John Densmore, former drummer for The Doors, knows this all too well.
Mr. Densmore was a music torchbearer throughout the late-’60s and early-’70s as one of the four integral members of the revolutionary, William Blake-indebted rock band, and has continued to do so to this day through his new book The Doors: Unhinged. Writing about those oftentimes contentious, psychedelic-tinged times is nothing new for Densmore, having already released a best-selling biography years ago in Riders on the Storm.
“Music transcends language…it brings people together”
- John Densmore, The Doors
The Doors: Unhinged is specific to a stormy period in Densmore’s life, where he took the stand against his bandmates to defend and save the legacy they had collectively shaped with Jim Morrison. In 2002, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger began to tour under the auspices of “The Doors of the 21st Century,” with Ian Astbury of The Cult on vocals but without Mr. Densmore on the skins. It was a difficult decision, Densmore told me in a phone conversation, but something he felt he had to do, regardless of the furor it had the potential of causing, whether internally or in the court of public opinion – The Doors are Jim, Ray, Robby and himself, no one else. He never had a problem with them going out and playing the songs they had crafted together as a group, “Just don’t call it The Doors!”
The book recounts details of some of the unbelievable circumstances that surrounded Mr. Densmore’s original injunction, but the author makes no bones about the fact it also contains political undertones directly aimed at rich, Christian Republicans (coming from the perspective of a self-claimed “renegade Christian”). Jim Morrison’s wishes may have been rooted in hippie-era thinking, but they aren’t worth being distorted in the pursuit of more cars, money, and other material excesses. The West is plenty wealthy, Densmore preaches from his low-key California pulpit; let’s spread it around a little, starting at the very least with hoarding billionaires. I particularly loved when he philosophized to me, “The corporate beavers are damming up the flow…and it stinks.” When it comes to hot button topics such as Syria, Densmore has a message to trigger-happy world leaders – Take the time to study the culture and art of other countries before you hastily decide to bomb them!
The Doors: Unhinged may squeak a little, but it’s anything but preachy. Don’t mean to spoil anyone’s read, but longtime fans will be relieved to learn that Densmore made peace with Mr. Manzarek prior to the latter’s death earlier this year from bile cancer. He misses the left hand that was The Doors’ bass deeply; Manzarek was so tight, and Densmore stressed how proud he was of the magic they created together. The legendary drummer then told me he’s been in contact with Krieger (“Death trumps everything,” Densmore joked), and revealed that preliminary plans are in the works for a Concert for George-like memorial in Manzarek’s honor. No venue has been discussed, although Densmore supposed they could have it at the Royal Albert Hall in London if they can get singers like Eddie Vedder and Bono to participate. A symbolic locale would no doubt be the Whisky a Go Go nightclub in Los Angeles, where The Doors first cut their teeth. Densmore stopped teasing by saying it’ll probably be somewhere in between.
One city where The Doors have a bit of history is Toronto, where Densmore will be signing copies of his book on September 28th from 2-4 PM at Sunrise Records. He’s always liked our diverse city, having played the jazzy Lulu Lounge fairly recently. You Canadians are alright, Densmore affirmed to me. He used to be neighbor(u)rs with Neil Young, who’s among the many personalities quoted in The Doors: Unhinged, and everyone loves Canadian icon (and 2013 JUNO Artist of the Year) Leonard Cohen, he argues. The day I spoke with Mr. Densmore was actually a pretty significant one, as exactly 44 years previously, the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival took place, a daylong festival featuring the first and last performance of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, and headlined by The Doors. Densmore has fond memories of that event, like having to follow the incredible performance art of Yoko Ono emerging from an equipment bag, to say nothing of being escorted into Varsity Stadium by a gang of 40 somewhat odd bikers. If you ever want to have your tribute to Ray Manzarek here, Mr. Densmore, I’m sure there are more than a few places in Toronto that would welcome you with open arms!
I just wish I had a link to a video of footage from the historic Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, but alas, it’s pretty hard to come by, even on YouTube. This clip of “The Unknown Soldier” from the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, however, definitely shows off Densmore’s drumming prowess, and gives you a great idea of the impact The Doors continue to have because his efforts.
If you can’t make it to the book signing, The Doors: Unhinged is available directly from JohnDensmore.com.