The Fear of Jim Morrison

September 19, 1998

morrison-1This review of Jim Morrison’s Wilderness: The Lost Writings (1989) appeared in an edited form as “What Lies Behind These Doors?” in The Straits Times (19 September 1998).

Mr. Morrison is in some kind of ironic danger.

A legacy of followers frolicking at his grave, a series of forceful biographies by band members and friends, and a controversial film by an eminent film-maker have curiously severed the man from his creative mind.

One day, we will all awake to the familiar knowledge of one prolific singer-lyricist whose failure, not success, has been effected by his neurotic excesses, not his genius, as laid bare in his heap of writings.

This, as a paradox, will have been the meeting-point of Mr. Morrison’s supporters and his harshest critics, the conventionalists in the Age of Aquarius, who saw the mystical and carnivalesque explorations of his songs as central to his personal destruction.

This will also have been the ultimate seduction of the Devil.

Therefore, on a page, clean of aural trancing, the compilers of Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison sought to let him revolutionize himself, to let him emerge without the interpretation of music, without, for example, Ray Manzarek’s mad stylings or his own stage charisma.

But only read a poem or two on nuclear power and you will understand how they might be commendable but still wrong, how music for Mr. Morrison must still exist, if not as theme or technique, at least as metaphor, like sex, flowing ceaselessly “down and out”.

For “heat & fire”, the grand axiom goes, “are outward signs of a / Small dry mating”: rhythmic energy is the compensation for modern inhumanity which, begotten of human idealism, must now beget a new creative grammar.

This is “A new truth, too horrible to bear”, borne singly by the guide to the Labyrinth, the slave of words, who preaches from the other side of his mouth: “Repent! / None of the old Things worked”.

As intense lover, he has already known how everything human leaves the every-woman and, by its absence, enlarges self-violence in love, popularizing death: “I am troubled / Immeasurably / By your eyes. / I am struck / By the feathers of your soft/ Reply”.

As damned visionary, he comprehends now that, in fact, “Nothing else can survive a holocaust but poetry and songs”, that only what is closest to disembodied life is pure enough to resuscitate, or re-fertilize, an outmoded humanity.

Accordingly, is music not always infinitely merciful?

For this knowledge, Mick Jagger and John Lennon feared Mr. Morrison, or so suspicion goes, because realism — O too much realism — is the irrevocable proof of his authority.

This fear, we soon realize, is only a beginning: by 1971, the year he passed on, Mr. Morrison had already gone further, gone majestically beyond “the Last Poem / of the Last Poet” into that rousing world where the “children of the caves will let their / secret fires glow”.

Still, suddenly dead at twenty-seven, our present age were we born that fateful year, he left too little revealed even in sixteen hundred pages and, since then, too many have run into the number of his demons, the infinity of his person, not, however, the formal dimensions of his vision, let alone the destiny beyond those doors.

Gwee Li Sui

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