We’re digging into our vault of extraordinary musical history to bring you a collection of some of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison’s favourite books of all time, which include everything from beat novelist William S. Burroughs to the romantic poet William Blake. It’s an essential reading list for any budding Lizard King.
In The Doors drummer John Densmore’s 1990 autobiography, Riders on the Storm, he makes a tongue-in-cheek claim that “Nietzche killed Jim Morrison”, and while it’s certainly inflammatory and likely to make you pick up Densmore’s book, it’s actually far more likely that the controversial philosopher and scholar Nietzche, gave him his life as well. Jim Morrison was not only The Lizard King and enigmatic lead singer of The Doors, but he was also a poet and a lover of literature to his very core.
Morrison was steeped in literature from a very early age and spent much of his formative years with his nose buried in one book or another, transposing his passion for prose into his poetry and his songs later in life. It gave him his undoubted talent for poignant and poetic lyrics, and it also allowed his fans to create wild mythology around his character and intelligence.
During the singer’s teenage years, as an act of literary exhibition, he’d even ask friends to pick up books from his wall side library and ask them to recite one or two lines from any page of any book. Morrison would then be able to name the book and author of the book before they finished the paragraph. A neat trick that showed his love of the written word.
Radical Reads reports how a high school friend remembered Morrison as a bit of an outcast who took deeply to his readings: “He had tons of books over there in his basement room and I’d go over there and look at them, and I didn’t have a clue as to what most of that stuff meant,” they detail. “Morrison devoured that stuff when he was a teenager, and he was in another world, and you have to wonder how that affected him.”
The friend continued, acknowledging Morrison’s literary prestige: “The whole point is that he was so far advanced in terms of literature he took in and he really seemed to become what he read sometimes.”
His English teacher also shared this view of the growing literary mind of Morrison and it’s eccentric preferences: “Everything he read was so completely offbeat. I had another teacher who was going to the Library of Congress to check to see if the books Jim was reporting on actually existed or he was making it up. English books on sixteenth and seventeenth-century demonology…other kids were reading authors represented in our anthology, and Jim was reading Burton’s studies on Arab sexuality.”
This winding literary road of Morrison’s journey would see him become infatuated with the subversive and confusing subject matter, relishing in the profundity of provocation. Such as Nietzsche, shamanic teachings, the Beat classics (as one might expect), mythology, poetry from The Romantics, as well as classic tragedies and fallen heroism. It amassed into a list of favourite reads that allows you inside the mind of Jim Morrison.
It’s also a collection of books and poetry that undoubtedly influenced the singer’s lyrics and own poetic pursuit. Morrison was known to even hand out his hand-typed poetry before gigs so that he could share his inner workings with fans. Even the band’s name The Doors is famously taken from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which is itself a reference to a Wiliam Blake poem.
Below you’ll find a list of the books and teachings which would shape the mind and work of The Doors leading man Jim Morrison before his untimely demise in 1971 at the age of 27. We’ve even thrown in a little extra with Morrison’s ‘Ode to Nietzche’.
Jim Morrison’s favourite books:
- The Theater and Its Double by Antonin Artaud
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
- Complete Poetry & Prose by William Blake
- Life Against Death by Norman O. Brown
- Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
- Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- The Fall by Albert Camus
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
- Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti
- Go by John Clellon Holmes
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- Gasoline by Gregory Corso
- Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell
- A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
- Howl by Allen Ginsberg
- Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
- The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
- Dubliners by James Joyce
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
- Doctor Sax by Jack Kerouac
- The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
- On The Road by Jack Kerouac
- The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac
- Why Are We In Vietnam? by Norman Mailer
- The Adept by Michael McClure
- Death Is A Star by Agnes Michaux
- The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills
- The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche
- Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto
- Parallel Lives by Plutarch
- The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm Reich
- The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman
- Complete Works by Arthur Rimbaud
- The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin & Ron Hall
- The Outsider by Colin Wilson