Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Doors - When You're Strange

It’s true, there comes a point in every rock fan’s life where you discover The Doors and become absorbed in the myth of Jim Morrison. For me, it was right around the time of Rolling Stones’ cover feature on Morrison-you know, the one with “He’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead”-which just happened to coincide with my first reading of the biography No One Here Gets Out Alive.

When I say “first reading,” it’s because I read that book religiously, resuming the story with every purchase of their small catalog.

I tolerated everything that appeared in print under the guise of “poetry,” mainly because I didn’t know any better.

I bought the American Prayer album, an embarrassing addition to The Doors catalog almost on par with Full Circle and the other album The Doors’ recorded after Morrison died. Let me be clear, however, and confess that I thought Jim’s words at the time were great, but the surviving Doors members sounded like a shell of their former self, devoid of danger and sounding like a bunch of middle age men cashing in on their frontman’s corpse.

Which they were.

My Lizard King spell ended with the book of Morrison’s poetry Wilderness, a posthumous compilation of his work that I found to be weak, particularly when compared to the Beat stuff that I had discovered around the same time.

I now feel that the Doors debut album is rightfully considered as a classic, deserving to be in any rock fan’s collection. Beyond that, though, is a matter of preference. I still rank Morrison Hotel pretty high and half of Strange Days and L.A. Woman. The rest is nowhere near the high of their debut and can only really be appreciated when you’re in full Jim worship.

I can’t dispute the band’s importance in my upbringing, and I’ve had to remind myself of their spotty history during moments of re-releases and rarities. I don’t think you can find a better live Doors document than Absolutely Live, can you? And if you can, I don’t think it would be very revelatory to me.

Which is what I felt about the new Doors documentary When You’re Strange; would there be anything new to be learned from it?

The answer was “No,” but what surprised me even more was how little the documentary was able to add to someone’s Doors knowledge, particularly after they’ve read No One Here Gets Out Alive.

The film is narrated by Johnny Depp in some utterly embarrassing prose that was no doubt written by someone hired to regurgitate the myth.

One of the most frustrating things for me was how the director would use footage from an era of the band that was obviously not from the time of discussion. I like my documentaries about musicians to follow linear timeframes, and I like the footage to be from the same period as the discussion.

Still, the inclusion of Morrison’s short film HWY is awesome as I’ve always been curious about it. They use some of the footage to suggest the obligatory “He’s alive!” myth, which is somewhat annoying-but to be able to finally see the footage of Jim in his beard, tearing around in his Ford Cobra Mustang is pretty great.

Speaking of annoying, Ray Manzerek has very minimal opportunity to let his piehole ruin the proceedings with another tale of how Jim was a shaman and what a great poet he was.

Of course, no documentary is going to dispute it if you happen to believe that Jim was a shaman, a poet, or the reincarnation of some Dionysian god. If you can stomach all of the story building and dippy praise, When You’re Strange isn’t a bad place to start when considering the Doors’ place in rock history.

After a few views and after a few more plays of their catalog, you’ll begin to notice the cracks in the impeccable façade that the band and their managers have created over the years.

The funny thing is, the documentary hints that Jim noticed those cracks too. And as much as he tried to dismantle the myth that he himself tried to create, he discovered that it was much harder to do-particularly when everyone around you is working overtime to build it back up or to enable your every whim.

And in that regard, When You’re Strange makes sure The Doors’ exaggerated relevance beyond the music they created is still in tact for another generation of young mope seekers.

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