Rock News

 

INTERVIEW: John Densmore on his new book 'The Doors Unhinged'

INTERVIEW: John Densmore on his new book 'The Doors Unhinged'

Listen to The Doors on iHeartRadio

Founding member of The Doors, drummer John Densmore, released his new book, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes On Trial last week. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer sat down with Q104.3's Jim Kerr in New York to discuss the book and talk about The Doors' imprint on rock history.

"The Doors were knocked off their hinges a few years ago for a few years because Ray and Robbie - keyboard and guitar player - thought they could go on without Jim," Densmore tells Jim Kerr. "The Doors without Jim Morrison... The Stones without Mick... The Police without Sting... uh uh. So Jim's estate and I had to enter this legal struggle to straighten that out.

"I tried to write it like my mind was when I was sitting in the courtroom drifting off to thinking about playing with Eddie Vedder, Carlos Santana or whatever was in my mind," Densmore says, adding, " And humor. The older you get the more humor you need."

Buy The Doors Unhinged at the Amazon store

Check out the full interview with John Densmore and get a sneak peek of the book in an excerpt below.

Check out an excerpt from the book:
-----
The Good Old Days
CHAPTER ONE

July 6, 2004

It’s early morning and I just parked in the courthouse lot, where
I paid the usual seventeen-dollar parking fee. This charge benignly
drops to a mere six dollars after eleven a.m. but who goes to court after
eleven? It’s not like I can’t afford the tariff. I can. But what about the
unfortunate folks who dominate this building in the mornings, with their
woes of immigration, traffic tickets, and petty crimes? “Let’s rip off the
poor one more time,” must be the motto here.

As I approach the heavy front doors to the ominous Los Angeles
courthouse, I’m keenly aware that this is quite a different venue than
I’m used to playing. Compared to the smoky clubs where I spent my
lonely youth, this is pretty antiseptic. As a kid, I was hoping that a girl
might notice me behind my gleaming set of drums, but now I don’t
have my musical security blanket. It’s just me entering this courthouse,
armed with my determination to make right what I believe is a wrong.

I stop for a moment as I pass through the recently installed metal
detectors at the entrance to the courthouse. I get frisked by security
as I gaze down the long marble hallway with the bright neon lighting,
winding its way to my new prison cell — I’m referring to courtroom
Division #36. I expect I’ll be here every day for a few weeks. (Not
for the entire summer, as it actually will turn out.) I am plagued by
thoughts about how my “integrity” led me to this dire hall of justice.
Will I actually wind up with any justice? What am I trying to prove
here? Am I committing sabotage against my old bandmates? These
thoughts won’t stop, like maybe I should be less possessive about our
brand name. I don’t own it. We all do. We’re all in this together. Is it
unfair for one person to try to stop it? Am I the spoiler?

The truth is that a precious pact inked long ago by our front man,
Jim, states quite clearly that if things ever get weird, one of us can and
should do something. Well, it got weird and I’m doing something. But
now that I’ve blown the whistle, I’m in the weirdest place I’ve ever
been. Inside the courtroom, people talk real quiet, calling each other
“sir” and “Your Honor,” while they simultaneously and deliberately stab
anyone standing in the way of their agenda … in the neck, back, sides,
front, toes … anywhere. They’re dressed in their Sunday Best Armani
suits, but they act like they’re in a brothel instead of church. What the
hell am I doing here?

I had no idea that when Jim suggested a four-way split on everything,
it was a historic moment not to be duplicated by any other band before
and since. His suggestion was not only magnanimous, but the solidarity
turned out to be ironclad. Nothing would crack this fortress. I rest in
the knowledge that I haven’t sabotaged Jim.

In fact, reflecting back all those years to Jim’s violent reaction to
the Buick incident, when Ray, Robby, and I nearly sold “Light My
Fire” to Buick for a TV commercial, I feel shame. The Greed Gene
was flowing through my veins back then when Jim’s outrageous burst
of passion against our selling a song to an ad agency became etched
on my brain, never to be forgotten. For thirty years we were a band
of musicians with one of the most unique four-way agreements ever
— nothing could be contracted unless we each gave it the okay. And
now we are enemy combatants on the fourth floor of the courthouse in
downtown Los Angeles.

In a book by James Hillman (Pulitzer nominee, Jungian psychologist,
and best-selling author), The Soul’s Code, he states that individuals hold
the potential for their unique possibilities inside themselves already,
much as an acorn holds the pattern for an oak tree. I think Jim and
legendary Crazy Horse (Native American war leader of the Oglala
Lakota) had similar callings — that invisible mystery at the center of
every life that speaks to the fundamental question, “What is it in my
heart, that I must do?” With all the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune that these two endured, they lived out their defining images that
were in them from the beginning.

I hate all the Morrison fake death rumors, but there is a reason that,
like Crazy Horse, the whereabouts of Jim’s remains still evoke mystery.
I’m quite sure that Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is his “happy hunting
ground,” due to mistaking THE GREAT SPIRIT for the spirit in the
bottle, but Jim’s spirit is still so strong, the fans want him alive.

As John Neihardt (Black Elk Speaks) says in his Cycle of the West,
the parents of Crazy Horse rode into the Black Hills of South Dakota,
carrying their son’s body behind them. His mother wept for the innocent
times “before the great dream” took her son’s life. No one really knows
where they stopped as the final resting place for their offspring, but to
the Lakota, the entire area is sacred.

I, too, look back to the sweet, innocent period when we were
a garage band, before our “great dream” took us off to the global
stage. But there is very little sacred about this courtroom, which is
filled with people whispering secrets to each other. I’m used to loud,
inebriated fans yelling out requests for their favorite song. How did
it come to this? While I wait to enter the courtroom, I travel back in
time to the beginning …

It was 1965. Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison had met and
become fast friends while attending film school at UCLA in beautiful
Westwood Village in Los Angeles. At that time, people were becoming
interested in Eastern philosophy and so my good friend Robby Krieger
and I decided to attend a seminar on Transcendental Meditation (TM)
which Ray, whom I hadn’t yet met, also attended. I was obsessed
with music, taking piano lessons at eight years old, playing drums
in the high school marching band, the dance band, and the orchestra.
I went to Tijuana and got a fake ID so I could play in bars. . . a
budding professional. At the TM meeting, Ray introduced himself
and suggested I come to his parents’ house in Manhattan Beach to jam.
I was down, happy to follow any lead to further the high I got from
playing music. The praise that came from fellow musicians was like
a dermatologist’s salve on my acne.

The gathering at Ray’s garage had both a negative and a positive cast.
On the down side was the low level of musicianship of Ray’s two brothers
… but the guy lurking in the corner of the garage fascinated me. His
name was Jim Morrison, he looked like a modern version of a Greek
sculpture and he moved like one too. In other words, he didn’t move
at all. I stopped staring at him when Manzarek started a nice groove on
keyboards, a blues by Muddy Waters, and I joined in. It must have been
true that the guy in the corner had never sung before, just like Ray said,
because it was a good half hour before he walked up to the mic. At the
time, I didn’t think this guy had the confidence to be the next Mick Jagger,
but I just couldn’t stop looking at him … and I wasn’t into guys!
Thankfully, after a couple more rehearsals, the two Manzarek brothers
quit, convinced that this band wasn’t going anywhere with a lead singer
who was obviously so uncomfortable performing. I was worried about
Jim’s stage presence, just like they were, but his lyrics were extremely
interesting to me … and they were percussive! I immediately heard
drumbeats to his words:

You know the day destroys the night,
The night divides the day,
Tried to run, tried to hide,
Break on through to the other side.

It was very risky betting on a singer who had never been in a band,
couldn’t play an instrument, and was extremely shy. Something was
magical about him though … I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

The void created by our lack of a guitar player provided me an
opportunity to invite Robby Krieger to audition for the group. Up to
this point he’d primarily been a flamenco guitar player, but he was
starting to get into playing electric as well. Ray was gregarious and
knowledgeable about jazz, which was my passion, but he wasn’t too
passionate about my bringing Robby Krieger in for a rehearsal. His
reluctance came from the fact that Robby’s persona was not that of the
typical macho rock lead guitarist — strutting the stage, milking the
notes, grabbing the audience. Robby had a much more internal style
and Ray was concerned that two introverts (Jim and Robby) would not
make a rock band. But I pressed for Robby because of his talent. In the
end, I was able to convince Ray that what Robby lacked in persona he
made up for in originality. Robby’s musical contribution to this band
was immense and once he had joined us, The Doors was complete.

As we continued to meet and rehearse, a fascinating thing happened.
One day, in a show of extraordinary selflessness, Jim suggested that
all the songs be credited as being written by all of us, even though he,
himself, the primary lyricist, was entitled to half of the writing royalties.
As a result, no song in our playlist is written solely by Jim Morrison. No
song is written solely by John Densmore. And no song is written solely
by Robby Krieger or by Ray Manzarek. Jim’s desire to split the pot
four equal ways had never been done by a band in the history of popular
music, from Glenn Miller to The Beatles and up to the present.

Then Jim took it a step further. During a break in a rehearsal, Jim
sat up on the edge of the couch and declared, “We should all have veto
power.” That is, if any one of us didn’t like something that was proposed,
each man had the right to veto it. That’s the way Jim thought we could
achieve harmony and we all loved the idea, which worked flawlessly —
until this current court battle some thirty years later.

In 1967, during the Summer of Love, Elektra Records released
our first album and “Light My Fire” went straight to the top of the
charts … and stayed there … and stayed there … for an unheard-of
twenty-six weeks. We started touring and recorded a second album,
and toured some more, and recorded some more. This was our life
over the next several years … an incredibly creative period that was
a lot of fun, especially because we were all kindred spirits. But then
Jim started to go down.

Besides his encroaching alcoholism, there was another divisive
element in the air: Vietnam. The folk prophet, Bob Dylan, whistled
into my ears, giving me the courage to get out of the draft, which was
blowing in the wind harder every day:

Temptation’s page flies out the door,
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d be just one more
Person crying.

A napalm storm would reach such a gale force that college kids,
married men, and parents with children were forced into a “conflict”
we knew was a “terrible wrong,” way before Secretary of Defense
McNamara would write that phrase in a war memoir. His book exposed
the underpinnings of why I narrowly escaped going down with 60,000
of my classmates and ghetto brothers, not to mention a million and a
half Vietnamese. It was a book written in blood, not ink.

Power-hungry men didn’t understand that the Dylan lyric, The
new warrior’s strength is not to fight, was heralding the beginning of a
movement: Peace. Jim further defined the underpinnings of the time:

There’s blood in the streets
It’s up to my ankles,
Up to my knees,
There’s blood in the streets,
The town of Chicago,
There’s blood on the rise,
It’s following me.

The dread was with us 24/7 and we were desperate every day due
to the immoral nature of the enterprise and the growing awareness of
the American public. The country was divided “for and against,” and
we were against this war in a big way. At the same time, the seeds
of the civil rights movement, the peace movement, and the women’s
movement were all being planted in the sixties. The Doors were steeped
in that kind of stuff, hoping we could sort of level the playing field for
everyone else out there. It may have been a pipe dream, but without a
dream, one has no sense of direction. We also hoped to make a lot of
dough, but we wanted to do it with a sense of social consciousness.

By the time we had reached “arena” status, which is usually reserved
for sports and not music, we had acquired a couple of managers, Sal
Bonafede and Asher Dann. They were obviously not kindred spirits,
however, when they pulled Jim aside one day and said, “Hey, you’re the
money. Let’s get rid of these other guys.”

They didn’t know Jim. At our very next rehearsal, Jim told us,
“These guys want me to dump you guys … Let’s dump them.” Which
we did.

Businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would.
So I’ll just start again.
– Arcade Fire

And then a final note of group unity manifested when we were about
to go onstage and a DJ introduced us to an audience somewhere as “Jim
Morrison and The Doors.” Our lead singer dragged the DJ back onstage
by the ear, refusing to play until he reintroduced us as The Doors.

Those were the good old days. Now, the remaining Doors are
ready to tear asunder everything we stood for in the beginning. We
used to be a collective body intent on making art, not a bunch of
individuals mainly out for ourselves or for the money. Perhaps if
Jim hadn’t made such a point of us being a “band of brothers,” we
wouldn’t be here in this historic courthouse at all. But he did, and it
resonates with me still.
 

More Articles