John Densmore, the drummer for one of America’s greatest rock bands, The Doors, describes the spiritual, political and economic trips he experienced during a legal battle with former Doors band mates, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. One part social commentary, one part political science lesson and one part trial narrative, Densmore penned a terrific book complete with philosophy, wit and wisdom. The Doors: Unhinged – Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes On Trial is an important book for not only the diehard Doors fan, but for those in pursuit of contentment, who question authority and believe in performing honorable acts.
The Doors thrived on substance and creativity; the transcendant poet & prophet (Morrison,) backed with superb musicianship (Densmore, Krieger & Manzarek.) They were classic 60’s hippies who wanted to change the world with their music and ideals. Back in 1968, Jim Morrison proposed a business deal which was unheard of in the music business and it seemed almost idealistic and somewhat simplistic. Morrison wanted each member of The Doors to receive 25% of the song writing credit, as opposed to crediting the lyricist or perhaps one of the major instrumentalists in the song. Jim felt that the sum of all band member parts made up The Doors and each should hold a one-fourth share of the entity. The very wise Jim Morrison created a unique contract for the soon to be monumental band, which hadn’t been demonstrated in rock bands thus far. Along with one quarter publishing rights, he proposed equal veto power, which required unanimous decision making. Quite an unselfish move for a kid who wrote legendary poetry and song lyrics which could’ve easily elevated him beyond the band.
Furthermore, Morrison was vehemently opposed to selling The Doors’ music for corporate advertising. Densmore describes with great clarity, Jim’s tirade when he found that John, Ray & Robby had agreed to sell a song to Buick in 1968.
Nearly 40 years later, the issue of equal veto power and “selling out” to corporate interests became the nucleus of a lawsuit which John Densmore commenced against Manzarek and Krieger. The book keenly documents the days and nights during the three month trial. A trial which drove Densmore to the outer limits of his level of comfort, dealing with lawyers – which any true 60’s rebel knows, are not to be trusted. Interestingly, he found comfort and peace with the counsel who became his protector and Densmore describes attorney Jerry Mandel as noble and a friend. The Court system is very much like war in that everyone involved pays a price, even if the litigation sways in your favor. This 60’s hippie who opposed the Vietnam War became entrenched in his own five year war, which left him altered physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The problem began when former band mates, Manzarek and Krieger, committed to and began performing arena shows with the band name: The Doors – of the 21st Century (“of the 21st Century” was added in fine print.) The advertisements implied that The Doors were reuniting and performing as the original band. After his requests to perform less directly as The Doors were ignored, he could only find remedy via legal action. Surprisingly, it was difficult to obtain remedy even after Densmore won the lawsuit. Densmore never objected to Manzarek and Krieger playing the music of The Doors or advertising themselves as “Manzarek and Krieger of The Doors.” Inarguably, Densmore eloquently points out, that The Doors ceased to exist as a live band upon the death of Jim Morrison. Therefore, you can not advertise the band as “The Doors” without Morrison or, in my opinion, without Densmore, however, John never made that an issue.
Selling out to corporate interests was also argued during the trial, as a result of Manzarek & Kreiger countersuing Densmore for the tidy sum of $40 million. The basis for that counterclaim was Densmore’s rejection of an advertisement offer from Cadillac in 2000 for the amount offer of $15 million, and other lucrative offers. The counterclaim was dismissed, however, the uncertainty of the outcome throughout the course of the suit weighed heavy on the nerves of the drummer.
While expressing care for his brothers in rock, he felt compelled to “do the right thing” to protect the memory and legacy of Jim Morrison, the dreamer who wanted The Doors to be all for one and one for all. A solidifying piece to the case was the support of Jim’s parents, siblings and in-laws, who joined and upheld Densmore’s interest in the action. Densmore connected with Morrison’s family who were supportive of the case and collectively they respected the memory of their loved one, who was a poetic genius.
Rock and roll has grown up and to great extent counters the misconception that rock musicians don’t have principles, values, morals or rules. Densmore’s nuggets of wisdom and stories of life are sprinkled throughout the book and support my personal title for him of “Father Timekeeper.” Writing Unhinged seems to have brought significant healing to Densmore as he tenderly shares his many projects and accomplishments with the reader, fully acknowledging that his position in rock history led him to forge great bonds and friendships. His experiences and opinions, whether arguable or permissible, create food for thought and isn’t that what the innovative thinkers of the 60’s wanted? Sadly, the death of Ray Manzarek shortly after the book’s release was an emotional punch. John respectfully acknowledges that he was able to connect with Ray and exchange endearments before his passing.
My interest in Densmore’s book is underscored by the fact that I had the honor of meeting him and we chatted about his book. I was struck by this slight of frame fellow, sporting a bit of a rebel pony tail who emitted charismatic confidence, but not in a brassy manner. Without having read a word of his book, I sensed a tone of sincerity in his words and manner. The book merely confirmed Densmore to be a sensible human being with extraordinary life experiences, who has appreciated all of the paths he’s ventured down and they’ve led him to a road of greater peace.
Lanea Stagg is a freelance writer residing in Southern Indiana and also author of Recipe Records Cookbook Series.