Gary James' Interview With John Densmore of
It was 20 years ago that the Doors first topped the charts with "Light My Fire." That was the Summer of Love. Today, the Doors are as hot as ever. Elektral Asylum Records has just released "The Best of the Doors" (two-record set) and a six-song EP titled "Live At the Hollywood Bowl." MCA Home Video has also released "The Doors 'Live' at the Hollywood Bowl." The Doors have sold 12 million albums in the last 20 years, and most of those sales occurred long after the band stopped performing.
Doors drummer John Densmore spoke with us.
Q - It must be a little strange and trying at times to give interviews and talk about what happened 20 years ago. The spotlight is always on what you did yesterday. How do you handle that?
A - That's a real good question. It's hard. I'm real proud of what we've done in the past. Maybe that's why I got into acting and writing. I'm writing a book about it because it's different, and I won't be compared to what I did in the past.
Q - This book you're writing will be on the Doors?
A - Well, primarily, but it's not just them. It's sort of an autobiography, but it's also bringing it up to now, surviving as a 40-year-old parent in the 80s.
Q - With the royalties you must receive from the Doors, do you need to work for money?
A - No, I don't need to, but in another way, I do need to. I have to be creating something to make me feel like I'm fulfilled. Whether it be playing music or writing it, as long as I'm doing it. The outside applause is great. I don't know whether it'll ever be as big as it was with the Doors, but what's important is that I'm doing it. That gets me off.
Q - Do you feel cheated sometimes that the Doors ended before they should have?
A - I was relieved when we got off the road because I knew Jim was in trouble. I was bugging the other guys to throw in the towel for about a year before they finally did, on the road. In the studio you have control. If Jim's in trouble, you come back the next day. It was very painful for me to see what we created "live" be kind of not as good as it was. We were so good "live." I hated to see it get weak.
Q - Have you exhausted yourselves material-wise? Was there nothing to create in the studio?
A - That question I couldn’t answer because even with Jim's self-destruction, he came up with a lot of songs for "L.A. Woman," our last studio album which is a really strong album, really fun to make, and one of my favorites. He could've had some more in there, who knows?
Q - Had something happened to someone else in the group besides Morrison, would that person have been replaced and the group gone on?'"
A - God, what a question! Alright, Jim was our lead singer and focal point, certainly harder to replace than the others. But, I don't want to slight the others because I think another reason behind the good songs that we've made such an impact is it was a special, lucky combination of four different people Ray being Chicago-blues oriented, Robbie with his song writing ability and flamenco guitar, and me with a jazz background. It was like a melting pot. It was real magical that combination of four people. That's why we all got song writing credit. It was a real equal democracy there for awhile, well, the whole way.
Q - What was your contribution to the Doors songs?
A - My main thing beyond the drumming was arranging. So, I didn't know which chord to tell them to play, but my ear told me we needed a change. We needed a solo in some section or a bridge or we needed to modulate, which is going up in key. I think through all my playing in the high school band and orchestra and playing weddings and bar mitzvahs from 7th grade on, my ear was pretty good. So, I had and still have this intuition of where a song should go and when it's boring and what it needs. I couldn't explain it in musical terms, but I could get it across enough so they could do it. So that was my main thing beyond drumming.
Q - Part of the mystique that surrounds the Doors is the belief that Jim Morrison is still alive.
A - Certainly propagated by Danny Sugerman's book "No One Here Gets Out Alive." Well and also compounded by the fact there was no autopsy and no one saw the body, and his wife died a few years later.
Q - Someone, somewhere in Paris must know what happened to Jim.
A - The Paris police report says it was a heart attack. A heart attack at 27? (Laughs.) The guy partied real hard.
Q - After Jim died, did anyone speak to his wife?
A - There had been several rumors that Jim had died and Paul McCartney had died. So when we heard, we thought it was another fake rumor. So, our manager went over there right away. He saw Pamela (Jim's wife) and there was a casket in the apartment. It was on the weekend. He never thought to ask to see the body. He could tell by her grief that Jim was in there. But, it certainly compounded this myth, didn't it?
Q - It certainly did. Will we ever get to the bottom of this story?
A - You mean have him exhumed?
Q - That's a possibility. Someone who is alive today must know the truth.
A - I'm just about at the end of my book, and this obviously is the end. I have a few people I'm going to talk to. I'm not quite sure he's dead. I saw him bloat up the last few years and drink a lot. But, the specifics...I'd like to get more specifics. I'm gonna try.
Q - Does your daughter understand the part you played in rock 'n' roll history?
A - She doesn't fully understand it. She knows I was in some band and our singer died, and we're kind of popular still. When she was younger, six or seven, I was playing some Doors and she heard it for the first time. She wanted me to turn it off. I did. I said why? She said that guy's voice scares me. I thought that was pretty interesting for a six-year-old. I guess he was really into dark stuff. She could sense it. She could feel it.
Q - Did Jim Morrison expose himself while on stage in Miami?
A - No. He didn't.
Q - So why has this story persisted?
Q - Well, I mean as far as I know. Of course the judge said to me, "How do you know? You're in the back." And I said it's not like he stands still. Well, Jim was pretty drunk, and he had also seen this very confrontational theatre group a few nights before in L.A., The Living Theatre. A really great famous underground theatre. Jim got pretty inspired, so he was riling the audience by saying, "You didn't come here for a concert, you came for something else, blah, blah, blah. He took his shirt off and he was pretending that he was going to expose himself. I mean he didn't. But we were then examples of rock 'n' roll, the kings of orgasmic rock. Hey. I think some kids went home and told their parents they heard some swear words or something, and they called up the local politicians who decided this would be a good target.