Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Defending the Doors

Chuck Klosterman, recently released a new book of essays on pop culture. This isn't much of a surprise because, aside from one novel, the only books or magazine articles that Klosterman writes are ones about pop culture. Since he is one of my favorite authors, when I saw that he had an interview with the Onion's AV Club, I was happy to read it. You can read it here too.

One of the questions lead to a Klosterman musing about classic rock radio and how the scope is getting larger when it should be getting smaller. This lead the interviewer to ask which bands should be dumped, and Klosterman suggested the Doors. Here's a bit of the interview:

AVC: Are you scared of a world in which Weezer is viewed as part of the classic-rock canon? You write about them in the new book.
CK: I would like that, although I would have to concede that if that happened, the rock canon would have to be a lot bigger. I’m a fan of Weezer, but if they’re looked at as one of the greatest bands of all time, we must have expanded the definition of greatness. Which is always happening a little bit. The rock canon is bigger now than it was in the ’70s, and it’ll always get a little bigger. We add people more often than we kick people out.
AVC: I can’t think of any that have been kicked out recently.
CK: I feel like The Doors are on the cusp of being kicked out.
AVC: I would kick The Doors out. Would you?
CK: I would be one of the people advocating their removal from the canon. [Laughs.] As if I have any say in it!

It's not just Klosterman, during the last couple of years the backlash against the Doors has grown and I'm not exactly sure why. Are they the greatest group that ever walked the planet? No. Their lyrics are a bit pretentious, Jim Morrison really can't sing very well, keyboardist Ray Manzarek seems like a humorless prick who's way too impressed with himself, you can't really dance to their tunes and their songs are not fun for parties—except for “Peace Frog”.

Having said all that, they're really not a bad band. The drumming and guitar work by John Densmore and Robbie Krieger are excellent. Their sound is unique—it's hard to confuse the Doors with anyone else and that has a lot to do with Mazarek's organ playing—and their lyrics reflect a time in the United States where a lot of people were pretentious. Morrison may not be able to sing very well, but if you look up the definition of a rock star, his picture would be next to it. The man was a larger-than-life counter-culture figure who could be infuriating, but that's rock and roll.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where the Doors were my absolute favorite band in the world. I had a few Doors posters plastered on my walls at home and at school, I played their CDs constantly, I thought that it was awesome to get absolutely plastered like Morrison and I must have watched the Oliver Stone movie at least once a weekend. I bought into the whole image of what I thought that a Doors fan should be.

Yes, there were some embarrassing moments—walking down the freshman girls hall acting like Jim Morrison is not one of my fondest college memories—but for the most part, my infatuation with the band was harmless*.

* Though, I suppose that if you ask my roommates the same question, they'd give you a different answer. Much like they would say that their infatuation with Phish was harmless, though I'd say that listening to “Junta” or “Hoist” 50 times in a row almost drove me mad.

I look back on that portion of my life with fondness (even the embarrassing incidents) as it was a big part of the soundtrack to a great chunk of my life and it made me who I am today. Jim Morrison is probably not the best role model for a young teenager or a father, but for a college kid who just lost the parental shackles, he's one that many have had. And while he lived on excess and being uncontrollable, acting like Morrison wasn't my thing and that's an important discovery to make. Finding out what you like is easy, finding out what you don't like is a bit more difficult and just as important.

To be honest, the reason why I started liking the was band because I wanted to impress a girl. I had never even heard of the Doors until early 1991, and this was after Stone's movie was a hit in the theaters. As luck would have it, the hottest girl in our school had a last name that began with the letter M, which is the same letter that begins mine. We were in the same home room and our lockers were right next to each other. One day she began talking about the Doors and how much she loved them, especially Jim Morrison. She asked me if I had heard of them before and of course, I said yes.

For some reason, my younger brother had the Doors movie soundtrack on CD, so I swiped it that night and listened to it over and over and over until I felt like I was able to talk to that girl about the band. The plan sorta worked, the next day I spoke to her about songs and the band and Morrison and I think that she may have been impressed. However, it never went any farther than that—though the songs wormed into my head and I began to really like them. I kept buying more and more albums, read more books, watched as many documentaries as I could—by the time I went to college, I knew as much about the Doors as I did about anything else.

It seems that every music fan goes through certain phases as they try to figure out what type of music fant they're going to be: there's the Beatles phase (hardly anyone loses that), there's the Led Zeppelin phase (ditto), there's the KISS phase (that peters out by the end of junior high school), there's the rap and hip hop phase (take that, mom and dad!--especially if you're a white kid in the suburbs.). Somewhere there's a phase for “adult rock” like the Doors or Pink Floyd or Rush. These are bands that to a high school or college-aged kid sounds a bit more sophisticated (both musically and lyrically) than the stuff that they listened to before.

Most of the discussions tend to be about how “deep” and “meaningful” the lyrics are and how Jim Morrison really “could be the last great, American poet”. These conversations between teenage fans seem to be mature because the topics being discussed are high-brow stuff like poetry and the symbolism of lyrics, but most people get past this and move on to other things. And while I did get past these sort of discussions, I never got past the music—so I suppose I'm stuck in this phase, but that's not the worst thing in the world.

Like I said before, the Doors' songs are interwoven into my life and memories, so it's too hard to simply pick that thread out and throw it away. The fact is, no matter how hip a person claims to be and how “into music” that they say they are, there's always going to be a band that a person loves, though many people actively despise. Klosterman is unapologetic about being stuck in his KISS phase, so I'm not even sure why I should be expected to dump the Doors.

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