Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What if Jim Morrison had gotten help?

I recently watched the episode of American Masters that retold the story of the Doors, and once again I find myself thinking about those artists whose creativity seems to come from being broken. It's tempting to conclude that Jim Morrison couldn't've been all the things he was without also being on a path to destruction. Is that because his heedlessness of his impending doom was what gave him the freedom to make expressions he might not otherwise have been able to make? Was it because it was the very act of him plunging like a falling star towards an inevitable crash that made him so compelling? Or were his expressivity and his self-destruction separate effects of a common cause, whether that was an aspect of his personality, or the simple acts of indulgence?

This question came to me by a different method during the show, when it was mentioned that at one point, when things were getting bad but before they got irretrievably bad, that he went sober for a week, and his lifemate Pam urged him to get therapy, and he went to one session. I started getting all Harry Turtledove and wondered, what if he'd gotten help, and it had helped? What if he'd come out of it clean and sober?

It seems likely that in this scenario he'd probably still be alive today. (Perhaps Pam would be too.) Maybe there'd still be Doors concerts today. (Maybe he'd've dropped music and focused on his poetry, but it seems inevitable the pressure to do a reunion would eventually get to him.) But the big mystery is, could he have retained the spark that made his performances what they were? Would a clean and sober Mr. Mojo Risin' also be a boring, uninspired one? Would we be bemoaning the new Doors album the way we do so many artists that stay past their prime?

Or would Jim find some way to stay in touch with his poetry, or perhaps take it to a new level, in the post-destructive era of his life? Maybe they could keep the magic. After all, while we all recognize that Jim's spark and charisma were key to the band's appeal, one shouldn't dismiss the amount that the other band members brought to the party. Many of the songs we love were written by Jim, sure, but Robby wrote plenty of them, too. Maybe Robby could have kept things going long enough for Jim to find a new voice?

I think knowing the answer to this question would in turn shed some light on that facet of the creative process that seems correlated so highly with self-destructive tendencies. It's easy to be glib about it and brush it off with platitudes. ("The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long." Sure, but why? That's an analogy, not an explanation.) The correlation between creativity and madness, self-destruction, and being broken, doesn't even suggest which one is cause and which is effect (or if they're both effects of some common cause). If we can't even figure that out, we can't really ever understand this aspect of creativity.

(Of course, plenty of people would prefer that we never do understand creativity, but that's just the "merely" fallacy about which I've written before. Once again I'll let David Brin answer that concern: "The same folks who decry that the beauty of a rainbow is diminished if we penetrate its secrets to discover that it consists of ten trillion floating watery lenses, all brilliantly refracting, in perfect synchrony, rays from a stellar fusion pile, burning with ancient, furious constancy, millions of miles away." Or perhaps Catherine Faber: "The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.")


Tyler said...

This reminds me of an episode of Sliders, of all things. One of the background elements of one alternate world was that Morrison didn't die for whatever reason, focused on his poetry and eventually became involved in the software industry, leading to the most popular OS of the 90s being Doors, with an oddly familiar logo.

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

Weird! I wonder if I'd find it worth it to find and watch that. I never disliked Sliders, just didn't like it enough to go to the effort of watching it.