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Psychedelic Revolution in Rock 'n' Roll: Confessions of Four Doors Who Made It

By Jeffrey C. Alexander

In the last few years, hallucinogenic drugs have had a greater affect on popular music than such other noteworthy events as the escalation of That War and the invention of the 100 mm cigarette have had on the American public in general.

Rock will never be the same again, ever since the obvious connection was made between the nirvana of an LSD trip and the inward spiritual traveling that Eastern mystics achieve through meditation. Rock will never be the same again.

The twang of Indian music, formerly known to Americans exclusively through Ravi Shankar and his sitar, has suffused popular music. The product is "raga-rock," a sound that distinguishes the new Los Angeles and San Francisco groups which are setting the pace of current rock 'n' roll.

Quasi-religious LSD lyrics are replacing the generalities about sensual love which formed the core of popular music until after the Beatles' Rubber Soul.

The new lyrics and the new musical mode are the ingredients of that often profaned--by listeners and musicians--"psychedelic music." In the vanguard of this small revolution in sound stands a group called The Doors.

The Door's brief career has paralleled the rising popularity of the New Sound. In less than one year they have become the world's most famous psychedelic musicians. They are the prototypes of the drug, sometimes drugged, group.

Throughout the summer of 1966, the Doors played second group at Whisky-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles. I saw them three or four times behind Love, a group which has a sound somewhere between Ray Charles and the Stones, with a punch of Mothers of Invention. The audience's first reaction to the Doors was that they had never heard anything like this before and, by the way, how could anybody dance to "End of the Night?"

My first impression was that Jim Morrison was a real drug freak and that he must have stolen the idea for "Light my Fire" from the Stones' "Going Home," released earlier that summer. One year later I am still convinced that Morrison is not putting us all on when he sounds like he has just come down from a methadryne high. But I have changed my mind about "Light My Fire." That song and most everything else the Doors have done is all their own.

By fall, 1966, the Doors had released one single and an album, which is still their only one to date. The single, "Break on Through," tottered to number 11 in the City of the Angels, but made it nowhere around the country. In November, several Los Angeles deejays started playing excerpts from the first album and all at once they received many many requests for a song called "Light My Fire." So one such disc jockey asked Elektra, the Doors' recording company, to press a shorter version and release it as a single. Since January it has become a million-seller. The record made history, of some kind.

As Jim Morrison, the Doors' lead singer, guiding light, and song writer, once put it, "I'd say we were like the, uh, people's choice, you know?"

The appointment for the interview was at 1 p.m. in the Doors' Sunset Strip offices. But it seemed a little early for most of the group. "You see," Jim explained later, always polite and anxious to make a good impression, "we played at a late set last night at the Cheetah" (an acid discotheque in Los Angeles, one of the most advanced of its type in the United States).

So for the next quite a while after 1 p.m., I sat in a deep plastic leather chair in the receptionist's office, thinking how this sacred room or rock and roll so closely resembled the 11th floor of William James. Suddenly, in walked three of the Doors followed by two men who obviously were not. They hurried past and entered a room and had a meeting for 30 or 40 seconds. Only one sound came out of the room. That was Jon saying, "Listen, if you're going to put us in a battle of the bands, it'll only be with one group, The Stones. Yeah, the Stones."

Then the two men who were not the Doors left the meeting and they turned out to be the co-managers. They were fresh from Las Vegas and looked a little embarrassed in their shiny suits as they ushered me into a walnut conference room (like the Soc Rel 120 womb room) to meet Robbie, Jon, and Ray.

The organist, Ray, had a freshly showered ascetic appearance, like a preppie who has gone hip with recently acquired metal rimmed glasses and striped pants. Jon is small and mouse-like and, according to Elektra producer Paul Rothchild, one of the most brilliant drummers around. The third Door was Robby, and I will tell you he is very quiet and seemed like he had a lot inside because you will not hear from him again except for two or three phrases.

The four of us made small talk, waiting for Jim. Around 2:30 he arrived. It took him a long time to get going. For most of the interview, Robbie and Jon grinned like guilty schoolboys and Ray played games with his fingers whenever Jim spoke. This was because Jim had difficulty getting his words out and when he succeeded, they came only slowly.

Straight away, Jim started off with a confession. "I don't have any musical background other than listening to records. I first started singing when the Doors started. Before that I was just a listener."

Ray, who spent some time at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and is the most important musician in the group, tried to emphasize the positive side of Jim's statement.

"We really have an advantage that Jim doesn't know anything about music. He knows everything there is to know about placing words next to each other. He comes in with a set of words which really tell a fantastic story and he has a little sort of outline and then we mold it after that and made it musically dramatic and the whole thing."

Jim -- "No I didn't write anything before, really, a few poems and stuff, but not too much.... I just went to school. (Where?) All over ... pause ... uh ... pause ... about 20 different schools. (Why?) I moved around a lot ... pause ... I guess."

Jim and Ray knew each other at UCLA's film school.

Jim--"I got out of school and uh went down to the beach to live and uh started writing some songs but I didn't have any idea of doing anything with them. They just kinda happened to me, you know? And then one day after I'd been down there a while I ran into Ray. Hadn't seen him since school and uh so uh I showed him the songs and we uh started thinking about hu uh forming a group and doing something with them."

Ray--"I remember that when you said, 'I've got a couple of songs' and you sang 'Let's swim to the Moon, Let's climb through the tide'--That was it--'Okay,' I said, 'that's the greatest thing I ever heard.' That's all it took, just those two lines.

"Then I met Jon and Robbie cause we were attending a transcendental meditation course and we all happened to be initiated into this form of meditation at the same time. That's how we got together."

Most pop groups are extremely articulate when distinguishing one category of sound from another. But when it comes down to discussing their own music, it never quite seems to fit into one of the established categories."

Jim--"We are close to a Los Angeles sound. The San Francisco sound has a lot of song improvisation on the guitar, like the Airplane or the Grateful Dead. We do more songs, more melodies. San Francisco groups solo a lot. They have this rolling sound, this wave that just engulfs the audience like a wall of sound that you can get into any way you want to. There is a distinct Los Angeles sound. The Byrds, Love, Seeds, Springfield. They're a little more melodic, you know, a little lighter. But I think our down thing is in between. We've played at San Francisco, they've like us; we've played here, New York, many places, you know, and everywhere we've played the dig it."

About drugs and drug-influenced music, another way of looking at where they are right now, the Doors have little to say but a lot to put on.

(Many people say the Doors started "psychedelic music.")

Jim -- "Oh yeah? They say that?"

Jon -- "They really say things like that?"

Ray -- "Who said that?"

Robbie -- "I think it was the Byrds who started it."

John -- "They sure throw that word 'psychedelic' around."

Ray -- "That's become the catch phrase for the last half of the 1960's."

Jim -- "Yeeay, it used to be surrealistic or something. I mean it's just a name . . . It's music. You see, I mean, what could that possibly mean, you know? Psychedelic. What could that mean anyway?"

(Many have said dope is a common point of reference in your songs.)

Jim -- "Oh no, really? Wait a minute, what's dope? Name one song that mentions dope."

Ray -- "Not really, there's no reference to drugs."

Jon -- "Well, there are a whole lotta levels you can get it on. I mean I don't think people are going to run out and take dope after listening to our songs."

(Are drugs an important part of the creative process?)

--Jim "About drugs or anything else, I think everybody should do what they want, that's all."

Ray -- "Whatever the individual has to do to get those inner feelings out is great. Drink, smoke, meditate, any one of a million things."

Jim -- "Even celibacy."

Robby -- "But we certainly don't need drugs to dull our senses."

How their music is changing is a good deal easier for the Doors to talk about. Probably because there's no law against it.

Jim -- "The first album we cut in two weeks. Just came out at once, kindalike a jazz thing. Very straight recording, very little over-dubbing, just what we are in person. Like with 'The End' we did the voice at the same time with three instruments and used only two takes. That's primitive, man."

Ray -- "This second album took four months, with lots of over-dubbing, A-track, electronic effects, harpsichord, and percussion. There is much greater elaboration though we still play all the instruments ourselves. The first album is a blueprint of what we are. In this second album, the house is nearly completed."

Jim -- "After this, I have an idea we're going two places. Toward using natural sounds, life sounds, off the street, and toward drama, characters, dialogue, and the story plot, like a long radio play, you know?"

Ray -- "It's the natural growth of music. With the pure music everything, well not everything, but a great deal of things have been done with it and it's just going to naturally evolve into a dramatic form because that's what the songs are building up to anyway, a sense of drama."

Jim -- "You look at the history of drama in the Greek culture. It starts off with the people dancing, chanting, all together, all audience. Then one day, some kind of possessed satyr cat jumped out of the crowd and became the first actor. There is one actor now. We're right at that middle ground where it's not quite drama and it's not quite primitive either. Maybe two actors will come next, then three and then it'll be a drama instead of just a song."

Success will not spoil the Doors.

Jim -- "We're not really famous yet. But there's progress. It's groovy. This is what I've always wanted to do. I just didn't know it."

Ray -- "The only thing I really enjoy about this so-called fame is that the audience comes prepared. They know what we're doing and it's not a shock to them. At so many places where we played before our first hit, the people didn't know what we were doing. They hadn't heard it before, but that was okay cause we just had to try that much harder to be better. With this fame, the audience is always more receptive to what you're trying to do."

Jim -- "I hope we can become successful and somehow maintain that underdog status."

Many persons think hippies are completely dispassionate about politics. Of course the Doors are not hippies in the strict sense -- they charge more than $2500 an appearance and keep it all -- but their political attitude is a representative one.

Jim -- "About politics, I feel if you're into politics, then it's real for you. If you're not, then it doesn't really exist, you know? Same thing with the war. The war doesn't exist, except for the soldiers and the people involved directly with the war. Like I don't believe there is a war."

Jon -- "Really?"

Ray -- "Anyway, the third album should be more controversial."

(You're going to be arrested afterward?)

Robbie -- "We might even be arrested before.

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