Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
A fan from the moment The Doors’ first album took over KMPX, the revolutionary FM rock & roll station inSan Francisco, Greil Marcus saw the band many times at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom in 1967.
By the way, the name of the band came from the title of a 1954 book, “The Doors of Perception,” by Aldous Huxley, the renowned author of “Brave New World.” Huxley’s death was barely covered since he died at age 69 in Los Angeles on Nov. 22, 1963, the same Friday 48 years ago when JFK was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. “The Doors of Perception” appropriately deals with Huxley’s experiences while taking mescaline. Huxley took his title from William Blake’s poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” All this is appropriate because drug-using Morrison, who came up with the band’s name, was also a talented poet.
Five years after the band was formed in Venice, CA. in 1965 it was all over, with the last concert Dec. 12, 1970 at the Warehouse in New Orleans. Forty years after the singer Jim Morrison (1943-1971) was found dead in Paris and the group disbanded, Marcus says a rock music devotee could drive around town or across the country, 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.
Could anyone say that about, say, The Blasters, which I saw in performance at Club 88 on Pico Boulevard in West L.A. in the early 1980s and which has largely faded from the cultural scene. Critically acclaimed, the band formed in 1979 by Dave and Phil Alvin sadly never achieved the popularity of The Doors. This is a shame because The Blasters was and is an outstanding group.
Jim Morrison dominates the book, as he dominated The Doors, but Marcus doesn’t neglect the other band members: Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. I was surprised to find that Marcus liked the 1991 Oliver Stone movie “The Doors” with Val Kilmer playing Morrison, Kyle MacLachlan as Manzarek, Frank Whalley as Krieger and Kevin Dillon as Densmore: “all of them right, and Val Kilmer as Morrison, more than right,” Marcus says. I agree with him and disagree with the critics and others who trashed the flick. It’s worth watching. Oliver Stone may be an acquired taste, but “The Doors” will endure.
Griel’s book isn’t so much about the band’s myth, their mystique, and the death cult of both Jim Morrison and the era he was made to personify as it is on the music and the cultural influence of that music. If you”re a fan of The Doors, this is an important book. Even if you’re not, it’s worth reading.
Marcus did omit one Doors reference, but maybe it’s because he’s not a “Wayne’s World” fan; the reference to Jim Morrison and the Naked Indian in “Wayne’s World 2”. I couldn’t find it in the index, either. Michael A. Nickles played Morrison in the 1993 movie, and Larry Sellers portrayed the Naked Indian, who was not all that naked.
From “Wayne’s World 2”:
Jim: Ask me a question.
Wayne: Okay, two trains are coming at each other at sixty miles an hour, one from Chicago, one from Los Angeles.
Jim: [cutting him off] No, ask me a question about your life.
Greil Marcus, born 1945, is the author of “Bob Dylan by Griel Marcus”, “Lipstick Traces,” “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.” 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 UC Berkeley, The Whitney Museum of Art, and Princeton University. He lives in Oakland, CA.
Publisher’s website: www.publicaffairsbooks.com