Saturday, July 3, 2010

When You're Strange

It's easy to dismiss the Doors. It can be easy to laugh at those who would emulate Morrison and/or elevate him to some exalted status as "shaman." Hey, the guy was a good crooner, and he took some chances.

I've heard folks dismiss the sound of the band, but, compared to the peace and love jams of the time, the band rode a dark carnival funeral procession of bad trip show biz blues.

Did the band sometimes devolve into buffoonery? Sure. However, they could also drive simple pop up the charts like sure-footed purveyors of the American song. And in the midst of over-reaching into artiness, there was a sincere attempt to grapple with the ineffable...and for my money, the times the band fell off this tightrope were balanced by the moments the band touched upon an expression of solid profundity.

It was this particular combination that prodded the band into popular success, rather than relegated to being a connoisseur's precious, obscure footnote, such as hipsters can smugly exalt while poo-pooing the Doors. Untimely death made a legend of Morrison, as it usually does, as just a product of the death cult inherent in Western culture. I, for one, would have preferred a fat old beer drinking Jim living past youth gaining the wisdom of survival, as opposed to only the cult of the eternally young and dumb and full of come Lizard King, but that wasn't how it was meant to be.

The 20th century is a dead museum, and as time speeds up, we also have time enough to look back on the icons of that century past. The new documentary, "When You're Strange," allows us that loooking back with a clear eye on the lives and times of the short-lived pop group. Stripped of any "talking head" interviews with survivors and contemporary commentators, the narration by Johnny Depp tells the story like a recitation of a biography, while the imagery relies solely on archival footage of the band. It's the most balanced approach I've seen to documenting/summarizing the Doors.

Love 'em, hate 'em, or neutral on the subject, the documentary presents the band as it was. And, when all is said done, after all, they were just a band. I, for one, have found many reasons over the course of a life spent listening to and collecting an abundance and variety of music and transcendentally (or not) stupid bands, to find solace often in returning to the Doors.


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