Opening doors of perception

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By Shailendra Ahangama

This is one band that is perhaps one of the most personal to me. I remember first hearing the driving, fluid organ melody to Light My Fire. I remember simply being mesmerised by the thick, hazy production of the song. Then I remember the invoking of a particular curiosity within me, this band was incredible! They were so unique compared to anything else I had heard before. In retrospect, The Doors most certainly had opened a particular door of perception for me.

The year is 1965, right in the middle of the counterculture movement, lead singer Jim Morrison meets keyboardist Ray Manzarek at film school, and through mutual friends, meets guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore. The quartet takes their name from Aldous Huxley’s novel The Doors of Perception. 

Their debut released fairly late in 1967, The Doors depict a style of music akin to the one in which Huxley writes in the book that inspired them. Moody and intense, yet weaving drawn out psychedelia into the mixture and presenting lyrics on love (Light My Fire and I Looked at You) and philosophical commentaries (The End and Take It as It Comes).

 The band’s discography is an aural experience of its own; their second album Strange Days (1967) touches on harrowing melodies and tense rhythms. The Soft Parade (1969) utilises strings and highlights Morrison’s strong Sinatra influences. The Doors have essentially never been stagnant with their sound; they’ve gone into rollicking rhythms (Break on Through), absurdist epics (The End), as well as incandescent ballads (Love Street). 

Manzarek, perhaps one of the greatest keyboardists in the recent decades, is a brilliant creator of mood and atmosphere and Morrison’s deep, resonant crooning coupled with Krieger’s underrated ability and versatility as a guitarist and Densmore’s skilful drumming contribute to the band’s signature sound of mysterious, mystic psychedelia.

Personally, what I find intriguing about The Doors is despite how they were frequently grouped with other bands of the ’60s, they really stood out with a sound of their own. They certainly were not the exuberant, joyous sounds of The Beach Boys and The Turtles. They did not wield any blazing, legendary expertise like ‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’. Neither did they fall into the songwriter category of Joni Mitchell and Donovan. 

The Doors drifted into a sultrier, darker sound, not necessarily one with edge, but rather, solitude’s perfect soundtrack. If the aforementioned bands were the ones perfect to soundtrack a party, then The Doors would be congruent for the contemplative after party, to sit outside in a lonely light of yellow and lose one’s self in the expansive, intricate soundscape they masterfully craft. 

Yet at the same time, there was a sense of liberty and freedom that The Doors were inspired by, since another crucial literary influence on the band was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The Doors, overall, had a sound that signified the end of the counterculture movement; a slow drift of uncertainty from the ’60s to the ’70s, from events such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War that the band was able to perfectly capture. 

Fifty years after their inception and long after Morrison’s death, The Doors still have a huge, indelible impact on music today. Krieger has influenced many guitarist’s to explore different styles in their playing, Manzarek remains to be one of the greatest keyboardists in rock music, revolutionising the role of the keyboard in bands at the time. 

Yet of course the greatest component that attributed to the band’s iconic sound and image was Morrison’s mystic, magnetic swagger as a frontman. Morrison’s influence has reached over a myriad of bands; adored by figures such as Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, INXS’s Mitch Hutchence, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith. Even Sri Lanka’s very own musician Buddhi De Mal, who has recently released a concept album, has cited The Doors as an influence in his music and has gone on to collaborate with Robby Krieger.

 In essence, The Doors were a band that brilliantly created sounds of psychedelic mysticism unique to them, a band that presented intriguing depictions of human behaviour and tried to understand the unknown, tried to rationalise the mysterious nature of people (People are Strange is the epitome of this theme); yet it was in this philosophical haze of romanticising and idolising the beyond and the unknown that intrigued and touched many, myself included.