Music has always played a very important role in my life and one album, above all else, has stood head-and-shoulders above the rest for over 23 years: An American Prayer.
I probably discovered The Doors after hearing Light My Fire or some such single on the radio. I soon had all of their studio albums but eventually learned of what has become the best selling spoken word album of all time: An American Prayer.
The album’s poetry was mostly recorded in New York City on Tuesday December 8, 1970 and, after Jim Morrison died, it was “re-worked” into an album, along with music by the surviving Doors members.
A cassette tape copy of that album found its way into my hands about 1988 or 1989 or so and, quite literally, slowly changed my life.
Former Doors producer, Paul Rothchild, called the album the “rape” of Jim Morrison but I like to think that it is a final gift from a damaged, yet deeply talented, man.
I don’t know how many hundreds of times I’ve listened to An American Prayer, with its lines of beauty such as:
Words be quick
Words resemble walking sticks
Plant them they will grow
Watch them waver so
I had never read or listened to much poetry before. Sure, I liked William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience but that was about it. I absorbed the beauty of An American Prayer and bought the three poetry books of Jim Morrison and read those. There was a contemporariness about them which I found appealing and could relate to, unlike the words of Shakespeare of Chaucer, beautiful though they may be.
Jim Morrison was brilliant, stupid, wise, ignorant, trapped, and free.
And he was dead less than 8 months after recording his poetry.
Dead, aged 27.
Forever young and an image of perfection which he so hated, the “Young Lion” portrait that came to hang around his neck like a noose. It’s why he grew fat and bearded.
A desperate bid to escape “Light My Fire.”
And so I shall most likely spend the rest of my life listening to An American Prayer and struggle to understand it.
One bit of poetry – the first three stanzas – which didn’t make it into the album but which goes to explain our lives is as follows:
Time works like acid
You see time fly
The face changes as the heart beats
We are not constant
We are an arrow in flight
The sum of the angles of change
Towards the end of his life Morrison – though only a few years older from the picture taken above – looked nothing like his earlier self. Upset at not being taken seriously and perhaps feeling tied down by his rock star past, he sought to make a break – into film or publishing.
He escaped to Paris with his girlfriend/muse/wife, Pamela, to re-generate himself but, unfortunately, only found death. A few years later, Pamela herself met the same fate as Jim. She was also 27 when she died.
What Jim Morrison – and his band mates – did leave behind is an extraordinary collection of music… poetry… art. Morrison never artistically compromised himself – or his art – and you’ll never hear Doors songs used in commercials. On this point I have nothing but the greatest of respect for him.
Happy 69th birthday, Jim.