Martin Heidegger’s Influence On “Riders On The Storm”

December 5th, 2013

Heidegger’s Concept: “Geworfenheit” (“Thrown-ness”)

The song is a 60′s classic: “Riders On The Storm”. We’ve heard it a thousand times. But do many people know it may well be associated with the thinking of a modern German metaphysical philosopher?

Jim Morrison was a voracious reader; even his senior-year high school English teacher said he read more than any other student. Later in the mid-1960s, as an eager UCLA Comparative Literature student in Jack Hirschman’s legendary classes (Hirschman was brilliantly unorthodox), he wolfed down works by existentialist writers like Genet, Sartre, Camus, Antonin Artaud, and others. I majored in comparative literature as well, and read these very same authors.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) espoused a central concept he called “geworfenheit” (“thrown-ness”). It’s an ontological precept that states we are thrown into the world, a world we can’t understand or make sense of. Another perspective given by Toronto Psychotherapy Definitions describes it as: “the accidental nature of human existence in a world that has not yet been made our own by conscious choice.”

It is known that Jim Morrison knew and read Nietzsche and perhaps Heidegger too. The lines “into this world we’re thrown” (from “Riders On The Storm”) is identical to Heidegger’s notion of geworfenheit.

We saw this arbitrary “thrown-ness” in the classic poem by English writer Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (1851) which presaged the metaphysical phase shift from religion to evolution, from spiritual hope to brute existence, that came when Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859. Like Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, Arnold’s lines are similarly bereft of metaphysical or religious optimism:

From “Dover Beach” — Matthew Arnold

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Similarly, in “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 alone
Riders on the storm…

Many of these themes turn up in Albert Camus‘ existentialist writings as well. In novels like The Stranger and The Plague, Camus questioned the meaning of existence in a world seemingly governed by randomness.

It was perhaps equally random and absurd that Camus should die in Paris in a car accident, a passenger in a luxury car called a Facel Vega en route to Paris from Provence to Paris. Camus, poet and theorist of the absurd, is supposed to have said that the most absurd way to die would be in a car crash. Morrison, died in a his bathtub in his Paris apartment of an overdose. You find more flowers on his grave in the Paris Père Lachaise cemetery than on other famous people buried there as well, such as Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Chopin, and Molière.

Listed below are the lyrics to “Riders On The Storm”. Note, the use of the word “thrown” just as in geworfenheit.

“Riders On The Storm” – The Doors

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 alone
Riders on the storm

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah

Girl ya gotta love your man
Girl ya 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, yeah


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 alone
Riders on the storm

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

1 Comment

Filed under Arts, Creativity, Language, Music

One response to “Martin Heidegger’s Influence On “Riders On The Storm”

  1. Jason Brooks

    When I was in high school, I read Danny Sugarman’s “Nobody Here Gets Out Alive”, the biography of Jim Morrison. I remember being impressed that Morrison was so well-read. It seemed to go against the stereotype of the “dumb rock star”. As a fan of the music, I knew Morrison’s lyrics displayed a depth and maturity far above his contemporaries. I know the lyrics of Riders On The Storm by heart. Reading this blog has given me a new appreciation for the genius of Morrison.
    On a similar note, Neil Peart of Rush was a fan of Ayn Rand (as I am) and was inspired by her novel Anthem to write the lyrics for their concept piece, 2112.
    This a great example of how philosophy and literature can impact popular culture.

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