Unlike most of the old rockers he writes about, the esteemed US critic Greil Marcus is becoming more prolific as he enters his twilight years. An eccentric monograph on Van Morrison was swiftly followed last autumn by a luxuriant collection of his writings on Bob Dylan, and now arrives The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years (Faber £14.99).
Marcus doesn’t just inhabit the more rarefied and cerebral wing of rock criticism: he pretty much defined it. Unlike most rock hacks he is not particularly interested in the musicians and their often tarnished legends. No, he listens and listens to the music, listens some more, thinks about it for years, listens some more and then finally commits his thoughts to print.
It doesn’t always work: some of his more olympian judgments on Morrison were quite barking, and suggested a need to get out more. But The Doors is a much better book. It probably helps that their time together was so compressed, and so long ago (1966-71), and that Marcus hasn’t written much about them before.
So this is a fresh set of unlikely connections, for every moment in every Doors song seems to remind him of something else — a car, a vista, a Thomas Pynchon novel, Charles Manson, Lady Gaga.
His book is therefore as much a journey through his mind as through their back catalogue. It’s a fascinating ride, although a working knowledge of Doors bootlegs would certainly come in handy.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 21, 2012Tags: Bookends, Doors, Rock history