by Kyle K. Mann
The winner of the psychedelic ‘60s was James Douglas Morrison.
Fifty years after his inexplicable and tragic death in Paris, he looms large over the history of the era as a legend of impeccable credentials.
Morrison’s vocals as frontman for the Doors are instantly recognizable. They remain in rock music heritage as a monument of originality and expression. Celebrated by aging Boomers and well-regarded by today’s younger generations, as well as honored not only in his own culture but around the globe, he commands solid respect a full half-century later.
Certainly his looks, especially in his early career, were in the top rank of the era’s rock superstars. They also remain instantly recognizable. His iconic appearance is another facet of Morrison’s position in the top rank of the legendary, taking his place with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.
But none of that is why he wins the ‘60s.
It’s his integrity. He never once sold out.
His towering rage on being informed that the other Doors had sold their number one hit, “Light My Fire,” for a Buick television commercial, is a landmark of the entire era. Morrison threatened to destroy a Buick with a sledgehammer onstage, and the car company got the message and backed out of the deal.
It was Morrison who had insisted not only that their musical profits be equally divided, but additionally that everyone in the Doors get a veto on band decisions. That veto came in handy when drummer John Densmore, true to his vocalist’s wishes, later put a halt on the efforts to monetize the Doors’ music in the decades after Morrison’s death.
And it was Morrison who insisted on the band’s management being fired, and fired at once, when it was proposed to Morrison privately that he leave the Doors and establish a solo career for more money. Morrison immediately informed his band mates. Unlike Janis Joplin and other rock stars, Jim Morrison stayed with the guys who got him there.
Morrison also was the first rock star to be arrested onstage, in the infamous New Haven incident in which he taunted the police officer who had maced him backstage earlier that evening.
But as huge as those factors all were, there is a moment in rock and roll history that stands as the ultimate tribute to the enduring legendary dominance of Jim Morrison.
It can be argued that the Beatles started the Sixties in the U.S.A. with their appearance on the premiere television venue in North America, the Ed Sullivan Show, a show which was squeaky clean. Sullivan had famously refused to display Elvis Presley from the waist down. Admittedly, there wasn’t much The King could do about that.
However, the Rolling Stones had caved on changing their lyrics on their hit ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ to let’s spend some “TIME” together. Mick Jagger rolled his eyes in the Ed Sullivan TV performance, but he complied. A colossal failure by the Stones, in retrospect.
Jim Morrison sang “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” on Ed Sullivan, despite being told not to. And that, dear readers, is Integrity.
Ray Manzarek, Doors’ keyboardist, claimed credit for the decision to agree that the Doors would change the Robby Krieger lyrics to their runaway hit, then go ahead and sing the lyric as it was. Maybe so, but it was Morrison who sang it.
And it was Morrison who faced down an enraged producer afterwards, shrugging off their banishment from further Ed Sullivan appearances with the historic line “Hey man, we just DID the Ed Sullivan Show.” The ultimate badass response.
The Doors’ last appearance onstage was in December 1970. Morrison recorded his final album, “L.A. Woman,” in the following months, then died his mysterious Paris death on July 3, 1971, elevating him to Rock Sainthood.
Many singers have attempted to follow his act, but few have even come close. It’s crucial to remember that Jim Morrison was an originator. No one was doing what he and the Doors did before them.
Yes, the power of his charisma remains untoppable. But many have that attribute. It’s his rebellious moral superiority which is supreme.
His failings are legendary as well. He was reportedly a mean drunk, capable of shocking and insulting statements. And then there’s the whole “whipped out his dick” thing. Did he really expose himself onstage in Miami? The rest of the Doors say no, and they were onstage with him. No pictures exist. But audio of the event is painful. Morrison, bored and weary of the demands of fame, wanted out. His screaming at the audience and disrupting the performance effectively ended the Doors as a live band.
I contend that long after the last person to see Jim Morrison onstage dies off, rock music lovers will still be listening to and discussing him.
So let’s say thanks to Morrison, fifty years after his death. Though there is dispute about it, the epitaph written in ancient Greek on his tombstone by his father is usually translated as “True to his own spirit.”
Good job, Jim. Fifty years later… You still win.
Kyle K. Mann
June 27, 2021
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