John Densmore: The Doors Unhinged

Doug Collette By

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The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes On Trial

John Densmore

296 pages

ISBN: 1479263133



Notwithstanding the all-too-genuine ambivalence that permeates The Doors Unhinged, John Densmore may not have done any favors for himself or the legacy of his band by writing the book. It's difficult, nigh impossible, to truly doubt the earnest intent at the heart of the writing, but in expanding the story of the legal and philosophical squabbles between himself and the other surviving members of the group, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger, the drummer of The Doors swerves into self-serving sanctimony almost as often as he clearly states his case.

This new project might've been preferable as a suffix to Densmore's largely excellent autobiography, Riders on the Storm (Delacorte Press, 1990). As an appendix to his history of the iconic Sixties band, Densmore could place these recent events in the proper context of the group's entire history. Then, to trim away all but a short preface to the story of this conflict, perhaps including the trial transcript itself, would place the suits and countersuits arising from Manzarek and Krieger's use of The Doors' name, likenesses and fame, into the proper alignment with the author and his values.

As it is, Densmore too often turns the story into a soapbox rather than a more thorough examination of the commercial licensing of "art" or the dissemination of intellectual property in general. In his account of the nine-week trial—which to his credit Densmore makes seem as interminable as it must have felt—there are multiple references, including direct quotations, to Pete Townshend of The Who and his disposition of his band's songs for TV shows etc. as a comparison point to Krieger and Manzarek's endeavors; Densmore can't resist the temptation, more than once, to make a leap of faith—or is it a questionable presumption?—on how the late vocalist Jim Morrison's integrity toward the work of The Doors, is contrary to the keyboardist and guitarist's endeavors.

Still, it's enlightening on its own terms, and in the context of The Doors' feud (which included the family of the late vocalist as well as the parents of his long time beau Pamela Courson), to consider how such comparisons clearly depict the varied means by which rock bands survive their own history. The question of who gets to use a band name is an old story, but not so old as some of the bands still in existence, in various forms, that perpetuate the question from various angles: Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

To be simultaneously fair to his readership and cognizant of his own concept for The Doors Unhinged, John Densmore might well have thought and written in more broad terms than his own personal experience. Apart from some questionable grammar (is catharting a word?), some astute editing would further the exposition of his core values without revealing a defensive attitude that threatens to undermine his credibility at various junctures here, the most egregious instances of which are, perhaps not surprisingly, during those segments when Densmore is testifying and, to an even greater extent, when he is cross-examined.

The Doors Unhinged is nevertheless invaluable reading for any formal or informal historian and/or aficionado of contemporary rock and roll. No more selfish than he is honestly anxiety ridden, second-guessing himself in his mission as often (or more so) than he pontificates, John Densmore posits the challenges inherent in surviving celebrity, the unexpected twists and turns those challenges take as well as how the various personages involved can so choose to address these phenomena on their own terms, in sometimes wildly surprising ways.

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