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The Doors Suck: Point / Counterpoint
On the 40th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death, we settle it once and for all.
By Jason Gilbert and Stephen Deusner
It was forty years ago this Sunday that Jim Morrison died at the tender age of twenty-seven. When we broached this fact to some friends, we realized that some people think The Doors were iconic pioneers of rock, and others think they totally sucked.
If there’s anything we hate, it’s disunity. And so, we decided to settle the matter once and for all. To help us, we got Stephen Deusner, staff writer at Pitchfork (and lifelong Doors-hater) to take on our own Jason Gilbert.
You may consider the matter settled.
The Doors Rock
Jason Gilbert, Nerve.com
Some people say that only horny teenage boys like The Doors — that their over-sexed, come-hither stomp is only appealing to sweaty-palmed high-schoolers, as though a constant, nigh-overflowing rush of pent-up sperm were essential for enjoying "Hello, I Love You."
That's nonsense. I have long since left my teens and my horniest years behind (I hope), but I still get a contact high from the propulsion and energy of The Doors' best tracks. It's become embarrassing for music critics to admit to liking The Doors, and I think I know why. So let's get something out of the way right off the bat:
Jim Morrison wrote a lot of poetry, and most of it was shitty, pretentious, regrettable, faux-intellectual diarrhea. Reading Jim Morrison the poet is like watching a shirtless SAE pledge strumming James Blunt on his old acoustic in the university commons during spring break: totally insufferable, uninspiring, and distasteful. I agree.
But Morrison's high-school emo-etry isn't the only reason that The Doors have lost their cred, and some of the posthumous baggage people dump on them seems unfair. Morrison had been dead for twenty years by the time Oliver Stone made a horrible movie about him; it's not like he had a vote. (And for that matter, Oliver Stone made a God-awful movie about Alexander the Great, and there wasn't a huge critical backlash against him.)
Anyway, fuck Oliver Stone; look at The Doors' discography! Look at the broad range of newborn rock genres The Doors nailed on their singles — the hypnotic psychedelia of "Light My Fire," the shit-kicking backroom blues rock of "Alabama Song," the dirty proto-garage propulsion of "Break On Through," the doomsday rock-opera drama of "The End"— and that's just from their debut album. They packed more great songs onto that thing than most bands manage in a career, and they did it not by exploiting a single strength, but by experimenting with different, nascent sounds and blowing the top off them. They recorded a song written by Bertolt Brecht, for God's sake.
Listen: "Light My Fire"
So even if you don't buy into The Doors' evolution into blues rock — and you should, because between Morrison's deep howl and Robby Krieger's guitar licks, L.A. Woman and Morrison Hotel may just be the two greatest albums ever to drink cheap beer out of a bottle to — you have to give them their self-titled debut. The Doors is an LP packed with terrific songs, with varied songs, with exciting and surprising shifts in tone and lyric and tempo and technique, culminating in the eleven-minute apocalypto-shock of "The End." It is quite simply one of the unimpeachably great albums of all time, and if you disagree, then you are thinking too hard.
Listen: "The End"
Try pushing aside the poetry and the posturing and the posthumous commercial appropriation, and just really listen to this stuff. The interplay of Ray Manzarek's organ with Robby Krieger's guitar is one of the great grin-inducing pleasures in all of rock music; Morrison's manic showmanship and vocal expression are affecting and pleasing on the most very basic level. And that's where most of the appeal in The Doors lies — on those basic levels, and in those base, teenage instincts. You don't have to be very smart, or patient, or sober to enjoy The Doors: just a sucker for catchy and mischievous hooks, passionate instrument-playing, and a little bit of pomp and swagger. That is the ongoing appeal of The Doors; that is the real poetry of Jim Morrison and his band.