The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years

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Overview

A fan from the moment the Doors? first album took over KMPX, the revolutionary FM rock & roll station in San Francisco, Greil Marcus saw the band many times at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom in 1967. Five years later it was all over. Forty years after the singer Jim Morrison was found dead in Paris and the group disbanded, one could drive from here to there, changing from one FM pop station to another, and be all but guaranteed to hear two, three, four Doors songs in an hour?every ...

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Overview

A fan from the moment the Doors’ first album took over KMPX, the revolutionary FM rock & roll station in San Francisco, Greil Marcus saw the band many times at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom in 1967. Five years later it was all over. Forty years after the singer Jim Morrison was found dead in Paris and the group disbanded, one could drive from here to there, changing from one FM pop station to another, and be all but guaranteed to hear two, three, four Doors songs in an hour—every hour. Whatever the demands in the music, they remained unsatisfied, in the largest sense unfinished, and absolutely alive. There have been many books on the Doors. This is the first to bypass their myth, their mystique, and the death cult of both Jim Morrison and the era he was made to personify, and focus solely on the music. It is a story untold; all these years later, it is a new story.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The Doors were here and then, nearly as quickly, they were gone: UCLA Jim Morrison and college classmate Ray Manzarek launched the band in the summer of 1965. Morrison, the mainstay of the group died in 1971. The original group recorded only five albums together, but in the past decade, perhaps as many as two dozen live Doors albums have been released. Over the years, there have been numerous biographies of Morrison's life and, indeed, the mysterious circumstances of his death. This book, however, is the first published about The Doors' music. Pop culture observer Greil Marcus (Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus; Mystery Train; Dead Elvis) has been watching and listening and re-listening to the Doors since their glory years. Both deeply personal and disarmingly insightful, his new The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Wild Years cuts past scandalous stories about group feuds and Morrison's drug problems to explore the extraordinary music they made.

Publishers Weekly
Music critic Marcus (Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus) offers a relentlessly beautiful and insightful evaluation of the music of the Doors—a fitting tribute on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Morrison’s death in 1971—but also a complete rethinking of the Doors’ work as an entire story that captures the 1960s as “a place, even as it is created, people know they can never really inhabit, and never escape.” He begins with the band’s first album, The Doors, and offers a tribute to the power of the work as a whole, especially the lengthy and much-maligned “The End,” to make “everything seems tentative, uncertain, unclear: that’s the source of the song’s power, it’s all-encompassing embrace of darkness, doom and dread.” He argues that the band’s second album, Strange Days, perfectly captured the end of the 1960s ideals: “Already in 1968 the Doors were performing not freedom but its disappearance.” And he contrasts a fascinating range of official and bootleg live recordings of such hit singles as “Touch Me” to show that by 1970 “a war between the band and its audience was underway, a war whose weapons were contempt on both sides.” This is an impressive tribute to “the revolt the Doors momentarily embodied, and acted out,” as well as to Jim Morrison’s artistic attempt to move beyond the hatred he felt for the band’s pop success. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
San Antonio Express-News, August 28, 2011
“With an astounding breadth of knowledge, Marcus unmasks The Doors in his latest missive from the cultural trenches.”

Publishers Weekly, September 5, 2011
"Music critic Marcus offers a relentlessly beautiful and insightful evaluation of the music of the Doors ... but also a complete rethinking of the Doors’ work as an entire story that captures the 1960s as 'a place, even as it is created, people know they can never really inhabit, and never escape'.... He contrasts a fascinating range of official and bootleg live recordings of such hit singles as “Touch Me” to show that by 1970 'a war between the band and its audience was underway, a war whose weapon were contempt on both sides.' This is an impressive tribute."
 
LA Magazine, November 2011
“[A] fine new book…. Published on the anniversary of the band’s last album and its singer’s death in Paris, the book comes to grips with the Doors without being derailed by the legacy of the egomaniac behind the microphone…. His passage on ‘Light My Fire’ is the best ever written about a record that most people barely can hear in an old way anymore let alone a new one.”

The Daily, October 29, 2011
‘“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,’ goes a famously derisive quote whose provenance is mysterious but which is often attributed to Elvis Costello. Greil Marcus’ body of work stands as a repudiation of that quote as well as, perhaps, its embodiment…. While he’s unsparing in his criticism of the band’s lesser work, Marcus holds out the possibility that at their best, the Doors hit on something much greater than themselves."

San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 2011
“When Marcus is full-on into ecstatic writing mode, spending several pages at a time detailing the most minuscule subtleties of a performance - and this book is all about the Doors as a performing band, more than as writers or icons - the rush is more than contagious.… The way Marcus is able to construct an engaging narrative out of a tune that was recorded on a lousy cassette recorder in the middle of an ancient auditorium produces small miracles of revelatory rock writing…. And, suddenly, Marcus does make you remember what an anomaly their particular brand of noir was in the late '60s ... along with how few of today's Phish bootlegs will be prompting entire books in the 2050s. Marcus is just the discriminating wheat-from-chaff separator the Doors have long been in need of to reconfirm their legend among the intelligentsia.”

Globe & Mail, November 6, 2011
“A passionate book, with Marcus focusing on 15 or so songs in the Doors’ canon, combining a whole lot of close listening with an erudition alternately staggering and bewildering. Marcus clearly loves the Doors, but not unreservedly.”

New York Times, November 16, 2011
“Reading Mr. Marcus at his best — on Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Sly Stone, the Band, Sleater-Kinney, Dock Boggs or Randy Newman, to name just a few of his obsessions over the years — is like watching a surfer glide shakily down the wall of an 80-foot wave, disappear under a curl for a deathly eternity, then soar out the other end. You practically feel like applauding. He makes you run to your iPod with an ungodly itch in your cranium. You want to hear what he hears. It’s as if he were daring you to get as much out of the music as he does. Mr. Marcus’s acute and ardent new book, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, is his 13th and among his best…. Mr. Marcus’s achievement in The Doors is to isolate and resurrect this band’s best music and set it adrift in a swirling and literate cultural context…. The Doors will never mean to me what they mean to Mr. Marcus. But this book means more to me than most rock books.”

B&N Review, November 16, 2011
The Doors is a reflection on the Doors' music in time and over time — and it is a book about the band like no other.”

VanityFair.com
“Just My Type” 12/11:  “Greil Marcus, music critic, cultural historian, infinite riffer and groover, has a gift for sweeping readers up in his passions…. Reading the book gives the experience of being in the studio with the band: the world outside still exists, but we’re safe in the booth—no background noise, or groupies, or memories of Mother. Just us, the music, and Marcus. It’s a pleasure.”
 

Washington Post
“Prosey, frequently brilliant…. Marcus has the ability to play tour guide in the places we think we already know. It’s exactly what makes him one of the greatest music scribes to ever do the job, and it’s what makes this book worth reading, love or hate the Doors.”

Financial Times
“A combustible combination: Greil Marcus, America’s wide-ranging and uninhibited rock historian, has turned his attentions to The Doors, the 1960s supergroup which draped its dark, gothic themes over the latter part of that decade…. Marcus’s book, like its predecessors, is far from an orthodox biography or cultural analysis. He riffs like the meanest of guitarists, with erudite passion and bold, imaginative leaps.”

Library Journal
The poetic lyrics and haunting melodies of the Doors created a distinctive sound in the 1960s, and the life and death of Jim Morrison, the charismatic, outrageous lead singer, have prompted numerous books and the Oliver Stone movie The Doors. Longtime fans will be excited to see new material written on the band but may be ultimately disappointed with this addition from well-known critic Marcus (Lipstick Traces; Invisible Republic). He attempts to focus solely on the music and present a new story, but his narrative is disjointed, as particular songs send him on rambling dissertations about everything from pop art exhibits to Charles Manson. VERDICT Doors fans will not find new material here. Better choices remain popular titles like Chuck Crisafulli's The Doors: When the Music's Over, Ray Manzarek's Light My Fire, and Stephen Davis's Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend. Still, completists will be looking for Marcus's latest. [See Prepub Alert, 5/23/11.]—Rosalind Dayen, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL
Library Journal
Hard to believe that the Doors were around for only five years; their music was and remains so outsize. Distinguished rock/culture critic Marcus aims to get beyond the very long shadow of Jim Morrison. Not just for Sixties types.
Kirkus Reviews

The veteran critic (Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, 2010, etc.) turns his attention to one of the defining rock bands of the 1960s.

Outside of the band's 1967 debut album, the Doors strike Marcus as a mediocrity. So why write about them? In part because the release of "official bootleg" albums of live Doors shows offer new perspectives for Marcus to consider. It may help to have 2003'sBoot Yer Butt!handy as he sagely discusses the group deconstructing "Light My Fire" onstage in 1967, or the way "The End" messily collapsed live a year later. In those pieces, Marcus eagerly strips the Doors of the psychedelic clichés that have attached to them. A compulsion to debunk myths about the '60s drives much of this book: Sick of being called upon to opine romantically on Woodstock culture, Marcus hears the death of the Summer of Love dream in the Doors' music, the way its mood seemed to foreshadow the Manson murders and the Altamont tragedy. As ever, the author synthesizes a variety of works to make such points, and the connections aren't always clear or convincing. What "Twentieth Century Fox" has to do with pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein is no clearer at the end of one essay than it was at the beginning. But Marcus' enthusiasm is often infectious, as in his astonishment over his admiration for Oliver Stone's biopic or the way Thomas Pynchon'sInherent Viceharks back to Morrison's crazed vocals on "L.A. Woman."

An honorable if sometimes clumsy attempt to put the Doors in their cultural place.

Dwight Garner
Reading Mr. Marcus at his best…is like watching a surfer glide shakily down the wall of an 80-foot wave, disappear under a curl for a deathly eternity, then soar out the other end. You practically feel like applauding. He makes you run to your iPod with an ungodly itch in your cranium. You want to hear what he hears. It's as if he were daring you to get as much out of the music as he does. Mr. Marcus's acute and ardent new book…is his 13th and among his best…Mr. Marcus's achievement in The Doors is to isolate and resurrect this band's best music and set it adrift in a swirling and literate cultural context.
—The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review

Jim Morrison was a rock star of limited singing range but nearly unlimited charisma. His self-destructive appeal ? or, I should say, the appeal of his self-destruction — during his half decade as lead singer of the Doors has dominated the literature about the band until now.

The Doors exploded into view in 1967, with Morrison singing of the need to "break on through to the other side." "Light My Fire" gave the group a number one single, and Morrison's evocative lyrics and mesmerizing stage presence quickly made the Doors into the most popular rock group in the United States. But Morrison was never comfortable as a rock star, or as anything else. Always careless, he became reckless. Always erratic, he became wildly unpredictable. His descent, highlighted by an arrest for indecent exposure onstage in 1969, was a spectacle as kaleidoscopic as those organ runs of Ray Manzarek that gave the Doors their signature sound. Morrison aged a lifetime in five years in the public eye. On the Doors' last album together, the superb L.A. Woman (1971), he sounds weary and used-up at the age of twenty-seven. His death was reported as the album ascended the charts.

But the Doors have enjoyed an astonishing afterlife. Forty years after Morrison sang his last, Doors music remains audible on the national soundtrack. The Doors have inspired numerous films (including a biopic by Oliver Stone and a documentary, When You're Strange, that appeared last year), and books still pour forth about the band. Most of those books are crammed to bursting with pictures of Morrison. The camera loved the man, and beginning with the sinister portrait on the cover of the Doors' eponymously titled debut album, Morrison's androgynous beauty provided the main visual accompaniment to the group's dark and disturbing soundscape.

Greil Marcus's The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, benefits from a simple but radical innovation: he concerns himself with the Doors' music, not Morrison's grotesque courtship of death. This is not another story of the band. Instead, it's organized according to the songs, both the words and the music. Marcus's decision to treat them together is especially welcome because the Doors were defined by their sound, and Morrison's striking lyrics were only a part of it. On its own, Morrison's poetry was undisciplined and unmemorable. (Marcus calls it "unbearable.") As guitarist Robby Krieger put it in an interview, "Jim goes out into unknown territory. We keep his exploration of the chaos intact, by keeping his words to the chords and the rhythms." Thus domesticated by song structure, Morrison's lyrics merged psychedelia with thanatopsis, shot through with the blues.

Greil Marcus is one of the most inventive and accomplished critics of American music in general, and rock in particular. His Mystery Train may be the best book ever written about popular music (and Marcus winks at that earlier book in his discussion of Morrison's slovenly in-concert treatment of the classic song that gives Mystery Train its name). Marcus takes a daring approach in The Doors, bending his language to fit the subject. Specifically, he seeks within the rhythm and structure of his prose to capture the feeling of listening to the Doors then and now. His long, imagistic, deliberately indulgent sentences correspond to the same qualities in the Doors' music. The Doors could be hauntingly lyrical and ridiculously overwrought — sometimes in the same song. (Think of "The End," the epic nightmare from their first album: Francis Ford Coppola used the beginning of the song in the stunning opener to Apocalypse Now, but even as a teenager I found the Oedipal theater at the end of the song to be embarrassing.) Marcus is trying to capture the Doors' excess within his own, to match the shape of his thinking about the group's music with the impressionistic image making of the songs.

His appraisal of "The End of the Night," for example, notes a guitar crescendo "that turns off the lights," followed by "an answering three lines from Ray Manzarek that says he was waiting for this all along." Marcus continues:

As so often with Manzarek's playing, you can hear memories of late-night TV creep-show movie marathons, or even more directly the music from early network suspense programs, and those memories are immediately transcended. As soon as you think you recognize the allusions, the music takes you somewhere else, closer to Jody Reynolds's "Endless Sleep," say, but as always slower than that, more sure, more determined, fatalistic, at peace with nothing.
"Within seconds," says Marcus, "the song is underwater," with Morrison swimming through it, "feeling the inner tides between his fingers." The title of the song, repeated by Morrison, becomes "a skull he can hold up to the light." This is tightrope-walking criticism — of a tightrope-walking band.

Jim Morrison, Marcus states flatly, was a "degenerate drunk." But the Doors, not Morrison, are his subject, and their music speaks a special "language of dread." Marcus aims to untangle the power and beauty of that language from the noise of Jim Morrison's sordid burnout and replace it within the scenes of the sixties and the scattered precipitate of the sixties that stands for that era today. The Doors is a reflection on the Doors' music in time and over time — and it is a book about the band like no other.

Leonard Cassuto is a professor of English at Fordham University and the author of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, now available from Columbia University Press. He can be found on the web at www. lcassuto.com.

Reviewer: Leonard Cassuto

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586489458
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 739,609
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is the author of Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, When that Rough God Goes Riding, The Shape of Things to Come, Mystery Train, Dead Elvis, In the Fascist Bathroom, Double Trouble, Like a Rolling Stone, and The Old Weird America; a twentieth anniversary edition of his book Lipstick Traces was published in 2009. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America, published last year by Harvard University Press. Since 2000 he has taught at Princeton, Berkeley, Minnesota, and the New School in New York; his column "Real Life Rock Top 10” appears regularly in The Believer. He has lectured at U Cal, Berkeley, The Whitney Museum of Art, and Princeton University. He lives in Berkeley.

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    Critical Essays for the Critical Fan

    With a cover of Joel Brodsky's Elektra publicity photo of The Doors dressed in unexpectedly warm colors of the sun, Greil Marcus' "The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years" is an unexpected look at selected songs of The Doors and pop culture. Marcus' book is a fans' book, he says that it started at the Avalon Ballroom with his wife and seeing The Doors and on their way out, took handbills of the show and after a lifetime they still have them. Marcus, best known for music criticism and pop culture, is a Doors fan, but an objective one, he is well versed in all aspects of music and the artists but also the language of music and focuses his lens on The Doors. Marcus' "The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years" is about twenty critical essays on Doors songs, his prose weaves in and out of the songs to where his thoughts take him, either in relation to the lyrics themselves or some aspect of pop culture. The chapter on "Twentieth Century Fox" is a take off point for an extended essay on 50's-60's pop culture and how The Doors fit in. In the essay on "L.A. Woman" he makes the case that it could be used as a soundtrack for Thomas Pynchon's recent novel, "Inherent Vice," and the song is a pop art map of the city. Marcus isn't an easy ride through The Doors, you'll find yourself agreeing with some of his conclusions, such as on "Take it as it Comes" "seemed to start in the middle of some greater song." Or even disagreeing with his conclusions, such as Morrison's tribute to Otis Redding, "poor Otis dead and gone/left me here to sing his song", ".was beyond arrogant, it was beyond obnoxious, it was even beyond racism." which always seemed a heartfelt tribute to Redding to me. As you read you'll find yourself wanting to listen to the songs to see for yourself whether Marcus' critiques are apt or not. Jim writes The Doors Examiner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2012

    The worst book about the Doors I have read. The author spends mo

    The worst book about the Doors I have read. The author spends more time talking about himself, not in relation to the Doors, than anything else. There are much better books out there. No One Here Gets Out Alive is a good place to start.

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