Artaud Rock: The Dark Logic of the Doors

Bill Kerby, UCLA Daily Bruin, 5/24/67

Ray sat at his electric organ, head bowed, just looking at the keys. John made a last-minute adjustment on his snare drum, and Robbie, looking like Robert Mitchum's electric son, twisted dials on his amp and tuned softly. Finally, after an unbearable wait, Robbie began, then John, and finally Ray. The introduction over and over, evolving complex, swelling. Kaleidoscope was sold out. Ciro's was packed and all the people in the Western Hemisphere were wedged around the stage, waiting, craning around anxiously, recognizing the introduction.

And there he was; a gaunt, hollow Ariel from hell, stumbling in slow motion through the drums. Robbie turned to look with mild disgust but Jim Morrison was oblivious. Drifting, still you could have lit matches off the look he gave the audience. There was a mild tremor of excited dis-belief as he dreamed that he went to his microphone. Morrison's clothes looked like he had slept in them since he was twelve and he just hung there on the microphone, slack. Just for a flash, his beautiful child's face said it was all a lie. All the terror, all the drugs, all the evil. Gone! The unhuman sound he made into the microphone, turned the carping groupies to stone. And in the tombed silence he began to sing; alternately caressing, screaming, terraced flights of poetry and music, beyond visceral.

For an hour on that Friday night, a modern American pop group called The Doors got right out on the edge and stayed there. And because they are great and because the edge is where artists produce the best, there occurred a major black miracle.

The founder of the Theater-of-Cruelty, Antonin Artaud, poet-actor, described one of his infrequent scenarios thus: 'eroticism, savagery, bloodlust, a thirst for violence, an obsession with horror, collapse of moral values, social hypocrisy, lies, sadism, perjury, depravity, etc.' To anyone who has ever listened to The Doors at any length, this will appear to be a catalog of their material, but that's just a part of the whole. This context of Artaud is more than their ornamental design, more than a convenient rubric into which they stuff their music. Among their contemporaries, The Doors are going somewhere different.

Vaguely (pleased, disappointed: choose one) at his survival, Western man has begun to look inside to see what went wrong, what went right, and to see if they were ever the same thing. Order and chaos have new levels of meaning so that today a flogging can have as much validity in art as an act of amative love. And The Doors know it. This kind of irrationality is beyond dreams or madness and their songs shock and do not tell logical stories. At the end of a good set, the evil magic is out, and Morrison holds the only match in the Stygian darkness. Helplessly, you hope he won't decide to blow it out.

It is possible to go through so many changes when listening to The Doors, that a beautiful, exhilarating dream and a nightmare can be the same. 'I would not try to excuse obvious incoherence by mitigating it with dreams. Dreams have something more than their own logic. They have their own existence, in which nothing but dark and intelligent truths appear.' (Artaud, Morrison: choose one)

The Doors are four men who are together; their vision is realised by all of them. But it is Morrison whom the audience watches. They are attracted to him with the same ambivalence that drives us to feast on calamity. Our perverse nature is undeniable when we look upon things we fear the most. We cringe and die a little inside, unable to take our eyes away while evil and death dance nearer and nearer to our petty conception of immortality. But James Douglas Morrison bathes luxuriously in it. He moves on stage, dancing with an indifferent, expressionless attitude or seized with paroxysmal anger, his face convulsed with a splendid fury. He has more natural disdain, more utter contempt for his surroundings than anyone I have ever known. But when he stands, throttling his microphone, staggering blindly across the stage, electric, on fire, screaming, his is all there, waiting, daring, terrified, and alone.

And digging it.

Copyright 2002-2008 by Bill Kerby/

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Artaud Rock: The Dark Logic of the Doors