In the culture explosion of the 1960s, the Doors were the first LA band to matter. As it has turned out, no LA band has mattered as much. Since then, there have been other LA bands, but none have had the impact of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger.
Every other group fronted by a charismatic male singer that sprang forth as an LA band– Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, X, Black Flag, whatever– all owe a debt to the group of UCLA film students who decided to form a band in 1965. By 1971, six studio albums later, Morrison was dead, in Paris, from the bloat and excess of success and it was all over.
They, and especially Morrison, have been lionized, mythologized, glorified and ultimately eulogized in songs, books and movies. I saw Oliver Stone’s The Doors, starring Val Kilmer as the self-destructive dervish Morrison, at the Cinerama Dome when it was released in 1991.
My feelings then were as they are now about any cinematic attempt to tell the story of too-recently-demised heroes I’ve admired– John Lennon, say, or Kurt Cobain– the results are a pale comparison to the original story, lessening the subject they seek to exult. (The only exception has been Control, Anton Corbijn’s stark, intense telling of the rise and fall of Ian Curtis and Joy Division— themselves a latter day Doors in sound and temperament.)
But what else to say about the Doors? Morrison was an even bigger star after his untimely death and remained the inspiration for countless other singers’ attempts at studly, poetic grandeur, from Curtis to Patti Smith in her glory days.
L.A. Woman was their last album, and the title song is a hypnotic meditation on the seedy, sad, enthralling city that reads poorly but is brought to life by Morrison’s typically electrifying delivery. Thirty-eight years later, it’s still a hard act to follow.
The Doors, live at the Hollywood Bowl, 1968.