Author Spotlight: Greil Marcus

We ask the author of The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years about the Doors’ L.A. experience

Los Angeles is famous for being the homeland of sunny, wholesome groups like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, and the Mamas and the Papas. But it’s also where The Doors formed. How do you think L.A. influenced the band’s music, if at all?

Yeah. In Jim Morrison you have someone from a military family who lived all over the country. Maybe he spent more time in Florida than in any other place. But he comes to L.A. and goes to UCLA film school, and it’s a foreign country to him. That’s what L.A. is to people who aren’t from there. I am from there, and all my life I’ve experienced people talking about California as a bizarre, unreal place. So for someone coming into L.A., while it’s open and inviting and there’s a tremendous sense of movement and freedom there, there’s also something terrifying and menacing about it. Maybe because L.A. has no center, there’s no way to get a fix on it. You don’t know what’s there. So I think there’s that.

Also, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were attracted to a whole school of European modernism that starts with Blake and Baudelaire and moves forward with Céline, and they very self consciously considered themselves a part of that tradition. They wanted to make a contribution to that tradition and to even move past it. So they brought a European strain of doubt and nihilism into Los Angeles, and given that there is a long and rich history of mystical cults in L.A.—some of them quite violent and threatening—this all begins to link up in the imagination. Now I’m not imagining the Doors looking on as the Manson Family murdered people, but when you bring the ideas that life is without meaning and the threat of annihilation is everywhere into a place like L.A., it allows you to see the place differently than other people.

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