Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Doors with Ben Fong-Torres, The Doors

Recently I decided to dig deep into the music of the Doors by purchasing and giving serious listening time to the Perception box set.  I then thought I’d enrich the experience by reading a book about the band while I was listening to their six albums.  I ended up with The Doors because it is compiled from interviews with the band members and several people who knew them well with framing and text by Ben Fong-Torres.  I thought a book about the band that was primarily written by the members of the band would be the best way to supplement Perception and immerse myself in their music.  Perception was worth the time, worth the money and is a collection I expect to return to often.  The Doors was a waste of time, a waste of money and will gather dust until it gets stuck in a box to make room on the bookshelves.

The Doors is a large-format coffee table book that appears to be modeled along the lines of U2 by U2.  It’s loaded with photographs and serious fans of the band may find the pictures alone worth the price of the book.  There are Forwards recounting how The Doors meant so much to them by Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction) and Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) which I didn’t read.  There is also a Selected Bibliography and a Discography which is incomplete but is not indicated as such.

There are a lot of books about The Doors.  Most of them seem to fall into either one of two camps.  They are either written by worshipful fanboys who think Jim Morrison was some kind of minor deity or by tabloid sleaze mongers who seek to detail every lurid event in Morrison’s descent into drunken dissolution.  This split is reflected within the band by keyboard player Ray Manzarak who appears to view Morrison as a brilliant and talented poet and shaman for his generation, and drummer John Densmore who seems to see Morrison as a brilliant and talented alcoholic degenerate .

Ben Fong-Torres, who is a rock journalist and former editor at Rolling Stone Magazine, tries to take the middle ground by illustrating both aspects of Jim Morrison without committing to one or the other.  This was a good idea.  Previous books about the Doors have tended to be mostly about Jim Morrison and Fong-Torres attempts to widen his coverage by including more information about Manzarak, Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger.  This was another good idea.

So what went wrong?  Fong-Torres may have intended to put together a book about the band but the result was still a book that is mostly about Morrison.  We get interviews with Morrison’s, father, Morrison’s brother, Morrison’s sister, Morrison’s girlfriend’s mother (the girlfriend died of a heroin overdose).  We don’t get any interviews with any members of Krieger’s, Densmore’s or Manzarak’s families.  For every picture of anyone else in the band it seems like there are five pointlessly similar pictures of Morrison.  Most of the text is about Morrison.

The heavy emphasis on Jim Morrison at the expense of the other members of the band will probably not be seen as a problem by many readers and fans who are more interested in Morrison than they are in either the band or their music.  It was a problem for me because I think The Doors were first and last a great band made of of four equally important members who, for a brief period of time, made great music.  I’m interested in their music and in examining the band’s music The Doors is almost a complete failure.

I haven’t read Fong-Torres’ rock journalism so I don’t know if his interest is in the celebrity of rock, or the social and cultural world of rock, or something else.  On the evidence provided by The Doors, he appears to have little or no interest in or knowledge of the music as music.  Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore are very talented musicians and Fong-Torres interviewed all of them for the book.  Apparently he never thought to ask them very much if anything about the music in and of itself.  It may have been the case that none of the former Doors wanted to talk about the music but I’ve never known a musician who wasn’t interested in talking about music at the nuts and bolts level.  Talk about the music is often limited to naming the location where an album was recorded, somebody saying “We jammed till we found something and then looked in Jim’s poetry books for lyrics” (and anyone who has ever written original music knows there is more to it than that), and quoting people about how difficult it was to get Morrison interested or sober enough to make the album.  We get interviews with girlfriend’s mothers and nothing from Bruce Botnick who was the recording engineer on all of The Doors albums.  It’s like Fong-Torres decided to put together a book about some of the things that happened “When the Music’s Over.”

The end result is a book that reads like an extended press biography.  The Doors is a book with heavyweight production values and lightweight content.

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04/25/2010 - Posted by | book reviews, music | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Does the book contain any color plates or is all the photography in black and white?

    Comment by Raquel LeForge | 04/19/2013 | Reply

    • Photos are both color and B&W

      Comment by Kevin Murnane | 04/22/2013 | Reply


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