In The Doors drummer John Densmore’s 1990 autobiography, Riders on the Storm, he makes a somewhat tongue-in-cheek claim that “Nietzche killed Jim Morrison”, and while it’s inflammatory nature may be enough to keep you reading this article, it’s actually far more likely that he 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.
Morrison was steeped in literary influence from a very early age and spent much of his formative years with his nose buried in a book. It gave him his insatiable talent for poignant and poetic lyrics as well as allowing his fans to create wild mythology around his character and intelligence. It is claimed that during his teenage years he’d ask friends to pick up books from his wall of literature and ask them to recite one or two lines form any page of any book. Jim would then be able to name the book and author of the book before they finished the paragraph.
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. 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 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 Jim 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 subversive and confusing subject matter 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.
This journey would see Jim not only find his place within his own poetry and allow his work to influence his lyrics with The Doors. Jim 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’.