50 years on, The Doors still hold the key

The Doors, comprising (clockwise from left) singer Jim Morrison, drummer John Densmore, lead guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, released their self-titled debut album in 1967.
The Doors, comprising (clockwise from left) singer Jim Morrison, drummer John Densmore, lead guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, released their self-titled debut album in 1967.PHOTO: ELEKTRA RECORDS

LOS ANGELES • The door to The Doors is numbered 420. Technically, it is the entrance to Doors Music Co in West Hollywood.

Should you take 2,000 steps east, you will find yourself at Whisky A Go Go, the nightclub where The Doors reigned half a century ago as the band became the emissaries of sex and death at the centre of the Summer of Love.

Inside 420, platinum and gold plaques occupy wall space.

Singer Jim Morrison, now dead for 46 years, leers, taunts and preens from every angle.

In the conference room, Robby Krieger remains very much alive.

For much of the past year, the lead guitarist has busied himself with a promotional cycle surrounding the self-proclaimed Year of The Doors, commemorating the semi-centennial of the quartet's self-titled debut and follow-up Strange Days, released nine months apart in 1967.

Festivities included Los Angeles proclaiming a Day of The Doors, Krieger throwing the first baseball pitch at Dodgers Stadium and the remastered vinyl reissues.

It has been 50 years since the first song Krieger ever wrote, Light My Fire, topped the charts, but he still quietly mourns the loss of Morrison, who was interred at a Paris cemetery a short four years after the band's career took off.

Krieger was 25 when Morrison died of heart failure in Paris at age 28. Now 71, Krieger has dedicated almost his entire adult life to burnishing the legacy of his youth and trying to transcend it.

He did it first with a pair of Doors albums, without Morrison, before the band finally split up.

In the intervening decades, Krieger has released half a dozen records of jazz-rock fusion, several of which included contributions from Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who died in 2013, and drummer John Densmore.

The Doors split equal songwriting credit among the four members. But when Morrison was the lead singer, it was inevitable that less oxygen exists for the other members.

Few know that Krieger wrote three of their highest-charting singles (Love Her Madly, Touch Me and Light My Fire). Even though it is a story he has told thousands of times, there is a certain simplistic thrill to hear Krieger explain the spark behind the band's biggest hit.

"I asked Jim what should I write about and he said, 'Write about something universal', so I decided to write about earth, air, fire or water," Krieger said.

"I picked fire because I liked that song by The Rolling Stones, Play With Fire. The words just came to me. I'd never heard anyone say those three words together before."

Krieger was just 20 when he wrote the song that has endured for half a century.

This idea of youth is central to the mythology and perpetual vitality of The Doors. Every generation is seduced anew by the band's autonomic rebelliousness, grandiosity and epic sweep that encompassed French Symbolist poetry, Bavarian beer-hall stomp, Athenian drama and alluvial Southern blues.

The Doors' reputation in rock circles may have declined over the years, but it is in rap where one can see their modern influence most dramatically. Kanye West sampled Five To One for Jay-Z's Takeover.

Densmore, meanwhile, has retained a seeker's curiosity and a poetic spirit at age 72.

"A lot of the time, I sit around depressed about the current situation with a few maniacs running the world and then I think, 'How...did I ever get through seeing a little girl napalmed on television (during the Vietnam War) every night?'

"It was just horrific, but our (generation's) protests helped stop the war and if we got through that, we can get through Trump.

"So I try to look at him as the catalyst coalescing everyone who's been semi-asleep - and that assuages my depression."

As they say, one door closes, but another door opens. And Morrison and gang still hold the key to unlock a brave new world.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline '50 years on, The Doors still hold the key'. Print Edition | Subscribe