Formed in Los Angeles, in 1965 by vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore, The Doors would rapidly rise to become one of the most iconic rock bands in history, and certainly one of the most fascinating.
Undoubtedly, their focal point was Morrison, a mysterious poet who espoused an otherworldly essence, and this mystique elevated his talent, allowing him to become one of the definitive heroes of the countercultural movement. In life and death, Morrison has been ascribed a demi-god-like status — a walking, talking embodiment of youthful revolt and sexual freedom.
Famously, Morrison developed an alter ego, and began to describe himself as ‘The Lizard King’ when the band were recording their second album, 1967’s Strange Days. At the time, he had become obsessed with Native American folklore, and the ancient grandeur of America’s great deserts, which inspired him to create the mystique that rounded off the esoteric sounds of The Doors.
The performance piece ‘Celebration of the Lizard’ was a direct reference to his reptilian alter ego, with Morrison saying that it was “kind of an invitation to the dark forces”. When bleak times thrust the flower-power scene into tumult towards the end of the ’60s, to many, Morrison stood out as a symbol of the rot.
However, this was not what he was about. Morrison was tapping into something more lofty and mystical than many could comprehend, and apart from his long hair and hedonism, the singer was completely different from the leaders of Mansonoid cults that had cropped up across the country.
Life journalist Fred Powledge wrote upon first seeing Morrison on stage in 1968: “Once you see him perform, you realise that he also seems dangerous, which, for a poet, may be a contradiction in terms.” Interestingly, Powledge was not a typical Doors fan in the sense that he was a civil rights journalist, but his account of first witnessing Morrison in action gives you a great sense of his magic.
Whilst there are many intriguing aspects of Morrison’s life, when you strip back his reptilian persona, you see that before all else, he was a poet. It was his lyrical prowess and ponderous prose that attracted people to his art and made him something of a messiah. He wrote countless poems across his career, displaying the many differing and often contradictory sides of his true self.
Below, we’ve listed five of Morrison’s best poems that display his aptitude and individualism as a wordsmith. Be prepared though, they get a little strange.
Jim Morrison’s five best poems:
One of Morrison’s longer poems, ‘The Movie’ is a surreal one. Seemingly a critique of consumer culture, it starts with the “mindless” voice of a cinema staff member announcing that the film is about to begin. As the poem continues, he then heavily infers that the movie we are watching is that of our life story and that it’s one we’ve seen before, possibly in reference to the belief that we will be reborn in some capacity after death.
Hippie to the core, even though the meaning is opaque the narrative is fairly easy to follow until the last section. Out of nowhere, it becomes some surreal sexual fantasy where The Doors frontman uses a pagoda chasing clouds as a metaphor for a penis.
“The movie will begin in five moments. The mindless voice announced all those unseated will await the next show. We filed slowly, languidly into the hall.
“The auditorium was vast and silent as we were seated and were darkened, the voice continued. The program for this evening is not new. You’ve seen this entertainment through and through. You’ve seen your birth your life and death you might recall all of the rest.
“Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on? I’m getting out of here. Where are you going? To the other side of morning.
“Please don’t chase the clouds, pagodas. Her cunt gripped him like a warm, friendly hand. It’s alright, all your friends are here. When can I meet them? After you’ve eaten I’m not hungry. Uh, we meant beaten. Silver stream, silvery scream. Oooooh, impossible concentration.”
‘A Feast of Friends’
I’m seriously questioning what state of mind Morrison was in when he wrote this one. Discussing servants, “the severed garden” and death at different points, Morrison appears to be comparing modern life to the quality of existence in the afterlife, in what is one of his most meandering pieces.
Although it is nigh-on impossible to decipher the meaning of this esoteric poem, Morrison does deliver an excellent line in: “Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven’s claws.” It’s also certain that at the time of writing, he was sick of something, and whether it be his friendship group or life in general, he doesn’t make it easy for the reader to understand his viewpoint.
“Wow, I’m sick of doubt Live in the light of certain South Cruel bindings.
“The servants have the power dog-men and their mean women pulling poor blankets over our sailors (And where were you in our lean hour) Milking your moustache or grinding a flower?
“I’m sick of dour faces Staring at me from the TV Tower, I want roses in my garden bower; dig? Royal babies, rubies must now replace aborted Strangers in the mud These mutants, blood-meal for the plant that’s plowed.
“They are waiting to take us into the severed garden Do you know how pale and wanton thrillful comes death on a strange hour unannounced, unplanned for like a scaring over-friendly guest you’ve brought to bed Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven’s claws.
“No more money, no more fancy dress This other kingdom seems by far the best until its other jaw reveals incest and loose obedience to a vegetable law. I will not go Prefer a Feast of Friends To the Giant Family.”
One thing we do know about the late Doors frontman was that he was one extremely randy individual. The king of all things orgasmic, he was the counterculture’s sex symbol, and he knew it. Enjoying everything that hippiedom and free love had to offer, Morrison’s sexual exploits are nearly as legendary as his music.
With ‘Lament’, Morrison describes the figurative death of his penis, which seems to come as a result of a frustrating period of inactivity in the bedroom, as he concludes the piece by saying, “suffer I sacrifice my cock on the altar of silence.” Managing to conflate sex and death again, Morrison was acutely aware of lovemaking’s ancient purpose and references the gods of paganism when discussing it.
“Lament for my cock Sore and crucified I seek to know you Acquiring soulful wisdom You can open walls of mystery Stripshow
“How to acquire death in the morning show TV death which the child absorbs Deathwell mystery which makes me write Slow train, the death of my cock gives life Forgive the poor old people who gave us entry Taught us god in the child’s prayer in the night
“Guitar player Ancient wise satyr Sing your ode to my cock Caress it’s lament Stiffen and guide us, we frozen.
“Lost cells The knowledge of cancer To speak to the heart And give the great gift Words Power Trance This stable friend and the beast of his zoo Wild haired chicks Women flowering in their summit.
“Monsters of skin Each color connects to create the boat which rocks the race Could any hell be more horrible than now and real?
“I pressed her thigh and death smiled Death, old friend Death and my cock are the world I can forgive my injuries in the name of Wisdom Luxury Romance Sentence upon sentence Words are the healing lament For the death of my cock’s spirit Has no meaning in the soft fire Words got me the wound and will get me well I you believe it.
“All join now and lament the death of my cock A tounge of knowledge in the feathered night Boys get crazy in the head and suffer I sacrifice my cock on the altar of silence.”
The most straightforward poem on the list, here Morrison assumes the guise of power and explores all that comes with being so omnipotent. He discusses making the earth stop moving, making policemen cease to exist, and being able to change his appearance.
Evoking the essence of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 sonnet ‘Ozymandias’, a famous account of unchecked power, here Morrison shows his true poetical skill by throwing out the overly complicated and keeping things simple, getting right to the point. You get the sense that he was feeling particularly inspired when he wrote this short piece.
“I can make the earth stop in its tracks. I made the blue cars go away. I can make myself invisible or small.
“I can become gigantic and reach the farthest things. I can change the course of nature. I can place myself anywhere in space or time.
“I can summon the dead. I can perceive events in other worlds, in my deepest inner mind, and in the minds of others.
Another short poem. Here Morrison gets really countercultural. Different to the other pieces on the list, this one espouses a form of optimism and echoes all the main motivations of the hippie movement. He implores us to read, and that schoolbooks and information give us freedom, physically and mentally, and that madmen are running the world.
He maintains that freedom has found us, we just need to wake up to it and do our bit to overthrow the ones he perceived as being nefarious, the government.
“Did you know freedom exists In school books Did you know madmen are Running our prisons.
“Within a jail, within a gaol
“Within a white free protestant Maelstrom
“We’re perched headlong On the edge of boredom We’re reaching for death On the end of a candle
“We’re trying for something That’s already found us.”