Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

The Doors – The End – Song lyrics analysis

Analysis of the lyrics of The End by Jim Morrison
Stories, characters, themes, genres

The End‘s lyrics shows great ways to tell stories through suggestion, association and poetry, playing on contrasts and echoes between alternate themes and situations.

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Songwriting

The End is the 11th and last track of The Doors‘ first album The Doors (Elektra Records, 1967) which lead them nearly immediately to rank number 1 in the U.S. charts, then in various countries of the world.

Morrison himself declared to the magazine The Rolling Stone : “Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song…. Probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don’t know. I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.”

The band developed The End during the many shows they did before getting famous in a club of Los Angeles, the “Whisky a Go Go”, transforming the song again and again and progressively adding new lyrics and musical moments. They were used to play it in the end of their concerts, never the same way, giving much room to improvisation. The album version was recorded in august 1966, totally live (without overdub: without recording each instrument separately, which is more risky!)

Credits:

Let’s make it clear straight away: The End is not a standard narrative song. It does not tell one unique plot, and it does not even tell several plots. It tells bribes, bits, fragments, flashes of various situations and characters, without giving the audience the occasion to gather the scattered elements under a perfectly logical and rational form.

But, we are courageous people: we are going to face the difficulty and analyze this song despite of its non-conformity. Because, actually, who said that the rules of storytelling had to be applied always a standard way?

Art is free to follow the rules or not.

Learn the rules, mix the rules, break the rules. 🙂

OK, ready? Light hippie candles, sticks of fake Indian incense and – of course! – fat joints of pure californian grass, and let it rock’n’roll!

Video

Lyrics analysis and meaning

The song, which lasts 11:41, starts on a quiet, inspired, haunted instrumental made of drum rolls and lonely guitar that sets up a mystic atmosphere. At 0:32, it takes a regular rhythm. At 0:54, the lyrics start:

This is the end

No, Jim, you’re already stoned, this is the beginning!! 🙂

Announcing that “this is the end” sounds dramatic in itself. Actually, beginnings or ends have something dramatic.

Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

From the second line, we are already in presence of 2 characters: the singer, and his “friend”. It is just thematic, since for the moment there is no Hero. This friend might also be nothing else but a language effect, like in “you know, man…”

Of our elaborate plans, the end

This obviously comes from the version of the track as a good-bye love song from Jim Morrison to one of his girlfriends.

Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end

So, it is the end of everything. We said the end, as a theme, has something dramatic. But the emphasis over the end of everything sounds now apocalyptic, which is even more dramatic!

I’ll never look into your eyes…again

Romantic, classic. For the moment, those lyrics sound rather traditional. If it would continue like that, no chance it would have become an exceptional success.

The music rises crescendo and more dramatic. The singer continues:

Can you picture what we’ll be
So limitless and free

This might come from the California’s spirit, that is the theme of the American dream of freedom going west until it reaches a limit, the Frontier. It has been said that rock and cinema were ways to continue the conquest of the West, symbolically if not geographically.

Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land

The voice stops and leaves room to the drums and electric guitar that both rise in intensity during nearly one minute, then calm down. They give the impression to describe a trip in this “desperate land”.

The voice is back:

Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain

OK, now it’s clear: we left the rather conformist love song and we are now exploring unknown psychic lands. Who is lost in a Roman wilderness of pain? We can not answer this question: the character in the love story seems to have swapped to another character, who stays mysterious. It is not a problem, but rather an opportunity: the lack of precision allows the listener to imagine that we are all lost in this desert.

And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

New characters, that we can not link to any other previous element. The lyrics add more and more chaos, and make us escape the ordinary reality. We’re in a mystic trip, yeah!

Again, there is no dramatic plot, but the fragments in themselves are dramatic: the theme of “insane children” sounds so (normal children would not).

The summer rain, a quasi-oxymoron, also brings some drama, because it bears some internal conflict and emotional value (the rain brings life, feeds the plants, the summer rain can be erotic…)

On the last verse, the music starts to grow crescendo. From 3:34 to 3:54, there is only this instrumental.

Those speechless musical moments are not meaningless, on the contrary they extend the evocative power of the lyrics. The words and music closely collaborate together to create suggestion, seduction, emotion, imagination, dream.

The voice is back:

There’s danger on the edge of town

Same remark than before: danger is thematically dramatic, even if no plot gets developed.

The mention of the town changes our location: we crossed a desert, now we reached a town. There are ellipses in-between the steps of the trip.

Ride the King’s highway, baby

“Baby”: it seems the singer is still addressing a woman, like in the love-song-like beginning. The same woman, or another one? He previously said he would never see her again…

The allusion is not obvious, but the King’s highway exists: it was a trade route in the Middle East, which linked Egypt to the Euphrates through the Sinaï desert, Petra, Moab, Damascus… it is mentioned in the Old testament! Check wikipedia for more information. The use of this allusion by The Doors is very interesting, because of course a highway is a modern road where cars drive. The term “ride” itself has possibly two meanings: riding by car or by horse, which then leads us to an older America, precisely the one of the Far West. In a simple allusion, it is like the song mixes 2 geographies and 3 eras into one! Very suggestive!

Weird scenes inside the gold mine

This new indication of place relocates us in the mythic Far West geography.

Ride the highway west, baby

This time, it’s not the Middle East highway, it is the modern highway of – probably – California where the band and its audience lived when The End was created.

Ride the snake, ride the snake

Just before, the ride probably designated a car trip. Now, we are back to a horse trip… on a snake. Multiple meanings.

To the lake, the ancient lake, baby

Antique Middle East, then 20th century or 19th century. California/West, then ancient times again. Desert, then town, then gold mine, then lake. This music makes us travel much in space as well as in time!

The snake is long… seven miles…

That can not be any real snake. It is necessarily a mythic, fantasy snake.

Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold

We could nearly feel it…

The west is the best
The west is the best

No explanation for this, except the childish pleasure of the rhyme.

Get here, and we’ll do the rest

No way to determine who is the character addressed to and who is the “we”. But we’re high, who cares? ;-D

The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you takin’ us

We change vehicle once again. Never tired! Again, we made a return journey from past to present, from archaic times (the old snake) to modernity (the blue bus).

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on

Here, a new plot starts. The previous line tells us the Act I: exposition (there is a killer) and catalyst (he awoke, he put his boots on). The Hero is the killer, and we can probably deduce his goal from his name: to kill?

He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he… walked on down the hall

We are in the Act II, the development of this included plot.

The music plays crescendo and decrescendo, in a close harmony with the lyrics.

It leads us to several peaks in intensity. The whole scene is impregnated with suspense.

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, and…

The unfinished sentences and the brief pauses between each line underline the suspense.

And he came to a door…and he looked inside…

There starts the Act III, with the crisis.

Father?… Yes son… I want to kill you
Mother?…I want to…WAAAAAA

The unintelligible shouting – very likely a oedipal “I want to fuck you all night long” (that is what Morrison sings on concert versions) – is the climax of this plot.

The dialogs, for the first time in this track, helps dramatizing the scene, which sounds as tragic theater (see Oedipus, by the antique Greek dramatist Sophocles…)

The music grows in intensity to accompany this climax, then gets back to quietness.

C’mon baby, take a chance with us

Still no way to know about the identity the “I”, the “baby” and the “us”.

C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the…
Blue bus doin’ a

Surprise, the blue bus is back! Though irrational and impressionistic, those lyrics have a strong sense of internal coherence.

The music tempo starts accelerating, as imitating a vehicle gaining speed. It imitates the story.

Blue rock on a
Blue bus doin’ a
Blue rock

The unfinished lines help rising the rhythm and imitating, mimicking the impression to ride in this bus.

C’mon, yeah!

The music grows again, more and more, and during 1:45 all of the instruments giving the impression to reach a collective orgasmic discharge, then they’re all back to peace again.

Though non-narrative, this wonderful, exciting instrumental is the equivalent of a crisis+climax, reaching a maximum of tension.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

With those repeated lyrics, we are back to our departure point. End of the trip.

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end.

Those verses probably come from the first version, the good-bye love song.

And you’re still not right Jimmie, this is not the end of our analysis of The End!

Commentary

Non-narration?

As we saw, The End does not tell a proper story: it includes a mini-plot (“the killer awoke before down…”), but all the rest is made of floating narrative elements, linked thematically but not dramatically.
Like Ms. Dynamite’s It Takes More, The End mixes discourse and narration – the difference between the two songs is that The End does not refer to any political commitment, its discursive parts belong to other genres. Let’s examine them.

Genres

Though a long song – 11:41 -, The End counts rather few words: 334 in total. If we compare it to Eminem’s Stan for example, we observe that Stan counts 1186 words – nearly 4 times more! – for a duration of 6:46 – around half of The End. Still, those 334 words involve at least 4 different genres, which makes a rather high ratio and ensures a thrilling density of meaning to the song.

Those genres are:

The love letter: the 10 first verses + the 9 last verses

As we know, love stories are a common theme of songwriting, one of the most frequent, ancient and appreciated forms of lyrics, one of the main psychological and social functions of music: give words to the feelings of love, at any points of love stories:

  • before love stories (attraction, desire…),
  • during love stories (expressions of love, passion, wishes, jealousy…),
  • after love stories (regrets, hatred…)

In our case, it is an after-love song, a “good-bye song” as Morrison said. The use of such a universal theme guarantees a good reception from the audience.

Another element, yet in the instrumental and not in the lyrics, belongs to the genre of the love story: it is the orgasmic tension discharges, several times along the song, accompanied by the 6 direct addresses to “baby” and “come on, baby”.

The Travel Report: a kind of trip told through 9 different geographical and spatial indications:

  • a desperate land
  • a Roman wilderness of pain
  • the edge of town
  • the King’s Highway (in the Middle East)
  • the gold mine
  • the highway (probably the modern highway aimed for cars in the U.S. then)
  • the ancient lake
  • the blue bus
  • the ancient gallery and the rooms where the killer visits his family members

This collection of places plays a great role in the song that is musically structured as a trip with its tempo permanently imitating physical movement: we have the impression to take off, to fly, to ride, to drive, to accelerate and decelerate, to explode, and finally to be back to our departure point. For so few words, that makes really much movement.

Archeology

The song is no archaeological study, but it refers to archeology through various elements:

  • The King’s Highway in the Middle East: it subtly transports the band and its audience from their location in California to what is the other side of the Earth from their point of view. Culturally, it also bring a strong aspect of exoticism because this geographical area was the birth place of many religions: Egyptian, Hebrew, Pagan, Christian, Muslim, and else.
  • The “Roman wilderness of pain”. We can not assert for sure what or where is this desert supposed to be. The Roman Empire extended over a wide area. It included Arabia, Egypt, Lybia, all likely to be described as “Roman wilderness”.
  • The ancient lake. In prehistoric and proto-historic times, lakes were privileged locations for human populations because it guaranteed them some resources they needed: water to drink, wash and cook, fishes and shells to eat and make tools with, animal preys that came to drink and hunt, and of course plants growing around in abundance. Perhaps this evocation of the “ancient lake” also has another meaning. From Jim Morrison’s biography, we know he was fond of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl-Gustav Jung, an heterodox disciple of Freud. Jung developed the concept of the “Universal Unconscious”, supposed to store and provide immemorial archetypes in the memory of mankind. Morrison was fascinated by this concept. The “ancient lake” could stand as a metaphor of this “Universal Unconscious” (Jung’s influence can also be felt in the track Universal Mind, that the Doors played only in live concerts). Another possible intellectual source for this beautiful image is the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. He wrote a series of books studying the deep psychology of earth, air, fire and water. He compares the daydreams about water to mystic trips back to the original roots. A third possible source of reference is the Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazier, whose book The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion was appreciated by our singer. We know that Jim Morrison was someone very educated who was used to read much in anthropology and psychology, so such references do not sound surprising in his lyrics, that are in general much more intelligent and refined than many other mainstream, ignorant songtexts (when you read the lyrics of Britney Spears or The Spice Girls, you can be sure they probably can not even read 🙂 Victoria Beckham declared once: “I’m using my brain for the first time and since long”, whereas Christina Aguilera once wondered “Where does the Festival de Cannes take place, this year?”)
  • The gold mine. It probably refers to the famous era of the Gold Rush, from around 1830 to 1900 in the U.S. This mention belongs to the mythology of the Far West.
  • The old snake. Here again, the snake appears as a mythical animal, venerated and feared in many early pagan religions of the world. The possible sources for this theme are innumerable.
  • The ancient gallery and the oedipal killer. It obviously refers to the Greeks.

Tragedy

The mini-plot telling about the oedipal killer who wants to kill his father and fuck his mother, clearly relates to the Greek dramatist of the Vth Century before Christ, Sophocles, in his famous tragic play Oedipus King. The play tells how Oedipus was abandoned by his royal parents because of a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid that, the parents give him away to a servant in charge of killing him, but instead the servant give the baby to childless peasants. Oedipus grows anonymous and forgotten. Once adult, he is told the prophecy again and to avoid it, he escapes his adoptive family. He then meets his father, the king of Thebes Laius, by coincidence, and kill him not knowing who he is. He then solves the riddle of the Sphinx and as an award gains the right to marry Jocasta, the widow of the assassinated King, and… his own mother! The prophecy gets fulfilled!

This antique story inspired Freud, who named “the Oedipus complex” the young child’s libidinal psychodynamic towards his parents (a drive to the opposite sex parent, and a rejection of the same sex parent). The question of the existence or not of this Oedipus complex was widely debated all along the 20th Century. It fascinated Morrison who had a bad relationship with his parents, especially his father, a U.S. Navy Admiral. In interviews as the lead-singer of The Doors, Morrison was used to say that his parents had died in a car crash, which was false, but shows that he had symbolically killed them.

Apocalypse

To finish with, The End sounds clearly as a recall of the Old Testament’s Apocalypse, that describes how the world is supposed to end in chaos and destruction. The repetitions of the words “the end” from the beginning of the song to its end, its musically apocalyptic atmosphere with sudden chaotic explosions of energy, the way geography and history get scattered along the lyrics, all of that generate a climate of “end of time”.

The End is not the only songs of the Doors to stage death or the end of something. Several other lyrics, written by Morrison, do the same:

  • End of the night
  • When the music’s over
  • Summer’s almost gone

So, not many words in this song, but what a high power of suggestion, what a richness of references!

Intertextuality

The End takes parts into a wide network of intertextuality – links and connections between songs, through the 6 studio albums of The Doors and also some other side works. Several themes and topics will come back again and again in The Doors and in Morrison’s creative production:

Epic songs

Several other songs adopt the same long, complex format:

  • Light My Fire (especially the live versions)
  • The “Ceremony of the Lizard” made of a series of several songs on the album Waiting For The Sun
  • The Soft parade
  • When the music’s over
  • Roadhouse blues (the live versions)
  • L.A. Woman
  • Riders On The Storm

The killer

  • A hitchhiker killer is the Hero in Jim Morrison’s cinema student movie at the University of California (UCLA). The movie is called… “HwY“, which means “highway”… like in The End!
  • And Morrison is back to the exact same theme in the lyrics of Riders On The Storm: “There’s a killer on the road…”
  • Backdoor Man also tells about a dark character who may be a killer.

The Snake and other reptiles

  • The “Ceremony of the Lizard” (in the end of Not to touch the earth, Morrison declares: “I’m the Lizard King. I can do everything“.)
  • Crawling King Snake
  • In an interview, Jim said: “I’ve always liked reptiles. I used to see the universe as a mammoth snake, and I used to see all the people and objects, landscapes, as little pictures in the facets of their scales. I think peristaltic motion is the basic life movement.”

The Highway and cars

  • Roadhouse blues
  • Queen Of The Highway
  • Cars hiss by my window
  • Dawn’s Highway (in Morrison’s poetic recording whose The Doors made an albumAn American Prayer – after his death)

Mythology and religion

Morrison’s lyrics contain countless allusion to those themes. In particular:

  • Break On Through (mysticism, spirituality…)
  • Shaman’s blues
  • Wild Child (“wild child, full of grace, savior of the universe…“)
  • Various tracks on An American prayer, for example Angels and Sailors or Curses, invocations
  • Universal mind, a song only played in concerts

Literature, philosophy, anthropology, and other human sciences

  • End of the night (inspired by the French novel Travel to the end of the night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, another possible source of inspiration for The End)
  • Horse latitudes (inspired by the sinking of a Spanish galleon)
  • Ship Of Fools (inspired by the medieval theme of the ship of fools, described by many writers and many painters including the Dutch Hieronymus Bosch)
  • Morrison also declared in an interview: “I’m kind of hooked to the game of art and literature; my heroes are artists and writers.”
  • The post-mortem album An American Prayer, and the poetic books he wrote (The Lords and the New Creatures, Wilderness, The American Night) are full of allusions and references.

No conclusion: continuation

All of that is so greatly inspiring that we can not conclude without quoting Jim:

I see myself as a huge fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps “Oh look at that!” Then- whoosh, and I’m gone…and they’ll never see anything like it ever again… and they won’t be able to forget me- ever.”

Sure Jimmie, you’re unforgettable.

Learn to write your own stories

Story&Drama provides you with 4 scenario tutorials to help you learn concepts and techniques to write stories, build characters, make drama effects and manage narrative settings.

4 Storytelling courses
4 PDF
Any problem? Read the downloads FAQ.