L.A. Woman is the Doors’ final album with Jim Morrison, and it’s also my favorite. It’s easily the most blues-oriented of any of the Doors’ albums, and the psychedelic madness of their self-titled debut seems pretty far in their rear view mirror by this point. I had never heard of the Doors until almost ten years ago, when I was traveling through France and Spain on a school trip and my friend had their greatest hits CD. He was a big fan of Apocalypse Now, which is famous for using “The End” during the opening minutes. He had me listen to the version of the song from the movie (with the helicopter noise) and I absolutely loved it. As fate would have it, we went to Paris on that trip, where Jim Morrison died. We even went past the place where he’s buried. (Not that I would have known if our tour guide hadn’t pointed it out.) And that’s how I became a fan of the Doors.
I didn’t listen to any of their albums until I got to college — it’s easier for novice listeners to digest greatest hits albums, as I’ve said before — and since their self-titled debut is always considered their best, that was the first one I listened to. I liked it, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I like it more now than I did then, but I find the Doors’ later bluesy work to be much more interesting than their early psychedelic period. And boy, do they ever get bluesy on L.A. Woman. They even do an excellent cover of Chicago blues man John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake,” and it’s easily one of my favorites from the album. I love the vibe of this album; it’s that same vibe they introduced with “Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel the year before, but spread out over an entire album.
It captures that energy, that spirit of LA that things were happening, that things were coming and going, like at a roadside bar. It’s a spirit that doesn’t really exist out here in LA anymore. Not in my experience. Maybe it never existed at all. But it was what California always seemed like to a kid growing up on the other side of the country. I’ve always wanted to live on the west coast. It always seemed so full of promise and ideas. The Hollywood scene in Los Angeles, the hippie scene in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley technology gold rush in San Jose, the grunge scene in Seattle. (And Oregon’s a pretty cool state, too. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is from Portland.) There’s something about the west coast that fosters creativity. I found the east coast too rigid, most likely due to years of everyone doing things the same way.
As for Los Angeles, it’s a city in decay. The freeways are all run down, there’s too many of them to begin with, and, at the same time, there aren’t enough of them to handle the insanely high volume of cars that frequent them at all hours of the day. It’s just a concrete jungle. And yet in many ways today’s LA is much improved over the LA of the ’70s, when the pollution-induced smog made it hard to breathe. (Or so I’m told.) I’ve barely seen any evidence of smog since I moved here. And, at the very least, the riots of 1992 appear to be a part of the distant past.