If you’ve gone to a few rock concerts, you are in the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix “Experienced.” You’ve felt the electricity in the arena air. You’ve seen the excitement as the attendees walk a bit faster and talk louder as they head to their seats.
You even have a favorite concert, one that stands out from all the rest. It may be the one where the crowd was into the show, and the band was feeding off of the energy, or vice versa. The one where everything flowed like water down a mountainside. The venue, your seat, the people you were with, the songs, the beer, the weed, the lines, all perfect. “Oh man, what an unbelievable great time, never better,” is how you recall the event.
I’ve got one of those memories. A Doors concert at New York’s Filmore East on March 23, 1968. I’d come back from Los Angeles after flunking out of a JC in the San Fernando Valley. I spent too much time majoring in Time and Space and told not to return. Stuck at home, I was awaiting the draft board’s call.
I was sinking. A job in the garment district sorting bolts of fabric for a suit maker was soul destroying. After a month I self-terminated by coming in late every day. It was a miserable time, and three months later, I enlisted in the Army. It was a way to escape the boredom and defeat the randomness of the draft by taking control of events.
But the Doors were coming to town, and I had a few weeks of pay left and splurged on two tickets for the show. There was no reason to do so. My two best friends were both away in the military, and I had no girlfriend. But I’d seen the band a few times in LA, and I was longing for the Coast. I figured I could find someone to take the other ticket or scalp it for some cash.
The night of the concert arrived, and I was still holding two tickets as I boarded the D train into the city. On the train I noticed a girl sitting across from me, took it in, and settled back for the ride. We exited at the same stop and walked the same direction through the station. We exited onto the street and out towards the concert hall.
Figuring it out I summoned up all my courage to ask if she was going to the show. “Yes.” She was a big Morrison fan but didn’t have a ticket and was hoping to scalp one. I offered the extra at face value, it was worth much more. She booked the offer and I had a seatmate.
The band did their usual set, I’d seen it in LA. But that night they fell in love with the New York audience. The red-lighted stage stayed lite after they finished their set, and time seemed to stop. The crowd wasn’t leaving. We sat mesmerized, and the band wasn’t ready to go either.
In my hazy memory the unexpected and unbelievable unspools like an old movie. The band returns to the stage. First, some Manzarek lazy organ figures start up. Then Krieger layers on a few ropy guitar chords and Densmore joins in with a confirming rim shot. The band was ready to carry-on.
The encore went forever it seemed. It was magic to hear and see them. But the focus, as usual, was on a black leather-clad Morrison. Clutching the mic stand like a staff and bathed in primal red stage light, he delivered the songs with no added motion. He was a god come to Earth back then, and he didn’t need to engage us with theatrics. We hung on his words like scripture.
“Cancel my subscription to the resurrection.
Send my credentials to the House of Detention,
I got some friends inside.”
In the end, we stumbled out into the night dazed by the gift we’d received. Years later, Rolling Stone would call the concert one of the best ever performed at that venue.
I forget her name, we dated a couple of times after, but nothing came of it. Yet the night stays with me as a reminder of a time when there were bright stars in a dark fundament, and their music lifted me up.