I always find it interesting to discover mergings, connections, and cross-fertilization across the arts. Fusions, juxtaposition, new combinations. And one of the most interesting of these, for me, is when Rock stars are influenced heavily by great novelists, poets and philosophers. Especially if the range is wide, and influence is not just on the surface. One such case was Jim Morrison of The Doors.
Morrison lived the life of a nomad, growing up with a father in the military who eventually became an admiral. They moved frequently. Perhaps that nomadic existence pushed Morrison into the philosophy of Nietzsche, another wanderer, and into the poetry of Rimbaud, who may have set records along those lines.
Morrison was an alumnus of UCLA, completing his degree in Film. Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), the actor, poet and dramatist, was an early influence. Morrison and his bandmates (including Ray Manzarek, a fellow UCLA student) got the name for their band from William Blake, by way of Aldous Huxley. Celine was another big influence, especially his Journey to the End of the Night. There are obvious echoes in an early song, “End of the Night.” Morrison wrote often about dramatic endings to long journeys. He was also intrigued by The Beats, by the Jack Kerouac of On the Road, who also drew from Rimbaud and Nietzsche.
Joseph Campbell was another major influence on his song writing and poetry. Morrison had the same love of mythology, symbol and allegory that seems almost a requirement for artists in the 20th century. Frazer’s Golden Bough was foundational, as it was for Campbell. He was especially drawn to Native American mythology, which was one of Campbell’s focal points and a part of the zeitgeist in the 60s.
I think of Hemingway when I read about how Morrison often referred to a traumatic event in his childhood, describing the tragic highway accident of Native Americans he and his family had seen from the road. His family remembered the accident quite differently. Hemingway often exaggerated incidents from his life and created an auto-mythology he continuously drew upon for inspiration. Morrison recaptured the event in song and poetry and it became of part of his own myth.
In 1971, Morrison moved to Paris. He wanted to be a poet, perhaps a French poet like Baudelaire and Rimbaud. He wanted to live the Left Bank life he encountered in books, the ex-pat heaven of the 20s and 30s. Morrison died some four months later, probably of an overdose of heroin, though the details are not fully known. The best possible witness, his common-law wife, Pamela Courson, died some three years later. We may never know the truth.
Morrison was only twenty-seven.
It’s too obvious a point to make that he lived hard and died all too young. The meteoric rise and fall. The choice of the hero, perhaps. Cuchulain’s choice. But a less obvious point is to think of that parallel life he may have lived. Connecting his influences, going over his literary and philosophical background and his life experiences . . . I think of the literature he could have created had he lived. Easy to dismiss all of that . . . . some might say. Because he was, after all, a Rock star. But not so easy if we consider his reported IQ of 149, and his artistic precursors. His elective affinities. At twenty-seven, many great writers were still using training wheels. What would Morrison have done given time to throw his away?