When You’re Strange

Illustration: Jason Novak
Illustration: Jason Novak

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think the Doors are a hokey caricature of male rock stardom and those who think they’re, you know, shamans. The Doors, who took their name from a line in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”), combined jazz chord changes and Latin rhythms with flamenco, surf, raga, blues, and psychedelia, all in one ’60s rock band, often in one song: “Light My Fire,” “The End,” “Roadhouse Blues,” and “People Are Strange,” just to name a few. The power of the Doors’ music is that it is so unabashedly arty that it begs to be made fun of, especially by older people or those who went through Doors periods themselves and are now into Steely Dan or Animal Collective or some other less embarrassing musical endeavor.

And why embarrassing? Because the Doors reflect a conflict many of us have with artists we think we have outgrown. For those with a youthful bent, sustained naïveté, or a poetical inclination, the combination of the Doors’ music and Jim Morrison’s lyrics can be transformative. In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir depicting her early days in New York and friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, the singer neatly encapsulates how she, and many others, “felt both kinship and contempt for [Morrison]” while watching him perform for the first time. “I observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness. I remember this feeling much more clearly than the concert. I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do that.”

But for those same people a few years on, the Morrison mythology of a rock-singer-slash-poet whose lyrics reflect influences from the Romantics, French Symbolists, and Beats feels, at best, silly, and so he becomes one of the better punch lines to any number of poetry jokes.

But the Lizard King is not dead.

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Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69750/when-youre-strange

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