Monday, February 22, 2010

Jim Morrison's Grave (the Steve Taylor song) and Kurt Cobain

I was still a kid when the Doors received national attention, and I was still a kid when Jim Morrison died. But death didn't end the Doors' career. As Rolling Stone put it,

Ironically, the group’s best years began in 1980, nine years after Morrison’s death. With the release of the Danny Sugerman–Jerry Hopkins biography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive, sales of the Doors’ music and the already large Jim Morrison cult — spurred by his many admirers and imitators in new-wave bands — grew even more. Record sales for 1980 alone topped all previous figures; as one ROLLING STONE magazine cover line put it: “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead.” And that was just the beginning.

Musician Steve Taylor went to Paris a few years after the Rolling Stone cover - Paris, the city where Jim Morrison died, and where he was buried. And he began thinking:

I went to Paris and visited Jim Morrison's grave. The experience made me think a lot about who Jim Morrison was and what he stood for. I was into The Doors' music and read a biography of Morrison called, No One Here Gets Out Alive. As I read the book, a picture emerged of Jim Morrison as someone who embraced the Rock-n-Roll myth, "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

We'll return to that myth later. But for now, let's return to Taylor:

I guess he thought of himself as somewhat of a "tortured artist" who not only believe that genius justifies cruelty but that genius and selfishness are inseparable. And that's really how he lived his life. He was very cruel to the people who were close to him, even the people who loved him. So this song is just my thought about going to the grave, almost a stream-of-consciousness lyric.

"Jim Morrison's Grave" asks the age-old question: Does artistry justify being a weasel? The last line of the song is, "The music covers like an evening mist/Like a watch still ticking on a dead man's wrist." Morrison left the world some intriguing music. As far as I'm concerned, that's not enough.

Taylor released the album I Predict 1990 (the same album that included "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good"; see my previous post) and included the song "Jim Morrison's Grave." The video can be found on YouTube:

The scenes in the video depict the Morrison mania that gripped the world in the 1980s. And Taylor's word wasn't the last word on the subject. Rolling Stone on Jim Morrison's grave after the predicted 1990 had arrived:

The Morrison cult continues to grow, particularly among the young. In 1990 his graffiti-covered headstone was stolen; in 1993, on what would have been his 50th birthday, hundreds of mourners — many not even born before he died — traveled from around the world to pay tribute. Because of the destruction these visitors often wreak on the cemetery during their pilgrimages, many Parisians petitioned to move Morrison’s grave when its 30-year lease expired in 2001; French officials, however, opted to leave Morrison’s remains in their resting place.

But remember the line that Taylor quoted above, "It's better to burn out than to fade away"? The line, which appeared in a Neil Young song (actually two Neil Young songs), was subsequently quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note. In 1996, Taylor compared Cobain and Morrison:

[S]peaking of Kurt Cobain--who was, I think, far more honest and far less cruel--when anyone takes an unblinking look into the well, if they don't find living water, they'll find nothing but a black hole. I assume Kurt Cobain could only see the latter.
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