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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Come on Jim, time to light our fires again

On the 50th anniversary of their debut, The Doors - and their iconic singer Jim Morrison - are no less legendary

Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and Jim Morrison in 1967
Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and Jim Morrison in 1967
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

No one here gets out alive. Yet Jim Morrison is now as immortal as the gods he sang about. Mr Mojo Risin' is rising once more on the 50th anniversary of his band's epochal debut album. A shamanistic rider on the storm, Jim has long since broken on through to the other side.

On the new re-issue of his band The Doors' eponymously titled first album from 1967 you can feel that power at its most visceral, its most menacing. The timeless existential psychedelics of tracks like Light My Fire (with its Bach-influenced intro), Break On Through (To The Other Side) and The End seem as hypnotic as when they were recorded five decades ago. Four years after the release of this album, Jim was dead.

He had pressed so hard on the self-destruct button that he was dead at the age of 27 in a bath-tub in Paris, possibly after a final heroin binge. Bloated, bearded and his talent and his joy for living all but shot, Morrison had come to personify what a certain French philosopher by the name of Camus once said: "Nihilism results when clinical despair is permeated by a sense of life's absurdity."

The Doors' self-titled debut has a raw feel that is palpable, not least because as the group's keyboardist Ray Manzarek once noted: "The first album is basically The Doors live. There are very few overdubs. It's The Doors: Live from the Whisky a Go Go... except in a recording studio."

It is also the sound of Jim Morrison off his nut on industrial strength LSD and whatever else was going around Sunset Boulevard. Take the story of The Doors' Oedipus Rex-channelling and kaleidoscopic piece de resistance, The End.

But first some back-story to the song. Its lyrics would have given Freud a field day. The words give voice to Jim's alienation as well as to the pain of a damaging childhood at the hands of an authoritative, domineering father. "Father, I want to kill you," - please note that Morrison's father, George Stephen Morrison, was a US admiral from whom Jim was permanently estranged, even describing him and his mother as "deceased."

"It's strange that people fear death," Jim was quoted as saying not long before his tragic and untimely death in Paris in 1971: "Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over."

For anyone who doesn't know the song, go watch Francis Ford Coppolla's Apocalypse Now, and fast-forward to the scene when Colonel Kurtz is murdered to the soundtrack of Jim Morrison primal-screaming his demons on The End.

After recording the 11-minute masterpiece Jimbo returned later to the studio in Los Angeles whacked out of his mind on acid (he had recorded the track deep under the influence of the drug).

One report had it that he was going home with his girlfriend and he suddenly feared that the studio was on fire and returned to hose the band's equipment down with a fire extinguisher. Another take on that night was that The Doors' studio engineer Bruce Botnick remembered Jim had gone across the street to the Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic Church. It was here that Morrison had a particularly psychedelicised epiphany... "He came back to the studio and the gate was locked. He climbed over the gate, got in, but he couldn't get into the control room. That was locked. But the studio was open and the red lights were on." The red studio lights, recalled Botnick, registered as a fire in Morrison's hallucinogenic-hazed brain. "He thought it was on fire, so he grabbed a fire extinguisher and knocked over the ashtrays that were full of sand and tried to put out the fire."

The deluxe edition of The Doors' classic first album includes remastered stereo and mono mixes of the original album plus a disc of live recordings from a concert at San Francisco's Matrix on March 7, 1967.

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