Saturday, September 02, 2006

Conformity and Subversion: The Doors and Pluarity of Meaning

A scientific discovery can be called "great" when it has philosophical implications far beyond its immediate application. I'm reasonably sure that the recent demotion of Pluto falls into this category, though that is a topic for another day. Instead, I wish to focus on Newton's Third Law of Motion.

In rock music, no band is a better emblematic of Newton's law than The Doors. To the rock intelligentsia (such as it exists today after the recent dismantling of Spin magazine) The Doors are an embarrassment. Of course, this can be directly attributed to Oliver Stone. By making Jim Morrison the focal point of the group, and by simplifying his persona to a bloated characticure of rock excess, his movie initially gave the band prominence; he made them important to what would become the last generation of young people to whom rock mattered. Unfortunately, by building such credibility upon the thin veneer of cult of personality and Dionysiun excess, it was inevitable that that the action would have a reaction. Basically, the kids grew up and realized that the Oliver Stone Morrison, and by extension the band as a whole, was a cypher. They felt embarrassed at ever having liked such a non-entity.

Let me be clear that I am not speaking only of professional rock critics, but of a large number of people born after Morrison's death who assign rock music a level of importance in their lives. I'm been disappointed on numerous occasions in which I've conversed with people who have a mostly similiar taste in music to myself. Often these people have turned up their noses when I mention The Doors. They inevitably comment on what an idiot Morrison was and how so many "dumb" (i.e. "Meatheaded") people like him. While the time has long since passed when "dumb" people celebrated the Stone Morrison, there is a strange collective memory our culture keeps passing along which continues to exert a heavy influence on The Doors critical reputation.

This is tremendously unfortunate, because far from being a cypher, The Doors have a pluarity of meaning. In the first place, the Doors are not just Morrison. Other than the Beatles, no other band offers such a diverse and distinctive set of personalities what are so fascinating to consider in tandem. A great starting point to consider the interplay is in these enthralling clips:

Robby
John
Ray
Jim

To some extent, all four exude the particular ethos that a rock band from L.A. would be expected to exude in 1968, particularly in personal appearance, but the differences are stunning.

Krieger and Densmore, who came to the band as a package deal, are generally conformists. They had jazz backgrounds, came from WASP families, and practiced transcendental meditation. While at one time jazz was subversive, by the 1960s it was certainly not so. TM may have been subversive to traditional religious beliefs, but as a political practice, at the risk of oversimplifying, it involved allowing for the continuance of the status quo. (The revolution was not only not televised, it was an entirely internal revolution, not unlike the kind of revolution Wordsworth was advocating after how he saw things went down in France).

Examined from one perspective, going through customs is a political act. One is acknowledging the power of the nation state, and allowing for the process to go through is a tacit endorsement of that power structure and its right to interpellate your subjectivity. Krieger and Densmore have no interest in fighting any revolutions on this day. Krieger is completely comfortable. Densmore exudes a bit of nervousness, as he always seemed unsure of his identity (something that comes out pretty clearly if you read his autobiography). Even his answer of "percussionist" instead of "drummer" when asked about his occupation seems to be a bit too much of an earnest attempt at identity construction.

In contrast to Krieger and Densmore, we have Manzarek and Morrison, the two highly educated members of the band. Manzarek, with his graduate education a rarity among rockers, and a blue-collar Chicago upbringing synthesized with SoCal cultural immersion, exudes a worldliness. While he loved jazz, he also had an intense interest in the blues, a more subversive art form in the 1960s. Even today he demonstrates a cocksure pretentiousness along with a naive optimism rooted in New Age religious beliefs. In short, he was and is a walking Modernist. He believes in Pound's edict to "make it new," but the revolution will come by working within the system. "You want my subjectivity?" he seems to ask at Customs. "Okay, take all of it. Full name, date of birth, social security number, library card number...I'll have you know that I am wearing dark glasses and you can not see into my soul. Take the rest; it is meaningless."

Then we have Jim. In his autobiography, Ray says he was trying to convince Jim to run for president in 1980. Poor Modernist Ray didn't realize that Postmodernists aren't interested in running for office. Like Ray, Jim wanted revolution, but he wanted it now. And the only way it could be accomplished was through complete deconstruction. Jim might not have exuded the same swagger as Ray going through customs, but he was certainly more impervious. He was playing by his own set of rules. The fact that his grin is both affecting and disaffecting, that he is simultaneously benevolent and malevolent, makes it altogether obvious that Val Kilmer or anybody else simply could never project a reasonable simulacra of such a persona.

Putting such four personas in the same band and having them create art led to predictably great results. And though I believe not enough people give the band their proper due, I take some solace in the Law of Conservation of Energy-- the Doors output may be converted, but it won't ever be destroyed.

5 Comments:

Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Characticure: word? If so, I can't find the definition anywhere.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

robin: sane? not sure. should do an experiment about it.

-H'er

12:58 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

shut up fucktard.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aww, it hurts.

-H, J and another H.

12:41 PM  
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