Let this be the only driving lesson you’ll ever need, and a lesson in living too. Take care in taking life lesson from Jim Morrison, who succeeded at living straight into an early grave. But, really, all you need in life is a firm hand on the wheel and a morning beer. You can just live one roadhouse to the next. Isn’t that the blues man’s classic life? We all want to be a bluesman, to be worthy of the blues. We want to live the kind of life that’s inspiring and conducive to art, and worthy of it. Even Morrison wanted that. He wanted to be more than a pretentious college kid with mystical aspirations; maybe all of the mayhem and self-abuse and falling out of windows was a quest for an authenticity and richness of experience that Army brat white boys don’t come born with. Or maybe it was just your garden-variety alcoholism coupled with megalomania. But it does make you think about what kind of experiences fuel great art. Do people who’ve had relatively easy lives need to go out of their way to break something within themselves in order to become great artists, or do people with shitty lives become great artists in order to heal themselves? Is it both? Or is the concept of being a ‘great artist’ just a social construct designed to sell products? Did Jim Morrison do all of the crazy stupid shit that he did because he was cracking open the well of greatness within himself, or was he sad and out of control and in need of help, and the greatness was just incidental? Or are we still talking about him only because he looks good on a t-shirt? Either way, it does seem to be a thing that the most creative people are the ones who drink beer for breakfast rather than the ones who rise at dawn to practice mindfulness.
At last! Something you all are already familiar with. I could listen to The Doors all day. I could listen to them every day. Maybe not all day every day, but let’s just say I could listen to them a lot. Being a Doors fan has cycled in and out of fashion, depending on whether portentous songwriting and psychedelic experimentation and demon-god rock star swagger are being done or not (they’re currently not), but it doesn’t matter. Things that are truly classic don’t wax and wane. It doesn’t matter if you think this is deeply profound or if you think it’s just noodly cocktail jazz dressed up in leather trousers. If you think that you and Jim Morrison are like-minded intellectuals for sharing a Heidegger reference across decades, then great. Jim is surely smiling down on you from heaven – or up from the depths, what have you. He’s thrilled to see that there’s still people who appreciate his literary references. If you only enjoy the song because it’s fun to get high to, that’s fine too. It’s an outstanding song for getting high. (That’s a real fresh take, I know.) That was probably very much a part of the original intention. It’s got something for everybody. Shallow or deep.
I’ve always thought that The Doors were the most perfect road trip music. Obviously they thought so too. I’m not just talking about consciously driving songs like L.A. Woman or Roadhouse Blues, though those were both clearly designed with the open road in mind. You can’t just play the hits on your road trip – that’s boring! – you need to play all of all of the albums. It won’t get you across the country, but you can get across a fair sized state, at least. And it’s the quieter songs like this one that allow you to just glide along and watch the clouds roll above you. Preferably in a desert landscape with a clean horizon and an endless sky. There’s just something hypnotic about it.
A tale of urban ennui as old as time. Even Jim Morrison, the cocksure rock star shaman, is not immune to that sinking alone-in-the-universe sensation. Which, of course, yielded The Doors one of their most popular hits. Morrison wasn’t the most relatable guy on earth most of the time, what with the whole ‘Lizard King’ messiah complex, but the flashes of soul and vulnerability he showed in quieter moment were beautiful. No wonder that this is a song that fans have latched on to. It speaks to everybody who’s ever felt alone, which is, literally, everybody. Alienation is its own aesthetic now, as emotion becomes commodity and communication seems to be reverting into glyphs, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
You know from the first line that the title is an ironic one. This song is not at all about frogs. It’s about that time Jim Morrison got maced in New Haven, Connecticut. He also mentions a more formative event; “Me and my — mother and father — and a grandmother and a grandfather — were driving through the desert, at dawn, and a truck load of Indian workers had either hit another car, or just — I don’t know what happened — but there were Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death. So the car pulls up and stops. That was the first time I tasted fear. I musta’ been about four — like a child is like a flower, his head is floating in the breeze, man.” Morrison felt haunted from that moment on, and it inspired both is writing and his modern-shaman persona. Whether the legend strikes you as corny or cosmic really depends on how susceptible you are to Morrison’s weird mysticism.
Let’s make it a Lizard King kind of a day, shall we? If that means a diet of alcohol and LSD, visions on rooftops and a possible night in jail, that’s up to you. Jim Morrison’s lesson of personal freedom means pursuing your own breakthrough by whatever means necessary. For some people, that may just mean reading lots of poetry, or commuting with nature. It doesn’t have to be the kind of hedonism that gets you dead. The prophet gets himself dead, that’s why he’s the prophet and you’re not. Morrison’s own pursuit of the hedonistic ideal had, by the time Waiting for the Sun was recorded, progressed beyond mystical and cool into intolerable and sad, according to his less insane bandmates. “This was no longer a young man’s drinking; it was a full-grown man’s drinking.” according to Ray Manzarek. Ray and the others understandably failed to see the glamour in Jim’s self destructing. There’s a disconnect between the romantic ideal of the tortured poet and the everyday reality of dealing with a rampaging drunk, which boils down to a lot of sheer aggravation. Miraculously enough The Doors continued to produce music of an incandescent quality right up until the end. It may be because Morrison managed to summon his mystical spirit despite being a walking trainwreck, and had the theatrical timing to die before his work suffered in any way, that everything we know about the perils of alcoholism flies out the window and we’re still mesmerized by the glamorous illusion of an all powerful Lizard King who could do anything. What should have been a cautionary tale remains a fever dream of a sexy martyred shaman who touched something greater than himself.
This takes me away. Like a lot of people, I went through an obsessive teenage spell of listening to The Doors almost continuously. They have a special mystique that’s particularly potent to a half-baked and impressionable adolescent. And for a lot of kids, such as me, The Doors were just that; an avenue to images and ideas that were dangerously sophisticated. Jim Morrison introduced the concept of the rock singer as a modern-day shaman, a quasi-mystical being who helps us navigate the human journey (though following him too closely can be suicide.) This idea is now very much the bedrock in my view of life. It’s clear that the slow death of organized religion makes way for a new, individualized system of guidance. Pretty mind-blowing stuff for a child of 15, though. It was a light-bulb moment, of the sort that strikes the young with blinding force, when some of everything suddenly made sense. Everything never really makes sense, but some bits and pieces of it do fall together, occasionally.