|The Doors in Concert, 1968
Memoirs of the Times and a Special Evening Under the Desert Sky with the Doors
It was a glorious time of my life, although I did not fully appreciate it then. As a new generation of young people, we were deeply embroiled in the process of discovery and emergence as a new voice far removed from our mothers and fathers. We sought to blow their old standbys out of the water with our own distinct brand of musical expression. Music became our new guru, and many of the musicians took forward the cause both on stage and off. Their songs echoed our generations sentiments about our unrest with the status quo, the Vietnam War, sex and drugs. For all of us who became engaged, it really did change us forever.
I was a teenager back in 1968 in Tucson, Arizona - a medium sized Southwestern city thats pretty laid back even now, and that has more than its fair share of liberal inhabitants mixed with a large Hispanic population, cowboy types, and lots of transplants from the Midwest and back east. I would have characterized myself back then as a pretty good kid who liked to walk a little bit on the wild side. I only partially tuned in and dropped out, because I was still under the decree of parental authority. By day, I will claim that I had a pretty big attitude with authority figures at school, and sometimes I was reprimanded and given detention for questioning or arguing with some petty dictator of a teacher, or for wearing my mini skirts beyond the acceptable limit. Overall, however, I wasnt burning down buildings but just being a mild annoyance to the school system. On the weekends, it didnt take much for a friend to convince me to smoke a joint, drop some acid and get a little crazy. We often drove up to the mountains or canyon and spent a marvelous evening listening to our car stereos with sounds blasting out across a cool desert nightfall bursting with stars, enjoying the freedom of being away from everything. At home, my bedroom with its permanently locked door, was my refuge, with its black light posters plastered wall to wall and my stereo as my constant companion. I wrote dark poetry about death and war in between homework assignments. Looking through my dusty old LPs today I find an eclectic mix: Carole King, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, Credence Clearwater Revival, Crosby Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Beck, Cream, The Beatles, Stones, Iron Butterfly, Van Morrison, The Who and of course the DOORS. Every band had its distinct appeal and message for my many teenage hormonal moods. The Doors were never trendy or fit into a niche which is why I feel they have retained their steadfast fans and continue to appeal to new generations. The Doors rose above the novelties of the era and broke out with their own voice. Without Jim Morrison, I am sure that voice would have been a mere whisper.
Jim Morrison was totally magnetic to me then and now. When I looked at his picture back then and listened to his voice I was drawn into some forbidden world. It was clear he wasnt merely some teen idol, but an intellectual, unsteady, sexual firestorm. Fancying myself a poet, I identified with his words and his darkness and his guts to seek out that which wasnt just about love and peace. I will fully admit that I think Jim Morrison was one of the most good-looking men to grace this earth. Having said that, he was a man who was utterly comfortable with his sexuality, knew its power, but didnt make that to be the sum-total of who he was - he had so much more going on. He was a word man and that is what got to you. My girlfriend and I would lay on her bed after smoking a joint and just listen to that first album over and over again. We originally bought the album for the song, Light My Fire, not expecting we would blow our minds over The End. The song The End, was a full-blown journey of drama and suspense with scary twists and turns. Jim turned us on sexually and intellectually and that, my friend, is a powerful combination.
My pitiful teenage prayers were answered when I was actually given permission to go to a Doors concert. This was the kind of happening that every teenage music lover dreams of, and in those days, it was actually affordable, and you didnt have to be in a lottery to get a ticket. Tucson in the Sixties had a lot of drugs to offer but not a lot in the way of music venues. I saw Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Steppenwolf perform in a Roller Skating Rink, for Gods sake! You know back in the day, it was REALLY about the music. Looking back, I realize that we were damned lucky to see the huge names we did. Now, it seems the music industry generally targets only the cities that will guarantee a huge financial return. There were no corporate sponsored mega-venues then, especially for the likes of Tucson. We sometimes went to Phoenix, where there was The Coliseum to see groups if we were lucky, but as typical down-on-our-luck teenagers, we could barely maneuver arrangements to get a ride to the local dance, let alone a 120 mile drive to Phoenix.
The Doors played in Tucson at Hi Corbett Field, a baseball stadium not more than a few miles from where I live (were not talking a big stadium here). The field is situated in the middle of a large city park. The surrounding area is eerily dark and silent as parks are once they have closed down. After the prerequisite smoking of joints and swigging our favorite Boones Farm wine, we had arrived with a great expectation that the Doors would deliver a great concert. We had heard stories from friends in California, and from reading teen magazines, of Jim Morrisons reckless reputation, so everyone was expecting the unexpected. The excitement was palpable for me for one reason and that was Jim Morrison. Dont get me wrong, I love the Doors as a band and respect their collective musical talents, but I was there to see Jim. I wanted desperately to see the man who sang, Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen, to hear his wail and see his beautiful, sullen expressions. Jim was so above us all in the sense that he was able to articulate such beautiful verse at his age, and he seemed to live a life we could only imagine. He embodied a self-possessed freedom we couldnt attain in our safe suburban lives.
The summer night was seasonably warm and incense and pot hung dreamily in the air, when the moment finally arrived and the three Doors situated themselves. Then Jim ambled his way onstage. He exuded the coolness of a man who didnt give two cents about what anyone thought, and it was obvious that he was calling the shots of this gig. Jims presence was formidable, sexual and thrilling beyond words, while the rest of the group seemed out of focus for me in comparison. Morrison didnt have a formula, at least it didnt seem so to me back then, and he looked to be having fun teasing the crowd, bumming a cigarette from the fans and probably getting a sense of the temperature of the gathering. Jim was wearing his leather pants and a jacket and they looked GOOD! (I could never figure out why he wore a jacket in Arizona) No guy I knew wore leather pants at the time, nor were they in style that I knew of, but those tight leather pants looked like they always belonged on him. He didnt look at all pretentious, but rather had a disheveled appearance, as thought he hadnt given any thought to his outfit - and in fact, had probably slept in the damn thing. That made Jim all that more appealing to me, and I loved that his hair was wild and long and messy and the way it clung to his striking face. His expression was somber most of the time, serious and knowing, but when he got into a song, he would close his eyes and turn his head, and you sensed a soulful and deep human being. When he screamed, he exposed himself a little more and you felt like a raw, incomplete being in comparison.
The Tucson audience stood by mesmerized as Jim continued to summon them to come forward. We were all trying to Break on Through in our own way, some physically lunging to the stage, while others were raptly taken in by the music and the moment. I think the highlight for me was when the Doors played Light My Fire. The song was a huge hit then, and it was incredible to hear the music live, cohesively driven by Rays organ solo, Robbies signature guitar riffs and Johns lashing beat, and to feel all this in a warm Arizona summer night surrounded by the crowds excitement; where we all felt we couldnt get much higher. I remember that the concert didnt seem long at all to me, but maybe it was just that it ended in such sudden finality that it left you drained with its intensity.
I cant profess to tell you every detail about a concert that happened thirty-three years ago, nor give you the play list. In fact, most of the concert is a blur; no mementos saved from the night, no photos taken to memorialize the event. The vital images I carry etched in my memory of Jim onstage are that lazy saunter of his, his sardonic expression and those damn leather pants. Looking back, I seem to understand now that Jim made a conscious effort to get the audience riled up. I think he was always looking for ways to break down the conventional barriers we ascribe to and to push the audience towards that sense of freedom that he thought we all needed. I guess that could be conceived of as inciting a riot in some cases, but I think he was aiming for some connection in the milieu of a concert. No one else in my mind ever quite matched that self-possessed attitude or that magnetism.
My memory in general is not all that sharp, so I apologize for the lack of detail you may have hoped for. I can only compare it to looking at an old family photo album from a Christmas past; the photograph may be aged and out of focus and you dont remember the present youre holding, but you do remember the precious sensation and the excitement you felt; the sounds and smells, and even the pattern of your pajamas. That Doors concert has long since passed, but I am grateful the experience is still etched in the fabric of my life.
The live concert experience has certainly changed from The Doors era. No longer do fans need binoculars and perfect vision from Lasik Austin to see the band from a long distance away. Today most concert venues can accommodate large video screens so fans with seats toward the back can still see close-ups of the band during the show.
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