Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre
By Mick Wall
Chicago Review Press, 416 pp., $28.95
Does the world really need another book on the Doors? With a groaning shelf of them already written by music journos, managers and executives, friends, lovers, hangers-on, and actual band members, does the group’s short but fiery existence necessitate yet another retelling?
Well, the answer is yes. If Mick Wall authors said tome.
One of the best rock penmen around today, the English-bred Wall – whose previous bios include Led Zeppelin, Metallica, and Axl Rose – has produced the best single volume on the group. And that is group, not just Jim Morrison.
What sets this book apart is that Wall, while getting all the facts and stories and behind-the-music tales down, also offers his own insight and commentary. In the process, he also deconstructs the well-oiled “Myths” of both the Doors and Jim Morrison.
For instance, he’s quick to take late keyboardist Ray Manzarek to the woodshed for his four decades of hippy-dippy talk and out-there remembrances promoting the Jim-as-God line of thinking to peel back the layer of what Morrison’s true talent and behavior was like.
And the reader is left to marvel at just how Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger — who actually wrote much of their material, including “Light My Fire” — put up with such a boorish, selfish, drunk as long as they did.
Whether at a recording session or live gig, the other Doors never knew if they were getting Jim, the “forward thinking poet determined to great art," or his alter-ego Jimbo, "the monstrous drunk whose ego was so out of control he viewed the rest of the band almost as an appendage.” And there is no shortage of “wasted asshole Morrison” stories in these pages.
“You know,” Wall quotes Densmore as saying, “self-destruction and creativity don’t have to come in the same package.”
Wall’s truth, of course, is obvious. Morrison needed the other three just as much as they needed him to create an incredible and unique body of work as a group. Though, perhaps more heavily than any other classic-rock band, the Doors' image and perception usually lies with one man.
Combining both fresh interviews and previously-sourced material, and heavy on telling anecdotes, Wall weaves a compelling narrative even if you know how the Doors' story ends — and even if you don’t. The party line for decades has been that Morrison died of an overdose-induced heart attack in the bathtub of his Paris apartment as girlfriend (and fellow addict) Pamela Courson slept in the next room.
But Wall gives a convincing alternate scenario (with eyewitness accounts) that the Lizard King actually expired in the bathroom of rock club he frequented after a day of heavy drinking and then taking some bad smack. His body was comically taken through the streets by a couple of thugs, and then deposited in said bathtub to avoid a police investigation.
The written word on the Doors has gone through many, many incarnations since the publication of 1980’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, (which was required rock reading for any Gen-X high-schooler, along with the Led Zeppelin book Hammer of the Gods and the Hendrix work ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky).
But with Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre, fans get not only a wonderfully-written and welcome addition to the cannon, they get the best word on the Doors. That is…until Jim comes out of hiding and writes his own take.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.