Saturday, April 19, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 109):"THE SOFT PARADE" (1969) The Doors

Yesterday I took his name in vain, so I guess it’s time he showed up on here: Jim Morrison and The Doors. The Doors are one of those odd bands in the history of rock. There’s no one else quite like them and even they can’t successfully do what they do as often as they like. Morrison, like Hendrix, cashed out early, but, unlike Hendrix, there’s a sense that he’d shot his bolt. While it’s always been a shame that Hendrix didn’t get to age into the old bluesman he was perhaps born to be, it’s hard to say what Morrison, if he’d stuck around, would’ve evolved into. In some ways, The Doors’ debut LP, The Doors (1967) was all they needed to say.  It’s a swanky blues sound shot through with the more psychotic aspects of psychedelia, with Morrison’s deep voice adding sepulchral hues at will. It’s also sexy as hell in an eerie, idolatrous way.

The second album, Strange Days, builds on that and in some ways is even better, but still cut from the same cloth, and released the same year. Then Waiting for the Sun, the third album, moves away from that standard sound in little ways, with what might almost seem sunny California touches, and may be the most satisfying album. With the fourth album, from which comes today’s title track, the band is clearly trying to branch out, but branching out produces some pretty weak numbers. And yet “The Soft Parade” is a standout example of the kinds of nutty excess these guys could come up with and somehow pull off.

The extended album-closing track was the hallmark of The Doors ever since “The End” on the very first album, a long, dreamy stream-of-consciousness poem snaking along to a rambling jam that finds crescendos and explosions whenever Morrison comes close to primal anxieties. “When the Music’s Over” on Strange Days is in some ways more eloquent in exploring the ad hoc imagery of improv poetry—find a groove and ride it, till “the music’s over.” Both songs were showcases for Morrison to emote and to fling his wrenching scream into the Aether.

“The Soft Parade” is already in on all that. It’s got a sense of pastiche in its grooves as Morrison enjoys throwing out little non sequiturs, like “the monk bought lunch,” and rhymey doggerel, “Peppermint, miniskirts, chocolate candy / Champion sax and a girl named Sandy,” and babbled asides like “this is the best part of the trip, the best part, the trip, I really like.” It’s a little time capsule of psychedelic posturing that Morrison and company have fun with, throwing in their characteristic grooves and licks and letting Morrison open with a stentorian harangue—“YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”—and close with one of those free-floating phrase-clusters (here seeming to echo Strange Days’ unnerving “Horse Latittudes”): “When all else fails / We can whip the horses eyes / And make them sleep / And cry.”

The general feel of the song is trippy as hell as it moves through various moods—if you listen to it on altering substances, each new phase is bound to remake the space you find yourself in. The opening has the sensual melancholy for which we turn to The Doors in the first place—as, for instance, “Moonlight Drive” or “Crystal Ship”—“Can you give me sanctuary / I must find a place to hide / A place for me to hide.”

For me, the song belongs with the Easter season for no particular reason other than a loose association that got stuck in place, having to do with using it on a tape made one particular acid-intensified Easter and my sense that the kinds of all-night psychic voyages this song seems to recount suit the season. For about a decade from early Eighties to early Nineties, I used to sometimes read Finnegans Wake aloud into the wee hours of Easter morning in an attempt to return to that dreaming awake feel we used to have others kinds of help achieving.

This song too, in parts akin to the previous album, boasts a bit of that Californian ascendancy that, if you ever feel it on the East Coast, you feel it in April—“Successful hills are here to stay . . . .Gentle streets where people play”—that’s pretty much the mellow LA vibe. But the line that always gives me a lift is “Everything must be this way.” It can have something of a “what, me worry” tinge to it but it also comes stamped with the iron will of the Fates. This is how it is because that’s how it is. Amor fati, as Nietzsche was fond of saying.

The song gets loose and funky and starts the inevitable climb of a Doors’ song, but here the overlapping voices are whipping it on to a kind of chaotic party atmosphere—all those people out to have some fun, with lights getting brighter and a moaning radio and, a favorite, “a few animals left out in the yard.” The song works well with something like Hunter S. Thompson’s vision of Vegas as people distorting into unnameable creatures before his very eyes. And Morrison likes his heart of darkness tropics too: “what brought us this far to this mild equator”—knowing that the journey within is like the journey into the most distant land. “We need someone or something new / Someone else to get us through”—which comes as the kind of “we blew it” gesture that eats up Kesey at the end of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or which Morrison returns to with the great gesture of “I tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn” on “WASP” from what was the final (and I'll go out on a limb here, best) album, L.A. Woman (1971).

It’s all part of a failed experiment and Morrison and company are just riding that tiger a little longer.  You’re allowed to think of Rimbaud giving up at the end of A Season in Hell with that shrug that will echo for centuries. “Well, I will ask forgiveness for having lived on lies, and that’s that.”

All our lives we sweat and save
Building for a shallow grave
Must be something else we say
Somehow to defend this place

Is it defensible, that search for gold in the grooves of the moment, for the diamond insight, the state of grace Allen Ginsberg calls “kind king light of mind”? “The Soft Parade has now begun / Listen to the engines hum . . .”

I'm proud to be part of this number.

Krieger, Dinsmore, Manzarek, Morrison

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