"I am Rimbaud in a leather jacket," proclaimed Jim Morrison, who once signed an autograph request, "Love, Arthur Rimbaud." (Rimbaud himself has been described as "a 19th century Jim Morrison.") Jim carried a copy of Wallace Fowlie's translations of Rimbaud with him on his travels with the legendary Doors band, and even took it upon himself to write Fowlie, who at the time didn't even know who he was, a thank-you note:
"Dear Wallace Fowlie,
Just wanted to say thanks for doing the Rimbaud translation. I needed it because I don't read French that easily...I am a rock star and your book travels around with me." He closed with: "That Picasso drawing of Rimbaud on the cover is great."
It has been conjectured that Jim's song "Wild Child" is about Rimbaud:
Full of grace
Savior of the human race
your cool face
Not your mother's or your
You're our child
(You remember when we were
The parenthetical last line is another clue that the song was indeed about Rimbaud, who spent the last period of his life in Africa, and suggests that Morrison felt he had been there with Rimbaud in another incarnation.
Yes, they both sought and opened themselves to wildness, valuing it far above comfort and security. As Rimbaud wrote in the famous Lettre du Voyant ("voyant" translates to "seer"):
"The Poet makes himself a Seer by a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses...All the forms of love, suffering, and madness. He searches himself. He exhausts all poisons in himself and keeps only their quintessences."
This echoes William Blake's "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," one of the Proverbs of Hell in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which has been recognized as a great alchemical text. Similarly, Anais Nin said: "Something is always born of excess: great art is born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibition, instabilities and it always balances them." Drugs and alcohol are, of course, one "road" of excess. The deep green siren song of absinthe was Rimbaud's intoxicant of choice, especially in the company of the poet Verlaine. "Knowing pilgrims, seek repose/By the emerald pillars of Absinthe," wrote Rimbaud in "Comedy of Thirst." Jim's pursuit of altered states was similarly intense, and his first songs were born, prior to the formation of the Doors band, when he was living on a rooftop in Venice Beach, subsisting on a diet of LSD and not much else; his pursuit of altered states through drugs and alcohol continued unabated up to his passing at age 27.
Rimbaud writes in the Lettre that the goal of the Seer's journey is to arrive at the unknown; to become as a god, responsible for humanity, "even the animals." Jim was often called "the Dionysus of Rock." Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy, has been pictured both as a beautiful youth and as an older, bearded man; Jim appeared in both guises in his brief life. In the philosophy of Nietzsche, the Dionysian principle is of creative-intuitive power as opposed to the Apollonian principle of critical-rational power. Thus, Dionysus is the god of intoxication, celebration, creativity, ecstasy, catharsis, release.
Jim/Dionysus: "Music is so erotic. One of its functions is a purgation of emotion, which we see every night when we play. To call our music 'orgasmic' means we can move people to a kind of emotional orgasm through music and words...Think of it as a seance in an environment which has become hostile to life, cold, restrictive. People feel like they're dying in a bad landscape. So they gather together in a seance to invoke, palliate, and drive away the dead spirits through chanting, singing, dancing, music. They [the shamans] try to cure an illness, to restore harmony to the world."
- from Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Stephen Davis
Rimbaud further says in the Lettre that the Seer is to invent a new "universal language of the soul": "...he must see to it that his inventions can be smelt, felt, heard...this new language would be of the soul, for the soul, containing everything, smells, sounds, colors, thought latching on to thought and pulling..." This seems apropos, from an article by the rock critic Paul Williams in
Crawdaddy!: "Rock, because of the number of senses it can get to (on a dance floor, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and tactile) and the extent to which it can pervade these senses, is really the most advanced art form we have."
Rimbaud, a century before rock came on the scene, saw that this "universal language of the soul" would be conveyed through new forms of poetry, somehow tied up with magic and alchemy. From his poem "Alchemy of the Word":
I invented the colour of vowels! - A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. - I regulated the form and movement of each consonant, and, with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself by inventing a poetic speech accessible, some day or other, to all the senses. I reserved translation rights.
More from the Lettre:
"For I is another."
It has been said that this is "one of those phrases that has launched a thousand doctoral dissertations." As I see it, there are several possible interpretations. One is that the intellect or the conscious mind is the observer rather than the instigator or decision-maker. Decisions are made before the conscious mind becomes aware of them. This has been borne out by the research of Benjamin Libet on subjective referral in time, and has been summed up as "the reaction is faster than the perception," in Fred Alan Wolf's book The Yoga of Time Travel.
Another interpretation is that since we are constantly changing, one's identity--the "I"--cannot be pinned down. When we say "This is who I am," we are already another person--another "I."
Yet another interpretation speaks to our oneness. It has been said that the Creator is not only self but other-self as self, and as we are all creators, this is true of us also, and it is the message of the Mayan greeting, "In La'kech," which means "I am another yourself," or "I am you and you are me."
"If brass wakes up a bugle, it is not its own doing."
Brass is what the bugle is made of, and we are made of the eternal thrust for growth and change. Our waking up is foreordained; the seeds of transformation are within us, and their growth is a natural, organic process.
"This is clear to me: I'm a witness at the flowering of my own thought. I watch it, I listen to it."
Again, the conscious mind is the observer, the watcher.
"I draw a stroke of the bow, and the symphony makes its stir in the depths, or comes upon the stage in a leap."
Was Jim the flowering of Rimbaud's vision, coming upon the stage in a leap? Rimbaud renounced poetry at age twenty, concluding he had failed in his stated goal of becoming as a god and transforming the world through the creation of a universal language. Subsequently, he regarded the whole of his ouevre with contempt. But what if he had set forces in motion that would be fulfilled at a later historical period, through "another I"? What if, in fact, Morrison and Rimbaud were reincarnational counterparts, and Jim the inheritor of those "translation rights" of "a poetic speech accessible to all the senses, in a universal language of the soul, for the soul"?
Of course, an openness to this theory requires openness to the idea of reincarnation. Actually, the very term 'reincarnation' is incorrect, since time is an illusion and everything is happening now, as put forth in J.W. Dunne's influential essay, An Experiment In Time. It has been said that our counterpart incarnations are extensions of the Oversoul into different timelines, which nonetheless exist simultaneously, like different fingers on the same hand. In Jane Roberts' book Aspect Psychology, each of those incarnations are called aspects, except the focus personality, the one that is known to itself (and of course each aspect is the focus personality, from their own perspective). Thus, assuming my theory about the Rimbaud/Morrison connection is correct, they were interconnected aspects of one another, while each was focused in their own respective reality and experience. In any case, bear with me as I continue connecting the dots of this "wild" theory about these wild child-men.
In Eric Mader-Lin's essay The Crux of Rimbaud's Poetics, which is based on Rimbaud's long poem The Drunken Boat, the journey of the boat is seen as a metaphor of the poet/seer's journey:
In the form of a boat, the poet figures his own movement toward the status of voyant. The boat of the poem is simultaneously a metaphor of the poet and the personification of a boat...Ostensibly set adrift, does the boat suffer the sea as a vast and sublime force, or does it orchestrate the sea through its own powers? Are the glorious visions it undergoes impressed upon it by the forces of otherness, or are they rather created out of bits of flotsam and jetsam?
This is what Mader-Lin considers the "crux of Rimbaud's poetics": "Rimbaud couldn't decide if the quintessences of the universal language were to be received by him as the gift of some Other or if, rather, they were to be created by him." He concludes that Rimbaud wanted "to found a new religious dispensation wherein the very being of the Deity was shared by the Voyant."
I would say the truth of this 'crux' is somewhere in between; that the quintessences of the universal language were to be both received and self-created. In the Morrison/Rimbaud connection, I see this as the seemingly magical unfoldment of Morrison's gifts as a singer/songwriter. In an interview with Jerry Hopkins in Rolling Stone, Jim said:
"I didn't think about it. It was just there. I never did any singing. I never even conceived it. I thought I was going to be a writer or a sociologist, maybe write plays. I never went to concerts–one or two at most. I saw a few things on TV, but I'd never been a part of it all. But I heard in my head a whole concert situation, singing with a band, and an audience–a large audience. Those first five or six songs I wrote, I was just taking notes at a fantastic rock concert that was going on inside my head. And once I had written the songs, I had to sing them."
In linear time, this dispensation and actualization of Rimbaud's vision took a century, but again, time is an illusion, a creation of human consciousness. As Rimbaud wrote in his poem Eternity:
It has been found again.
It is the sea fled away
with the sun.
We are eternal beings swimming in the sun and the sea of Eternity, but in our individual and collective experience, things manifest when the "time" is right. In Rimbaud's historical period, the world was not ready for the "universal language" of the Doors' music.
In singing, body and soul become one, and Jim's singing, at its best, truly was "of the soul, for the soul." To the logical, orderly mind (the "left brain"), the lyrics of The Crystal Ship may seem nonsensical as they leap from one disparate image to another, but if we can take that ride, the Ship of the song, borne along by Jim's sonorous voice and the instrumentals of his band mates, can carry us into the realm of intuition and instinct, dreams and imagination––the soul's province.
The mass of humanity identifies primarily with their personality, the surface ego-self; the soul is, by and large, still an unknown realm, a vast unexplored territory. The Doors, true to their band's name and its Blakean inspiration ("When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite"), opened the doors to such explorations through their music, thus fulfilling Rimbaud's vision of the poet/seer as one who would "make known the unknown." Jim often stated: "There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors." This has been variously attributed to Jim, Aldous Huxley, and William Blake, but it seems Ray Manzarek is the one who first said it:http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/17/rock-doors-between/) Jim would add, "And that's what I want to be. I wanna be the dooooooor..."
There are many "doors in between" in the song lyrics. For example, in The End: "Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free," and in When The Music's Over: "I want to hear, I want to hear/The scream of the butterfly." This has been interpreted as a sexual image; I read it as a metaphor of rebirth, of transformation and renewal--emergence from the cocoon of sleeping consciousness. "WAKE UP!" Jim would roar to the crowds at the Doors concerts--a rallying cry and call to awareness.
In the journey of the Drunken Boat's awakening, the boat's crew are "taken as targets" by "yelping Redskins." The boat is set adrift, glorying in its liberation:
Into the furious lashing of the tides,
More heedless than children's brains,
I ran! And loosened peninsulas
Have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub.
On it plunges in its exhilarating but chaotic journey, encountering an exotic procession of images and visions, including a rotting Leviathan (a Biblical reference). All of this can be seen as the "derangement of the senses" that Rimbaud specifies as essential in the poet's journey to becoming a seer. However, after a litany of such visions, the intoxicated, freewheeling tone falters and becomes plaintive:
I should have liked to show children those sunfish
Of the blue wave, the fish of gold,
The singing fish.
Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep and exile yourself,
Million golden birds, O future Vigor?
Was Jim Morrison the divinely vigorous, singing gold fish of the future–"Rimbaud in a leather jacket"? Was he the rebirth and the fulfillment–literally, figuratively and alchemically–of Rimbaud and Rimbaud's vision? Were the Doors' songs the "million golden birds" that flew across the collective consciousness of humanity in the mid to late 60's? Rimbaud writes in the Lettre that the poet/seer "is really the thief of fire." This recalls the myth of Prometheus, who defied Zeus, stealing fire from his thunderbolt and delivering it to humans. Thus, the term "Promethean" has come to mean one who is bold, original, and world-changing--in Rimbaud's words, a "multiplier of progress."
It is interesting that the "philosophic gold" of the alchemists is synonymous with fire, symbolizing awareness or consciousness. Fire is also connected with the phoenix, the mythical bird and fire spirit, who like Dionysus, is a symbol of immortality and renewal. Jim was also known as The Lizard King, and reptiles are yet another symbol of transformation and rebirth, through the shedding of their skin.
The alchemical fire figures prominently in Doors songs such as Light My Fire, their biggest hit, wherein the word "fire" is repeated fifteen times, along with "our love becomes a funeral pyre." On one level it is a love/sex song, but in the alchemical sense, "light my fire" translates to "light my consciousness," and the "funeral pyre" is the consuming fire that makes way for new forms of life and love. There is a similar message in the refrain of When The Music's Over:
Music is your only friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end...
Fire has been used as a transformational metaphor in many religions and wisdom teachings. One of the meanings of "INRI," the inscription below the figure of Christ on the cross, is the alchemical aphorism, "Igne Natura Renovata Integra": "By fire nature is renewed whole." Jesus was another Prometheus, firing our consciousness with higher-level knowledge and understandings. This is the "savior" aspect Jim invoked in When The Music's Over: "JESUS! SAVE US! JEEEEESUUUUS!"
As another example, in Ezekiel 1:26-28, the Lord appears as a gloriously fiery being (metaphysically, "Lord" can be understood as the creative force of the universe):
..high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
In our time, Ram Dass has said he uses this mantra given to him by his teacher Hilda Charlton: I am a point of sacrificial fire held within the fiery will of God. He calls it "a fierce mantra to work with."
And in the 1944 prophecy of Peter Deunov, a master in the White Brotherhood Society who took the spiritual name of Beinsa Douno, he described the coming of an alchemical fire that would transform life and consciousness:
We find ourselves today at the frontier between two epochs...A gradual improvement is already occurring in the thoughts, sentiments and acts of humans, but everybody will soon be subjugated to divine Fire, that will purify and prepare them in regards to the New Era...Some decades will pass before this Fire will come, that will transform the world by bringing it a new moral. This immense wave comes from cosmic space and will inundate the entire earth...The Fire of which I speak, that accompanies the new conditions offered to our planet, will rejuvenate, purify, reconstruct everything: the matter will be refined, your hearts will be liberated from anguish, troubles, incertitude, and they will become luminous; everything will be improved, elevated; the thoughts, sentiments and negative acts will be consumed and destroyed.
Was the "very gentle sound" referred to in When The Music's Over a harbinger of that immense wave?
We're getting tired of hanging around
With our heads to the ground
I hear a very gentle sound
Yet very far
Yet very clear
Yes, Jim sensed that wave, but it was hard to be patient:
"We want the world and we want it, now
Patience was not Rimbaud's strong suit, either. As Oliver Bernard wrote in his introduction to Rimbaud's Collected Poems: "For if you begin, as a poet, by trying to become as a god, what will you do when your efforts fail? I think that Rimbaud realized that the magique etude had failed, and I think his reaction was to reject everything he had done while pursuing it. If all he had wanted to do had been to write poems--a mad enough ambition in itself--he would have had no reason either to stop trying to write them or to despise his whole work in later life." The truth is, poetry, in and of itself, could not accomplish what he asked of it in his multi-sensory, all-encompassing, Promethean vision.
Jim had his own unrealized ambitions; he never received the critical recognition he dreamed of for his published poetry. Although he stated that music was a great release and enjoyment to him, he said: "Eventually I'd like to write something of great importance. That's my ambition--to write something worthwhile." It is interesting that neither he nor Rimbaud fully validated the worth of their creations, although they reached peaks that few have scaled since. It is also ironic that while Jim felt he had failed in his ambition to become a respected poet, Arthur felt he had failed in his ambition to become as a god. Each wanted what they other had. Yet in the bigger picture, both succeeded in their ambitions.
At the time of Jim's more outrageous onstage antics, such as taunting the audience in the infamous Miami meltdown, the critic Albert Goldman wrote of the breakdown of their breakthrough:
"The initial vision was one of breakthrough. That was the spirit of their first album. That's what got us all excited. That's what raised all the sunken continents in everybody's mind. They evangelically converted everyone. Then comes the moment of truth. You've got the world on your side, but where are you at, baby? What are you going to do about it? You made the girl love you. Now, do you love the girl?"
This may be apropos, from what may be Jim's most tender love song, "Moonlight Drive": "You reach a hand to hold me but I can't be your guide."
In Miami, Jim, drunk as he was, clearly saw that the audience members were vicariously experiencing his rock star power in lieu of their own potential power, and that the messages of such songs as "Break On Through To The Other Side" were, by and large, not being heard. He wanted to "be the door," but as he said in an interview with Lizzie James: "We can only open the doors, we can't drag people through. I can't free them unless they want to be free, more than anything else...A person has to be willing to give up everything--not just wealth. All the bullshit he's been taught--all society brainwashing. You have to let go of all that to get to the other side. Most people don't want to do that."
And, in another interview with Bob Chorush in the Los Angeles Free Press:
"I like any reaction I can get with my music. Just anything to get people to think.
I mean if you can get a whole room or a whole club full of drunk, stoned people to actually wake up and think, you're doing something. That's not what they came there for. They came to lose themselves."
While Jim venerated and identified with Rimbaud, it seems he did not fully comprehend how he was living out Rimbaud's vision of the poet/seer; of how he himself, in his Dionysian godhood, singing songs "of the soul, for the soul," his performances "containing everything, smells, sounds, colors, thought latching on to thought and pulling," was the alchemical Great Work and (in Rimbaud's phrase) a "multiplier of progress," even though the Doors' audiences were not yet ready to embrace that call to living with full consciousness.
Both of them personified what Henry Miller called the "Rimbaud type":
Rimbaud restored literature to life; I have endeavored to restore life to literature. In both of us the confessional quality is strong, the moral and spiritual preoccupation uppermost. The flair for language, for music rather than literature, is another trait in common. With him I have felt an underlying primitive nature which manifests itself in strange ways. Claudel styled Rimbaud "a mystic in the wild state." Nothing could describe him better. He did not "belong" - not anywhere.
'A mystic in the wild state' well describes Jim also, and alienation was a theme of a number of his songs, in particular The End, Strange Days, and People Are Strange.
Note that Miller speaks of Rimbaud's "flair for music rather than literature." Perhaps he was able to "hear" the first reverberations of the Doors' music in Rimbaud's poetry. In fact, twelve of Rimbaud's poems were turned into songs in a well received 'art rock' album, Sahara Blue.
Miller goes on to say:
Until the old world dies out utterly, the "abnormal" individual will tend more and more to become the norm. The new man will find himself only when the warfare between the collectivity and the individual ceases. Then we shall see the human type in its fullness and splendor.–from Miller's The Time of the Assassins, a Study of Rimbaud
I am reminded of this, from Rimbaud's poem 'War':
I dream of a War of right and of might, of unlooked-for logic.
It is as simple as a musical phrase.
Both Jim and Rimbaud died young–Jim at 27 and Rimbaud at 37–burned out from their brief, blazing Roman candle careers. But as Rimbaud wrote in the Lettre, of the voyant/seer: "He reaches the unknown, and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them!"
Freedom was the overarching theme of their lives and their work. Rimbaud's Drunken Boat, racing uncontrolled and unfettered into "the furious lashing of the tides," is the quintessential image of freedom. And as Jim sang in The Crystal Ship:
Oh tell me where your freedom lies,
The streets are fields that never die,
Deliver me from reasons why,
You'd rather cry, I'd rather fly.
I'll close this with a poem from Jim that was purportedly channeled from the other side:
Soft waves crashed over me, I couldn't see the shore.
Where is my beacon of light, where is my siren to guide me home?
I awoke on the sand, and found the beacon of light flooding out of me
And the siren..........was my voice.
See my light; hear my voice, when the waves crash over you.
Jim's and Arthur's light and voice live on, and it was their highest and dearest hope that their work would open the doors to this guiding light and voice living within each of us. They were, as Henry Miller put it, "abnormal individuals": evolutionary markers and renegades. In their defiance of the old world and their vision of the new, they prepared the way for that new world and for the integration of humanity, both within the self and the collective.
When we awaken from the dream of separation, in tune with and manifesting our soul as well as our physical beingness, we will all be seer/gods and shamans, freely response-able to everyone and everything, understanding our oneness with all, and that "I" is truly "another."
We just have to be willing to cleanse the doors of our perception, walk through them into those infinite, unknown fields of the psyche, and find out for ourselves where our freedom lies. Only then will we be ready to spread our wings and fly.