Denise Sullivan is a music journalist who digs deep into the subjects she covers in her book “Keep On Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-Hop.” Sullivan explores how music affected social change and the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the two. Sullivan has also written about R.E.M. and the White Stripes. In “Shaman’s Blues” not only does she take a look at The Doors, but gets behind The Doors and delves into the influences on The Doors in more depth than most other books on the subject. We had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Sullivan about “Shaman’s Blues.”
Doors Examiner: Why did you choose The Doors as a subject for a book? Or as you put it, how did the project come to you?
Denise Sullivan: Living in Los Angeles for 10 years, there was no getting around the Doors---their songs, references to them, or the places they made famous, whether the Whisky or Venice. My previous book, “Keep on Pushing,” was about the intersections of political and social movement and music, and after spending five years on that project, I was looking to take on something a bit more about the creative art of music making and the Doors were a natural: I'd always loved the band, but none of the written material about them ever spoke to me which is usually my reason for launching an inquiry, to write the book I want to read. For me, there's nothing like driving on the 10 or 405 freeways, through the canyons or along the coast highway with a big moon on the rise and having the Doors come on the radio (and fortunately, that happened frequently in LA---mostly thanks to KLOS and Jim Ladd). The book is an attempt to capture that magic, and to tell the story in a way that allows for a little more exploration into parts previously unexplored.
Doors Examiner: How did The Doors influences affect or shape The Doors career?
Denise Sullivan: Well, many of their influences were unnoticed by the average listener, but over time, it's what's given them such tremendous staying power. When you draw from such a deep well and a variety of the arts as the Doors did, from theater, poetry, prose, film, philosophy, and music, and pack it into your own unique form of expression, you are using the tools of the artist. Certainly as college graduates in the arts, Morrison and Manzarek were conscious of the approach, but rock 'n' roll requires a bit of rawness: They availed themselves to those energies too, for better and for worse in as much as their career ended prematurely.
Doors Examiner: Almost from the beginning there's been the opinion that Jim Morrison's lyrics were pretentious, is that a valid critique?
Denise Sullivan: I understand where it's coming from, but I don't think it's valid: It has been waged against Morrison by people who don't understand the precedents or allusions in the work. Let's not forget, he was a young man and much of the material was written when he was even younger: he should be allowed the hubris of youth. Perhaps the accusations of pretentiousness are based on the recitations rather than the words themselves. Anyone who's heard Allen Ginsberg read his poetry can certainly dig where Jim was coming from. Listening to all the old audio interviews of Morrison, you can't deny that he is more than a showman: He's a sensitive, funny, intelligent human being---he doesn't sound at all pretentious to me: This is someone who believed in the power of words and performance and wanted to do good with his art. Perhaps the imperfections---the pretense--could be less emphasized on that basis.
Doors Examiner: What do you think is the influence of The Doors on today's music?
Denise Sullivan: I think it can best be heard in hip hop---in rhymes and poems that story tell and attempt to shine a light on our society and the world's ills, and correct them. Plenty of hip hop artists acknowledge the influence. But any music that is a serious, conscious attempt to rouse people from the collective slumber is where the Doors' spirit lives.
Doors Examiner: What do you think their legacy, in the broad category of music is?
Denise Sullivan: That the more attentive one is to the foundation, the history and roots of the music, the better your chances are that you will be remembered as part of that history and placed on the continuum, rather than be forgotten tomorrow. I don't want to name names---we can think of plenty of music that was here today and gone tomorrow. That can never be said about the Doors.
Doors Examiner: The Doors are a polarizing band in the rock 'n' roll world, what do you think it is about The Doors that some misunderstand?
Denise Sullivan: I get that music is a matter of taste: Some people prefer female to male vocals, country to metal, we're all different, that's great. But if you're a fan of rock 'n' roll and are quick to dismiss the Doors, you just aren't listening. Everything that is holy and good about rock 'n' roll---the passion, the performance, the power and even politics is packed into their songs. So if you don't get that, you're misunderstanding everything. I hope the book serves not only as an introduction to the band for new generations, but as a reintroduction to those who missed what we as Doors fans already understand: Their music offers deep worlds to explore, but you have to be wiling to take the trip.
Doors Examiner: Thank you Denise!
“Shaman’s Blues” is now available on Kindle, and through this weekend, August 22 -24 it is FREE at Amazon in Kindle. A hardcover of the book has an October 1 release date. If you want more information on Denise Sullivan, “Shaman’s Blues”, or her other books visit Denise Sullivan’s website.
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