Jesus and Jim Morrison, Doors and Ladders
This was one of the central points in Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled. It is not possible for me to do justice to the richness and depth of Bailie's argument (for one thing, it's been about a decade since I read it), but he draws out the anthropological implications of Christianity, demonstrating how it has shaped the Western mind and soul -- and the world -- and helped to mitigate the damaging effects of mankind's innate religiosity. To quote Bailie, "cultures have forever commemorated some form of sacred violence at their origins and considered it a sacred duty to reenact it in times of change." In fact,
"History is the relentless chronicle of violence that it is because when cultures fall apart they fall into violence, and when they revive themselves they do so violently. Primitive religion is the institution that remembers the reviving violence mythologically and ritually reenacts its spellbinding climax. Primitive religion grants one form of violence a moral monopoly, endowing it with enough power and prestige to preempt other forms of violence and restore order. The famous distinction between 'sacred' and 'profane' is born as the culture glorifies the decisive violence (sacred) that brought an episode of chaotic violence (profane) to an end and made warriors worshippers."
However, "the logic of sacred violence is nowhere expressed more succintly nor repudiated more completely than in the New Testament," which "reproduces the myths and mechanisms of primitive religion only to explode them, reveal their perversities, and declare allegiance to the Victim of them."
Again, a full explanation of Bailie's ideas will have to await a later post. But looked at in this way, we can immediately understand how the clash between Christendom and Islam is not fundamentally a clash of religions, but a clash between primordial religion and the cure for it. Again, the primordial, default religion of mankind is human sacrifice, which the Islamists enact in the most transparent manner. The Palestinians, for example, glorify human sacrifice in away not seen since the Aztec.
But so too do supposedly "irreligious," secular people revert to mankind's default religion and worship sacred violence. This was obviously true of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, both of which ran on innocent human blood, on the mesmerizing spectacle of sacred violence. This is because it is not possible for human beings to not be religious. If you are not properly religious, then I guarantee that your mind has simply reverted to mythology.
For example, at this moment, sacred violence is being enacted by leftists in France. As David Horowitz has exhaustively chronicled, violence has always been central to the left. It is an inherently destructive and violent movement that either covertly or overtly worships violence. This explains everything from why they idealize monsters such as Arafat, Castro, and Hugo Chavez, to why they wear Che Guevara t-shirts. Here again, I don't want to dwell on something so obvious, but move on to my main point.
The other day, as I usually do, I stopped off at a used record store after work, which is my way of "decompressing." In this case, I picked up a Doors compilation. It's not that I'm a big fan or anything. Rather, it was a frivolous exercise in pure nostalgia. A guilty pleasure. Frankly, their first album in particular brings me right back to when I was 11 years old, which happened to be an especially idyllic time for me. I am not the least bit interested in the mythology that came to envelop Jim Morrison, what with his juvenile poetry and pathetic alcoholism. Rather, I place them in the same category as the Monkees, Donovan, Herman's Hermits, Lovin' Spoonful, and other acts I enjoyed as an eleven year-old. (Although, to be fair, I wouldn't place the Doors in the same lofty category as the Monkees.)
As I have noted before, something happened to culture in general and music in particular right around that time. For one thing, instead of simply being a form of background entertainment, music quite obviously came to the foreground and literally became the sacrament of a new form of religion.
But in keeping with our theme, it was actually a very old form of religion -- the form of religion that Christianity is here to rescue us from -- and Jim Morrison became one of its archetypal prophets. It is possible that he is the most heavily mythologized of all rock stars, surpassing even Elvis in this regard, since Elvis was never a part of the counter culture, at least after he entered the army in 1958.
In the past, I have discussed the appalling ordeal of reading the liner notes of historically important CDs, which always dissect the music from a drearily leftist viewpoint. Therefore, as you might expect, a Doors collection will be the worst violator in this regard.
In fact, there are two sets of liner notes, and I think you'll agree that they are quite instructive. The first set is by an author of some apparent renown, T.C. Boyle. My intimate acquaintance with literature tails off rather sharply after writers such as Joyce, Henry Miller, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mann, Faulkner, Hesse, Chandler, et al, so I have no idea whether this man is regarded as a genius or a complete hack. But based upon these liner notes and the many literary awards he has received, he certainly appears to be the latter.
Remember the other day, when I mentioned that being only 11 years old in 1967 is probably what saved me from being swallowed up by the cultural changes at the time, and that if I had been a bit older, I wasn't sure if I would have escaped? Well, Boyle was a bit older. He doesn't say exactly how old, but he descibes himself as a "sexually starved young man," for whom the Doors first album was clearly a kind of religious experience. He even talks about the photos of Morrison "in all his posing glory, a pose I've emulated a thousand times since..." He says, "NASA didn't take us to outer space -- the Doors did."
Again, religion. But what type of religion? A commenter mentioned the other day that the 1960s generation was the first to actually -- and tragically, because it meant that the reality principle was compromised -- vanquish their parents in the ancient oedipal struggle. Boyle writes that until he heard The End -- in which Morrison murders his father and "f***s" (such poetry!) his mother -- "I never knew how much I hated my parents.... That they should have given birth to me? Oh fuck."
Already we see all the elements of the anti-religious religion of the left: the valorization of sex, violence, and meaninglessness, the narcissistic giving birth to oneself, the assault on tradition -- it's all there. To suggest, as some commenters have, that this cultural shift was trivial, strikes me as quite myopic. For example, there is no hint of this in Sinatra's classic Capitol albums of the 1950s, which represent a particular high water mark in American culture. And if someone makes a dopey comment about sex only being discovered in the 1960s, let us just stipulate that they do not have ears to hear, and move on.
Boyle writes of another Doors song, that it spoke of "all the shit of the wrong war, the bad war, the war that makes America the enemy." It is "there for us to feel in our veins, that bass, that thump, redeem me, motherfucker" [emphasis mine; likewise, below].
So, this new redemptive religion of the left is a peaceful, non-violent one, right?
Er, no. Boyle writes of the song Five to One, "This is the anthem, us against them.... Just quote it. Just remember those sacred words. Hate. Mindfuck. Revolution."
Okay. Now we have the holy trinity of the psychological left: Hate. Mindfuck. Revolution. At least he's honest.
"I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the Doors spoke to me in a secret, outrageous, never-before-spoken way. We shared the same aesthetic. The same politics.... This is where art twisted in your heart and your brain till you didn't know who you were and couldn't begin to imagine it."
(To paraphrase a Van der Leunism, "don't get in my way, I'm writing as bad as I can!")
"These songs saved me. They preserved me. For better or worse, they stuck in me like darts from hell, or maybe heaven, and made me who I was then and who I am now. And what do I have to say about that? I say Hallelujah! ....I say, Mother, I want to -- Oh, yeah."
Oh yeah! Where's my Grammy for best liner notes of 2003?!
So the purpose of art is not to communcate transcendent meaning or to reveal the noetic light shining through the aesthetic form. No. Good art pierces you with darts from hell and twists in your heart and brain until you don't know who you are and can't begin to imagine it. In short, it is nihilistic to the core. It is anti-art.
I think I'll skip the second set of liner notes by antiquated FM deejay Jim Ladd. Well, maybe just a taste. He too is at pains to emphasize that this is not just music, but religion, by godlessness! It "speaks to something primal, something ancient," and is "the same thing shamans have been doing for thousands of years. But how many holy men can recount that experience as well as the Doors?"
Ahem. He's obviously never heard of the Monkees.
He says that "when you close your eyes this music will perform its magic; all you have to do is listen." Thus, another key component of primitive religiosity, which is to say, magic. Later he adds, this is "primal stuff.... This is pagan sex. Dance-on-fire sex. Sex without shame or even forethought. This is sex with a backbeat. Pleasure in a poem. Lust in a guitar lick. A Vox orgasm.... This is about cutting the cord of conscious thought and letting go. It's about awareness. Sex. Death. Rebirth. Life." (This is about a guy who is obviously angling for a Boyle Prize in bombastic prose.)
In another implicit knock on the poor Monkees, Ladd writes, "no one could ever mistake The Doors for one of those prefab boy bands." Which is insanely ironic, since The Doors are the greatest example of what you might call "postfab" (i.e., postfabricated) mythologizing the rock world has ever known. I mean, please: "Turn up the volume, then turn out the lights. You don't want anything to distract you from what you are about to see. Just let your mind go where the music takes you, let the magic come inside you, and don't be afraid to let go of everything you have been told."
Now, as I said, this is all postfab mythologizing of the most crass sort. Just to show you what I mean -- and how quickly the past can pass into myth -- I have before me the Rolling Stone Record Guide. Specifically, I have the first edition, from 1979, and a newer edition, from 1992. The differences in the way the Doors are regarded are quite instructive.
The earlier edition summarizes the band's contribution with the following wise words: "The Doors take their place in pop history as the progenitors of a whole wave of teenybopper anti-icons, the genuine precursors of Alice Cooper and Kiss." They were simply "more shrewdly marketed than Tommy James and the Shondells [or] the Guess Who, but not necessarily better." The review concludes with a question and answer: "Is this the most overrated group in rock history? Only a truly terminal case of arrested adolescence can hold out against such a judgment for very long."
As I said, wise words.
But what has happened in the interim, since which time the cultural left has come in with its horizontal wrecking ball and proceeded to turn the world of values upside down?
The new edition reflects the subsequent mythologizing of the Doors -- and the edenic "sacred time" of the 1960s -- which is simply a reflection of the cultural left's inevitable descent into myth and magic as a replacement for our Judeo-Christian tradition. Now the Doors romantically embody such things as "the threat and promise of Indian burial grounds and natural mysteries -- and the ocean, surging deep into oblivion and release." The cultural memory of the left has now transformed Morrison into "the prototype of the rocker in desperate search of transcendence through self-destruction..., hurling himself fascinated toward death." He is an "erotic politician.... preoccupied with urge, rebellion, and release."
Which is all true. But is it a good thing?
Not really. For one thing, it spoiled my ability to innocently enjoy a mindless nostalgia trip back to 1967.
Oh well. There's always the Monkees.