Public Misrepresentation and the Malaise of the '60s


In Joan Didion’s "The White Album,” her discussion of the legendary rock band The Doors encompasses both an idealized description of what they seemingly meant to a generation of young Americans, and a more realistic view of their incredibly mundane interactions. Sitting in on a recording session, Didion uses the time spent by the band desperately waiting for their public face and lead singer Jim Morrison to show up to wax poetic about the band’s significance. She asserts that The Doors are “Normal Mailers of the Top 40” and “ missionaries of apocalyptic sex” (21). She claims Morrison represents “some range of the possible just beyond a suicide pact”(22). However, when we finally see the much-lauded Morrison’s arrival, and the band’s interactions with their leader, they seem no more than a dull group of young men trying to make music.

It was a long while later. Morrison arrived. He had on his black vinyl pants and he sat down on a leather couch in front of the four big blank speakers and he closed his eyes. The curious aspect of Morrison’s arrival was this: no one acknowledged it. Robby Krieger continued working out a guitar passage. John Densmore tuned his drums. Manzarek sat at the control console and twirled a corkscrew and let a girl rub his shoulders. The girl did not look at Morrison, although he was in her direct line of sight. An hour or so passed, and still no one had spoken to Morrison. Then Morrison spoke to Manzarek. He spoke almost in a whisper, as if he were wresting the words from behind some disabling aphasia.

“It’s an hour to West Covina,” he said. “I was thinking maybe we should spend the night out there after we play.”

Manzarek put down the corkscrew. “Why?” he said.

“Instead of coming back.”

Manzarek shrugged. “We were planning to come back.”

“Well, I was thinking we could rehearse out there.”

Manzarek said nothing.

We could get in a rehearsal, there’s a Holiday Inn next door.”

“We could do that,” Manzarek said. “Or we could rehearse Sunday, in town.”

“I guess so.” Morrison paused. “Will the place be ready to rehearse on Sunday?”

Questions

1. Throughout the essay, Morrison has previously been described as a central, essential figure of “The Doors.” Why, then, does he become entirely invisible once his much-awaited arrival occurs?

2. After being idealized for much of Didion’s descriptive paragraphs, the entirety of this idealized image seems to be broken down as soon as the band members themselves begin to speak. Why do you think Didion uses these contrasting representations?

3. Didion takes time to specifically mention that the woman massaging Ray Manzarek’s shoulders completely ignores Jim Morrison, despite previous assertions of Morrison’s nature as a universal sex symbol. Why does Didion downplay Morrison’s sexual, as well as conversational, impact in this scene?

4. Manzarek and Morrison finally speak for the first time an hour into their recording session, and refuse to agree on such a mundane item as where to travel for the weekend. How does the internal conflict and apparent boredom within the band reflect the youth ideology of the 1960s?


Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

31 January 2011