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.
The Doors remain inimitable. No one has ever really evoked their sound or their image. Which is fine, because it’s not a good idea to even try. Their balance of psychedelia, blues and jazz influences, literary references, sexual charisma and barely held back chaos was so unique, so disparate from what was going on around them and yet so of its time. Had Jim Morrison not performed a masterstroke of icon-making by dying, that balance would surely have toppled, sooner rather than later. At the time of his death, the band was at a near breaking point anyway and it was unclear if they’d reunite again at all. What was Morrison planning to do? It is not known. Maybe he would have settled down in Paris, become a Serge Gainsbourg for the LSD set, composed some chansons for the accordion, cut ties with the rock star life. Who knows.
There’s nothing more romantic than a suicide pact, huh? What seems like a harmless teenage fantasy turns into a watery grave. Funny how this is neither the first or last time Jim Morrison mentions death by drowning. It’s like he was fascinated by the idea in an uncanny way. It makes sense from a poetic standpoint. Submersion can serve as a metaphor for cleansing and purification, as well as a passage to other dimensions. You enter the water a sinner and come out blessed. Or you don’t come out at all. In Morrison’s case, he entered a drugged-up trainwreck with dubious future prospects and came out an eternal icon. It cost him a few things, like his life, but you can’t say he didn’t follow through on his own poetic vision. If you present yourself as a mad quasi-Christ-figure with shamanistic intentions, you can’t back down. You have to live it until it kills you.