The Daughters Of The Lizard King

May 15, 2010

Channel-surfing the other night, I happened across When You’re Strange, the new documentary on The Doors. I walked in late and it was past my bedtime, but I watched half an hour or so.

Maybe it was late and I can’t necessarily remember ever hearing him interviewed before – plus I can only hear Val Kilmer instead – but there was something about the manner in which Jim Morrison mumbled his answers that made me think of Napoleon Dynamite.

I was distracted by the thought.

Though Jim Morrison was dead before I turned four, The Doors have been a presence in my life for as long as I’ve listened to music.

In the early ’80s, the rock radio station in our small town switched formats – rock to country. It truly was for the best.

My mom knew someone at the station – our town’s population was well under three-thousand – and, having noticed my budding interest in music, snagged a box of 45s that no longer fit the format

There must have been a hundred or so singles – some New Wave-styled Alice Cooper song, three or four singles from The Cars’ Panorama (even though the album’s lone hit was Touch And Go), and others I’ve long forgotten.

There was also a handful of hits by The Doors and, thinking back, it must have been the first time I heard the band. I remember People Are Strange and finding it’s vibe to be a bit disturbing. It was like a sudden chill.

In high school, several years later and a dozen years since their final album with Morrison, The Doors were as popular with most of the students as The Beatles or Stones and newer acts like Van Halen, The Cars, and Def Leppard.

I have no idea why. Their songs weren’t played much on the stations we listened to, though there was a new release from The Doors during that time with ’83’s Alive, She Cried live set.

Nearly a decade later, Oliver Stone released his bio-pic on The Doors. I knew their best-known songs – I think I had a copy of The Doors Greatest Hits on taped from a friend – and I’d read a copy of roommate’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, but I wasn’t an obsessive fan of the band.

But Stone was on a roll with Platoon and Wall Street and Val Kilmer was one of the best actors around. I caught a midnight showing at an old theater from the ’50s with several friends.

The place was packed. We were late. The few remaining seats were in the front few rows.

It was a hyperactive flick and a whiplash-inducing two hours and twenty minutes. One scene that stood out simply because it was one moment of calm was a shot of Kilmer as Morrison walking down a deserted street at dawn.

And, both times that I’ve been to Paris, I’ve made the trek to Père Lachaise, where Morrison is buried. Both times the weather was grey, cool, and rainy – one during the chill of a early, spring afternoon; the other, in late autumn.

But the thing that I think of first when I think of The Doors are two girls in high school. Two sisters. One was my age and the other a year younger.

And of all the fans of The Doors in our high school, the sisters were the most obsessive and claimed that Morrison was their father.

OK. It seemed highly unprobable that Mr. Mojo Risin’ had fathered two girls who ended up living in the middle of nowhere, in a town with three stoplights, but the man was a rock star and fond of the ladies, so I suppose it wasn’t impossible, I thought at the time.

And the sisters were adament, clinging to the declaration with the same veracity with which I lock onto a chicken drumstick.

Unfortunately for them, it appears that of the more than twenty paternity suits naming Morrison at the the time of his death, none were pursued against his estate and the only public claim after his death was a man and proven to be a fraud.

But Morrison has remained a pop culture fixture and, though I’ve never progressed beyond being a casual fan, there’s some fantastic stuff in The Doors’ catalog with few frontmen ever matching the charisma and magnetism of the self-proclaimed Lizard King.

Here are four from The Doors…

The Doors – Strange Days
from The Best Of The Doors

While People Are Strange unnerved me, the title track from its parent album had a more playful vibe to me. Maybe that’s because it somewhat reminded me of the song Gene Wilder croons on the boat ride in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going…”

Actually, come to think of it, that kind of makes the song disturbing in its own right.

The Doors – Five To One
from The Best Of The Doors

According to Wikipedia. Five To One‘ is rumored to be the approximate ratio of whites to blacks, old to young, non-pot smokers to pot smokers in the US or the ratio of Viet Cong to American troops in Vietnam.

Personally, I’ve always loved the song’s ominious mood and martial cadence.

The Doors – Touch Me
from The Doors Greatest Hits

Poor Robby Krieger. The guitarist for The Doors wrote many of the group’s best-known songs including Light My Fire, but most fans simply assume Morrison penned all of the band’s lyrics.

Krieger also wrote Touch Me, not only one of the band’s biggest radio hits but a song that apparently polarized fans of The Doors at the time with its incorporation of brass and orchestration.

Whatever the case, I think it’s a stellar and insanely catchy pop song.

The Doors – L.A. Woman
from The Doors Greatest Hits

Though I’ve had the good fortune to do a fair amount of traveling, the only time I’ve spent in Southern California has been a few hours enjoying the ambience of LAX on a layover. So, my vision of Los Angeles has been forged through films and song.

The bluesy, driving L.A. Woman is one of those songs.

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And Then There Was Maude

April 30, 2009

So Bea Arthur has moved on. She was 86 and she had a good run – as good as a human could hope (I would think).

I wasn’t even yet in grade school when she showed up as the title character in the television show Maude. As JB astutely notes, the show did have one of the funkiest themes of all time. Even at four or five, I knew there was something about it.

The show was incredibly topical, or so I’ve read. The subjects that the show addressed – abortion, racism, alcoholism – were not on my radar. I remember watching the show as a kid, but I had little idea what most of it was about.

I’m sure that I was amused by Maude’s brassy persona and sarcasm.

And I do most definitely remember Adrienne Barbeau.

Like Donny Hathaway’s theme and Maude herself, there was something that I found compelling about Adrienne Barbeau (even if I didn’t quite understand it).

So, bon voyage, Bea. You seemed like swell dame.

Some of the songs that were hits when Maude debuted in September, 1971…

Paul McCartney – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
I don’t recall hearing this song in 1971. If I did hear it, it didn’t register.

It is a wonderfully jaunty little tune. I mean, would it be considered a shanty?

What makes a song a shanty – a certain musical style or lots of nautical references? And with the Somalian pirates making headlines (or are they losing their audience?), could shanties be the grunge of this decade?

John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads
I do remember John Denver on the radio and he was one of the first acts to catch my ear. Of course, those television specials were some of the first music performances I probably viewed. At the age of five, this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat, traipsing around the Rockies with bear cubs and denim-clad hippie chicks was, in my mind, The Man.

I still love Take Me Home, Country Roads. Every time it pops up on shuffle Paloma and I wonder if Emmylou Harris sings on the song (and, each time I make a mental note to research that and, each time, I forget).

The Carpenters – Superstar
Like John Denver, The Carpenters hits in the early ’70s are some of the first songs I vividly remember hearing on the radio. If I had to make a short list of favorites by the duo, Superstar would most definitely be on there.

As someone who listens to a lot of music, I probably should receive demerits for not knowing songwriter Leon Russell’s version (actually, I confess to not really being familiar with Russell at all (although I’m sure I’ve read about him at Whiteray’s blog).

All of that aside, Superstar is pretty glorious.

The Doors – Riders On The Storm
Even though Jim Morrison had been dead for well over a decade, The Doors were one of the bands among most of the students in my high school. The band’s hold was taken to an extreme by two sisters who were rather adamant that they were illegitimate hatchlings of The Lizard King.

Apparently, it was the last song that The Doors recorded as a band, from sessions in December of 1970. Three months later, Morrison would move to Paris.

Riders On The Storm would have to be considered one of The Doors’ signature songs and it is one cinematic trip.