Before Jim Morrison was a legend—the pouty, slithering id of the freak-flag generation—the Lizard King was just another L.A. longhair in a rock band, sitting on the sofa during a tedious rehearsal at his guitarist’s parents’ house.
Even then, before he and his band the Doors were vaulted into stratospheric fame, Morrison was audacious. He suggested to his bandmates—Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore—that they share songwriting credits evenly (though Morrison was writing most of the songs at that point), and that they make all decisions about the band’s future unanimously.
In rock’s long, sordid history of selling out, Morrison’s gesture is a significant moment that still resonates more than 50 years later. In the epic battle between artistic idealism and commercial pragmatism, idealism rarely comes out on top. But, at least for the first three albums of the band’s fabled career, all songs were officially credited to “the Doors.”
Morrison’s nod to Three-Musketeers egalitarianism would be put to the test just a couple of years later, after the Doors had become legitimate stars, when Buick came calling with an offer of $75,000 to use “Light My Fire,” the band’s signature song, in a commercial. Morrison, as was his habit, was nowhere to be found when the offer came to the band, and—facing a deadline—the other Doors agreed to the deal. When Morrison found out, he went berserk. “You guys just made a pact with the Devil!” he thundered. The Doors soon backed out of the deal.
If it was Morrison’s intent to convince his bandmates of the purity of art in the face of commerce, he succeeded spectacularly in at least one instance. Doors drummer John Densmore was, to quote Hamilton, “in the room where it happened.” And long after Morrison’s death in 1971 at the age of 27, Densmore has emerged as one of rock music’s most stalwart holdouts against commercialism.
Densmore, 74, involves Streetlight Data in Santa Cruz for an Aug. 24 ebook signing to advertise his ebook The Doorways Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes On Trial. The ebook opens with the story of Morrison’s confrontation together with his bandmates on the Buick deal. However the bulk of Unhinged focuses on the lengthy and bitter authorized battle between Densmore and the opposite surviving members of the Doorways. At challenge was the legacy of the band and Morrison’s rejection of crass commercialism.
In a telephone interview with GT, Densmore says that he opened his ebook with the Buick episode to provide readers a way of Morrison’s ardour on the difficulty of promoting out. “I wished to point out what I had realized from Jim, as a result of he had handed on, and I used to be simply making an attempt to honor my ancestor,” he says.
Despite the fact that the band shared songwriting credit, “Mild My Hearth” was largely composed by guitarist Robby Krieger. “If he cared that a lot a few tune that Robby primarily wrote, that stated to me that he cared about all our songs, the entire catalogue,” says Densmore. “I’ve tried to not neglect that.”
In 2002, Densmore vetoed a proposed deal from Cadillac that might have paid the band $15 million for the usage of “Break On Via (to the Different Facet)” in a industrial for luxurious SUVs (Cadillac turned to Led Zeppelin as an alternative). He did the identical on a cope with Apple that might have netted the surviving Doorways one other $four million.
“All I used to be doing was making an attempt to honor (Morrison’s) legacy,” says Densmore. “Look, in case you’re a brand new band making an attempt to pay the hire, do a industrial. I get it. However in case you’ve had some success, like we had, perhaps you need to revisit that call.” Quoting Tom Waits, who has publicly defended Densmore’s actions, Densmore says, “Once you promote rock songs for commercials, you modify your lyrics to a jingle and the music to the sound of cash in your pocket.”
Densmore’s vetoes irked his former bandmates, notably keyboardist Ray Manzarek. However what dragged all of them into courtroom was Densmore’s insistence that Manzarek and Krieger couldn't tour because the Doorways. In 2003, Manzarek and Krieger recruited former Police drummer Stewart Copeland and singer Ian Astbury of the Cult, and commenced touring as “The Doorways of the 21st Century,” utilizing the well-known Doorways brand. Densmore filed an injunction towards Manzarek and Krieger, who then counter-sued, searching for $40 million in damages.
Densmore then persuaded the households of Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela Courson (who died in 1974) to affix sides with him within the go well with, a canny transfer that symbolically underscored Densmore’s rivalry that he was solely appearing per Morrison’s needs.
To say the least, Morrison had an uncommon relationship together with his delivery household, to the purpose that he as soon as publicly declared his mother and father to be lifeless—which they most likely wished they have been after listening to his crazed Oedipal rant about murdering his father and having intercourse together with his mom in “The Finish.” Contemplating Morrison’s father George Morrison was a U.S. Navy admiral and commander of naval forces in the course of the Vietnam Warfare, the estrangement between father and son was emblematic of the famed era hole within the 1960s.
“Yeah, there was a reasonably clear slicing of the umbilical twine there,” deadpans Densmore. “I had by no means met Jim’s dad, and if it wasn’t for the trial, I by no means would have. However he got here as much as me, caught his hand out and stated, ‘Y’know, these are bizarre circumstances, nevertheless it’s nice to satisfy you.’ And I felt the identical. There was a sort of therapeutic of the entire trauma of the ’60s for me. I imply, right here was this profession navy man, and he was coming to face up for his counter-culture son’s inventive legacy.”
Densmore’s document of defending Morrison’s needs to keep away from industrial endorsements isn’t fully clear. He and the opposite Doorways allowed “Riders on the Storm” for use in a tire industrial within the U.Okay., however Densmore believes it was a mistake and says he donated his share of that deal to charity.
For a band named after Aldous Huxley’s account of his psychedelic expertise The Doorways of Notion, and who scored hits with such transcendent songs reminiscent of “Break On Via” and “Folks Are Unusual,” Densmore feels that the Doorways had a selected accountability to keep away from the taint of commercialism.
However the trial, which started in 2004, wasn’t about promoting. Densmore believed that Manzarek and Krieger have been exploiting the Doorways’ title and brand, and that the trio had agreed that the Doorways as a performing entity died with Morrison. Manzarek and Krieger have been finessing the difficulty by calling themselves the Doorways of the 21st Century, however Densmore claimed that the final a part of that relatively clunky title was printed in a lot smaller sort within the promotional materials.
“To be clear,” says Densmore, “I really like Ray and Robby’s enjoying. I used to be not discouraging that. I used to be simply saying, ‘C’mon, name it one thing else.’ ‘Former members of the Doorways,’ or ‘Founding members,’ no matter. The Doorways with out Jim is sort of ludicrous.”
Densmore drew on a number of powerhouse names within the music enterprise for help in the course of the trial, together with Waits, Neil Younger, Eddie Vedder, Tom Petty, and others. Even Copeland, who was to start with a part of the newly constituted band, ended up standing with Densmore. On the opposite facet, Manzarek made the argument in courtroom that Morrison’s response to the Buick advert in 1968 had no bearing on the Cadillac deal in 2003. Manzarek urged that had he lived, Morrison would have most likely advanced on his attitudes in the direction of earning profits, and accepted the deal. He additionally claimed that the all-for-one association that gave every band member veto energy over all choices was “a part of the Doorways mythology” and “a fiction.”
Ultimately, the courtroom sided with Densmore, and the choice was upheld on attraction. Manzarek and Krieger pushed the case all the way in which to the California Supreme Court docket, which refused to rule on it. The authorized dispute was over. Densmore obtained 1 / 4 of the earnings from the Doorways of the 21st Century tour, and his former bandmates continued to carry out as D21C and eventually, merely, Manzarek-Krieger.
“Financially, I got here out OK,” says Densmore. “However emotionally, I used to be utterly drained.”
Not surprisingly, the trial drove a wedge between Densmore and the opposite Doorways. However within the closing chapter of The Doorways Unhinged, Densmore makes an effort to make peace with Manzarek and Krieger. Instantly addressing them each, Densmore admitted that he “couldn’t deal with shedding” both of them.
“What I wished to say to them was, ‘Look, I do know this ebook will likely be a tough tablet so that you can swallow, however I need you to know I really like you guys and we created magic collectively in a storage.’ That’s the underside line.”
Manzarek died in 2013 of most cancers of the bile duct. Densmore says that he and the enduring keyboard participant had an opportunity to reconcile earlier than his dying. “After I heard he was sick, we have been semi-estranged,” says Densmore. “So I referred to as him. We didn’t know then it was going to be our final dialog, nevertheless it was an excellent dialog and it was therapeutic. We didn’t discuss in regards to the authorized stuff, simply well being and household and stuff.” Since Manzarek’s dying, Densmore and Krieger have additionally reconciled, and so they’ve even carried out collectively.
Densmore’s stand is exceptional as a result of it’s so uncommon. Songs from so most of the archetypal artists of basic rock’s dinosaur period have appeared in promoting—Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, U2—that the hoary outdated Boomer cry of “sellout” doesn’t have a lot that means anymore.
Perhaps Manzarek was proper. Perhaps a middle-aged Jim Morrison would have welcomed a giant payday and by some means framed getting a Doorways tune on a Cadillac advert as a subversive act. The Doorways’ music has been used prominently in movies—Forrest Gump, Monsters Inc., Apocalypse Now, and, in fact, Oliver Stone’s biopic The Doorways. The band was paid handsomely for these tasks, and Densmore cashed these checks with out a responsible conscience. He has no drawback with earning profits, he says.
However he makes a transparent distinction on the subject of the world of promoting. Permitting Jim Morrison’s sinister snarl on “Break On Via” for use to promote what he calls “a gas-guzzling, international warming Sherman Tank referred to as a Cadillac Escalade” would have destroyed the credibility the band constructed with its thousands and thousands of followers, in his view.
In his ebook, Densmore quotes Robby Krieger—who, bear in mind, was on Manzarek’s facet within the go well with—as making the last word argument towards promoting out. “Many youngsters have stated to me that ‘Mild My Hearth’ was enjoying after they first made love or fought in Vietnam,” Densmore quotes Krieger as saying. “If we’re solely one in all two or three teams who don’t do commercials, that may assist the worth of our songs in the long term. The publishing will undergo a bit, however we must be happy with our stance.”
Densmore is at work on one other ebook, this one in regards to the musicians who've impressed him. Included within the ebook, he says, will likely be a chapter on Manzarek, the gifted keyboardist who additionally dealt with bass duties on his keys. “He might cut up his mind into two musicians, and that’s magic,” says Densmore.
He’s even evolving in his attitudes about Morrison, whose alcoholism and unpredictable habits within the final years of his life have undermined his picture as rock’s harmful mystic poet. “Folks ask me on a regular basis, ‘What if Jim had lived?’ And I used to say that he wouldn’t have lived. He was a kamikaze drunk, decided to destroy himself. However now, you have a look at individuals like Eric Clapton, who was a inventive indignant man like Jim. Nicely, it’s cool to be clear now. Perhaps Jim would have been advantageous.”
As for his personal picture, Densmore has emerged as an unlikely image for integrity in rock music. “Look, I've ‘The Doorways’ etched throughout my brow endlessly, and that’s an excellent factor. But it surely’s been all been downhill since ‘Mild My Hearth,’” he says. “When all this began, I believed, ‘What am I doing? I’m suing my bandmates? Am I nuts?’ Then there was at all times Jim’s ghost over there within the nook, saying, ‘Do that for me.’”
Regardless of all of it, Densmore nonetheless retains a humorousness in regards to the query of promoting out. “I don’t know,” he quips. “What do you suppose? How about ‘Love me two instances, as a result of I simply took Viagra?’ That will be an awesome industrial!”
John Densmore will signal copies of his new ebook ‘The Doorways Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes On Trial’ from Three-5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, at Streetlight Data, 939 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free.