On the brink of self-destruction: Defining Moments of The Doors, Metallica, and Brian Wilson

To describe a defining moment we must also look at it for its critical importance. Another way to look at it is, an artist on the edge. One false step and they plunge to their death or, they rise above whatever troubles may lay ahead and ultimately over come, divide, and conquer.

(1) The Doors – Isle Of Wight Festival. Isle Of Wight, England. August 29, 1970

Some may argue that the incident in Miami on March 1, 1969 wherein Jim Morrison allegedly showed his penis to the crowd supersedes their performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival on August 29, 1970. Although both are important in the way they shaped the things to come concerning the career of the band, we must look at which held more importance, while at the same time shed new light into the brilliance of what was The Doors and their music.

The Doors - Isle Of Wight August 29, 1970

The Doors - Isle Of Wight August 29, 1970

The Isle Of Wight Festival came at a time when The Doors we’re under some of the most personal and public scrutiny they’d faced in their entire career up to that point. The Miami incident occurred just five months prior to the August 1969 Woodstock Festival, and some believe to be the reason The Doors did not play. Other speculations as to why they didn’t play range from Morrison’s fear of being assassinated, the groups dislike towards outdoor concerts, Morrison’s own view of a such a “hippie gathering”, and the general feeling of the insignificance of an outdoor festival on a pig farm in Upstate, NY. We of course now know the overwhelming importance, as well as the ground breaking cultural significance of the Woodstock Festival.

The Doors performing at The Isle Of Wight Festival also occurred while Morrison’s case was still pending appeal. One only has to look at their performance of “When The Music’s Over” to gain a true understanding behind the fury of Morrison’s vocal delivery. It seems as if he was able to harness the anger assigned to him by the media, the public, left wing organisations, and fans. The tension during their their performance is palpable yet we can also see it in the eyes of the other members, it’s that of an un-conscious understanding that translates on stage during the show. In the end, perhaps music really is your only friend.

After the release of Morrison Hotel, Absolutely Live, and LA Woman, Morrison moved to Paris with his girlfriend. On July 3, 1971 he was found dead in his bathtub. Their performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival to me, is a defining moment. At no other point can we look at The Doors and see a closeness that resonates so heavily between four musicians then we can at that very moment. The Doors plow through just 10 songs, their tenacity and conviction can be felt not only by watching the performance, but it translates onto the audio recording as well. Forget about all the drugs and excess because this is truly a moment, captured in time that resonates louder than any conspiracy, or rumor concocted by the media throughout their career. What’s more critically important than that? (On a side note, Jim Morrison received a full pardon for the Miami incident on December 9, 2010, just under 40 years after Morrison’s death and 41 years after the initial incident. The three remaining members to this day deny ever seeing Morrison’s penis on stage that night.)

(2) Metallica – The recording of St. Anger. San Francisco, CA. January 2001- July 2001/December 2001 – April 2003.

Metallica - St. Anger

Metallica - St. Anger

Metallica is one of the most popular Metal bands of all time. Their records have sold a combined total of over 100 million copies worldwide. After the highly publicized departure of bassist Jason Newsted, (album producer Bob Rock filled in for the recording of St. Anger.) Metallica began recording their eighth studio album St. Anger in January of 2001 in San Francisco. The events that took place during the recording/therapy process are documented in the film Some Kind Of Monster. St. Anger was released on June 5, 2003 and reached number one in over 30 countries.

The album features not one trademark Kirk Hammet guitar solo. Raw, and heavier than recent (excluding Death Magnetic) Metallica albums to some, it’s their least favorite out of the bands discography. One can’t help but notice the atrocious snare drum sound and perhaps the forced sound of Hetfeild’s vocals and the albums collaborative lyrical content. At the same time of the albums recording, drummer Lars Ulrich was in the process of suing Napster which resulted in a backlash from even the most die-hard fans. One that we haven’t seen since John Lennon’s “we’re more popular than Jesus” comment resulting in public outcry and community album burning parties back in August of 1966.

The album itself received an array of mixes reviews. Some stated it’s sound as that of a messy demo, others said that the sound of four guys jamming in a garage was a welcomed departure. In writing this section of this piece I forced myself to listen to St. Anger in it’s entirety. At times I was quite shocked at how terrible it really is yet, at other moments in the record Metallica’s sound harkens back to …And Justice For All and earlier releases such as Master Of Puppets and Ride The Lightening. It’s defiantly not something I could ever put on and listen to in it’s entirety again. Some fans may disagree and that’s great. Opinions, critiques, judgements, and reviews aside. I think Metallica and the recording of St. Anger is a defining moment because the band was on the brink of breaking up during the entire recording process.Tensions were at an all time high and Hetfield’s departure during recording to attend rehab left Lars and Kirk in limbo, contemplating their futures.

In Some Kind Of Monster, Lars states that, “we’ve proven that you can make aggressive music without negative energy between the people creating it”. Hetfield adds that, “more than any other record, this is like a diary, here’s our memories on CD”. This comes at the very end of the documentary and I think it sums up a lot about the band and their ability to push through and climb that self-destructive mountain to come out on the other side, cleansed and free from burden. Five years later in 2008 Metallica released Death Magnetic which is by far their greatest album since Master Of Puppets. Death Magnetic debuted at number one and made many year end top album lists of 2008. To me, their success post St. Anger proves that the band could have very well faltered, crumbled, crashed and burned. This of course was not the case and 30 years on since their formation, Metallica is still out there, touring and recording today.

(3) Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Presents Smile officially released on September 28, 2004

Brian Wilson Presents Smile

Brian Wilson Presents Smile

In 1966 The Beach Boys released one of the most influential and critically acclaimed albums of all time called Pet Sounds. Although at the time the other members we’re against the album as a whole, due to the fact the token “surf sound” that had been so successful in the past was completing missing from the album. Released on May 16, 1966 it reached #10. Pet Sounds has since gone on to Gold and Platinum status receiving accolades from the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. The “failed success” of the album weighed heavy especially on Brian Wilson who had stopped touring with The Beach Boys prior to the recording of Pet Sounds.

Unknown to Wilson and the band, Brian was suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, which wasn’t properly diagnosed until the late eighties. Upon completion of Pet Sounds in April of 1966 Brian set out recording what was to be his opus, Smile. During the recording sessions Brian Wilson suffered a mental breakdown and the album was shelved. In order to “appease the masses” The Beach Boys hastily put together Smiley Smile which was released in September of 1967. The album was full of song scraps and odd themes and most fans stayed away. Of course, like any true masterpiece the album now receives high praise and is among the favourites of many Beach Boy fans.

From about 1968 to 1988, Brian Wilson underwent a serious of mood swings, stages of depression which ranged from staying in bed for months at a time, overeating, and massive drug intake both prescribed and un-prescribed. He also had little or no interest in The Beach Boys music or the other four members. Finally seeking therapy in 1975, the turn around in his musical and personal life began to change for the better. Wilson returned to music with the release of 1988’s Brian Wilson with little fanfare. After the release of his self-titled album, other albums came in a scattering over the next 16 years before Wilson finally released Smile on September 28, 2004.

So what makes Brian Wilson releasing Smile after shelving it 37 years earlier a defining moment?

Consider this, after almost four decades of decadence, depression, fatherhood, therapy, scrutiny from family, friends, and fans, Wilson returned with a project that had collected dust for 37 years. With the help of long time friend and collaborator Van Dyke Parks Smile was released to the public. To me, the pressure, and the hype surrounding the release of such an undertaking considering Wilson’s inability to comfortably handle criticism is an astounding accomplishment. Smile received a massive amount of critical praise as well as several Grammy nominations. Critics and fans alike applauded it’s release and Rolling Stone Magazine placed it on their list as one of the most important albums of the last decade.

When an artist takes a moment to create something that perhaps could be detrimental to their career, I think it’s commendable, whether planned or un-planned as in the case of The Doors at Isle Of Wight. I’m sure there are millions upon millions of cases of artists who had their own defining moment, as well as some that did not. They perhaps chose to let their success go to their heads and inevitably their moment is sometimes forgotten, especially when tragedy is involved. Such as Joe Meek, who gained success with a track called “Telstar” by The Tornados. Meeks inability to properly manage it’s success as well as growing paranoia that his phones were tapped by Decca in order to steal his ideas eventually led to the accidental murder of his landlady and Meek’s own suicide. It’s hard to say who remembers him for what. This holds true to the artists discussed here. Many will remember The Doors for their hit “Light My Fire” and nothing more. Metallica’s history is rife with tragedy, alcohol, and the bands highly documented squabbles. Others know them for much more, such as a band with a genre defying punk rock attitude whilst immersing themselves in the Metal scene.

The same holds true for Brian Wilson. To some, The Beach Boys were simply a fun, surf rock band with a sound sure to liven any beach party. Others can look at their post Pet Sounds-era output as pure and unadulterated genius. Albums such as Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, and 20/20 contain some of the most rockin’, and often times heartfelt songs of their career. It’s ultimately up to us what we choose to listen to and what we choose to avoid. It’s always in our best interest to dig deep, and look beyond the charts for purity in today’s music. I’m sure that if we do, there are many gems that have gone un-noticed due to our own close mindedness. It doesn’t matter that in 2011 you’re finally listening to an album that came out in 1969, the point is that at least you’re hearing it now, just be happy with that.

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