Five to one, baby / One in five / No one here gets / Out alive
Yesterday was the birthday of James Douglas Morrison, lead singer of The Doors. I’ve already posted for his death day and, around Easter, on “The Soft Parade.” To honor Morrison on his birthday I feel I have to choose something from one of the first three LPs. I was tempted to go with something from Strange Days (1967), mainly because that’s the one I associate with lysergic dissociation in the cold winter of 1977/78. But maybe I’m not as close to those days at the moment, their strangeness having inspired other things I’ve written. The third album, Waiting for the Sun (1968), is in many ways the most obvious choice, if only because “Hello I Love You,” its lead-off, is such a ready radio song, and so impulsive. But rather than go for something so obvious, I’m drawn to the LP’s closing song, its brashest and most in keeping with Morrison’s image as some kind of incendiary figure.
They got the guns, but we got the numbers / Gonna win, yeah, we’re taking over!
It’s the kids against the elders, it’s the freaks against the straights, it’s the hip against the squares. It’s 1968 and Jim’s only 25. And how about that band? The Doors—Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore—had a sound all their own. It could be spacey, headsy, it could be bluesy, could be hard rock, even jazzy, rarely was it folky, and that set The Doors apart from 90some % of bands around at the time. It’s an L.A. thing, I guess. Anyway, “Five to One” is a song with plenty of what you’d call “mojo.” It’s riding the vibe of doom, tempting the Revolution. Far out. Hearing this song you kinda understand better the scene that gave rise to Charlie Manson.
Acid heads always risked becoming psychotics. Morrison didn’t, but then that’s because he was more of a boozer than anything. Kept him “sane,” somewhat. Wild mood swings he did have and I guess that’s what keeps me connected to my old Doors records after all these years. I dig the moods of this music. It’s full of a kind of bravado that has to do with everything they’ve ever told you about the people who hit their twenties in the Sixties. They were riding a wave alright. But on this song Morrison looks into the abyss opening up below the wave. Ooooooo, wipe out!
Trade in your hours for a handfulla dimes / Goin’ta make it, baby, in our prime. And listen to how he positively entones “prime.” Yeah, prime cuts for this dude. Primo. This is for the “get out before you’re 30” crowd. And Morrison means it. The old get old and the young get stronger. He’s not waiting around for when the young get older.
And he’s rarely contemptuous, but that “You walk across the floor / With a flower in your hand / Trying to tell me no one / Understands” certainly has the mark of dismissing those gentle flower people from up there in Frisco. And the voice—so guttural, with a whine built in—keeps our teeth on edge. And the zombies of the apocalypse muttering “get together one more time” behind his increasingly frenzied lead, as Krieger on guitar starts tearing it up more than he’s wont to do, make us fear things are coming to a head. And then a scream leading into Jim trying to work out some logistics with his baby—“see I gotta go out in this car with these people”—and she's probably circling for a landing hours from now.
It could all go horribly wrong: Your ballroom days are over, baby / Night is drawing near / Shadows of the evening / Crawl across the years. Whatever that means, it sounds baleful. Like: the jig is up. We’re onto you, and once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you? Who cares, those shadows are comin’ for you now, and they mean curtains.
Waiting for the Sun tends to lull you into thinking the demonic poet who wants to kill his dad and fuck his mom is mellowing into a pop-songster, and then “Five to One” comes along and makes us wonder when we’re going to see this guy heading for the beach with a bloody machete in one hand and the head of some Fat Cat dangling by its matted hair from the other. Or maybe he’ll just do it in his psychotic dreams as he sprawls in a bathtub letting it all go . . . .
Gonna make it, baby, if we tryyyyyy.