Late last year, fellow rock author Mick Wall and I decided to review each other's new books on our respective blogs. Here are some words about his: Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre: A Biography Of The Doors.
One of the first music books I ever read as a teenager was the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Even in 1982, more than a decade after his death, that cover photo of a bare-chested Jim seemed to be everywhere. A friend had a poster of it on her wall and she lent me the book. It was a good read, but left you with the impression that Morrison was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a prick.
Reading Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre is illuminating because a) I haven’t overdosed on the Doors’ story or music, and b) author Mick Wall pulls few punches when laying into the myth of Morrison and the 1960s. As Mick points out, part of keeping the Morrison/Doors brand alive has involved his former bandmatesJohn Densmore, Robbie Krieger and the now late Ray Manzarek shaping the ‘truth’ about their dead singer to fit their current partyline. This kind of revisionism isn’t just confined to The Doors; any group dragging the legacy of a dead band member around will do the same. It’s just what they do.
That Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre begins with Jim Morrison zonked out on the lavatory in a Paris nightclub is a fair indication of what follows. But it’s not all sex, drugs and bog deaths. Wall makes a strong case for The Doors’ music and Love Becomes… is great at detailing how they made that music with input from interviewees such as producer Bruce Botnik and Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. Be warned, though: after reading about the making of the Strange Days or Waiting For The Sun albums, you’ll lose an hour or two digging out the music or scouring You Tube for clips such as this.
So, yes, the music gets a good look in, but Wall also recounts in sometimes hilarious eye-popping detail how Jim Morrison morphed from a shy, chubby army brat into a drug-guzzling, priapic rock monster. After a few chapters, you almost can feel your own heart valves protesting as gentleman Jim shoves another line up his nose or necks another handful of pills.
Mick works hard to explain that what made Morrison such a mercurial and charismatic star probably made him a bit of a prick the rest of the time. He salutes Morrison’s talent but also bemoans the fact that he pissed and snorted it away. There’s sex too, and lots if it (Jim’s ex-wife Patricia Kennealy and former lover ‘Miss Pamela’ are among the interviewees). In fact, this will be the only music biography you’ll read this year – or any other – to mention Velvet Underground singer Nico’s, er, “livery, sweet labia”.
Ultimately, this is a fast, frantic, sad, funny, riotous, very grown-up re-telling of The Doors’ story. Those who prefer to ignore the seamier aspects of the 1960s or their favourite bands, and don’t want to believe that their idols have feet of clay will struggle with aspects of it. Everyone else should dive in and get drunk/stoned on the experience. Just don’t end up dead on the lavatory.