Home Just...wow. Lester Bangs: In Defense of Jim Morrison

Lester Bangs: In Defense of Jim Morrison

Fat lot Robert Christgau knows about rock and roll. The emperor’s jimmies got the final bronzetone about two years ago when, flesh no doubt nuzzling up the McGarrigles he wrote off The Doors in an “I Remember 1967” Consumer Guide Extra, “Not getting around it – Jim Morrison sounds like an asshole.”

One thing’s sure: Patti Smith wasn’t whispering dictation in Big Bob’s ear when that particular thunderbolt clattered down from on high. Whatever else you might say about her, Patti Smith’s always paid downright somber homage where due to all our sweet boppin’ daddies. Jimbo, Hendrix, Arthur Lee – wherever a stiff drops, there’s Pats hawking memento mori samplers. As well she should, because without Jim she might well have ended up spouting her rocksy poesy in quatrains redolent of Leonard Cohen burrowing his doddering peepnose ‘neath schoolgirls skirts. Which of course wouldn’t have birthed any kind of phoenix.

Think about it. Without Jim Morrison no Patti, but what’s more or less no Iggy perhaps no Bryan Ferry in his least petit-bonbonned moments. Without Iggy, of course, no punk rock renaissance at all, which means obviously that Jim was the real father of all that noise, because if you wanted to look at it as cynically as Ig deserves after The Idiot you could even say that all his whole career amounted to was one frenetic attempt to prove he was as mucho macho as the Lizard King. When, as we all know, Jim was such a complete Man he could even brag about his impotence!

Just ask Dotson Rader if you believe anything he says anymore, or better yet check out Jim’s new spoken poetry with Manzarek overdubs album, An American Prayer, the best recitative sluice of American literature on LP since Call Me Burroughs, and hell, even Burroughs never had the sheer nerve to lead with “All join now and lament the death of my cock.” In a way Jim was really the end of the Masculine Mystique as celebrated American culture up to and through rock ‘n’ roll, because unlike clowns like John Kay or indeed any of his progeny, he was a maters of the sly inflectional turn, so that his every utterance no matter how repetitious rolled out oozing irony and sanity.

Who further to say that he finally showed the fans his weenie in Florida he was not oh-so bemusedly letting them in on the cosmodemonic comedy the whole thing boiled down to, the understanding of which he’d been considerate enough to spare them up to then because he respected virgins as much as the next good Irish Catholic boy? Who’s to say the “bubble gum” / “parody” in the third and fourth Doors albums, so dismaying to early believers, was not entirely intentional, premeditated, one juncture in a vast strategy of liberation? A strategy scripted from day one to ultimately reveal that not only did machismo equal bozo in drag, but furthermore that all rock stars were nothing more than huge oafus cartoons ( more New Wave foreshadowing!), that in fact these games of both “Poet” and “Shaman” were just two more gushers of American snakeoil. He knew! And now, eons later, so do we.

This album proves what the emergence of Patti Smith had given us reason to hope: that beatnick poetry is not dead. Jim’s whiskey breathed wordslinging varooms on, not only in Patti Smith, but in Richard Hell and maybe even Bruce Springsteen if he’d ever get down with the greasemonkies he talks about. Fuck the James Taylors, not to mention the Warren Zevons, who may wave brave handguns but are pure pseudo Randy Newman mannerism. Jim’s violence is cool school: “Hey, listen, man I really got a problem. When I was out on the desert, ya know, I don’t know how to tell you, but, ah, I killed somebody. No…it’s no big deal, ya know. I don’t think anybody will find out about it, but, ah…Let your children play… this guy gave me a a ride, ah ah, If you give this man a ride…started giving me a lot of trouble, sweet family will die, and I just couldn’t take it, ya know? Killer on the road And I wasted him, Yeah.”

I’d like to see Charles Bukowski beat that – “A .45 To Pay The Rent,” indeed! Why even bother playing the fucking rent, when Jim understands the single kernel of no mind koan-truth that eluded both philosophers and poets (not to mention P. Smith) over the centuries: that death is about as serious as anything else we diddle our imaginations with. Or at least that our attempts to rationalize it are beautifully, lovingly funny. Anybody who thinks this stuff just dope-noggined gibberish oughta recheck Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues and “Old Angel Midnight” of the extra opiom-ated latter pages of Lautreamont’s Maidoror. Or Patti’s Babel, for that matter. All those benighted verbiage-vectors went on at ridiculous length about the tragic communication of sex and death: Jim was hip to the comedy implicit in romantic obsessor: “I pressed her thigh and death smiled. Death, old friend. Death and my cock are the word…Hey man, you want girls, pills, grass? C’mon…I show you a good time…”

Sociology? “He’s rich, got a big car.” God-stuff? “We could plan a murder or start a religion. Guru’s questions answered? “Will you die for me? Eat me.” Allen Ginsberg hasn’t written anything this good in 20 years almost. The Beats meant to bring poetry back to the street’s and the guttermind of the people at large, and they succeeded: they gave birth to Jim Morrison, a giant resplendent in the conviction that stardom my guarantee Chivas Regal till you drown, but to clown is divine and ultimately sexy.

End.