The Ethos of “Cool”: Robert Harrison on Jim Morrison and The Doors “Hot is momentary. It quickly turns to ashes. But cool stays cool.”
Fifty years ago, the award-winning album The Doors was released into the world – a landmark debut for what would become L.A.’s biggest band. The Doors and its lead singer Jim Morrison have few champions as articulate and passionate as Entitled Opinions host Robert Pogue Harrison, who interprets the band’s legacy in this podcast.
“The beginning holds sway over the entire unfolding of the story,” he explains, describing how Morrison was “incubating his future on a rooftop,” as he lived for weeks in “a high-perched nest in Venice, California.” He had little more than a blanket, candles, oranges, notebooks, and LSD, which was cheap and legal at the time. He meditated. He filled his notebooks with poems.
Although he’d never studied music, nor played a musical instrument, songs swirled in his head – and eventually “the ghosts became flesh,” says Harrison. Morrison described what happened this way: “I was just taking notes at a fantastic rock concert that was going on inside my head.”
These were most critical weeks of his life. “In little more than a month, Morrison had undergone a metamorphoses,” according to Harrison.
Harrison discusses Morrison’s military family, and how the young man was “raised to military code of order, discipline obedience, and stoical formalism.” He also explores the ethos of “cool.” Although many see Morrison’s music as a Dionysian expression, Harrison points out that “what you never hear is a convulsive maniac in need of an exorcism.” Morrison always returns to form, measure, restraint. “In the final analysis, Apollo always dominated over Dionysius.”
“Morrison had one of the great screams in the history of rock.”
“Jim Morrison had a great deal of fire, but it was the cool that prevailed and always called the shots.”
“Cool does not crave. But our age is craven.”
“Morrison always withheld something, even when he appeared to let it all hang out.”
Robert Pogue Harrison hosts the popular and cerebral radio talk show, Entitled Opinions, available on iTunes. He also contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of the highest cultural honors France offers. He is the acclaimed author of Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, The Dominion of the Dead, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, and The Body of Beatrice. He is the Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian Literature at Stanford University.