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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