Jim Morrison was most notably known as the talented and skilled lead singer of The Doors, a rock band formed in the ‘60s known for their transcendentalist and mystic lyrics. He took the themes and philosophical concepts of his favorite authors and transformed their messages into the poetic and psychedelic songs notorious of the band.
The band’s name, The Doors, originated from Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” which is referencing William Blake’s religious satire “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. The ‘doors’ allude to the significant reality of what we perceive as opposed to our usual blindness influenced by superficiality. This alone illuminates the philosophical importance Jim Morrison chose to bestow upon the band- emphasizing the sentiment of more deeply understanding the world we live in.
Morrison was a fervent fan of the Beat Generation- a
literary movement of writers, such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, that
sought to influence the social and political culture of post-WWII America. Of this subculture’s literature, Morrison
most favored Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, a novel that questioned the validity
and extent of discovery and freedom. The
road to enlightenment and the romanticizing of self-discovery have become
staples of The Door’s music, and this seems to be a direct influence of such
Beat Generation literature.
As for philosophy, Morrison seemed most fond of Sartre’s existentialist novels and Nietzsche’s nihilist theories. A favorite existentialist novel of Morrison’s was Albert Camus’ “The Stranger”; being so transfixed by this book, Morrison soon created a song called “People Are Strange” which emphasizes the starkness of individuality. As for Nietzsche, Morrison would often quote from “The Birth of a Tragedy” during his concerts.
It is believed that Morrison’s biggest literary influence was Antonin Artaud, a French playwright who specialized in surrealist theater. Artaud’s works, such as “The Theatre and It’s Double”, incensed in Morrison an influence towards elements of darker, oppositional music.
One of The Door’s most popular songs, “The End”, alludes to the play “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles as it mentions elements of loving one’s mother and killing one’s father. Morrison had worked on a student production of this play while attending Florida State University and consequently became very interested in the controversy and complexity of the story.
As you can see, Jim Morrison was more than the violent and erratically hedonistic person he was infamously believed to be; he was a very well-read, intelligent artist who sought to express some of the greatest and most thought-provoking aspects of multi-generational literature through his music. His lyrics serve as the means of expression for his interpretation to some of the most elusive and introspective theories of the world’s greatest writers.