In the series Albums That Soundtrack Our Lives, we hear from a selection of students reflecting individually on albums that shaped their life in one way or another. Whether it’s a breakup, loss, nostalgia or good memories shared with friends; we look at albums that have changed the lives of different people from different places, using music as a unifying experience.
Next up is Ethan Brodie, whose selection The Doors by The Doors, soundtracks a post-pandemic world perfectly. From Ethan’s introduction to the band through Francis-Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, it became the soundtrack to adolescence and spiritual maturity. The Doors blends both anarchy and melancholy, evoking a sound so universal, yet unique, it can mean almost anything.
Acquiring Apocalypse Now on DVD in my early teens proved to be fateful. Not only did I discover my favourite film, but it ignited an obsession with a band and album that only continues to deepen and expand. Whilst I vaguely remember listening to hits such as Love Street and Hello, I Love You in the backseat of my parents’ car growing up, it was the eerie opening scene of Francis-Ford Coppola’s hallucinatory study of war that formed the perfect bridge between myself and The Doors. As a Vietnamese jungle is engulfed in flames, Jim Morrison utters the spine-tingling words “This is the end.”
Remarkably this profound song, The End, belongs, ironically, to their first album, fittingly named The Doors: one of the most unorthodox and audacious debut albums in rock history. In the years since its release in 1967, it has neither lost its edge nor its charm – it remains extraordinary that a rock band would name themselves after a line from William Blake, carry out a rendition of Brecht and Weill’s Alabama Song, and dramatize the Oedipus complex in The End. The band’s instrumentalists – guitarist Robby Krieger; keyboardist Ray Manzarek; and drummer John Densmore – utilized their backgrounds in blues, jazz, and classical music to support Morrison’s pseudo-poetic lyrics and titillating baritone voice. In doing so, The Doors created a sound that is utterly distinctive and unmistakable.
The second song in the album is Soul Kitchen, an ode to the late-night atmosphere of a soul food restaurant in Venice Beach California which Morrison regularly retreated to. He was often forced out after closing time, hence the lines “Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen, Warm my mind near your gentle stove”. The track celebrates the importance of a sacred place – somewhere you can reconnect with yourself time and time again and relish in the infinite nature of the moment. It is a relaxing slice of a psychedelic summer in Los Angeles and demonstrates the best of The Doors’ strain of blues.
For years, the Crystal Ship was my favourite song. I would be drawn back to it in times of reflective solitude and peace. It is meditative, enchanting and hypnotizes the listener into a dreamlike state. While the instrumentals are worthy of recognition, the song’s strength lies in Morrison’s fertile gift for rich, cryptic imagery which he delivers with confiding elegance. What I love about Crystal Ship is that it is pure spoken poetry, building towards a crescendo that is marked by emotive vocal power. For this reason, I occasionally listen to the song without the instrumental melody to accentuate the vocals.
The End is disjointed, anarchic and melancholic, but truly beautiful. Many of the lyrics were developed through the frontman’s acid-fueled improvisational performances at the L.A club Whisky-a-Go-Go. Morrison himself admitted that “I think it's sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.” The End, therefore, inhabits all the dynamic and experimental qualities of raw underground music, despite it being omnipresent in popular culture. At 11 minutes in length, the song takes you on a dark journey through the parting of lovers; the realms of Greek tragedy; the loss of innocence and consciousness; and other broad existential matters. Morrison’s voice switches from tender to aggressive almost instantaneously without warning. Of course, this was an intrinsic element of his enigmatic personality and artistic brilliance – an ability to blur the lines between pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, life and death. In an age in which many religious and political factions act out of tribalism, reading the world through the minimal black-and-white mirage of their own self-indulgent agenda, it is reassuring to listen to sensitive music that acknowledges the mysteries and complexities that underpin our internal and external realities.
Writing about music that evokes feelings that go far beyond what the rational mind can understand is a challenging endeavour. It is The Doors’ personal and artistic mission that I identify most strongly with. Like me, The Doors were seekers - seeking to make sense of our increasingly perplexing world. To uncover and tap into the eternal wonder that lies beyond the chaotic three-dimensional foreground and break free from the cultural and societal chains that confine our own potentiality. I can think of no greater album than The Doors to act as a soundtrack to my adolescence and spiritual maturity.
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