After Dark: John Densmore's brings his book tour and Doors memories to Rochester

10:01 AM, Apr 18, 2013

Former Doors drummer John Densmore has written a memoir about the legal battle he waged over Jim Morrison's legacy. (BONNIE PERKINSON)/

Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

If you go

What: John Densmore signs his book, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial.
When: 5 p.m. Monday (April 22).
Where: Record Archive 331/3 Rockwood St.
Admission: Free.
More Densmore: “In Conversation,” a University of Rochester interview series, at 2 p.m., Monday (April 22) at Strong Auditorium on the UR River Campus.

Yeah, John Densmore admits, “I could have taken the money and run.”

He didn’t. Instead, he got entangled in a costly legal battle. Densmore, drummer of The Doors, vs. Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger, the keyboardist and guitarist of The Doors, in a tug-of-war over the corpses of their old band and Jim Morrison. Manzarek and Krieger were basically touring with the band’s name — The Doors of the 21st Century. They had The Cult’s Ian Astbury singing Morrison’s words. They had The Police’s Stewart Copeland playing Densmore’s drum parts. They wanted to sell the band’s songs for use in TV commercials.

Densmore said no. The issue, he insisted, was one of artistic legacy. He remembered the band’s vicious battle over a contract Manzarek had signed, without Morrison’s approval, permitting a car company to use a slightly altered version of their hit “Light My Fire” in a TV commercial.

The bottom line is, Jim’s reaction to ‘Come on Buick, Light My Fire’ was so strong,” Densmore recalls. Strong as in Morrison threatening to smash a Buick with a sledgehammer onstage at the band’s next show.

He’s not with us now,” Densmore says. “I’m trying to honor my ancestor. That’s the reason I wrote this damn book. I was trying to preserve his legacy and intent. It was a hard road, but I had to do it.”

The book is The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial. Densmore will be at the Record Archive Monday afternoon to sign your copy.

The Doors were good to the 68-year-old Densmore — the royalties allow him to lead the life of a rock and roll squire, and he worked as a technical adviser on the Oliver Stone film about the band. But when The Doors closed, his resume shows a restless man. Playing drums and dancing with an avant-garde troupe. Studying acting and then producing and acting in theater and performing on TV shows. He still plays drums, in a jazz-fusion band Tribaljazz and even for a recent collaboration with the electronica singer-songwriter Skrillex.

And he is a writer. A 1990 biography about his time with The Doors, Riders on the Storm, sold well. Now there’s The Doors Unhinged. It’s clear that Densmore has a writer’s eye from the opening paragraph, when he arrives at the Los Angeles courthouse in 2004 for the trial. He can afford it, but wonders how immigrants and people charged with petty crimes deal with the $17 for parking. ” ‘Let’s rip off the poor one more time’ must be the motto here,” he writes.

The Doors Unhinged drifts between the trial and Densmore dwelling on everything from his old band to recent politics. “I was worried about too much legalese, blah, blah, blah,” he says. “I thought I’d put in my feelings, drift off on thoughts where I could think about whatever. Playing with Carlos Santana or Eddie Vedder, or playing with my old mentor, Elvin Jones. Then I’m like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, the judge just hammered the gavel. Back to reality.’ “

How did three fine musicians — Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek — hook up with a music neophyte in Morrison? “The alignment of the stars?” muses Densmore, who seems to know a thing or two about such things. “The minute I heard the words, I was just like Ray: ‘Oh my God, the words, this torrent of words.’ He had the melodies in his head. Even though he doesn’t know how to construct a song. And he was not the next Mick Jagger. He was so shy, when we first started playing shows, he wouldn’t even face the audience. That didn’t come until he began finding his own, Lizard King way.

He told us, ‘Listen, I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never sung before. Can we just split this and do this together?’ He always felt that way,” Densmore says. “Jim’s beautiful idea was to share everything. Writing credits, money.”

It lasted a mere four years, until 1971. “Ray and I and Robbie were rehearsing, Jim was in Paris,” Densmore says. “There were death rumors, and we’re asking, ‘Is this true?’ “

Time-zone differences hindered communication. There were no cellphones, no Facebook or Twitter. The band sent its manager, Bill Siddons, to Paris.

It was true. Morrison, his body battered by drugs and alcohol, was dead at 27. “They’d already buried him,” Densmore says. “Bill didn’t see his corpse, and rumors started he was still alive, that he faked his own death. Well, I never met a guy more capable of faking his own death. But I’m also sure he’s dead. I watched him turn into an alcoholic, and that’s my cross to bear. That there was a self-destructive kamikaze in the band, and we didn’t have the knowledge to stop it.”

Leaving the three surviving Doors to turn on each other.

They all have nice houses and groovy cars, like me,” Densmore says. “If that wasn’t the case, I might have felt different. During hard economic times, and the music business is tough, I get it if a new band might want to sell their songs for a commercial to pay the rent. Do it. Our case is different.”

The judge agreed. Densmore won.

Underlying this book is the theme of money, a volatile subject,” Densmore says. ” ‘Currency’ comes from the word ‘current.’ It’s supposed to flow. These corporate beavers, with their damming, are holding up the water, the current.

I understand the complaint: ‘You’ve got your hand in my pocket!’ It’s a free country, earn as much as you want. Agreed. But you have so much dough, share a little more for a while. Maybe you can help the country, especially those of you who use the roads and libraries.

Money’s like fertilizer; it stinks. But when you spread it around, things grow. It’s a good metaphor, because the gap between the rich and the poor is the worst it’s ever been. The rich could stand to loosen their purse strings a little bit so everyone can grow.”