With all this in mind, I went to see a California band called The Doors at the Alexandria Roller Rink. It was the first time I’d been there, although much to my dismay I’d missed the Yardbirds there twice. The Doors were the headliners, preceded by a battle of the bands won by the Warlocks, as I recall.
This concert marked a new beginning for me. I’d been to scores of local rave-ups, but things changed forever. It was just before I left for my first year at William & Mary, because I remember a real sense of impending change and separation.
I was fairly close to the stage, maybe 30 yards out. At first, we’d all taken seats on the floor in very orderly fashion, but that was lost as The Doors generated some pre-entrance excitement. I’d heard “Light My Fire” but nothing else, so I was totally unprepared.
Robbie Krieger, John Dunsmore and Ray Manzarek took the stage. Krieger, playing a Gibson SG, started cranking into “Back Door Man,” his sound sinister and leathery. The other two joined in, and the sound got dense, powerful. But where was the bass player? And the singer? The music slightered into the audience for a minute, then this guy jumped from the wings of the stage up to the mike, as if literally from nowhere, and half shouted, half screamed, “OH YEAH. I’M A BACK DOOR MAN!” It was an incredible entrance, the coiled snake striking, and with it came a sense of menace.
Jim Morrison looked partly drunk, partly possessed, a man who could look at you and see nothing and everything at once. Glazed eyes, heavy lids. Riveting. We were birds staring helplessly at the Lizard King, unable to look away.
I was totally taken. The tug took on new meanings. Here was a presence, and here were new sounds, totally NEW, not Beatles clones, not Yardbirds and Stones covers. And the lyrics were there, poetic, bold strokes on canvas.
They ran through a bunch of material off that first album—“Crystal Ship,” “Take It Easy,” many others. The showstopper was the epic “The End.” There had been nothing like it before, nor would there be anything quite like it after. Morrison was totally absorbed in his vision. At one point, as he was singing, he had both hands clenched on the mike, holding it like some post of reality to cling to, when suddenly his feet started rising off the stage. He was lifting himself off the floor!
The band played like the guys knew they had an audience of fresh ears, and they weren’t so big yet that their sound had that fill-the-coliseum muffled roar (as when I saw them later at Meriweather Post Pavilion). This was more intimate. We in the roller rink were being taken on a very special ride. “C’mon, baby, take a ride with us.”
All of which made “The End” more spectacular. I believed Morrison, there in his leather pants, sinewy mannerisms and cobra stare—this WAS the end, of everything that stands, my friend.
From the song’s opening intervals, the music built and built, the broke into its inexorable gallop, with Morrison yipping insanely. The rhythm kept wrapping tighter and tighter, coiling, squeezing, pushing, constricting, swelling in volume until there was nowhere left to go except over the edge into pure white frenzy, an Oedipal orgasm of sound, noise and lyric. “Kill Kill Kill.” The wordsound exploded into mind-numbing dimension. It was a nuclear bomb with no survivors, or more like a white-hot orgasm burning through the thousand layers of consciousness to reach some molten core where all identity melted (melded?) and was lost.
To look back, on many levels it was very adolescent, a song with such an erotic climax and a theme so blatantly patricidal. But at the moment, the musical experience was like entering a new state of being. I was drained and fulfilled. I was a virgin then (really!), so I had no sexual frame of reference, but I’d later know the equivalent feeling. Only even that is not a true parallel.
I went out to the car and sat for at least 15 minutes. I wanted to savor the moment, burn it into my memory and try to collect my wits enough so I could drive. Along with a couple of Hendrix concerts and one U2 gig, that Doors show was one of the best I’ve seen. It was seminal. The power, the vast raw energy of rock ’n’ roll had been displayed, laid at my feet and driven into my soul as never before.
The TUG had struck its harpoon into my chest, never to let go.