Jim Morrison is remembered, both admiringly and chidingly, for being all sorts of crazy. A white-hot star who rocketed across the stratosphere ever so quickly, fizzling out mysteriously in a bathtub at a too-young twenty-seven years of age. A tuned-in spiritual guide, born to aid willing young masses in breaking on through to the other side. A strung-out, alcoholic lunatic who never really learned to sing or compose, generally unable to remain standing erect throughout the duration of a concert. A sexpot in beads and leather breeches, shrieking and writhing around on stage, a good reason to lock up teen daughters. A sleazebag indicted for allegedly exposing his privates before an impressionable audience. A trusting Fool tumbling off the cliff faces of life, keen on the occult, who may or may not have allowed himself be blood-bound in matrimony to a witch behind his longtime girlfriend’s back. A mercurial, mid-century traveling bard, spinning twisted verses from the depths of his disturbed soul?
Val Kilmer’s performance in The Doors movie demonstrates all that reasonably well…I guess. But it isThe Lords and the New Creatures, Morrison’s first published book of poems, which proves the validity of that last line of character description. Poetry was a lesser known outlet for Morrison’s supercharged sensuality, his cryptically articulate criticisms of society, his mystical, lysergic acid-induced insights on death and birth. Like William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud and the beat generation right before him, Morrison’s worldview led him to explore the godly, the manmade, the animalistic, and the plain perverse elements that constructed the universe around him.
The first part of his book, The Lords, is subtitled “Notes on Vision”, and reveals a healthy skepticism of the sedative powers of cinema, screens and art that sates and stratifies.
There are no longer “dancers,” the possessed.
The cleavage of men into actor and spectators
is the central fact of our time. We are obsessed
with heroes who live for us and whom we punish.
If all the radios and televisions were deprived
of their sources of power, all the books and paintings
burned tomorrow, all the shows and cinemas closed,
all the arts of vicarious existence…
We are content with the “given” in sensation’s
quest. We have been metamorphosised from a mad
body dancing on the hillsides to a pair of eyes
staring in the dark.
Morrison’s frustration is intriguing within the context of him as a rock idol, and a one-time kid at the University of California Los Angeles constantly rebuffed by professors after screenings of his frowned-upon student films. Either Morrison was somewhat hypocritical about his own role as a cultural producer, held a grudge against the faculty at UCLA or felt very much the heroic victim getting crushed by a stagnant sea of vacant-faced viewers. Perhaps he merely wanted others to strike out and create things of their own. Throughout these poems, some short and pointed, others like lengthy paragraphs, run images seething with the liquid heat of the city, the dark sicknesses of voyeurs, the easy dangers of the drug scene, the proclivities of ancient Rome and gristly snippets from early film history:
A drunken crowd knocked over the apparatus,
and Mayhew’s showman, exhibiting at Islington
Green, burned up, with his mate, inside.
Poems in the latter half of the book, The Creatures, seem to exchange their wordy and critical nature for a choppier, more instinctual feeling. Morrison dedicated these verses to Pamela Courson, his lady muse and true love to whom he remained abstractly loyal. His words here stink of summer and desire. Starving dogs, assassinated kings, caravans of camels, soft-skinned lovers, lost children, reptiles, beetles, sacred waters, camping armies and sticky-sweet death dance together and snap at one another across broken and queerly punctuated lines.
w/ your insect eyes
w/ your wild surprise.
Warm daughter of silence.
Turn your back w/ a slither of moaning wisdom.
The unblinking blind eyes
behind walls new histories rise
and wake growling & whining
the weird dawn of dreams.
Dogs lie sleeping.
The Wolf howls.
A creature lives out the war.
A rustle of cut words, choking
I fully understand that neither poetry nor Jim Morrison agree with everyone out there. A mix of both might be rejected outright by some palettes. Yet his words are perceptive and visceral, revealing Morrison’s wide breadth of interests and internal urges. There is concern in his condemnation of civilisation, along with a sage respect for the laws of the cosmos; and he writes smoothly of primal, palpable love while appealing to the divine and devilish in each of us. So, to the college girls and libertines who would have Jim as their daddy or shaman, to the flower children just wishing it were still 1969, to all the skeptics scoffing while listening to him mumble incoherently through Riders on the Storm, I say, grab hold of a copy of this book, interpret Morrison’s most personal sentiments for yourself and try to discern some of the contents of the Lizard King’s unsettled, puckish psyche.
Source: James Douglas Morrison, The Lords and the New Creatures, Fireside Edition, New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1987 (originally published in 1969)