Doors Drummer John Densmore Fights for the Band's Legacy
It's probably a good idea to avoid people who quote Doors lyrics in everyday conversation — unless, of course, it's John Densmore, timekeeper for the legendary group. He earned that right, having to live with those words and Jim Morrison's predilection for acting them out onstage and in real life. That part of the equation was handily covered in his first book, Riders on the Storm, a New York Times bestseller.
In his new book, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes on Trial, Densmore tells of the many times he's had to put on a suit and appear before a judge to ensure "Love Me Two Times" wasn't used for a Viagra commercial. Okay, that offer wasn't a real one, but $15 million offered for use of "Break on Through" in a Cadillac commercial was. The reason Densmore turned it down is the reason you're sick of Led Zeppelin now.
"There was one commercial in England only — for Prestone Tires for 'Riders on the Storm' — I signed off on," says Densmore. "I came to my senses and gave all the money to charity. If we needed the dough, if we were struggling to pay the rent like a new band, that's a different thing. I get that. But since we all happen to have four equal parts, and we all happen to have a nice house and some groovy cars, I'm trying to uphold what Jim wanted."
Ironically, the four-equal-votes-democracy that Densmore calls "the foundation of the band" stemmed from Morrison's insecurity.
"Jim felt insecure about writing songs. He knew nothing about playing a chord on any instrument. He had words and he had melodies. So he said, 'Why don't we write everything together, split all the money, and give all the credit to The Doors instead of me as the lyricist. And why don't we have veto power in case anybody gets weird.' And I turned into Mr. Veto."
The book also covers the legal skirmish when the other surviving Doors chose to tour as The Doors, with Stewart Copeland on drums and The Cult's Ian Astbury as resident Lizard King, while using Morrison's likeness on posters. Densmore joined the Morrison estate on that fight.
"I saw them. Ian Astbury's a good singer. They're great musicians. I didn't want them to stop playing. But the Police without Sting? You know what I'm saying."
Though Densmore's dry humor keeps the book from reading like a court docket, it isn't the exploitive gossip tome some publishers wanted.
"They said, 'This book is not about excess.' It's the exact opposite. 'And we don't like the title, it's too negative.' So I left all that money on the table and self-published.
"I really lucked out. I stumbled into this network of record stores like Zia. And there's a few thousand of them, and they're getting a little boost because vinyl is coming back and they have diversified into posters, books, boxed sets, and there's a sense of community in these stores, which is kind of cool."
Ultimately, Densmore achieved closure with his musical brothers before the untimely death of Ray Manzarek, for whom he and Robby Kreiger are organizing a benefit cancer concert.
As for having to deal with one original player and two estates from here on out, who can say these battles will not be waged again? "I don't know," he says with a laugh. "We've been dealing with Jim's estate for years; they joined me in the lawsuit. I like them." He pauses before adding, "The future's uncertain and the end is . . ."
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