Everyone knows that more than seeing himself as a rock singer, Jim Morrison considered himself a lyricist. Furthermore, he also believed his poems to be his legacy over his stardom. One of the greatest ambitions in his life was to write something groundbreaking. He was obsessed with the works of poets and philosophers that had broken the barriers of what was established, taking inspiration from the English Romantics, French Symbolists, and the Beat generation.
Literature inspired him to become an artist and look for transcendence. Throughout the years, his love for literature never diminished, and he even published two books of poems The Lordes: Notes on Vision and New Creatures. Books inspired him to become an artist and create his persona. Therefore, if we seek to understand him better, we need to discover the words that inspired his work and how they truly defined his life.
1. The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley
It's a well-known fact that The Doors took their name off the title of Aldous Huxley's book, in which he recounted his experiences with mescaline. The title of the book itself derived from a poem by the romantic eighteenth century mystic William Blake, who wrote the following lines referring to how man relates to his world: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, then everything would appear to man as it truly is: infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern." This concept, which reminds us of a platonic view on life, also appeared in Morrison's lyrics in songs such as "Break on Through", with the chorus inviting the audience to cross a straight gate, "deep and wide", referring to the other side Huxley spoke of.
2. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
During the sixties, Campbell's book marked a rite of passage in cross-cultural studies. He wrote a theory about the structures of storytelling that were presented among the mythologies of several peoples of the world. These theories inspired Morrison's approach in his writing, and he applied the symbols of what Campbell coined as the "hero's journey" for the imagery and storytelling of the disturbing Doors song "The End."
The approach to mysticism and storytelling not only inspired Morrison but also filmmakers and writers from his generation such as the one and only George Lucas, who wrote Star Wars based on the precepts established on Campbell's book.
3. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Morrison developed affection for the Beat generation, and Jack Kerouac's novel inspired him to live an itinerant life and search for himself while on the road. Some even believe that Morrison modeled his persona by the idealized descriptions of Dean Moriarty in the book. The keyboardist for The Doors, Ray Manzarek, even said once that if Kerouac "hadn't written On the Road, The Doors would never have had been instilled with that sense of search, that sense of freeing [them]selves."
4. The Stranger, Albert Camus
Being an avid reader throughout his teenage years, Morrison also displayed fondness for existentialist writers Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. The concept of "strangeness" that he uses for "People Are Strange," is closer to the concept of alienation that Camus uses in L'etránger instead of the usual English meaning that equates it to "weirdness":
"When you're strange
faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
no one remembers your name"
5. The Birth Of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche
Nihilistic philosophy really got to the core of Jim Morrison, specially through Nietzsche's first book. Like him, he identified with Dionysos, the suffering god of music and festivity. He always preferred the wild , raw impulse of making art rather than the Apollonian and rational approach to creation. Due to this, the music journalist Lesper Bangs would refer to him as the "Bozo Dionysos". Besides, Morrison also used nihilistic philosophy as a concept for his work, in examples such as the lyrics of "Five to One":
"I woke up this morning and got myself a beer,
The future's uncertain, the end is always near"
6. Complete Poems, Arthur Rimbaud
Rimbaud was one of Morrison's favorite poets, and it's been noted that he'd religiously take his books with him wherever he went. Morrison admired Rimbaud's rebelliousness and brazen poète maudit attitude, as well as his constant experimentation with hallucinogens such as opium and absinthe because of his belief that "the poet makes himself a visionary by a long derangement of the senses." In 1968, Morrison wrote a letter to William Fowlie, a professor of French Literature at Duke University, to thank him for translating Rimbaud's poems. After Morrison's death, Fowlie wrote a book where he compared the musician's life and lyrics to that of the French symbolist he so much admired. His admiration for the poet, however, has been considered detrimental by many, such as his most acknowledged biographers, Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman: "It must be known that a derangement of the senses is not rational. Too much literature and film has glorified Morrison’s drug and alcohol abuse causing grotesque behavior as some sort of philosophy of life and inner genius," they state on Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive. Instead, they believe that Morrison should be valued for the quality of his work as an artist and lyricist, not for the habits that would eventually lead to his untimely death.
Now that you know some of Morrison's favorite books, you should also check the 10 Jim Morrison poems that will turn you upside down, and the history behind The Doors most psychedelic song.
The Poetry Foundation