Friday, May 9, 2014

Breaking Through to the Other Side

After a recent discussion with a friend, I made a personal claim that I have never before considered, but in retrospect, seems totally accurate. We were talking about music, specifically what was important to us and why. What artist or album meant so much to us that it stayed with us for life. After throwing out all of the common responses, I came to my choice. I had never thought about it too much, but without much second-guessing, it was obvious. The band who has had the biggest affect on my musical interests was The Doors. Typically, I hesitate to speak in superlatives, but in this case, I have no qualms claiming The Doors as the most influential musicians on my life.

When I was a freshman in high school, of course I still had a very youthful sense of music. I still do, but at least then, I was all over the top-40 radio hits, pretty much exclusively. Then, in the summer before my sophomore year, I became good friends with a senior on the cross country team. We had always been friends, but during that year, he and I started driving around, just talking about and listening to music. At one point, he asked me something along the lines of, “If I could be in any band, who would it be?” I forget what inane response I had, but he firmly answered, The Doors. I expressed some interest, and he seemed surprised that I could not have already experienced this band. Promptly the next day at school, he showed up with three CDs: Waiting for the Sun, L.A. Woman, and The Soft Parade.

I took these three home and immediately put them on. My first listen was Waiting for the Sun. I remember being shocked that The Doors did “Hello, I Love You.” I knew that song! But I had always thought it was some little one-hit band. How could I have been so wrong? Overall, I liked the album, so I went on to the next one. L.A. Woman was pretty cool, too. So, I finished my friend’s three CDs with a listen to The Soft Parade. I thought it was neat until I got to the last song on the album, the titular “Soft Parade.” At that point, I was blown away. I probably listened to that song several times in a row--and it’s over eight minutes long. Immediately, I made copies of all three of the CDs. I was hooked.

For the first few days of my following with The Doors, I only had access to these three albums. So, I became very familiar with them. Some songs astounded me and became my favorites. I was stunned by the immense sadness of “Hyacinth House.” The opening arpeggios on “Spanish Caravan” were purposely reminiscent of what I thought a market would sound like in Spain. “Not to Touch the Earth” was misleading and haunting, almost tribal. And still “The Soft Parade” was becoming my favorite song off my favorite album.

Over the following weeks, I was determined to get the three missing albums. It didn’t take me long to find the self-titled debut album, and I was just as impressed. The first half of that album is one great song after another. The second half appropriately ends with “The End,” an incredible epic forever immortalized by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Next, I found Morrison Hotel, which struck me as their most jazz-oriented record. The last album I tracked down was Strange Days, their follow up to their debut. This album continued the trend of having long, terrific closing songs seen on four of their albums.

By this point, my listening had become an obsession. It came at a perfect time, too: in 2007, all six studio albums got the remastered treatment. Eagerly, I collected them. For weeks, I was listening to nothing but Doors’ music, seemingly without tiring of it. Since my car only had a cassette player (this was 2007, after all), I used a Doors’ greatest hits tape that I picked up for a quarter. More live videos and rarities could easily be found online. There are many excellent books about the band, and I read them all (including Jim’s poetry). I borrowed the Oliver Stone film from the same friend and watched it several times. Using a classical guitar, I committed to learning as many songs as possible. Jim Morrison even lead me to a few of my now-favorite authors, like Jack Kerouac and Aldous Huxley. Over this period of months, my obsession with The Doors did not change my personality; but they definitely broadened it.

Musically, I think The Doors are nearly without comparison. Like fellow Californian contemporaries, The Beach Boys, there is a level of complexity in the music that does not sound like it could be made by only four people. Even listening today, I hear new parts of songs that I have never heard before. It is almost impossible to pick out each and every strand of music in the songs. They sound advanced, well ahead of their time. Drummer, John Densmore, highlights his jazz influences. The talented Robby Krieger showed his rock prowess on the guitar. Ray Manzarek blended the two in his parts on the organ. And there was no bassist! How many other popular rock bands can boast success without a bassist? Finally, there was Jim Morrison. His gruff, yet soothing voice is one of the best in American music.

I could not say when the obsession began to fade. It could not have lasted longer than six months. But I can say I have never before had a more continuous and complete phase with a band. I entered with a childish appreciation for music in general and emerged on the other side loving different music that I still treasure today. Although I have not gone back to them as often as I have with other bands, I can still go back to any one of their six main studio albums (before Morrison’s death) and it will cause an impression on me. The Doors are responsible for changing my musical views, and for that, I will always be grateful.