Poetry of the Lizard King
Why you should be reading Jim Morrison's poetry, even if you aren't a Doors fan
You may know him as Mr. Mojo Risin, the psychedelic rock god of The Doors or you may know him as just a disturbing and strange artist who joined the famed 27 Club with his death on July 3, 1971. Both accounts would be true. Love him or hate him, James Douglas Morrison created a counter culture movement of rage that filled the 60s in stark opposition to the positive message of love from contemporaries John Lennon. Instead, Morrison tapped into the collective conscious of a generation enraged and disturbed by its wars and conspiracies and failures. Its betrayals.
Despite his fame as a singer, Morrison saw himself primarily as a poet who was interested in film studies and screenwriting. He moved from Melbourne, FL to LA to attend UCLA's film school. Drawn to absurdism, surrealism, and offbeat works, he was inspired by authors like Kerouac, Kafka, Balzac, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire, to name a few. His poetry tested boundaries and made bold, unforgiving statements.
His longest piece was "Celebration of the Lizard," which was put to audio in the album Waiting for the Sun and was frequently performed live with as much animation as the famed performances of "The End" and its Oedipal theatrics. "Celebration" contains many movements competing in absurdity in places, but coming together to form a story of a journey searching for meaning--perhaps realizing there is none.
Indeed, what marks Morrison's poetry is a repeating theme of refusal, perhaps a rejection of life's expectations and an invitation to embrace its senselessness instead. He often remarks on the first time he saw death as a young boy when he and his family drove by a road accident in the desert, and he uses the lines, "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding...ghosts crowd the young child's fragile, eggshell mind." Haunting him, the fascination of Native American culture remained strong with Morrison, seen often in his trance-like dances on stage.
Consider these lines from "Stoned Immaculate" where he ends the poem:
Let me tell you about heartache
And the loss of god.
In hopeless night.
Out here in the perimeter
There are no stars,
Out here we is stoned
The term "wondering" instead of the expected "wandering" equates the two actions. Yes, the use of drugs was a common transient for Morrison to "break on through to the other side" and discover meaning. To wonder about life is to wander in life out in hopelessness where there are no stars, only loss of god. There is a beautiful sadness to the imagery as well as a strength--we are still immaculate beings on the perimeter where there is nothing and where we have to make our existence loud and real. Morrison often took this literally in performances, creating his trademark scream.
Morrison's poetry screams the demand that we be our own selves and stop following what society tells us we should want. Stop enslaving ourselves. There are many things he says about this need for freedom, both in his poems and in other instances. Consider the following quotations gathered from goodreads:
"The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first."
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”
“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself-and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That's what real love amounts to - letting a person be what he really is.”
"You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
“I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.”
“I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos-especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom... Rather than starting inside, I start outside and reach the mental through the physical.”
He took the philosophy so many of us wish we were brave enough to embrace. In essence, it's about the journey. The genuine journey that only you yourself can embark on. His poetry is a collection of reflections on that journey: insane, ethereal, damning, divine, breathtaking, maddening, surreal, illogical. It's all there.
Read some of his poetry yourself, and if you find yourself itching for more, check out The Lords and The New Creatures, his only works published during his lifetime, as well as Wilderness, the first volume of lost writings, and The American Night, the second volume. If you're interested in hearing them spoken aloud, listen to the last Doors album, An American Night, which is a compilation the remaining band members compiled of his spoken word put to music (below).