THE DOORS: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years by Greil Marcus
Marcus is one of the remaining first-generation Rolling Stone rock critics who, in his old age, has evolved into something of a Methuselahian sage for the artist and band's populating the Rock and Roll Canon. He is a fine writer, beautifully evocative at times, a widely read gent who brings his far-flung references of history, aesthetics, politics, and mythology into his generalized ruminations on the movement of human history and how it was reflected and/or caused by the emergence of pop, rock and soul music. His idea, if he has any thesis at all, is that these were not merely forms of entertainment and distraction, they were cultural forces that changed the way we live. Marcus, as fine a prose stylist as he can be, and as momentarily persuasive as he can seem in his richer passages, actually puts forth little in the way of criticism; he rarely in his late writings spends the time to convincingly let you how songs, lyrics work internally. Craft is not on his agenda. With the Doors, though, he does a good job of explaining what I've always felt for some time, that Jim Morrison was pompous,, vacuous to major extent, a mediocre poet, a pretentious intellect who happened to have some things going for him: good looks and sex appeal, an appealing baritone voice could bellow or fashion a slumbering croon, and that he was in a band of good musicians that compelled him, in the songwriting process, to peel away the mostly dreadful riffing in his poems and boil it all down to the genuinely strange, exotic and provocative. The result of that combination of Morrison's affectations and the talents of the other band members made for a number of first-rate original songs. Save for the near perfection of their first two albums, it also made for some mostly uneven records where Morrison's drunk insistence on being a drunk put his worst tendencies on full display. Marcus is smart and remarkably succinct here, rendering shrewd judgments, the key one being that while saying up front than in any other life Morrison would have yet another counter-cultural tragedy left for dead and forgotten, rock and roll made him at least briefly pull his resources together and give the world something memorable beyond his pretentiousness.The Doors were a mixed bag for me; the first two albums are among the most important rock albums of all time, with the remainder alternating between the proverbial poles of brilliance and balderdash. As a band, they were simply sublime and unique, with the odd combination of blues, flamenco, classical, jazz, Artaud and epic theater being crafted in their hands to create a sound and feel that was singular and instantly identifiable. As a vocalist, Jim Morrison was often as evocative as the greatest fans proclaim, and it fit the half-awake twilight that seemed to be his constant state of consciousness. As a poet, though, I thought he was simply awful, fragmented, crypto-mystic surrealism that, save for some striking and memorable lines, collapsed from its flimsy elisions and obtuse vagaries. In his posthumous collections,, the pieces read too often like the notebook jottings of an introspective 17-year-old. I say that as one who was an introspective 17 year and is now an introspective 65-year-old. Morrison might have become the poet he wanted to be had he been able to write, edit, and finesse his work as he desired when he left for Paris. What I will say, though, is that being the vocalist in the Doors gave him the opportunity to go through his writings, his poems, and select many of the stronger passages for the band's more theatrical songs. The Doors, ironically seemed to be an institutional editor for Morrison's words, forcing the bard to decide which of his jottings was actually the most powerful, concise, emphatic.