Culture & Criticism Since 2003
My mind is calm & swirling
like the marble pages of an
old bookPage 315
Jim Morrison was the lead singer of the LA-based rock band The Doors. He was also a poet of global reach whose work on the page was overshadowed by his life on stage as the leather-clad “Lizard King.”
Morrison’s poetics were heavily influenced by Williams Blake’s The Songs of Innocence & Experience and also by the collective Beat Generation canon. His early mentor was none other then beat icon Michael McClure, who took the shy singer under his wing and exposed him to myriad artists and writers, reshaping the young Morrison’s consciousness.
The Collected Works of Jim Morrison, recently released by Harper Collins, presents a complete compendium of Morrison’s work – including journal entries, song lyrics, and poetry. Fans who only know his songs are in for a special ride, as readers discover where the imagery in pieces “The End” and “When the Music’s Over” originated. A poem that appears on page 277 in Morrison’s own handwriting serves as a hearty example:
I am troubled
By your eyes
I am struck
By the feather
Of your soft
The sound of glass
What your eyes fight
This handsomely bound hard-back proves indispensable to anyone with a passing interest in The Doors, because it collects all of Morrison’s major writing in one place, raising his poetry to the forefront. In turn, one immediately realizes that there is no distinct separation between the lyricist and the midnight poet who rambled the solitary streets of old LA. In reality, Morrison, who died in 1971, was a poet who happened to front a rock & roll band; as such, his true mission in life was to further the reach of every scribe who came before him. In this regard, Jim Morrison viewed himself as direct kin to Blake, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats – his life extending the great continuum of the bardic tradition.
Ultimately, this collection proves that Morrison’s perception of himself was spot on. It will always be true that Morrison’s fame sprung from belting out “LA Woman” from concert halls throughout the world; but that was just his day job. The real James Douglas Morrison was a poet in the finest sense of the word:
Create my face
in the mirror
of your turning world
play it again
& againPage 314
We must not make a false faith by hiding from our thoughts the causes of doubt, for faith is the highest achievement of the human intellect, the only gift man can make to God, and therefore it must be offered in sincerity.William Butler Yeats
W.B. Yeats was one of the heavy-weights of world literature, a poet of amazing range who wrote with tender insight and grace. In turn, this new release couples his magnificent verse (read by actor Vincent O’Neill) with haunting, sweetly-brooding viola fills by Mary Ramsey – known throughout the world for her work with the rock band 10,000 Maniacs.
But Ramsey (who has been playing the violin since she was a mere five years old), is far from a one-dimensional musician. The childhood introduction to music she received inspired the exploration of myriad genres and styles, with her early work marked by a series of classical endeavors. Initially, she worked with the Erie Philharmonic and this led her to create her own Lexington String Trio. Subsequently, she played with the Fresno Philharmonic, the Santa Cruz Symphony and the Monterey Symphony (all in California).
Given her background, it not hard to see how she came to pair with Vincent O’Neill. The Dublin-born O’Neill is also an artist of great renown, having launched his career at the famed Abbey Theatre in Ireland. Eventually, O’Neill would journey to New York, where he founded the Irish Classical Theatre Company with Josephine Hogan and the late Dr. James Warde. The Irish Classical Theatre Company is now 30 years old, and Yeats’ Words and Music continues its mission to propel the work of seminal Irish writers to the forefront of the world stage.
Accordingly, the marriage of Ramsey’s strings to O’Neill’s oration is a natural and magical union, fusing the raw lyricism of Yeats’ work to a new body. Joined together, the artists recall the specter of Shakespeare by-way of Yeats’ transcendent spirit. Each of the 33 pieces performed here are compelling in their own right, but some stand taller than others. “A Prayer for Old Age,” “The Second Coming,” and the eerily appropriate “Politics” are grand statements of artistry that will haunt and amaze long after these performances end.
In this 21st-century world of cell phone mania and techno-driven music, the soul of the theater often feels dead. But Ramsey and O’Neill offer a beautiful rebuttal to that sentiment here, revitalizing the verse of a forgotten master with their own voices.