Jim Morrison and Undergraduate Pilot Training–Riders on the Storm or Ghost Riders

January 1989 I arrived at Reese AFB in Lubbock, TX to report for Undergraduate Pilot 4c33743c896b094c763b5cdf96c5abedTraining (UPT).  Traditions run deep in pilot training, and one is the designing of the class patch.  I have always enjoyed doodling so I volunteered to draft the patch—another tradition or superstition is the officer that designs the patch usually washes out (another story for another time).  We had several different patches and my favorites included a Bill The Cat complete with a Slash style top-hat tagged “Welcome to the Jungle”and another with the baby from c907a712aad4018f096ccd09a4739446--rabbit-clipart-famous-cartoonsWho Framed Roger Rabbitt tagged “Born to be Bad”.  But, trying to get consensus from about 25 young officers is difficult and we settled on the patch above. It was first tagged with the U2 song “Desire” with “Bullet the Blue Sky” at the bottom—this was a 49-51% split and Class 90-04 settled on Ghostriders. 

I’ve long loved all music by The Doors and according to Robby Krieger, “Riders on the Storm” was inspired by “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend“.  Rumor has it the song evolved out of a jam session when the band was playing around with “Ghost Riders In the Sky“, the 1948 cowboy song by Stan Jones and later recorded by Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, and many others. It was Jim Morrison’s idea to alter the title to “Riders On The Storm.” Although I have never been a fan of country music, ”Riders on the Storm” was my out as a psychedelic rock song to the classes desire to go with Ghost Riders.  Although most would quickly sing Ghost Riders in the sky or have some strange tie to the Top Gun tower fly-by scene (negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full), I always had the eerie Doors tune in my head.  

Jim Morrison mentions spree killer, Billy Cook, in passing during at least one interview. William Edward “Billy” Cook Jr. (December 23, 1928 – December 12, 1952) was an American spree killer who murdered six people on a 22-day rampage between Missouri and California in 1950–51, including a young family, while hitchhiking to California. In all likelihood, the Cook murders were the inspiration for the song’s lyric, “There’s a killer on the road / His brain is squirming like a toad…if you give this man a ride/sweet family will die …” 

“Riders on the Storm” is played in the E Dorian mode and incorporates recordings of rain and thunder along with Ray Manzarek‘s Fender Rhodes electric piano playing which emulates the sound of rain—metaphoric of the West Texas weather—where Cook began his spree in Lubbock TX and the home of Reese AFB. 

The song was recorded at The Doors Workshop in December 1970 with the assistance of Bruce Botnick, their longtime engineer, who was co-producing the recording sessions. Jim Morrison recorded his main vocals and then whispered the lyrics over them to create the echo effect. This was the last song recorded by the members of the Doors, according to Manzarek, as well as Morrison’s last recorded song to be released in his lifetime. The single was released in 1971, shortly before Morrison’s death, entering the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending July 3, 1971, the same week that Morrison died.

Speaking with Krieger and Manzarek, the philosopher Thomas Vollmer argues that the line “Into this world we’re thrown” recalls Martin Heidegger‘s concept of thrownness (human existence as a basic state). In 1963 at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Jim Morrison heard an influential lecture from him where he discussed philosophers who critically addressed the philosophical tradition, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Heidegger.

In 2009, Simon Critchley dedicated his column on The Guardian to Heidegger’s thrownness and explained it using the aforementioned verse of the song.

The connection between the thrownness into the world and a dog’s life was anticipated by the anti-Heideggerian author Ernst Bloch[ in his main work The Principle of Hope (1954–9) which of course harken to the lyrics “Like a dog without a bone, An actor out on loan…Riders on the storm.”

I understand it is a neo-DeMarconian stretch—the 90-04 Ghost Rider patch was a nod to Jim Morrison.  There was always just a little something more than meets the eye in every Doors song. Maybe thirty years later there is  a little more to the patch?

[Chorus]

Riders on the storm

Riders on the storm

Into this house we’re born

Into this world we’re thrown

Like a dog without a bone

An actor out on loan

Riders on the storm

[Verse 1]

There’s a killer on the road

His brain is squirmin’ like a toad

Take a long holiday

Let your children play

If you give this man a ride

Sweet family will die

Killer on the road

[Verse 2]

Girl you gotta love your man

Girl you gotta love your man

Take him by the hand

Make him understand

The world on you depends

Our life will never end

Gotta love your man

[Chorus]

Riders on the storm

Riders on the storm

Into this house we’re born

Into this world we’re thrown

Like a dog without a bone

An actor out on loan

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