Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Kill Rock Stars, Apart from these ones . .

So, this was on BBC I-Player recently:
Watching this basically solidified this suspicion that I had harboured for a long time, which is that the Doors are one of my favourite bands ever. I don't know about totally favourite, but they've got a solid place in the top five. Picking favourites is impossible, and kind of a stupid activity.
Anyway, having made that assertion I feel slightly obliged to justify it a bit. Obviously the Doors are pretty established in the canon of great rock bands of the sixties. But I feel like there are some elements of what they were about that might grate on people these days, or make them cringe a bit. In particular, Jim Morrison's status as as one of the central 'rock stars' of the era, and everything that comes with it. I'm already embarrassed by using the phrase 'rock star', so that every time I write it I have to put it in quotation marks.
Some of that might be the fault of the punk movement of a decade or so later, where one of the central tenants was the possibility that anyone could be in a band, and which aimed to break down the barriers between the audience and the performers (supposedly). This attitude culminates in stuff like the label 'Kill Rock Stars' (, at one time home to Sleater Kinney and Bikini Kill, which is a deliberately provocative statement of support for DIY punk values, and basically about getting rid of 'experts' and empowering people to make their own music, driven mainly by passion and inventiveness rather than technical ability. Which is good.

That kind of inspiration for people to do stuff themselves, and to create their own structures, venues, labels and music is great, and I think leads to a lot of interesting and amazing music, that exists outside of bigger, safer labels and media outlets. It's also good as a sort of guiding principle, an antidote to mediocrity, and also to the self-importance and egotism of 'rock stars'.
The original punk explosion could be seen as a reaction to bands like Led Zeppelin jetting around in huge private aircraft from one excessive guitar solo to another:
However, The Doors don't seem to me to fit into this sort of classic rock excess, so it's a bit wierd when cringe-worthy people cite them as an influence or whatever.
They have a wierdness and a darkness in them that isn't the cartoon darkness of classic rock: most famously the Freudian utterance half way through 'The End', which I think was often a bit more explicit live, but also in songs like 'Horse Latitudes' or the apocalyptic lyrics of 'Peace Frog' ('Blood will be born in the birth of a nation, Blood is the rose of mysterious union').
I realise as I write this that there aren't any simple or universally applicable answers to this, because it isn't really possible to counter-poise two opposite ways of making music and say that one is the right way and the other is wrong. So rather than the mind-blowingly incisive conclusion I was hoping to reach, I'll have to settle for a slow grind to a halt, and the assertion that The Doors are really great, (you probably already knew that, or else you don't care). This is the first song I remember hearing by them, in a film called 'The Dreamers':

And this is my favourite poem by Jim Morrison (that's right, favourite poem):

Tender Island Night

Tender island Night
And a promise of fever
& scars that burst
at blossom depths
& more green silver
Us wrestling in the warm temple of summer
beside the temple
cool inside
--He took my hand.
He spoke to me--

Black horse hooves galloping sun
mad chariot race burning
mad fiery chariot race
mad girl & mad boy
My feathered son flew
too near to the sun.