“The End” song analysis
How this song, side-by-side with “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through” helped the unforgettable album, The Doors, skyrocket to eternity
By Soft Tower
“The End” by the Doors was released as the final song of the album The Doors in 1967. It runs almost to 12 minutes, featuring ominous, apocalyptic lyrics by the Doors’ front man Jim Morrison and East Asian riffs by their guitarist Robby Krieger. Since June of this past year, I’ve been essentially obsessed with the song’s depth and hypnotic qualities, which also led me to read a biography about Jim Morrison, his poetic genius, literary inclinations, and his time with the Doors. Therefore, this paper stems heavily from prior knowledge, and I will use my recollection from the biography as well as my own interpretations to supplement my analysis. In “The End” by the Doors, the band accompanies Jim Morrison’s combination of Oedipus Rex and its ancient imagery with the cultural revolution of the mid-late 1960’s by surrounding the lyrics with an ambience of Indian and Eastern mantra music to create a song about the ego’s ‘apocalypse’ due to LSD usage.
Through his lyrics, Morrison also tells us to go West towards the cultural revolution, in full swing at the time that this song was written.
“Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain//And all the children are insane…”
“The West is the best//Get here and we’ll do the rest…”
“The blue bus is calling us//Driver, where you takin’ us?”
“C’mon baby take a chance with us//And meet me at the back of the blue bus…”
Here he references the rising popularity of LSD at the time as a tool for mind-expansion and ego death. Morrison talks about the initial challenges of ego death, which starts with confronting the problems in life head on. With the first line above, he could also be giving a description of the population that was not willing to break free from the confines of society or their ego, i.c. Vietnam supporters, the “Greatest Generation,” and how they viewed the youth of the time. Morrison tells them to come West, to California, to break free, which possibly includes the usage of LSD, notorious for its ego-damaging qualities in supervised, responsible doses. He tells the target audience to let go and let ‘the mother’ take the wheel, to ride the waves of life without resistance or unnecessary judgement. Morrison wrote most of this song while under the influence of 10,000 micrograms of LSD (100 times the normal dose), which further adds evidence to support that this song is largely about ego death, he must’ve had an out-of-body experience of some sort while writing this.
The most apparent part of “The End” for me when I first heard it was the song’s climax. In the climax, Morrison builds tension by describing an ancient Roman prince walking through the halls of his palace, intent on killing his father then having sex with his mother.
“He went into the room where his sister lived,
And then he paid a visit to his brother and
Then he, He WALKED ON DOWN THE HALL…
Then he came to a door,
And he looked inside.
‘Father?’ ‘Yes son.’
‘I want to kill you.’
‘Mother?’ ‘I want to…’ (Screams)”
I was utterly stunned when I heard this for the first time, especially after the song accelerates in tempo and descends into a madness of guitar riffs and bashes of the hi-hat and the bass drums, while Morrison screams “F•ck” for about 40 seconds. Of course, I’d known what the plot of Oedipus Rex was, but never had I heard it so bluntly phrased before. Naturally, after I learned more about Jim Morrison’s poetry, the metaphor made more sense. Morrison was obsessed with Oedipus Rex for a time and had a contemporary interpretation for its allegory. In short summary, firstly, the father’s murder signifies the death of all that one has come to know from external factors throughout life, one’s biases, the predetermined groups that one inherently belongs to from birth. This, Morrison is telling us, plagues our ego, and shields meaning from our life, puts unnecessary obstacles in our lives. The mother, in turn, represents the forces of nature, our unknown future and entropic lives. Morrison is telling us to embrace the chaos and kill all that we thought we knew to break free from our ego that might cause our soul to fizzle without reaching its full potential. Through his mantra: “Kill the father, f•ck the mother,” he also embodies meditative chants, widely practiced in Indian culture at the time, and a point of interest of the other Doors.
The lesser-known Doors, Ray Manzarek, Robby Kreiger, and John Densmore, Keyboard, Guitar, and Drums, respectively, had enveloped themselves with East Asian culture at the time. They not only dove into Buddhist practices, including mantra meditation and fasting, but also attempted to recreate music from India. Krieger’s catchy riff and Manzarek’s keyboard composition was formed in an Indian scale, while Densmore uses mostly a light, jazzy hi hat rhythm supplemented by the bass drum, supporting short, twangy explosions up and down the scale by Kreiger.
In conclusion, this essay does not properly do justice to “The End,” however it provides a brief synopsis of its meaning and significance for the time that bred it. This song fit well into the “hippy culture” of the West Coast at the time, prior to the Manson family murders and after the beginning of the Vietnam War. This song appropriately appears on Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 allegorical movie about the Vietnam War and the follies of materialist civilization. Wherever this song is uncovered, its madness is somewhat attractive, though other-worldly. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy listening to this song and diving into the depths of its darkness and daring dialect, form, and musical execution. It encourages me to stay alert and curious, to welcome change in place of stagnancy, progressively explore my biases, and to acknowledge and consider the positives and negatives in any circumstance, place or event which might surround me.
Jim Morrison book citation (last used August 2021):
Davis, Stephen. Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend. New York: Gotham, 2004