The Doors’ John Densmore on Greed, Morrison’s Legacy and How to Love Your Country

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September 23, 2011 in Culture & Media

[dc]J[/dc]ohn Densmore has been famous for longer than many of us have been alive. The drummer with the seminal 1960s L.A. band The Doors, Densmore parlayed his early success into a long career – not just as a musician but as a writer, actor, dancer, producer and social activist. He’s a native Angeleno (his childhood home is now an onramp where the 405 meets the 10) who cares deeply about his city and is clearly disturbed by the country’s right-ward turn

Densmore chatted recently with The Frying Pan about politics, Jim Morrison’s legacy  and the subject of his upcoming book – greed.

Okay, let’s start with a rant.

I’ve been thinking about how the eight years of the Bush era brought us back towards feudalism – we’ve been feuding a lot. And of course the gap between the rich and poor is the worst in our history and the middle class is the glue between the upper class and the working class, and with the dwindling of the middle class we’re at each other’s throats. And now, to get into trouble, the elephant in the room is that the poor have been hoodwinked into voting against their interests under the guise of patriotism. That party with the big “R” in front of their name has co-opted the minds of the working class.

I’ve been thinking about how the eight years of the Bush era brought us back towards feudalism – we’ve been feuding a lot.

It’s just shocking. The richest capitalist, Warren Buffet, is a socialist now because he thinks he shouldn’t pay less taxes than his 20 secretaries. What is wrong with this picture?

Tell me about your upcoming book – I believe the theme is greed.

The tentative title is The Jim Morrison Legacy: Rock and Roll Goes Up on Trial. It’s part legal thriller, part parable on the line between artistic integrity and compromise. It’s about my struggles with keeping “The Doors” name pure.  Without Mick, it isn’t The Stones. Without Sting, it isn’t The Police. Without Morrison, it isn’t The Doors. He was extremely upset about selling our songs for commercials. And he’s dead. And I’m trying to honor my ancestor and remember that. I’m not against some new bands doing ads to pay the rent. But some of us don’t have a price.

I write about the greed gene. When I read that John Lennon was tithing ten percent to charity I started doing that too. I noticed my hand shaking when I was writing those checks. I thought, this is absurd, it just means I‘m doing better. It’s the hand of greed, it’s the survival instinct out of control.

Why are you so passionate about this issue?

Jim Morrison was so upset about the three of us considering “Come On Buick Light My Fire.” It was a commercial we were offered, and Jim went crazy. He said, “I’ll smash a Buick on TV if you do that.” It wasn’t even his song, but he cared about the whole catalogue, what we represent in our entirety.

The other part of it is, Yeah, I got the brass bring. Isn’t it natural to give back? I think everyone feels that inside but they are educated wrong, that it’s got to be competition and greed. When you give back it’s almost greater than what the receiver is getting, spiritually.

When did you become an activist?

Vietnam completely polarized this country into activism. That jumpstarted my activism and I never really stopped.

I’m thrilled that we have a black man in the White House but I am frustrated that his progressive upbringing isn’t coming through more. I know he’s inherited the worst situation of any president ever and I worry about dissing him. I hate being practical but goddammit, I voted for Gore because I was afraid voting for Nader would give us Bush.

What do you think of the proposed “millionaire tax”?

Why would I bite the hand that feeds me? Because I love my country and want to make it strong. What I learned from the ‘60s is that we haven’t fully absorbed these lessons. We’ve had tax cuts and I don’t see the trickle down, all those jobs being created. That’s because they’re hoarding the money. Money is like fertilizer – when hoarded it stinks, when spread around things grow.

If you could change one thing about this country right now, what would it be?

The military budget. I just can’t stand to see all the dough go for that when it could be used on all that other stuff — schools, all the local stuff.

What is coming up for you?

I spent five years slogging through this book, so I’m ready to collapse. Musically I sat in with Eddie Vedder at the Wiltern, sat in with Carlos Santana a few months ago. The audience wanted to hear a Doors song, I said no, you have to hear a poem first – I did “Belly Song,” by African-American poet Ethridge Knight. Then I did  “Riders on the Storm” with Santana’s band. Just trying to open minds a little bit.

(Photo: Scott Mitchell)

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Danny Feingold
Danny is communications director at LAANE and the publisher of Capital and Main. He has led LAANE’s communications efforts for the past decade. He has attracted national media attention for numerous LAANE projects, including the successful effort to stop Wal-Mart...
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  • Carolinadaparicio

    What a fascinating man. Will we be seeing him at any local gala events??

  • Marina

    You can not take the money with you but you can take the spiritual knowledge and experiences with you when you Break on Through to the Other Side, it is about giving back and not taking more than you need without some sort of return on your wealth, and not only monatary wealth but spiritual wealth there is always a karma duty to give back.

  • Guest

    John has a personal facebook where he actually reads and posts. http://www.facebook.com/johndensmore1

  • Darren De Marco

    John, why is that when it is good for you to play with Ray and Robby and use the
    “the DOORS” name/logo (like you did when you played with Ray and Robby and
    Scott Weiland (as singer)), that is O.K. – But when Ray and Robby want to use the name “the DOORS” it is not O.K. for them, and you law-suited them nicely?

    • guest

      Scott Weiland was one of six singers doing a tribute to Morrison on VH1′s Storytellers show. R & R replaced Jim with one guy and went on the road as the old band. That’s much different.

      • Darren De Marco

        Ray and Robby did not replace Jim, Jim died, and in 1971; Ray and Robby had a right to continue, and they did it decades after.
        Do not forget that after Jim’s death the “three” remaining members were interviewing singers to be the new DOORS SINGER – Jim’s part (would that be considered “replacing Jim”?)

        I really think that Ray and Robby do pay/play tribute to Jim. Thus I do not see the difference between a one night tribute to Jim (where Ray, Robby and John play with 6 singers (and use the DOORS name/logo)), AND a tribute band (where Ray, Robby and not John play with 1 singer) (and uses the DOORS name/logo)).

        Thanks!

  • Gardoseva1

    I heard you have written a film called UNKNOWN SOLDIER that may go into production soon.

  • http://www.allwoodanddoors.com James Lee Stanley

    on the money john, i’m behind this kind of thinking one hundred percent.

  • Amnight2

    What a clueless,elitist dick….

    • shoemaker

      i remember your name from doors boards 10 years back, you were always a john densmore hater, so don’t have to take your words seriously.

    • Gmuny2002

      And you are an asshole!

  • Darren De Marco

    Ray and Robby did not replace Jim, Jim died, and in 1971; Ray and Robby had a right to continue, and they did it decades after.
    Do not forget that after Jim’s death the “three” remaining members were interviewing singers to be the new DOORS SINGER – Jim’s part (would that be considered “replacing Jim”?)

    I really think that Ray and Robby do pay/play tribute to Jim. Thus I do not see the difference between a one night tribute to Jim (where Ray, Robby and John play with 6 singers (and use the DOORS name/logo)), AND a tribute band (where Ray, Robby and not John play with 1 singer) (and use the DOORS name/logo)).

    Thanks!

  • Darren De Marco

    In all, John you are so important in “the DOORS” (music/everything about the doors).
    It could not have been done otherwise! Thanks for your love! You are an all time favorite/best.

  • Gay

    Great interview John! Thanks for stepping up and saying it – greed has become the American way and it is killing us.

  • http://www.glasspoole.com Joanne Glasspoole

    Hi, would you mind if I reprinted your blog post on http://www.jimmorrisonproject.com? Your byline and a link to your original post will be included.

  • Rodapony

    I just love what you have to say! I am a couple years younger then you and was around “The Doors” back in the 60′s. L>A> Canyon Lady. I just read your Rider’s book and am looking forward to “Greed”. As I usually say, “some of us were there and some were not”

  • jim

    john your a dick

  • Darryl Doe

    Does John know if Jim Morrison had any children? If so where are they now?

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