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The Doors: The Doors of Perception

The Doors: The Doors of Perception
   
 

It’s the rock legend everyone can recite by heart, but no one can agree on. This is the story of Jim Morrison, as told by his bandmates and close associates.

 

I got a phone call saying Jim was dead,” recalls Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. “I didn’t believe it because we used to hear stuff like that all the time. I thought he’d outlive everybody.” Krieger thought wrong: Jim Morrison, self-styled poet, psychosexual provocateur and rock rebel, thwarted his friend’s expectations one last time by dying, apparently of heart failure, in a Paris bathtub on July 3, 1971. He was 27.

And while dead men tell no tales, live ones certainly do. In the years since Morrison’s death, the facts of his troubled life have fueled dozens of books, scores of web sites, an acclaimed biopic by Oliver Stone and even a comic book or two. The story is as familiar to rock fans as that of Icarus was to the ancient Greeks: In 1967 Elektra released the debut album by the Doors, a Los Angeles quartet. Fronted by former UCLA film student Jim Morrison, the band challenged good vibrations of the prevalent hippie culture with brooding, trance-inducing songs that celebrated madness, chaos and fucking your mother. It’s a stance for which they have never made any apologies, societal disapproval notwithstanding.

“To deny the darkness of the soul is to be but half a human being,” says keyboardist Ray Manzarek. “But we had both sides. The Doors were a balancing act between the light and the dark. I mean, the solos in ‘Light My Fire’ are as joyous as life gets.”

In fact, it was the hit single “Light My Fire” that catapulted the band into the limelight and helped the Doors become one of the biggest—and certainly most unexpected— hits of 1967, demonstrating that a band could be dark, weird and commercially successful.

From there, the Doors entered an exhaustingly accelerated life cycle, touring endlessly while also managing to record five more studio albums in just four years. But as the band’s popularity grew, Morrison himself began to disintegrate, mutating from pin-up visionary to dissolute, overweight rock star. The singer hit rock-bottom on March 1, 1969, when he was arrested for allegedly screaming obscenities and committing indecent exposure while onstage in Miami. After the bust, Morrison recorded two more albums with the Doors, then fled to Paris for some “rest and relaxation.” He never returned.

The story may be familiar, but the more the yarn is told, the taller the tales grow. Some more exotic accounts, for example, have Jim faking his death and escaping to the Bahamas, where he currently tends bar.

With the recent release of a newly remastered Doors box set and a star-studded Doors tribute album near completion, the time was right to try and set the record straight. To do so, we spoke with those who knew Jim best: the three surviving members of the Doors— Manzarek, Krieger and drummer John Densmore— as well as Danny Sugerman, who began his association with the band as a teenaged errand boy and ended up as their manager, and engineer/producer Bruce Botnick, who was in the studio for every Doors session.

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