A Touch of History: The Doors and Los Angeles

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SAM TILLES / THE LOYALIST

SAM TILLES / THE LOYALIST

By Sam Tilles

The sixties were a vibrant time in United States’ history: a Baptist preacher from Atlanta spearheaded one of the largest racial equality movements of all time; four teenage heartthrobs from Liverpool started the “British Invasion” and changed music forever; and a little dairy farm in upstate New York put on a music festival attracting 400,000 people.

However, far from Liverpool, Woodstock and Atlanta, a storm was brewing on the American west coast in a little neighborhood of Los Angeles.  The storm was a young aspiring musician named Jim Morrison, and the neighborhood was the growing hippie town of Venice, Calif.   

Jim Morrison was a Florida-native who moved to Los Angeles to study film at UCLA. After graduating, he moved to Venice and lived a bohemian lifestyle consisting of couch-hopping and copious drug use. Despite a seemingly deadbeat life path, Morrison was filled with ambition and creativity since childhood but also with an underlying desire to rebel.

Los Angeles Times critic Pete Johnson was originally unconvinced of The Doors’ talent. He wrote in 1966 that “the Doors [were]a hungry-looking quartet with an interesting original sound, but… [put on]the worst stage appearance of any rock and roll group in captivity.”

Fame was anything but instantaneous. But as Morrison and The Doors were breaking down the barriers of rock and refining and creating a sensual, dark and psychedelic sound, people could not help but notice and gravitate towards it.

In fact, award-winning movie director Francis Ford Coppola featured The Doors’ song “This Is the End” in the opening scene of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.

Morrison and The Doors quickly became rock and roll icons and symbols of a nonconforming lifestyle. Morrison also became a poster boy of Venice, and he is literally and figuratively engraved into Los Angeles culture. A mural of Morrison, painted by Rip Cronk in 1991, is on a building near the Venice Boardwalk on Speedway and 18th Avenues.

Part of what made Morrison so iconic was his fearlessness and desire to be unique. Most of the pop culture of his era was dominated by a “flower power” hippie style, but Morrison’s music was much more real, much more dark and much more insightful.

They pushed the boundaries of freedom of expression to its very limits, and in a time when censorship made rock n’ roll too wholesome and too quiet, The Doors turned up the volume and cursed convention to the grave, and Los Angeles listened.

Nightclubs along the Sunset Strip like Whisky A Go Go and Kaleidescope played host to The Doors as they exploded into mainstream popularity. Morrison and his philosophy embodied the quintessence of individuality, rebellion and self-expression and firmly imprinted himself upon the city of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles and Venice have maintained his vision of artistic freedom of expression. Great artists and bands like Nirvana and The Strokes have drawn inspiration from Morrison’s visions. Morrison encouraged the desire to oppose the norms of society, and that can be seen from the hipster culture of Abbot Kinney to the colorful street art, music and people of Venice. Even the Venice skate culture, which did not arise until the 1980s, was influenced by a desire for self-expression.

In his 1967 song “People are Strange”, Morrison sang, “When you’re strange, no one remembers your name.” But as his legacy shows, Morrison was wrong. The storm that brewed in Venice grew, and Hurricane Morrison engulfed the world.

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