Book Review: Greil Marcus’ “The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years”

Greil Marcus on The Doors

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 with seeing The Doors at the Avalon Ballroom with his wife, and on their way out, they 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, and he is well versed in all aspects of music and the artists but also the language of music. This time he focuses his lens on The Doors.

Greil Marcus: The Doors

Marcus’ “The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years” is about twenty critical essays on Doors songs, and 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 takeoff point for an extended essay on ’50s-’60s 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 that the song is a pop art map of the city. Marcus isn’t an easy ride through The Doors, and you’ll find yourself agreeing with some of his conclusions, such as on “Take it as it Comes” which “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…” when it 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.

“The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years” is available at Amazon.

Originally published October 27, 2011.

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