John Densmore (Doors): "They're not for sale"

John Densmore (Doors): “They’re not for sale”

At 79 years old, on a break from the album he is making with Chuck D of Public Enemy, the former Doors John Desnmore presented “The Doors Unhinged”, subtitled “Jim Morrison’s legacy goes on trial”, a book in which he reviews the solitary battle the founder and drummer of the Doors is carrying on: the infernal stages of years of litigation against his “musical brothers” who wanted to debase the band’s catalogue. In practice, he went to court to prevent the exploitation of the Doors for particularly vulgar commercial purposes. The 2013 volume has been reprinted, indeed almost rewritten, with extensive additions on the current state of the music biz, i.e. the rush of giants like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan to sell (sell themselves?) their songs, regardless of whether they might end up in the advertisements of a deodorant or very absorbent diapers.

Given that half of Michael Jackson’s catalog was also just sold, we need to take a few steps back to understand how Densmore’s point of view came about. First flashback, an afternoon in 1965: he, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger stop rehearsals in the garage to make a deal. They establish that everything will be divided by four, including song credits, and everyone will have the right to veto the group’s decisions.

Second flashback, one morning in 1967, after the success of “Light My Fire”: Jim Morrison shouts «Fuck you! You ruined everything! You have sold your soul to the devil.” He has never raised his voice with his friends until now, however, upon returning from a trip to London, he discovers that the three have signed a contract to sell “Light My Fire” to the Buick advertisement, in exchange for 75,000 dollars . “Oh yes? So do you know what I do? I’ll smash the fucking Buick on stage, smash it to dust with a hammer. I’ll open a new part of the concert, it’ll be called “Blow the Buick into a thousand pieces”, then we’ll see if they still want to use a Doors song for their shitty sports car.”

Morrison calls the lawyers and manages to cancel the agreement. However, something has already broken. Not the car, the trust. So much so that before leaving for Paris, where he will be found dead in a bathtub like a Davidian Marat, he instructs the manager that no business deal will be made in his absence. Many millions of records later, with Jim in the ground, the remaining band members receive an astronomical offer ($15 million) to perform “Break On Through to the Other Side” on the Cadillac commercial. Densmore is the only one who opposes (instead of the Doors they accept Led Zeppelin). Again, in 2002, Manzarek and Krieger put on a tour called “The Doors of the 21st Century,” complete with an official logo, at which point Densmore sued them. They countersued, asking for 40 million dollars for the damages caused by Mr. Veto, who does nothing but boycott their projects.

He doesn’t back down, and also on “Forbes” and at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a few days ago, he explained his position: «Without Jim’s spirit, “the doors” don’t open. And the spirit is incompatible with compromise. They could call themselves whatever they wanted, but not sound like Doors. Then, regarding the sale of songs, I understand if you’re just starting out and need to monetize to pay the rent, but we didn’t have financial problems. Jim was self-destructive, but not materialistic. In the most successful period, the three of us exaggerated, bought houses and big cars, but he didn’t. He lived in a motel. I have to honor Jim and our songs. They can’t be polluted like this.”

He says he felt so guilty about the huge amount Francis Ford Coppola paid to put “The End” in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” that he has since donated 10% of his earnings to charity, mostly to environmental organizations. And that, by the way, was a blessed artistic use of the song.

Densmore’s recurring theme is the “greed gene”, the senseless accumulation of wealth, the business mentality that corrupted Sixties ideals. In the end, he won in court. Guitarist and keyboardist (who passed away ten years ago) have already sold their shares, so Densmore has written a will so that his heirs do not do the same. At least for seventy years, he will be protected. Tom Waits in the preface of the book writes: «There are those who still have principles that cannot be surrendered. Densmore is not for sale, and this is his gift to us.”