April 18, 2013

From the Editor: The Doors, the Buick, and the book

Drummer John Densmore comes to Maine to promote his book, 'The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes on Trial'.

By ROD HARMON Deputy Managing Editor

In 1968, Jim Morrison threatened to sue General Motors and destroy a Buick Opel with a sledgehammer in public if The Doors went through with allowing the auto company to use "Light My Fire" in a television commercial for the car.

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The Doors (John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek) in the late ’60s.

Courtesy photos

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The limited edition Doors single for Record Store Day.

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The other Doors -- keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore -- agreed to the deal without their lead vocalist's input, because he couldn't be reached at the time. But when Morrison found out, his reaction was so vehement that it not only put a stop to the commercial, it created a rift in the band. The "one-for-all, all-for-one" mentality that had been the bedrock of The Doors' success had started to crumble.

The idea that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts was proven true when Morrison died in 1971. The surviving members carried on for two tepidly received albums, then called it quits.

But The Doors' reputation as one of rock's greatest bands and Morrison's elevation to cult-hero status had only just begun. And as both grew to almost mythical proportions, requests to use the band's music in commercials intensified -- as did the money. Manzarek and Krieger wanted to license the songs. Densmore, remembering Morrison's reaction to the Buick commercial, refused.

Then, in 2002, Manzarek and Krieger formed a new band with vocalist Ian Astbury of The Cult and a succession of drummers. They called it The Doors of the 21st Century and began to tour, using the band's legendary logo and Morrison's image to promote the shows. Densmore and Morrison's estate sued, and Densmore was counter-sued for refusing to license The Doors' music.

Thus began a years-long legal battle that pitted members of one of the most successful and respected bands against each other. Instead of coming together in a rehearsal hall or concert arena, they were facing off in a courtroom.

Densmore ultimately prevailed, and has documented the struggle in a new book, "The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes on Trial" (Percussive Press, $14.95). To kick off a book tour, he will be signing copies at Bull Moose in Scarborough at 2 p.m. Saturday for Record Store Day, an annual celebration of independent record stores. (Click to read more about Record Store Day.)

It will be a coming home of sorts for Densmore. Although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, his father was born in York and moved to California with his family when he was 12. Densmore, who has visited Maine a few times ("it's quite beautiful, and quite chilly in the winter"), recently answered some questions via phone from his home in L.A.

"The Doors Unhinged" is a fascinating read. ... What prompted you to write the book in the first place, and at what point did you determine that you needed to write it?

Well, The Doors were knocked off their hinges for a few years by the idea that the guitar player and keyboard player could go on with the name without Jim. And I'm like, The Doors without Jim Morrison? The Stones without Mick? What are we doing here? The Police without Sting? I don't think so. So I rallied Jim's estate, and we entered into a legal struggle.

And initially, some hardcore fans thought that we were crazy, you know -- "You're destroying the band! You're suing the other (members)? What are you doing?!" Well, if you read this whole journey I went through, hopefully you'll get that we were trying to preserve the band -- the original members and the name and Jim's legacy and vision of what we were.

(Continued on page 2)

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