Morrison’s End

by Ian Penman
Doors front man Jim Morrison remains fascinating—even if his literary ambitions never came to fruition.
Doors front man Jim Morrison remains fascinating—even if his literary ambitions never came to fruition.

Jim Morrison’s bright spotlight time with The Doors lasted not quite five years: the band’s debut album arrived in January 1967, and L.A. Woman, the final work to feature the singer, was released the week of his death, aged 27, on July 3, 1971.

It’s now a half century since Morrison died in Paris in opaquely squalid circumstances, due to—take your pick—some mixture of alcohol, heroin, a small respiratory infection, and a general (not to say studied) carelessness. “When the music’s over / turn out the lights,” he sang in 1967, on The Doors’ second album, Strange Days. “Cancel my subscription / to the Resurrection.” Yet his revenant career as all-purpose Dionysian icon seems inexhaustible. From the posthumous album An American Prayer (1978) and The Doors’ soundtrack appearance on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), to the serial publication of various “lost” Morrison writings and the lamentable Oliver Stone biopic The Doors (1991), there’s no medium that Morrison’s shade hasn’t found a way to inhabit. More recently, hip L.A. chanteuse Lana del Rey sang: “Living like Jim Morrison / Heading for a fucked-up holiday.” And now we have a figuratively and literally heavy 600-page tome, like a chic designer sarcophagus, with Harper’s publication of The Collected Works of Jim Morrison. Not designed for casual riffling, it should really come with its own lectern or pulpit. It’s hard to know whom this kind of swanky item is aimed at, but it’s a palpable attempt (in the current lingo) to secure Morrison’s legacy: to fix him as more than just this crazy dude who had a few glorious hits and looked sensational in leather pants.

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