Things To Do

Doors Drummer John Densmore: "Maybe Jim's Ghost Will Haunt Me Forever"

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Six and a half years!

In the beginning, hardcore fans thought I was destroying the band. That's why I wrote this book, to show what I went through so hopefully they get the message I was trying to preserve the legacy.

You have talked about how difficult Jim Morrison was to work with.

Yes, that was in my first book. I have two self-centered memoirs. (chuckles) Jim's self-destruction was just an elephant in the room. We were young. We didn't have substance abuse clinics. We didn't know he was an alcoholic.

The question always is, if he was around today, would he be clean and sober. I used to think he was a kamikaze drunk. Now I've changed my opinion. You look at Clapton, Eminem... a very angry young man like Jim. So, yeah, maybe he would get sober. It's a different time, and there are alternatives.

What do you think he'd be doing had he lived? Do you think he'd still be performing or creating music or poetry of some sort?

Yeah. Ray and Jim went to film school. If I see a visual image with the right image, I just flip out. So I think we'd be doing music and films somehow.

You and the other two surviving members of the Doors continued to carry on for a couple of years after Jim's passing...

Oh, good provocative question, Lee. I'm going to tackle it. We had this music synchronicity that the three of us had built up backing Jim, and we didn't want to give it up. So we had the sensibility to have Ray and Robbie sing, rather than have someone else try to fill those leather trousers. (laughs).

We had a deal for five albums because the Doors were so big. A very lucrative deal. We did two and then we threw in the towel. We said, "What are we doing here? This isn't the Doors without Jim!" I wish the other two had remembered that.

So they get back together in the early 2000s for that so-called Doors of the 21st Century tour with singer Ian Astbury, and you didn't join them. But if you had, wouldn't it have given a little more credibility to the project?

Yeah, that would have given it more credibility. But would it have been the Doors without Jim? Could it be the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger? Or the Police without Sting? At the trial a British journalist said, "I don't care if they have Ian Astbury -- who was in fact a better singer than Jim Morrison -- or if you get Mick Jagger to sing with the Doors, it wouldn't be the Doors without him."

On the other hand, you had two members of Queen carrying on with Paul Rodgers and later, an American Idol winner, all attempting to continue without Freddie Mercury.

I know. I know. And Paul Rodgers is a wonderful singer. I don't take anything away from him. It's touchy. When you have an iconic singer like Freddie Mercury, it sometimes seems OK. You can have no original members and still play Vegas. So whatever.

There are ways you can spin it so that it almost becomes like a tribute, rather than another attempt to replicate the real deal. 
Yeah, there are lots of tributes bands out there. And they're amusing.

But that's not what you wanted to do.

No. I write about how I'm playing with Iranian musicians and jazz musicians, and I'm finding it real stimulating because I'm rearranging rhythmic brain cells. I love playing the old songs, but I did it with the man -- Jim! -- I did it!

Nevertheless, it must have been difficult to turn down the money you were offered by Cadillac. It must have been especially tough for Jim's parents.

Well, God bless Jim for anointing the four of us with veto power. Mr. Veto! But also remember that he couldn't play a chord on any instrument, that he didn't know how to write songs, that it became music by the Doors, and not lyrics by Jim.

He laid out this template, and he went crazy when we considered "Come on Buick, light my fire." He wrote one line in that song... "Our love becomes a funeral pyre." The rest of it was Robbie's. Certainly we arranged the song altogether as we did all the songs. So what does that say, Lee? He was concerned about all the songs in the catalogue. Not just the songs he wrote.

Those sentiments and that kind of integrity was very much a part of that era, the '60s. But nowadays, the use of pop and rock in commercials is fairly commonplace.

Yes, it's rampant, and I don't judge it. Nowadays the music industry is so unhinged, what with downloading and such. I write in the book that if you're a new band and you need to do it to pay the rent, then by all means do it. But a little later, when you get a toehold on success you might want to reconsider that decision. As Tom Waits says, you're changing your lyrics into a jingle. That's the sound of coins in your pocket and maybe you're selling your audience.

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Lee Zimmerman