As gloriously played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of my favourite movies, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, rock critic Lester Bangs had this to say about the legendary Californian psychedelic blues-rock quartet: "The Doors? Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon posing as a poet!"
Always thought that was a funny line, with some truth to it. But it doesn’t change how much I love The Doors and the six trippy LPs they released between their formation in 1965 and Morrison’s untimely death on July 3, 1971, at the fateful age of 27 (like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin when they died the previous fall).
Originally launched less than three months before their frontman passed away, L.A. Woman is being reissued this week in a new 40th anniversary edition from Rhino. In addition to the original album, it includes a second disc featuring alternate versions of eight of the songs, complete with studio chatter, plus their cover of blues standard Rock Me and, most interestingly, a recently discovered, never-before-heard track entitled She Smells So Nice. It’s no lost classic or anything, but it’s got a good groove.
Also newly in stores, courtesy of the good folks at Eagle Rock Entertainment, is Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman, an hour-long documentary produced and directed by Martin R. Smith. Mixing talking-head segments with archival footage, including live performances from The Doors back in the day, the film succinctly establishes the context the band evolved in before moving on to the actual creation of L.A. Woman in late 1970, early 1971.
Nearly every song from the album gets its own chapter, where it’s discussed by various journalists (Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, radio DJ Jim Ladd, etc.) and collaborators (former manager Bruce Botnick, Elektra Records founder Bill Siddons, etc.), as well as the three surviving members of The Doors – Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore – who not only talk about the songs, but often grab their instruments to play some of their classic keyboard lines, guitar riffs and drum fills.
Funky opening track The Changeling, a "James Brown tribute," is described as a warning from Morrison. "See me change/ Yeah, I’m leaving’ town/ On a midnight train," sings the Lizard King, probably aware already that he would move to Paris once the album was completed, ostensibly to devote himself to being a writer.
As the documentary explains, though, another factor might have been The Doors’ disastrous show in Miami on March 1, 1969, during which a heavily inebriated Morrison ranted at the audience ("You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots! You’re all a bunch of slaves!") and allegedly exposed himself, resulting in him being busted for lewd and lascivious behaviour, indecent exposure, open profanity and drunkenness. At the time of his departure for Paris, his case was still in court and he was facing a prison sentence… Which makes his cry of "Come on, set me free!" in Been Down So Long feel all the more heartfelt.
Also touched upon are the band’s cover of John Lee Hooker’s Crawling King Snake; hit single Love Her Madly, one of the tracks featuring Jerry Scheff, Elvis Presley’s bassist at the time; The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat), which was initially a poem Morrison recited during concerts; Hyacinth House, which someone says is "the loneliest song Jim ever wrote"; L.A. Woman, with its "rock and roll film noir" vibe and the famous "Mr. Mojo Risin" line, an anagram for Jim Morrison and a reference to a blues term for sexuality, hence the orgasmic climax of the song!
And then there’s Riders on the Storm, which closes this final album from The Doors on a jazzy, eerie note. "Girl you gotta love your man/ Take him by the hand/ Make him understand/ The world on you depends/ Our life will never end…"
Within six months of landing in Paris and hopefully getting "a clean slate," Jim Morrison’s life did end… But as his bandmates point out in the last minutes of Mr. Mojo Risin’, his artistic legacy remains. Clearly, 40-some years later, the legend of Jim Morrison is still very much alive. Regardless of whether you think he was a drunken buffoon or a poet.