By Al Kaufman
Jim Morrison will not die. Almost 30 years after his death, the rock and roll shaman still holds many a follower in his drunken sway. By the time he died in Paris in 1971, he was a bloated, alcoholic, ragamuffin, whose poetry had been reduced to “drunken gibberish,” according to Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Yet, like Elvis and Michael Jackson, death made him great again to mythical proportions. Tom DiCillo’s When You’re Strange is the latest attempt to revive those free-thinking times in which Morrison and the Doors overblown, apocalyptic songs and melodies flourished. They struck a chord with every disillusioned teen and Vietnam protester, and also to a lot of women who wanted to try to get inside Morrison’s whirling mind as much as his leather pants. The Doors were the perfect mix of psychedelia and freedom, of spirituality and sexuality. Plus they were all incredible musicians. Morrison’s mesmerizing but heavy-handed rants would not have stood up over time without Manzarek’s swirling keyboards, Robby Krieger’s heavy guitars, and John Densmore’s moody percussion. The bottom line is that the Doors, though not to everybody’s liking, were a great band, and great bands do not die.
DiCillo’s latest resurrection of the band is a documentary that wisely stays away from present day interviews of people trying to relive their cloudy pasts. Instead, the film is simply clips and concert footage of the band, narrated by the man who never met an idiosyncratic alcoholic he didn’t like, Johnny Depp. The idea was simply to show the Doors in all their chaotic, hypnotic glory. The soundtrack follows the same path. It essentially serves as another Doors greatest hits album. There are some nice live cuts, including the famous version of “Light My Fire” on the Ed Sullivan Show, in which Morrison “forgot” to change the lyrics from “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl we couldn’t get much better,” thus banning the band from ever appearing on the show again.
The CD is peppered with snippets of interviews from the band that reveal nothing, as well as Johhny Depp reading excerpts — one or two lines only — from some of Morrison’s poetry (as well as William Blake’s “The Doors of Perception,” from which the band derived its name) in his sleepy, sexy way. Unlike the passionate live versions of songs such as “When the Music’s Over” and “Roadhouse Blues,” which demonstrate the passion, beauty, and sheer talent that the Doors possesed, these readings and interviews essentially add nothing to the experience. This CD is about the music, and is a great primer for people who were wondering what all the fuss was about back then.