August 2, 1968: Riot at the Singer Bowl

Riot at the Singer Bowl

Flushing Meadows, New York, August 2, 1968. The security guards and uniformed police officers brought The Doors to the stage of the Singer Bowl through the gauntlet of the crowd. As The Doors and their escort made their way to the front, fans grabbed and pulled at the band members.

Prior to the band going onstage, Jim Morrison wandered around backstage and on the concert grounds followed by the “Feast of Friends” film crew. They captured some now-iconic scenes of Morrison that were used in the “Feast of Friends” release and would later be used in “When You’re Strange.”

When The Doors took the stage, a phalanx of fans rushed forward. The policemen in charge of security repulsed the fans’ onslaught, establishing a challenge and a barrier for the audience to breach. In his Rolling Stone interview with Jerry Hopkins, Morrison said of rock and riots in general, “The only incentive to charge the stage is because there’s a barrier. If there was no barrier there’d be no incentive (to rush the stage).” Making matters worse, the stage at the Singer Bowl was supposed to rotate during the show, but during The Doors’ performance the stage jammed and wouldn’t revolve, leaving a portion of the audience unable to see the show.

The Singer Bowl featured The Doors at the height of their career and live presence. Jim Morrison sang The Doors’ hits, recited poetry, previewed new songs (“Wild Child”), and repeatedly sank to his knees or writhed on the stage. The crowd couldn’t see the show and this frustration spurred them on. The audience tried to get onto the stage while Morrison twirled and danced, consciously or unconsciously enticing them.

Then the audience close to the stage started breaking the wooden fold-up chairs and hurling them onstage. Morrison caught one and hurled it back into the audience. The “Feast of Friends” film crew narrowly avoided getting hit, and the cops continued pushing the fans away from the stage. As the band and Morrison reached the Oedipal section of “The End,” with Morrison screaming and writhing as the band pounded away, the crowd spurred each other on. The music climaxed. The crowd rushed to the stage to overcome the police barrier, and The Doors ran for their lives.

It should be remembered that Jim Morrison, while still at Florida State University, proposed a theory that crowds could be neurotic just like individuals, and like individual neuroses, mass neuroses could be “cured.” He tried to enlist his friends in inciting a crowd to riot by placing themselves throughout the crowd and shouting choice slogans. His friends took a pass on the experiment. Had Morrison found the ultimate position from which to test his theory?

It was at this concert that Who guitarist Pete Townsend, watching The Doors’ show from offstage, witnessed a girl getting hit by a piece of chair or the concert security and Morrison’s indifference to it. Townsend later said this incident inspired the “Sally Simpson” portion of “Tommy.”

While watching his performance at the Singer Bowl during the editing of “Feast Of Friends,” Morrison had this to say: “…because being onstage, being one of the central figures, I could only see it from my own viewpoint. But then to see things as they really were… I suddenly realized that I was, to a degree, just a puppet, controlled by a lot of forces I only vaguely understood.”

Sources: Mild Equator, “Break on Through” by James Riordan and Jerry Prochinicky.

Originally published August 2, 2012, and appears in “The Doors Examined.”

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