This Is “The End”: A Video Exploration of The Doors’ Existential Epic

If you had broken up with your college boyfriend and he told you that he written an 11-minute song about you while on enough LSD to kill a horse, would you want to hear it? Or would you block his number on your phone?

Or maybe because said boyfriend is Jim Morrison and the band is the Doors and the song is “The End,” we’ll let it slide, because whether or not you think Jim’s lyrics are super deep or supercilious, the groove is undeniable, four small furry musicians gathered together in a studio and grooving on a raga, conjuring up Eastern mysticism with Western instruments.

In Polyphonic’s explainer video on “The End,” he pulls apart The Doors’ magnum opus, the closer to its 1967 debut album, analyzing the song in real time as it unspools. (There’s a few moments where Polyphonic and Morrison are vocalizing at the same time—we recommend turning on captions).

The girlfriend in question was Mary Werbelow, Morrison’s steady in the early ‘60s before he chose the path of putting his poetry to music. The Werbelow/Morrison couple had to die for the Doors to be born, in a sense, and Morrison started the lyrics as a goodbye song, a standard pop trope at the time. (There’s a very touching, rare interview with Werbelow here). But Morrison took it in another direction, we could say.

“The End” might be the first musical example of the Psychotronic Breakup genre. Defined by Noah Segan and Adam Egypt Mortimer when talking about film, the Psychotronic Breakup genre “uses dream imagery, paranormal ideas, or the horror genre to express the emotional drama of heartbreak.” Segan and Mortimer’s definition deals only with film, but Morrison does the same thing with song, a little over ten years before the films they discuss. “The End” is a breakup song that breaks down the psyche like LSD, sending the injured party back to basics, and into a universe of archetypes. Things are dying. Things are being reborn. There’s a blue bus which is calling us, and that is either a reference to the Solar Boat in Egyptian mythology or a reference to the Santa Monica bus system (according to one wag in the comments). Or hey, maybe it is both, because Morrison is tapping into something here, much like James Joyce created layers of myth within the quotidian. (Morrison achieves this by walking backwards into it, however.)

Polyphonic gets into the song’s Oedipal Cliff Notes section, describing how it all came fluming out of Morrison on stage, the band having dragged him to a gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go after he consumed “10,000 mikes” (i.e. 10,000 micrograms, about ten full doses) of LSD. A few days later the “kill your teachers, kill your parents” riff was committed to tape, this time also on LSD.

For all its pretense the song still works. And though Morrison never did reconcile with his girlfriend, the song did find its soul mate when Francis Ford Coppola used “The End” as the opening to Apocalypse Now, another work of art that drained the life force from its creator. There are no real cover versions of “The End,” and there are no films past Coppola’s that can use it without irony. It exists like a totem, to be found and puzzled over.

(But because this is late capitalism and everything is terrible, Polyphonic’s segue into a sponsor ad at 11:46 is something wondrous to behold in its perverse beauty. Be warned, my only friend.)

Related Content:

The Doors’ Ray Manzarek Walks You Through the Writing of the Band’s Iconic Song, “Riders on the Storm”

“The Lost Paris Tapes” Preserves Jim Morrison’s Final Poetry Recordings from 1971

A Young, Clean Cut Jim Morrison Appears in a 1962 Florida State University Promo Film

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Suze says:

    To say there are no real covers of “the End” is not just a lie but an injustice to one of the women of rock, Nico. She covered “The End” on her 1974 album ‘The Marble Index’ and it is stunning, every bit as good, although completely different, from The Doors version. It’s so sad to see the misogyny of the music business try to erase this version with a simple dismissal like, “there are no real cover versions”. Do your homework man.

  • John Cale says:

    Love Nico, but only from endlessly listening to the Velvet Underground. I’d never heard anything later, so I’m very grateful to Suze for recommending these two albums – The Marble Index and The End. It’s the latter which has the cover version, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect if you crossed All Tomorrow’s Parties with The End.

  • L.A.Cosenza says:

    Personally as a Doors fan,since I first listened to my sister’s 13 album with the appearance of Jim larger than life on the cover that’s when it (the music) became my religion. That was over 40 yrs.ago and all is well. This band is very underrated and very much misunderstood to most (I think because of the band’s intellect) so no one should be dumping on us.That has been and always will be my band. No one in the world can even come close to approaching what was done on the American Prayer Album. THE END. Back to first. L.A.Cosenza (the 5th door)

  • Thomas Hyatt says:

    Aloofness is a mystery whose doubts are the sureties of others. Trapped below we proudly sacrifice our intuition toward a hollow idol. Our simple lives can not be explained, they overshadow our creativeness never to be seen as a whole.A mere arrow is the rock idol, his followers follow only its momentum , ignoring its creation
    ,denying its demise.The music never found Jim Morrison yet its message killed him.Every Doors album is merely an emotion put onto a disc to be scrutinized by people that sensed Jim’s quirky mystique , he was an enigma never fully exuding his true purpose, the radio skewed his poetic potential, his talent aborted by a just born pop world of which the Doors never catered to.Jims cloud sat hauntingly over the flower childrens dreams his presence forever lurking ,establishing his credentials to his house of detention, a hidden bungalow adorned by drink.Jim unraveled himself in both sleep and travel, seeing the world on Elektras dream a shaman disguised by the hormones of teenagers.Can we not sense that Jim was not into music yet a quadraphonic orgasm , one that emoted the biggest question m in rocks history? Can we grasp how many more fans would have listened to him had he dumbed it down? On top of the list of non sellout bands were the Doors, bold to a fault, a fault of non compliance towards the music world , they were an itch that so many steered clear of finding solace in a world of drippy love songs, rubber stamped by the fiction of happiness. They knew that music was beyond love.Jims
    mystique was the catalyst, Ray Robbie and John were barely acquaintances just minions for Jim’s puppetry.Ray tried to tame an animal he knew so little of, a young man bounced about in a military menagerie clinging to books to harbor the madness only to find comfort on the rooftop of television skies.I believe that the Oedipous Rex bit was no coincidence , when we read of possible abuse at the hands of Jim’s father it all comes clear, Jim was an honest man, allegations were not his goal yet fear prevailed. Jim’s parents probably loved him but I don’t think he felt it,it was lost in a tossed about childhood
    emboldened by the curse of booze, Jim’s go to that fought off the lack of love that we can hear in ” the end.”

  • Dorothy Gail Stedino says:

    Wow. That was right on. I am a Doors fan since 1967. Jim died on my 18th bday. I have always felt a connection with jim Morrison. I love the Doors. I love jim. RIP jim and ray.

  • Bill says:

    Even though it has been 65 year ago I still remember driving by the house in the North Clairemont area of San Diego where a teenage boy killed his mother, father, and sister. Jim Morrison was living about 4 miles away at the time. I believe this was the original inspiration for The End.

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