The Story Behind The Song: The Doors’ classic ‘The End’, Jim Morrison’s Oedipal nightmare
“It could be almost anything you want it to be.” – Jim Morrison
The above reply to a usual question likely tells you everything you need to know about, not only The Doors classic song ‘The End’, but also Jim Morrison the poet, the singer and the idol. Rightly seen as one of the seminal band’s best tracks, ‘The End’ has enjoyed a charmed life ever since it was spat out by the band during the dying embers of the sixties. At once, the song is a delicate and poignant musing about the final curtain call we must all face but also producing themes of Oedipal relations, the destruction of one’s father and the song that got the group banned by the Whisky-A-Go-Go. It is, without doubt, the archetypal Doors tune.
Released in 1967, as the summer of love continued to swirl around California and swallow up any lost souls as it did, ‘The End’ is one song that can rightly be interpreted in any way you desire. Morrison originally composed the song about his girlfriend Mary Werbelow, who followed Morrison across the country from Florida to reside on the West Coast and find their hippie Mekkah. As one might imagine, the track was meant to be a parting gift to Werbelow and originally consisted of a fairly simple structure.
Most likely, the track would have been forgotten were it not for a special spot at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. The famed Los Angeles club had provided the band with a guest spot for some weeks when they began performing the track. Usually reserved for the end of proceedings, the band could noodle away and expand the song as they saw fit. When you add to this that the group were expected to deliver two sets a night, the need for an extension on some of their material became extremely apparent. With the help of the venue, The Doors were able to stretch the previously simple song, into a 12-minute ode.
“Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me,” Morrison stated in 1969. “It started out as a simple good-bye song… Probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don’t know. I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.” While it is easy to point fingers at the obvious ‘end’ Morrison is referring to death, the truth is a little more obscure.
Ray Manzarek says of the song’s famed “blue bus”, which Morrison seems to charter as an escape vehicle: “Jim’s version of the Egyptian solar boat… it is the boat that the pharaohs and everyone, everyone else rides on through infinity, through eternity, and ‘the blue bus’ was, for me, a vehicle that would take you on a voyage into magical places.”
There are certainly suggestions that Morrison is talking of the end we all must face, and escaping the inevitably of it whenever possible, but there is also a hint that the singer is telling his audience to live their lives as freely as possible in the meantime. One such instance comes from the Oedipal notions in the lyrics: “Father? Yes son/ I want to kill you/ Mother, I want to…”
One can imagine how Morrison would sing the lyric live and it was doing so, back in 1966, that saw him and the rest of the group banned from performing at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. The track was usually reserved for the final moments of the show but, on one occasion, after Morrison had been out drinking and arrived late, the singer decided to perform the closer in the middle of the band’s second set. He delivered the track with the expletives and, once the gig had finished, was quickly booted out of the venue and never invited back.
In the recording too, Morrison was asked to restrain himself when singing the lines. In fact, only in 1999 did engineer Bruce Botnik put the “f**k” back into the track. It’s concoction that gives the track an extra powerful punch, amid an already stringent conception.
It’s easy to get lost in the salacious lyrics and take them at their face value. But the truth is, Jim Morrison was a poet before he became a singer and a leading man. So, it’s not unexpected to see a poet offer up the most heinous and the most heroic facets of humanity in the same sentence, let alone the same song.
However it arrived and for whatever reason, the fact remains that The Doors’ classic song ‘The End’ remains a shining piece of not only the band’s iconography but also the entire decade.