“L’America” is an overlooked Doors song, so I thought that would be a good place to start. On L.A. Woman: The 40th Anniversary Edition there isn’t an alternate cut or outtake of the song. That is probably because “L’America” wasn’t created at the same time as the rest of “L.A. Woman“.
“L’America” was recorded two years before to be included in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. At first glance, “L’America” would seem to be a natural fit for “Zabriskie Point” with its plot of an alienated young man (Mark Frechette) who is dissatisfied with revolutionary talk, steals a plane and heads out to the desert where he meets a young woman. They develop an intense relationship that culminates in sex, death, and violence, all themes and motifs that attracted Jim Morrison.
While Antonioni used parts of songs from the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and even the Youngbloods, he rejected The Doors’ song. In the larger sense of things it probably was for the best. The parts of rock songs used in “Zabriskie” were all discordant pieces used in sharp cuts without the songs given or being given any context within the film. If you’ve seen the movie and listened to The Doors’ song it wouldn’t have worked within the movie. The lyrics have nothing to do with the plot or actions of the film.
So what is the meaning behind the lyrics of “L’America”? Well, I’d like to put forth the idea that “L’America” is the autobiography of a rock ‘n’ roll band in general, The Doors in particular. Taking a look at the first line, “I took a trip down to L’America/To trade some beads for a pint of gold,” the reference is of course to Europeans trading glass beads to the American Indians, an item that was cheap and of little value to the Europeans. It can also describe any rock band that is performing or recording trading their words, items that have no value in and of themselves, for the large sums of money record companies were lavishing on them. The same can be said of Jim Morrison who, after the initial flash of success, began to question that success, and that is more overtly reflected in the lines “The problem of Money/Guilt/do I deserve it?” from the poem “As I Look Back” (as published in Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume I).
If that doesn’t convince you, the next stanza should, as it describes “Friendly strangers came to town/All the people put them down/But the women loved their ways.” That seems a pretty clear description of a rock band on tour, since they have long hair and dress much differently from most of the denizens of the town or city they’re visiting, but of course all the women love them, literally. From the very beginning of rock ‘n’ roll, bands were looked upon with distrust. Cities tried to outlaw concerts by zoning them out of business, while the men of a city or town were threatened by the arrival of the band, as seen by their taking their girlfriends to the shows and heckling the band all the while their girlfriends were at the front of the stage screaming. Every once in a while they would lose their girlfriend to the band (at least for a night or two).
You can see the full “Zabriskie Point” on Youtube. It’s in twelve parts and you can start here.