Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Doors after Jim Morrison: "Other Voices"

With a personality like Jim Morrison fronting the band, there's little wonder that the intensely brilliant musicianship of Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger was often eclipsed by his looming figure. Once Morrison was dead, in July 1971, there must have seemed little point in the trio continuing. Luckily, however, they did continue as a band, recording Other Voices and Full Circle.

When I first read about these albums in Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins' biography of Jim Morrison No One Here Gets Out Alive, my first thought was, "Damn, how depressing must that have been, going into the studio with Jim Morrison dead and buried in France?" But hearing both albums, now, my verdict is that I'm thrilled the remaining Doors continued to record. The demise of Morrison (rumors of him having faked his death aside) following the release of the astonishing L.A. Woman LP was the height of anti-climax -- or, maybe just too pat an ending to this real-life story.

By December 1971, The Doors as a trio released Other Voices:

1. "In the Eye of the Sun" – 4:48
2. "Variety Is the Spice of Life" – 2:50
3. "Ships With Sails" – 7:38
4. "Tightrope Ride" – 4:15
5. "Down on the Farm" – 4:15
6. "I'm Horny, I'm Stoned" – 3:55
7. "Wandering Musician" – 6:25
8. "Hang on to Your Life" – 5:36

Without Jim Morrison at the lyric and vocal helm, it's fair for the passing music fan to wonder, "What's the point?" Well, the point is that The Doors, musically, had much life left in them after July 1971.

The first track of the album, "In the Eye of the Sun," is a rock/blues fusion with Ray Manzarek on vocals. Musically, most of the tracks are absolutely amazing in the breath of sonic landscape they cover. Think of the numerous changes of mood and tempo in the song "L.A. Woman," and multiply that by three or five.

The lyrics throughout the album tend toward the crackpot mystical. I didn't detect any outright attempts to imitate Morrison's style; maybe that pseudo-L.A. mysticisim was more a product of the times.

"Variety is the Spice of Life" is sung by Robby Krieger, and sadly, the song is as lame as its title. Regardless of how weak or strong the vocal performances are (and they never rise far beyond weak), Krieger's guitar work mesmerizes. The man seems wonderfully incapable of repeating himself.

"Ships with Sails," musically, is classic Doors. Robby Krieger's guitar is reminiscent of "Love Street," "Blue Monday" and "Indian Summer." There is a stand-up bass played alongside Manzarek's subdued "Riders on the Storm" keyboards, which makes for a wonderfully atmospheric piece.

"Tighrope Ride" is a great little upbeat rock 'n' roll song that might really have turned into something with Jim Morrison at the microphone and handling the lyrics. Still, very much worth hearing. Manzarek, whose vocals are pretty lousy throughout the album, comes as close to singing well on this track.

"Down on the Farm" is another wonderful moody track that adds xylophone to the sonic mix. This is one of the songs that morphs and transitions through an improbable series of sound textures -- from hypnotic, drugged-out L.A. nodding-off in the sunset into jughead country hick twanging, from which the song draws its title.

If you've ever tried downloading rare Doors tracks you might have run into "I'm Horny, I'm Stoned." It's an upbeat sort of throwaway song sung by Robby Krieger. On its own, hearing it for the first time in 2001, I thought it an interesting novelty track that didn't hold anything beyond the first listening. But on this album it's a bit more of a kick.

"Wandering Musician" begins with slow, meditative keyboards that build into something rock steady and quite beautiful. As the track unfolds, Ray Manzarek's genius for invention is on full display. Nowhere on the album do The Doors attempt to recreate the past. These tracks are fresh compositions. Had the tracks been allowed to flourish as instrumentals, it would have been interesting what directions they might have taken not being hemmed in by lyrics.

"Hang on to Your Life" is upbeat, with a livelier performance from John Densmore than anywhere else on the album. Robby Krieger, once more, is in flying form with one fresh, signature Doors lick after another. This is a jazzier song in which each musician has truly shown up to play. Their inventiveness as a trio is painfully evident -- painfully, because the tragedy of The Doors' story is that neither this, nor their next album got much notice before utterly fading away.

There are no odes to Jim Morrison on the album. His absence is a gaping blackhole -- no sense drawing even more attention to that fact. For as blinding and impressive as the musicianship is here, The Doors were really not The Doors without Morrison. Manzarek and Krieger make their attempts on vocals, but I think this album might have been much better had it been conceived as straightahead instrumental. Jim Morrison was an exceptional rock 'n' roll singer and a first-rate writer of rock 'n' roll song lyrics. This album is all about the remaining Doors and the ideas they might have brought into the studio had Morrison arrived from France after the summer of '71, alive, refreshed and ready to follow-up L.A. Woman.

If you're a Jim Morrison fan, you probably won't find anything worthwhile in Other Voices because the album truly lives up to its title. For fans of The Doors' music, this will prove to be a surreal, interesting, and at times, weirdly satisfying journey through the veil of "what might have been." The imagination and talent of Jim Morrison is sorely missing, but to their credit the remaining Doors made no attempt to replace him -- either with a new vocalist or by their own efforts to round things out by writing lyrics of their own and doing vocals.

Music doesn't get much more haunting and interesting than this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dorian Gray rises from the dead in Windsor, Ontario

Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian GraySo, the bear-trap of bad luck snapped shut on my play Dorian Gray. The day before it was to be performed at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Windsor, Ontario, the theatre closed; gone bust. The official nuts-and-bolts of the story is more complex than this, but the net effect is the same.

From The Windsor Star: Capitol cancels rest of season
The Capitol’s decision leaves several community groups scrambling to find venues for their events.

Canada South Performing Arts’ production of Dorian Gray, by local writer Matthew St. Amand, was scheduled to open Saturday.
Dispatch from Florida:

A good friend suggested that my next play be a Pinter-esque slapstick comedy about trying to get a play on the stage in Windsor. This is an idea worth pursuing, but not yet. Dorian Gray refuses to die in Windsor, Ontario. A new venue has been found -- Mackenzie Hall (Mackenzie Hall, 3277 Sandwich St., box office: 519-255-7600, tickets $20)-- and the play will be performed Friday March 16th and Sunday March 18th both nights at 8 p.m..

This is the second interruption in the play's schedule. It was first set to be performed in late October 2006, but the production was postponed with slow tickets were cited as the reason. When the Capitol Theatre closed on March 9th 2007, it was, for me, like becoming a widower for the second time. I can't imagine the level of disappointment that was felt among the dedicated and talented cast and crew who had put in so many long hours of planning and preparation. But there we were, a collective groom standing at the marriage altar with a second dead bride.

But there appears to be movement beneath the death shroud covering Dorian Gray. Dorian and his story will not simply fade away.

As Oscar Wilde was personally ensnared by the mores and politics of his day, petty municipial politics in the city of Windsor (recently maligned on national television by none other than Stephen Colbert as "the worst place on earth") have nearly driven a splintered wooden stake into the heart of Dorian Gray. Nearly. But art outpaces bureaucracy every time. The Windsor beancounters have put their crooked thumbprints all over this production and are probably as satisfied with having done that to the extent that their rats' value system can feel satisfaction. But the Windsor artists have prevailed in the more important arena -- their play is going to be performed.

From the play's director, Mark Lefebvre:

Canada South Performing Arts presents

Dorian Gray

by Matthew St. Amand
adapted for the stage from the Oscar Wilde novel

The show is being moved to Mackenzie Hall due to the closure of the Capitol Theatre

New dates are Friday March 16 & Sunday March 18 both at 8 p.m.
Mackenzie Hall, 3277 Sandwich St.
Box office: 519-255-7600
Tickets $20
Limited seating