Mr Mojo Risin’

When I started to get into music a few decades ago, The Doors were one of the bands I listened to most often. As well as the music, I read Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugerman’s No One Hear Gets Out Alive and also used to have a couple of video tapes on constant rotation: a compilation of music videos and live performances called Dance on Fire and the Live at the Hollywood Bowl concert. The band released six albums between 1967 and 1971, but their music enjoyed a rise in popularity throughout the eighties when their songs were used in a number of films, particularly Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Lost Boys (1987). Oliver Stone even made a biopic of the band called, funnily enough, The Doors (1991). I remember being unimpressed by the film and this may have been due to its casting and because it was directed by Oliver Stone. Their albums and music have continued to be popular over the years, though my own interest in them has waned somewhat in that time. Recently, however, I’ve started listening to their first and last albums again and I also watched Tom DiCillo‘s documentary, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

The documentary begins by introducing the band and points out each member’s lack of musical expertise when they formed the group at college in Los Angeles in 1965. Within two years the group had released their debut album and had their first hit with Light My Fire. In contrast to the prevailing mood, the imagery and thematic concerns of their material were in stark contrast to much of the music produced during the Summer of Love. In particular, Morrison liked to provoke audiences with his lyrics and his actions on stage and, as it unfolds, the film begins to focus more on him. The charismatic singer is portrayed as a troubled genius who’s torn between writing introspective poetry and his status as a rock god. To escape these pressures, he develops addictions to alcohol and drugs. In contrast, the rest of the band are presented as sober intellectuals. They only tolerate Morrison’s excesses because they know they wouldn’t be the same band without him. The film concludes with Morrison’s arrest for indecency on stage in Florida, his decision to leave the band and their successful attempts to persuade him to return. Ultimately, he moves to Paris and dies there in typically unusual circumstances in 1971, just before the release of the band’s final album, L.A. Woman

Even though I was familiar with most of the footage and interviews that appear in DiCillo’s film, I felt that he successfully used this existing material to tell a story that would appeal to fans of the band as well as to newcomers. He also included a number of inserts that featured what I presumed was a Jim Morrison lookalike as he drove around in a Mustang. In fact, these clips came from a previously unreleased film entitled HWV: An American Pastoral. I didn’t think they added much to the film, though they may have been used to emphasise Morrison’s confused mental state towards the end of his life. DiCillo, who also wrote the film, had originally narrated it as well, but this task was instead handed to Johnny Depp. The actor delivers a relaxed and effective voiceover that’s not a million miles away from Morrison’s own voice. Tomorrow is the 67th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s birth, so here’s a few tunes. Fellow Los Angeles band, X, recorded their cover of The Crystal Ship for the soundtrack to the first X-Files movie. Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen‘s terrific take on People Are Strange is also taken from a film, the aforementioned Lost Boys. Finally, the dark undercurrents of Riders on the Storm are replaced with a sense of optimism in the version by The Jolly Boys from Jamaica. Maybe things might have worked out better for Jim if he’d gone there instead of France

The Crystal Ship (Doors cover) – X

People Are Strange (Doors cover) – Echo & the Bunnymen

Riders on the Storm (Doors cover) – The Jolly Boys