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’s Boot 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’s Inherent Vice harks back to Morrison’s crazed vocals on “L.A. Woman.”
An honorable if sometimes clumsy attempt to put the Doors in their cultural place.