Rock n Roll Idols

July 30, 2009

I just finished watching a Doors special on PBS.  It brought me right back to my youth. I hit puberty in the eighties when rock n roll was at it’s weakest. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had yet to emerge, and if you wanted some solid rock n roll without hairspray, spandex, or screaming, you had to go backwards in time. That’s how Jim Morrison became my idol when I was a teenager. To me he was more than a rock god. He was the image of physical perfection to the women I wanted attention from; he was what any teenage male who aspired rock stardom would want to imitate. He was the epitome of rock style: a deep dark voice, black leather pants, cool hippie hats, an odd dance that grooved, but was not at all flashy, he was just genuinely feeling the music. That cat was cool.  But what impressed me the most was his mind. For me it was more about the lyrics than anything else. That cat was deep.  A rock god, but he was also a creative intellectual. He was a wordsmith that happened to have style. He was everything I wanted to be. I loved music, but I loved words even more (though I never would have admitted that back then). There were other factors, but I could credit Jim Morrison as the reason I began writing poetry. He made poetry look cool, so I could record my deep thoughts about life in my own special way and not worry about being ridiculed. In fact, Jim Morrison empowered me to not give a shit about whether anyone even liked me at all. I became a dark loner like my idol. Tired of being another outcast and a social misfit, I became another misunderstood Byronic anti-hero. Unfortunately, while I was trying to imitate my idol, I tried out his lifestyle as well, and I began to take excessive amounts of drugs. I somehow was able to  ignore how it all turned out in the end for Jim Morrison.

I think part of Jim’s drug and alcohol abuse had something to do with his great intellect. I think in many ways he really was above it all. All the sheep mentatlity of the rock genre, and American society in general, that he despised  and mocked was something that he couldn’t be a part of, but the tradegy of Jim Morrison was that he made himself so misunderstood that he became a true lone figure on the American landscape, and he became truly lonely. I think he wanted desperately to fit in with somebody, anybody, but he had too much pride to bring himself back down to such a small minded level. Better to be the Lizard King and go out like a Roman Candle, than to conform to any belief system that required submission. In order to cope with the pain of lonlieness he began using all the time, no matter what the consequences for him and his band. Whatever could get him high, whatever could get him away from that nagging feeling of not fitting in and being alone he took it in. I used honor the man because he lived life so dangerously and so passionately, now I uderstand it was just an escape. Morrison was above it all, but he was not indestructable. He was not a god. In life, he was obsessed with death. I don’ t think he was suicidal, but I don’ t think he was a bit afraid of death. He believed he was out of place in this world, why, then, wouldn’t he embrace death? It was the only thing that seemed to really be a mystery to him, the only thing that he couldn’ t make sense of. If life becomes too simple, why wouldn’t you embrace the mystery, the freedom of death? It’s all over his lyrics and poetry. Refresh your memory with “The End”, “When the Music’s Over”, “Break on Through,” and even “Moonlight Drive,” a song so many couples make love to unaware it’s truly about a dual suicide, or maybe even a murder/suicide.

Fortunately for me, I had neither the intellect nor the addictive personality Morrison had. Seventeen-plus years after my obessession with Jim Morrison ended, I can look at this man who died at 27 from a new perspective. I have had more than my share of failures in this life. As of yet, I have no literary or musical merit at all, but as a 36 year old single dad, I can look back at this kid who reached to the heavens to try to understand life and feel genuine pity for him. Morrison could have been one of the great minds of his generation if he would only have humbled himself a little more. If only he would have held on a little longer. Instead he wasted his genius on sex, drugs and rock n roll, and he literally wasted himself in alcohol. The secret to life that Morrison consistantly missed was that it is meant to be simple. People as mass are idiots, and probably should be mocked, but people as individuals are, well, people. And individual people should be respected. We live, we breath, we die. Our impact on the world, good or bad, lies not in the amount of people that know our name, but our impact is greatest felt by those who truly know us and are known by us. Morrison missed it, he was tragically lonely, and that is why he was so obsessed with the mystery of death. If we spend our time living life and giving our loved ones the best of us, than we simply won’t have the time to obsess over death. We won’t need to think about it or fear it. If we leave behind a legacy of touched hearts and opened minds, even with just a few people, family, friends, then we have left a significant impact on the world that can’t be taken from us, and we can die satisfied. 

I hope the rumors are true. I hope Mr. Mojo Risin’ faked his own death. I hope he  joined some AA group and is living some absurdly normal suburbian life with a good wife and a couple of kids. I hope he’s teaching English lit at some high school or community college, and all the students try to get the class with the teacher that is a little off. Maybe he sings for some crappy little blues cover band on the weekends. But he is probably dead. Better yet, I hope he’s a minister at some middle of nowhere country church. It’s possible. James Douglas Morrison obviously knew his scripture; Biblical imagry is all over his work. (When I was back there in seminary school…) Ironically, Morrison’s lyrics were an important factor that led me discover my own faith in the truth of Jesus Christ. His obsession with death made me question the afterlife, and in an effort to understand his lyrics and message I began to study Nietzsche, Blake, and well, the Bible. Of course there were so many other elements in my life that contributed to my search for Truth, but the ultimate irony is how God used one of my strongest idols to point the way to my own salvation. I can only hope that Jim gets some kind of cred for that in the afterlife.

Peter L Richardson