after a hiccup with Columbia Records, to a deal with Jac Holtzman at Elektra and the crucial production of Paul Rothschild.
For much of that period, Morrison wanted to get back with Mary Werbelow, only to be continuously rejected. Fate then handed him the drug-addled enabler Pamela Courson, who arguably killed him.
Where was Mary Werbelow when she got the news from Paris? What could that moment have been like? This is Greek tragedy material, with the cruel Gods above laughing.
That arc, from Werbelow meeting Morrison on the beach in Florida in 1962, to his death in 1971 at age 27, is a story of overwhelming intensity. That intensity is reflected in the music of the Doors, especially the early albums and performances.
So, let’s give thanks, and let’s say a prayer for Mary, wherever she is. This new book by Bill Cosgrave about his times with her and Jim Morrison is haunting… my Halloween Trick or Treat. The ending is devastating. If you are a Doors/Morrison fan, it’s a must-read.
If you know much of her story, and listen to the early Doors a lot, or just occasionally it’s hard not to think of her. Because she is very much in there, the glowing gem at the heart of the legend of Jim Morrison.
Kyle K. Mann
Nov. 1, 2020