The date was November 9, 1968, a Saturday. My friend Dennis was the one who drove us to the Doors show from Effingham, Illinois. It was a 2 hour drive to St. Louis, but it seemed like it took longer, and when we arrived in the city it felt like we had entered another world. I remember at one point coming down a hill into downtown St. Louis after sunset and seeing the traffic stretched out in front of us against the backdrop of the city lights. On the radio was All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, a fitting song for entering a new phase in life. We were juniors in high school, going to see my first ever concert by a big-name rock band, and we were completely straight – no drugs, no alcohol, just pure hormones and adrenaline. And we loved the Doors.
When the Doors’ first album came out, I was working as a busboy in a truck-stop in central Illinois, one of the redneck capitols of the world as far as I knew. Light My Fire was on the jukebox, backed with Break On Through (to the other side), and I would play both sides every chance I got with the quarters I earned or borrowed from the tip jar. All the waitresses and the drivers would shake their heads and say, what is that noise? Who keeps playing that crap? And I would feel like I was a member of an exclusive club, people who knew what was really happening.
Strange Days came out that fall, and once again, my friends and I were transported to another land as we listened. Morrison was the key, but the Doors were a band, and the sound they had was unique, otherworldly yet at the same time intensely worldly, and it seemed like they could do no wrong. Next came Waiting For the Sun, and there was a small hesitation in the idolization factor. A few songs sounded like filler, and the Doors may have been rushing it. Tantalizing stories about the aborted side-long track named the Lizard King were in the press, but we took what we could get, and hoped for better in the future. When we found out that we could actually see and hear our favorite band in concert, live at Kiel Auditorium just a couple of hours away, Dennis and I sprang into action, and somehow got tickets – this was a long time before Ticketmaster and online sales, so I really can’t remember how the deed was accomplished, but we finally had them in our hands and dreamed about the soon to come day.
That night we found a parking garage somehow and made our way into the arena. It was a cavernous space, used for all kinds of events, and the floor area was covered with cheap folding chairs. We found seats as close as we could get to the small stage, and nervously waited. From my vantage point here in the future, it’s strange to look back and try to remember how it felt. The most memorable feeling about the venue to me was the space, the huge scope of the enclosed area. Back then there was only a small light show, a relatively weak sound system, and a small, relatively unlit stage with no video screens to give a better view of what was happening. So when the Doors came on and started to play, I had to remind myself that these were real people, and I was hearing them make music in real time.
Morrison was in his early gaining weight stage, but still looked fantastic, and was drinking from a brown beer bottle for most of the show. They did all the big songs, and I remember being most impressed by a long version of The End, and a new song called Touch Me. Imagine my disappointment a few months later when the dismal Soft Parade album was released, and Touch Me was the first single, with strings and a saxophone solo – gasp! But Morrison was a true shaman and showman on stage, taking the audience to another level of existence, showing us the edge of the world as we knew it, and encouraging us to go beyond. When I look back, it seems that he was the catalyst for the changes I would soon go through.
Within a couple of years from that night, I would be a midwestern hippie trying to understand a brave new world, and Jim Morrison would be dead at 27 years of age. When I saw the news and read the Rolling Stone story about his demise, the main thing in my head was disbelief. Once you have seen an icon in the flesh it’s hard to accept that he might be absent from this plane of existence, that he had moved on to the next level. But it was true, and I was very glad that I had seen him in his prime – James Morrison, aka the Lizard King, who could do anything but save himself.
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