It’s horribly cliche, but over the past couple summers, the moment the temperatures move towards 80 degrees, I reach for my Doors’ collection. I always start out more or less listening to everything of theirs I own, then as the summer progresses, I cling to a particular song, usually one I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Two years ago, that song was “You’re Lost Little Girl.” Last year, it was “Love Her Madly.” This year, the contenders were “Crystal Ship” and “Riders on the Storm.” “Crystal Ship” ended up edging out “Riders on the Storm,” because it’s more mysterious, more compelling, more weird, less what the casual listener might expect from the Doors. “Riders on the Storm,” on the other hand, as much as I love it, is a little more typical, a little more straightforward. And most of the reason why I like it is contained within the second verse (beginning with, “Girl, you gotta love your man…”).
The Doors: “The Crystal Ship” (download)
Immediately, Jim Morrison’s lyrics are kind of off-putting, not because of language, but because of the subject: “Before you slip into unconsciousness / I’d like to have another kiss / Another flashing chance at bliss / another kiss, another kiss.”
Why are we slipping into unconsciousness? More than likely because we’re on drugs, but what if we’ve been drugged by someone else, what if there’s a darker, more sinister reason? Do we really want Morrison to be our last memory before whatever state of mind it is that we’re about to enter? But then there’s that romantic weight he puts on just one kiss: “Another flashing chance at bliss.”
The second verse is particularly conflicted. “Enclose me in your gentle rain,” he asks us, before he explains, “The time you ran was too insane.” Does a man like Morrison really have the right to make any kind of judgment about someone’s mental state? But despite the name calling, he insists, “We’ll meet again.”
Some of Morrison’s best poetry is found in the third section: “Oh tell me where your freedom lies / the streets are fields that never die.” But following that comes a sort of insensitivity, “You’d rather cry / I’d rather fly,” he begins, before getting into the real kiss-off closing verse, “The crystal ship is being filled / a thousand girls, a thousand thrills / a million ways to spend your time / when we get back, I’ll drop a line.”
In many ways, it’s the ideal break-up song, if only because of its accuracy. He longs for the woman’s sweetness, but yearns to escape from her theatrics. He’s kind, but also not so kind. All the usual send-offs are in here, just in different forms. “I want to still be friends” can be found in, “We’ll meet again, we’ll meet again,” and, “When we get back, I’ll drop a line.” Jealousy comes to play here, too, as he’s sure to mention he’ll be spending time with “A thousand girls.”
Musically, the song is almost alarmingly delicate for a Doors song. That heavy organ sound occasionally didn’t really blend (which, for the most part, is fine) – but letting the piano guide “The Crystal Ship” was an inspired choice. It gives the song its fragility, which plays in to both the subject matter and the title. It also makes it a little more accessible to those who aren’t so fond of the Doors’ canon.
It’s also short. Almost too short. The length works with the song’s fleeting nature, that must be conceded, and Morrison does achieve something that it must be assumed he wanted to, which is that we’re left wanting more of him, despite his coldness and ego. You miss him as soon as the song is over, and even though we all know that “When we get back, I’ll drop a line” bit probably isn’t true – who hasn’t gotten that before? For that matter, who hasn’t given that before? – it’s still tempting to hope he means it.