The Meaning Behind The Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” Jim Morrison’s Farewell Note to the City of Lights

The Doors were the quintessential L.A. band. Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception was the source of the band’s name. Huxley was an English writer who died in Los Angeles in 1963. The Doors were born in Los Angeles in 1965.

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Jim Morrison was drowning in booze while The Doors recorded their sixth album, L.A. Woman. From late 1970 into early ’71, the band waded through chaos to, somehow, create their best work. Morrison’s dark side seemed to fuel his creative spark. One wasn’t possible without the other. “When he got too drunk, he would become kind of an asshole,” said guitarist Robby Krieger, famously. 

Joan Didion once wrote of The Doors, “The Doors were the Norman Mailers of the Top 40, missionaries of apocalyptic sex.” A supernova band of the ’60s, The Doors were bound to explode. Two months after releasing L.A. Woman (1971), Morrison was dead. 

The Inspiration of Literature

John Rechy’s novel City of Night inspired the song “L.A. Woman.” In Rechy’s novel, a young gay man travels the country, working as a hustler. Each chapter focuses on specific cities and strange characters. Writing how “people are strange” was familiar territory for Jim Morrison. 

Morrison uses a woman “so alone” as a metaphor to capture the spirit of Los Angeles. 

I see your hair is burning
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar

The title of Rechy’s novel is repeated with Morrison extending the metaphor about another lost angel / city of night. “L.A. Woman” is Morrison as tour guide, driving down the freeways and through the suburbs of Los Angeles. The sepia tone of Hollywood bungalows and the darkness of motel murders are all stops along the way. Los Angeles is the dream and the crashing reality of a nightmare. Morrison, the poet, isn’t sugarcoating anything—he wrote what he knew. 

Mister mojo risin’
Gotta keep on risin’
Risin’, risin’

Returning to Didion’s essay from The White Album, about The Doors and apocalyptic sex, Mr. Mojo Risin’ is about … sex, obviously. It’s also an anagram of “Jim Morrison.” Drummer John Densmore led the band to increase the song’s tempo to make it “kind of like an orgasm.” 

It’s Never Easy

Getting Jim Morrison to show up to the studio was hard work. Fortunately, Morrison was staying in a motel across the street from the band’s rehearsal space. The rehearsal space became a makeshift studio. The band wanted to be relaxed and comfortable for this session. They also simplified the song arrangements, and for the first time, oddly, were writing as a band. 

The songs relied heavily on the blues, but The Doors’ streamlined approach wasn’t always easy. Recording “L.A. Woman” was an arduous task for the band. The final version of the song, in fact, is three parts spliced together. The 50th anniversary edition of L.A. Woman includes studio outtakes of the band’s (many) attempts to get it right. 

[RELATED: Top 10 Songs from The Doors That You Should Revisit]

Morrison, Krieger, Densmore, and keyboardist Ray Manzarek were joined by two additional musicians for the sessions. Bassist Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno were brought in to help free the band musically. Typically, Manzarek would cover both bass and keys on his instrument, while Krieger played rhythm and lead guitar. 

It’s Not All Glam and Glitz

Charles Manson was convicted of murder in 1971, so the Manson Family cult still loomed over Los Angeles at this time. The album artwork contains an image of a naked woman being crucified on a telephone pole, which Elektra Records used to market the album. 

The dark marketing ploy worked. L.A. Woman reached No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and sold more than 2 million copies. 

The title track might be Jim Morrison’s farewell letter to the “City of Light.” After the sessions, he headed to Paris to stay with his girlfriend. On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found in the bathtub, dead from heart failure (that may or may not have been due to a heroin overdose—no autopsy was conducted). 

A Cover Version of Note

Billy Idol covered “L.A. Woman” on his 1990 album Charmed Life. Idol interpreted Morrison’s vision of Los Angeles, or even America on the whole, as jaded. He watched Morrison leave Los Angeles for Paris. Idol moved in the opposite direction, as a punk rock Brit living in America. 


There’s serendipity to L.A. Woman being The Doors’ final studio album with Jim Morrison. The band, and Morrison, had peaked. Morrison recorded the vocal to “L.A. Woman” in a bathroom. That’s where he left his vocal on tape. In another bathroom in Paris, he left his body. 

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