on 14 October 2014
THE MEMBERS OF THE BAND
** James Douglas "Jim" Morrison (1943-1971) - vocals
** Ray Manzarek (1939-2013) - keyboards
** Robby Krieger (born 1946)
** John Densmore (born 1944)
THE STUDIO ALBUMS
** "The Doors" - released on vinyl in January 1967
** "Strange Days" - released on vinyl in October 1967
** "Waiting for the Sun" - released on vinyl in July 1968
** "The Soft Parade" - released on vinyl in July 1969
** "Morrison Hotel" - released on vinyl in February 1970
** "L.A. Woman" - released on vinyl in April 1971
"The Doors" by the Doors with Ben Fong-Torres was published in 2006 to mark and to celebrate the forty-year anniversary of the founding of the band and the recording of their first album. This hardcover book is published in a large format (28 x 29 cm). With almost three hundred pages of text and pictures, it covers the history of the band, from the beginning (1965-1966) to the end (1971-1972), and beyond.
Many books and articles had already been published about the band, for instance:
** Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive: The Biography of Jim Morrison (1980, 1991, 1997, and 2011)
** James Riordan & Jerry Prochnicky, Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison (1991)
** Stephen Davis, Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend (2005)
Two members of the band had also written their memoirs:
** John Densmore, Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors (1990, 1991)
** Ray Manzarek, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors (1999)
This book - published by Hyperion Press - is different from the others, for three reasons:
(1) It is a work of collaboration; it is not written by one or two persons.
(2) It is a product created by the members of the band; it is not written by an outsider.
(3) The focus is on all four members of the band; and not only on the front man, Jim Morrison.
[Notice how the name Jim Morrison pops up in nearly all the titles mentioned above. Notice also how several books use the title of a song or a line from a song to catch the reader's attention.]
How was it done? How did it happen? The three surviving members of the band joined forces with Ben Fong-Torres, a veteran reporter, who specializes in rock & roll, and a former editor of "Rolling Stone" magazine. They told their story to him. Obviously, Jim could not do this, but he is still represented here, every step of the way, with excerpts from some of the numerous interviews he gave while he was still alive.
In addition, a limited number of other people was contacted and interviewed by Ben. They were chosen because they were close to the band, because of their work, or because they were members of Jim's family. In this book, members of his family speak out about him for the first time: his sister Anne, his brother Andy, and his father admiral George Stephen Morrison, who died in 2008, only two years after the publication of this book. It is fortunate that he could - and would - speak out about his son before he died.
The book is lavishly illustrated with large pictures; some are in colour, but most are in black-and-white. At the time, it was still common to take pictures in black-and-white, because colour pictures were considered too expensive. Some show concerts or recording sessions in a studio, while others show more private situations. Many are from private collections, and they are published here for the first time.
The book begins with a dedication and acknowledgements (by Jeff Tambol), three separate forewords (by Henry Rollins, Perry Farrell, and Chester Bennington), and an introduction (by Ben Fong-Torres). The main text is divided into fourteen chapters, which follow a chronological line from the founding of the band in the 1960s to the current situation in the beginning of the 21st century:
01 "Ladies and Gentlemen, from Los Angeles, California... The Doors!"
02 On the Beach
03 The Men in the Fog
04 Break on Through
05 "Girl, We Couldn't Get Much Higher"
06 Chaos: the Road to Freedom
07 Waiting for the Sun
08 "It's Fun Being Onstage"
09 Mayhem in Miami
10 Rock Justice
11 L.A. Woman: Back to Basics
12 Free Man in Paris
14 The Doors' Musical Impact: Endless (by Steve Baltin)
At the end of the book we find a discography (all the albums they recorded) and a bibliography divided into two sections: (a) Books and articles. (b) Audio and video. Unfortunately, there is no index.
THE NAME OF THE BAND
In chapter 2 Ray explains how the band got its name. He was sitting on the beach with Jim and they were talking about starting a band:
I said, "What are we going to call the band?" He said, "Oh, that's easy, man. The Doors."
As in William Blake's observation - "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite" - and as in one of Morrison's favored books, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, all about his experiments with mescaline.
Morrison had mentioned the name a month or so before, when he was talking idly with a friend from FSU, Sam Kilman, who's played drums as a kid. Out of nowhere, with a strange drawl and in a voice that indicated to pals that he might be joking, Jim told Sam that they should start a rock band, and that he could be the singer, even though he couldn't sing. Kilman played along and asked what this band would be called.
"The Doors," Morrison replied readily. "There's the known. And there's the unknown. And what separates the two is the door, and that's what I want to be. Oh, I want to be th' Dooooorrr."
Quoted from pp. 33-34.
A CHILDHOOD MEMORY
A memory from Jim's childhood, which became a key event in his life, is described in chapter 1. Here are two lines from an early poem:
** "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding.
** Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind."
This is how Jim recalls the event:
"The first time I discovered death... me and my mother and father, and my grandmother and grandfather were driving though the desert at dawn. A truckload of Indian workers had either hit another car or something - there were Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death. I was just a kid, so I had to stay in the car while my father and grandfather went to check it out. I didn't see nothing - all I saw was funny red paint and people lying around, but I knew something was happening because I could dig the vibrations of the people around me, and all of a sudden I realized that they didn't know what was happening any more than I did. That was the first time I tasted fear... and I do think, at that moment, the souls of those dead Indians - maybe one or two of `em - were just running around, freaking out, and just landed in my soul, and I was like a sponge, ready to sit there and absorb it."
Quoted from page 10.
This episode is also mentioned in chapter 10 on page 185.
The lines of the poem are used in the song "Peace Frog" which appears on the album "Morrison Hotel" released in 1970.
When the band was formed, the four members spent a lot of time together. They were creating music and they were getting along well, but before long internal problems began to appear. In chapter 5 we are told that John complained about Jim's behavior:
After the show, Densmore declared his disgust with Morrison. But, although he threatened to leave, he never did for long.
In the eyes of the other Doors, Densmore was uptight. Maybe he was, Densmore said, but, he added, "I physically knew Jim was a dark path, and it disturbed me. As his self-destruction increased, Ray and Robby trying to ignore it disturbed me even more than Jim going down."
Quoted from page 98.
Densmore returns to this issue in chapter 6 where he says:
"In the beginning, we were like brothers. As time went on it became three and one. It was harder to communicate with Jim. Musically, it was always OK because we didn't talk that much about what we were doing. It was intuitive. But it was hard seeing a friend self-destruct and not being able to stop him."
Quoted from page 117.
Oliver Stones' movie about the Doors which was released in 1991 is discussed in chapter 13. On page 232 Ben Fong-Torres says: "As movies are wont to do, [Oliver Stone's movie] played fast and fancy with even the most basic facts."
Regardless of historical inaccuracies, it seems that John and Robby liked the movie. The think Val Kilmer did a good job as the character Jim, but Ray was not happy with the movie. On page 233 he says: "That Oliver Stone thing did real damage to the guy I knew: Jim Morrison the poet."
Whether we like the movie or not, it meant that the band was discovered by a new generation and it is one reason why their albums were released on CDs during the 1990s. The music of the Doors was and still is exceptional. Most of their songs were original compositions. Cover versions of songs written by others were always given a special flavor and special sound.
"The Doors" by the Doors with Ben Fong-Torres is an excellent biography of the band. It gives you the whole story: the good, the bad and the ugly parts. It is a great story about a great band. But because the book is truthful, it is also a sad story.
The six studio albums released by the Doors represent some of the best rock & roll ever written, played and recorded. The quality of the live recordings are different, depending on the time and the place. Some are better than others. This book explains how and why it happened.
PS. Since this book was published, two important and interesting DVDs about the band have been released:
** "The Doors: Classic Albums" (2008) explains how the first studio album was created, recorded and produced back in 1966
** "Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman" (2011) explains how the last studio album was created, recorded and produced in 1970-1971