June 11, 2006

"When all else fails, we can whip the horse's eyes..."

Rarely, so rarely -- perhaps only this once -- am I driving alone in my car, listening to a song on the radio, and a line comes up that makes me burst out laughing. That line is at the very end of the long meandering song "Soft Parade," by The Doors. It's an awfully silly song that takes itself incredibly seriously, but I was enjoying the long lost psychedelia of it all, quite absorbed in the elaborate Zappa-esque instrumentation and tolerating Morrison's absurd self-importance until he switched to declamation for the final: "When all else fails, we can whip the horse's eyes/And make them sleep, and cry." If there is a more ridiculous song ending in the history of rock and roll, I can't think what it could possibly be.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some pretty damned good defense of Morrison's image using some high-tone literary references.

41 comments:

Mr. Magoo said...

In the desert you can remember your name

'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain

La, la ...

CB said...

I disagree on one point--I think that's the one Doors epic that's not self-important, unlike The End or When the Music's Over--but agree on the cringeworthiness of the line. One of the great rock song endings is on the very same album, though: the "stronger-than-dirt" ending of Touch Me.

Ann Althouse said...

My favorite Doors song: "People Are Strange."

C.: Something about horses brings out the stupid.

CB said...

JM had a thing about horses; I guess when he was young he read about horses being thrown into the ocean from ships stuck in the doldrums & was quite affected by it. That's what Horse Lattitudes--I think the first song he wrote--was about.

TMF2 said...

Ann:

I had a different thought, prompted by the fact that my son just appeared in his high school's production of Equus, as the troubled young man who blinded 6 horses. Equus was based on a true story, although I have not been able (quickly) to locate the historical event that inspired the play. The play was first produced in London in 1973, so it was obviously written before 1973, and perhaps was based on an event in the early 1970's or late 1960's. I believe that the song dates to 1968. Could Morrison have likewise been inspired by the events which inspired Equus?

Tom Freeman

Ann Althouse said...

Tom: I was just going to do a comment saying the same thing.

This is pretty funny:

"The kids loved it," teacher and director Michael Komarek said. "Once they stopped screaming about horses getting their eyes gouged out and realized that it was just a launching point for more complex ideas about alienation from the modern world, they rolled up their sleeves and dug right in."

Roger Sweeny said...

Maybe he had been reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Ann Althouse said...

Roger: Hmmm.... Am I going to have to respect Morrison now? There's this from "Brothers Karamozov":

There are lines in Nekrassov describing how a peasant lashes a horse on the eyes, 'on its meek eyes,' everyone must have seen it. It's peculiarly Russian. He describes how a feeble little nag has foundered under too heavy a load and cannot move. The peasant beats it, beats it savagely, beats it at last not knowing what he is doing in the intoxication of cruelty, thrashes it mercilessly over and over again. 'However weak you are, you must pull, if you die for it.' The nag strains, and then he begins lashing the poor defenceless creature on its weeping, on its 'meek eyes.' The frantic beast tugs and draws the load, trembling all over, gasping for breath, moving sideways, with a sort of unnatural spasmodic action- it's awful in Nekrassov. But that only a horse, and God has horses to be beaten.

Ann Althouse said...

Here's a link to the horse-beating in "Crime and Punishment."

Jacques Cuze said...

Am I going to have to respect Morrison now?

Why on earth would you not respect Jim Morrison? He seems to have lots of characteristics that you find admirable, his pulse on the popular culture; knowledge and love of art, literature, and film; as a conservative artist he was a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that".

He wrote four books of poetry, taught himself to sing, wrote many many songs and adapted the works of French Poets, Jewish/German Artists, and American Blues artists.

He is regarded as having influenced today's singers and culture including Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Henry Rollins, and Marilyn Manson.

And has had 11 books written about him, and has been compared to Rimbaud Wallace Fowlie, professor emeritus of French literature at Duke University and internationally recognized expert on the poet Arthur Rimbaud, wrote Rimbaud and Jim Morrison, subtitled "The Rebel as Poet – A Memoir." In this book, Fowlie recounts his surprise at receiving a fan letter from Morrison who, in 1968, thanked him for his latest translation of Rimbaud's verse into English. "I don't read French easily," he wrote, "...your book travels around with me." Fowlie went on to give lectures on numerous campuses comparing the lives, philosophies and poetry of Morrison and Rimbaud.

He brings pop culture, literature, symbolism, beat, blues, philosophy into his lyrics and poetry and does it a way that still stands up 35 years later.

On what grounds could you, you in particular Ann, not respect him?

Your post comes off sounding very snobbish, elitish, and uneducated. Or are you making fun of the New York Times again?

Ann Althouse said...

If you don't know how to laugh at Jim Morrison, you don't know how to laugh.

CB said...

Morrison was extremely literate--one Doors song was inspired by The Golden Bough, for Christ's sake. How well this translated into songwriting ability is debatable. He wrote some great stuff, but was quite capable of writing embarassingly pretentious junk: e.g., "...He took a face from the ancient gallery and he...WALKED ON DOWN THE HALL!"

Joan said...

I actually think I like Val Kilmer's portrayal of Morrison in "The Doors" more than I do the actual Jim Morrison, who was, after all, a self-centered drug addict. He could be witty, but there is always the sense of "Nyah, nyah, I know more than you do," behind everything.

I do like the music, though. It always astounds me how the worst poetry can sound OK, sometimes downright great, when it has the right music behind it.

Ann Althouse said...

I think for lyrics to go with the music, they were pretty cool. The main problem I have with the horse-eye-whipping line is that it's not sung, it's spoken, and it makes you laugh.

brylin said...

We will visit Morrison's grave today at Pere Lachaise.

37921 said...

How can you talk about ridiculous, self-important lyrics and leave out Bob Dylan? Just listen to the croaking behind the skiffle guitar on "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall."

SippicanCottage said...
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Ron said...

Rimbaud? He's the one with Burgess Meredith in his corner, right?

Rimbaud and The Penguin...just think of it...

Sean E said...

"...taught himself to sing..."

Sweet Merciful Crap, is that now considered an achievement worthy of praise?

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, and how about "adapted the works of ... American Blues artists"?

When did that become praise?

Jacques Cuze said...

Sean E said...

"...taught himself to sing..."

Sweet Merciful Crap, is that now considered an achievement worthy of praise?


Uh, Seanie, this IS the American Idol Live Blogging blog. When the American Idols sell as many records and have the influence that Jim Morrison had, let me know.

3:19 PM, June 12, 2006
Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, and how about "adapted the works of ... American Blues artists"?

When did that become praise?

3:28 PM, June 12, 2006


Elvis, The Animals, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Cream, early Fleetwood Mac.... Pikers, and ridiculously self important ones at that!

Ann Althouse said...

It used to be called stealing. It's not something you ask for extra credit for. You may do it and be really, really good as the folks you name were. But you don't express pride over the fact that you used the material of singers who were never able to do as well because they were not white. You should be very, very modest and respectful and appreciative for what you were able to take. Most of those people are. Have you ever heard Eric Clapton talk about it? He sure as hell doesn't aggrandize himself over what he got from black artists. Exactly the opposite.

I can't believe I have to instruct you on this point. You're not a very good lefty on this one.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacques Cuze said...

Oh please Ann, you're so dishonest. Talk about taking something out of context. I wrote:

He wrote four books of poetry, taught himself to sing, wrote many many songs and adapted the works of French Poets, Jewish/German Artists, and American Blues artists.

Why did you seize on American Blues artists and not French Poets and Jewish/German Artists? Just think what he did to Rimbaud! It was terrible! And Kurt Weill! He was absolutely shameless!

Why did you seize on American Blues artists and not French Poets and Jewish/German Artists? Because it gives you bogus cred just like you try to do with your bogus Ann Althouse, is more a feminist than anyone else posts.

I included that as one portion of a long list of the things that Morrison did. And who is aggrandizing him for that?

Are you blaming Morrison for the market for covers? Are you blaming Morrison for letting himself be influenced by others? Are you blaming Morrison for letting himself become the influence for others?

Were you listening to Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, or were you agreeing with others that Paul was hurting music and African musicians by playing with them? Eminem -- I assume you hate him too.

Way to make a bogus argument that even you know is bogus Professor Counselor.

SlipperyCheese you broke your promise! Now begone troll, begone!

Mpsfreedom said...

You gotta love smart people who put others down in ways that most of us average folk don't get. That's gotta feel pretty empowering. Like this: You cut and paste all that nonsense and put a lamebrain accusation of some sort on top, because your own opinions are so lame and tepid and pedestrian. You try to cadge the voice of doom, because you've got the voice of dork on your own. Attacks like that reflect as much self-importance as y'all are allocating to Morrison.

So much of this discussion reminds me of these lyrics from the song Sensitive Artist, by King Missile:

I am a sensitive artist.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.
In my work I make allusions to books that nobody else has read,
Music that nobody else has heard,
And art that nobody else has seen.
I can't help it
Because I am so much more intelligent
And well-rounded
Than everyone who surrounds me. . .
I don't go to recitals anymore
Because my hearing is too sensitive
And I don't go to art galleries anymore
Because there are people there
And I can't deal with people
Because they don't understand me.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Evans said...

Hmm, didn't he die in a puddle of vomit or something? Pretty stupid all the way around...

Mark 2000 said...

James Douglas Morrison died when his commonlaw wife injected him, practically against his will, with Heroin. She liked the stuff, he didn't and was afraid of needles. She admitted it to Doors manager Danny Sugerman before she died. Its in one of his books. In effect he was man slaughtered. He didn't choke on his own vomit. He did OD himself.

Leave him alone, he had a mean dad.

Eric B said...

It is a reference to: January 3, 1889, Freidrich Nietzsche (aka, the guy who wrote about the Doors of Perception,-get it) exhibited signs of a serious mental illness. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground. The first dream-sequence from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (Part 1, Chapter 5) has just such a scene in which Raskolnikov witnesses the whipping of a horse around the eyes.[10] Incidentally, Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn."[11]

NealE said...

It was Aldous Huxley that wrote “The Doors of Perception”.
But otherwise I think Eric B’s info is accurate. Nietzsche was apparently Morrison’s favorite philosopher

Prometheus said...

The song is brilliant and you are the one being ridiculous. A world without self-centred and bombastic characters like Morrison would be very dull. Maybe one gets that dull being a professor of law in a self-centred and egotistic country as the US?

MatBoy Ink said...

No music, no doors, c'mon let's roll - probably the best outgoin' line by morrison - hidden agenda in a hidden garden in his own mind - we should be pointing on his eye not on his music - pay attention on "an american prayer"

Glad to be wrong :)

Zac™ said...

Has anybody here who ever read the "Crime and Punishment" by Dostoievsky?

Bill said...

An admitted major Doors fan here - The Doors music is a contrast all around and everywhere. Was Morrison purposely using a silly line here? Or was it a line that only appears to be silly, but is referring to a scene of lasting import(Nietzsche refernce)to Morrison? Was it a joke only he got or deeper than it seems on the surface? Did Jim want you to feel what Nietzsche felt or did Jim himself simply try to tell you that HE felt what Nietzsche was feeling and wated to convey that feeling to the listener? Was he trying to get you to feel what Nietzsch felt when he sang '...when all else fails, we can whip the horses eyes, and make them sleep, and cry...' Heck, I do not know. I guess only Jim knows and he is not talking. But one thing is for sure, Jim felt something. His lyrics, his concerts, his words all point to that. Whatever he was... poet, musician, ass*&^%, drunk, addict, prophet, he explored and went where his mind took him. He seems to me to be brazenly courageous and for that - I respect him for greatly.

RIGHT THERE - See it? It makes you think. Was he a prophet or was he a damn joke? Al pretty cali boy to stuck on himself. Whatever he was, whatever he thought, he BELIEVED it and that is what counts. What is perhaps frustrating to a lot of non-Doors fans is that the meaning of these songs are difficult to pinpoint. I think that that is exactly what The Doors wanted...in part anyway. Mystery. If you know a particular songs meaning, what and who it is about, you relate to it very deeply only if you have had the same feelings or a similair situation has happened to you...or you relate to it as a story or situation that occured to somebody else (whom or what the song is written about)that is only human...and not a bad thing.

The Doors often used universal imagery to elicit a feeling. Sure the songs were about a particular person or place sometimes, (see "Love Street", "Touch Me", etc), but they never pinpoint it to that exactly. They use imagry to allow you to take the song and make it your own. That is musical majic.

I love the Beatles, but "Love Me Do" is not exactly very deep. Does it have to be to get a message across? No! i love that song. But you cannot laud The Beatles for writing a masterpiece such as "Strabeery Fields" then turn around and piss on The Doors for "The Soft Parade." Both use images, musical notes, voice inflection and arrangements and melodies to illicit a feeling from the listener. Like it, hate it, you feel SOMETHING and that is GOOD ART!

But much of The Doors music - and especially this song - allows you to twist the meaning to whatever you want. In doing do, you make the song your own and you have a reaction. Sometimes that reaction is frustration. Whatever the reaction is, you have one. Another goal reached by the band.

The Doors music explores. It explores feeling, situations, scenes, etc. and explored them with passion and depth. Never did they seem to worry about if a particular song was too weird or too "out there". They explored, wrote, and used art and music to go places that few do..."Whipping the horses eyes" may be a silly reference to a silly thing and not as deep as referring to any past injustice. It also may be even deeper than that. Who knows?

Few do (certainly The reminaing Doors may know, but do not seem to be talking)...however, 40+ years after Morriosn died (and he is dead), the world is dicussing the music, the times, and the man. He did have agood world when he died, enough to base a movie on.

He is remebered for a lot of things, but i think he is smurking with joy that we are discussing the one thing he wanted to be remebered for above all else...his words.

Like 'em, love 'em, hate 'em, you remember 'em.

Thank you Ray, Robie, John and Jim.

joao said...

ann althouse
you look stupid

Solar Punk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Solar Punk said...

"It was Aldous Huxley that wrote “The Doors of Perception”.
But otherwise I think Eric B’s info is accurate. Nietzsche was apparently Morrison’s favorite philosopher"

Although correct that Huxley did write a book with that particular title, I think you will find that it was William Blake that first used the phrase in 'the marriage of heaven and hell' and is what both Huxley's book title and the band name are referring to.

Solar Punk said...

ps. Forget 'the-horses-eyes' line, between 'life of pi' and 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat' you really do have all the bases covered in terms of laughable writing... and 'The Byrds!' Are you sure?!

FreeThinker49 said...

You pretentious woman. You are the same people Morrison hated. He wasn't over involved in himself, he was trying to make people think. Obviously you cranium is too small to make the connection of what the words meant.

wertham said...

From the very beginning of The Soft Parade, it is clear that this is Jim's sermon about religion and non-religion (esp Chr) as many of these lines are allusions to pastoral epistles, non-canonical gospels, The Golden Bough, Campbell, Nietzsche, Blake etc. (All Jim's favourite reading.) So really, if this was Shaman Mojo's objective - to get us thinking about such lofty things - then mission accomplished. You can hardly blame him if you don't recognize these allusions.

GuitarBrew said...

I often think of this quote. It can have two meanings, depending on the side of the saying you hear. The first meaning refering to making that last push to finish something important. The second meaning comes if you realize the sarcasm in his statement. You can't use force to get some things, like getting an animal to rest. So, when I am facing a big project, I use this statement to first remind me that there is always more to give. It also reminds me that some things can't be forced and need to be worked around.