The Beats Influence on Jim Morrison

The Doors (photo by Joel Brodsky/Elektra Records)
The Doors (photo by Joel Brodsky/Elektra Records)

“If he (Jack Kerouac) hadn’t written On The Road, The Doors never would have existed.” Ray Manzarek

Some bands wear their Beat influences on their sleeves. Steely Dan is a reference from a William Burroughs book “Naked Lunch” and their song lyrics continued to be influenced by literature. At first glance The Doors don’t seem to be Beat influenced and while The Doors were heavily influenced by literature, they practically released a reading list when they became a national band, they were also obviously influenced by film (Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were UCLA film students when they met), but theatre was an influence, as well as Blues music. If you delve past surface appearances you will find The Doors, especially Jim Morrison were influenced by The Beats (most of this essay focuses on Jim Morrison because he was The Doors chief lyricist and the most widely read in literature of The Doors).

The first thing The Beats gave Morrison is the most important and overlooked influence, they gave Jim Morrison a reading list. Kerouac’s “On The Road” provides a who’s who of cutting edge writers ranging from William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Arthur Rimbaud. The most influential in Morrison’s development as a writer with a desire to be a poet was French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. Morrison was influenced by Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” as well as “Illuminations.” Also important to Morrison was Rimbaud’s biography. Rimbaud is famous for his quote that poetry should be “a systematic disorganization of the senses.” Rimbaud’s poetic career was also a very quick and shambolic tear through the ranks of French poetry of the time. Rimbaud stopped writing at age seventeen and left for Africa to make his fortune as a gun-runner. It’s from this that Morrison developed the romantic idea of writing some memorable poetry and then “split for Africa.” Other writers suggested by The Beats were Nietzsche, Celine, Baudelaire, William Blake, Hart Crane, Weldon Kees whose ideas and Morrison’s paraphrasings of which you can later find in Morrison’s philosophy, Doors lyrics, and poetry.

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