Publié sur Rhythm & News Magazine, octobre 1995
Entrevue réalisée par George A. Fletcher
As a founding member of one of rock and roll's most important bands, The Doors, drummer John Densmore has probably seen it all. The band, formed in 1965, came crashing onto the scene with their '67 self titled debut, and two precedent setting singles. The first single "Break On Through," today a classic rock radio staple, was at the time of it's release a Top 40 dud. At over 6:00 minutes, the album track "Light My Fire" broke the 3:00 minute time barrier put up by commercial radio, but was edited down to three and change anyway - against the band's wishes - and became a runaway hit.
Though only six albums were released during Jim Morrison's lifetime, more followed in the form of various "Greatest Hits" and "Best Of" compilations after his death. Several more albums worth of material was culled from many hours of archived live performances - and the soundtrack to Oliver Stone's The Doors - have put the group back on the charts at one time or another during each of the last three decades. Only once more did The Doors enter the studio to record original music, and that was in 1979, set to unearthed tapes from1970 of Jim Morrison reciting his poetry, An American Prayer-Jim Morrison.
Talk of a tribute album interests Densmore and his former bandmates, but it was in moving forward with acting and writing that John found peace and purpose in the wake of the short but turbulent life of The Doors, focusing on the 'process' of performance, as "one of the roads down that giant peak we had - as opposed to getting strung out or something."
Was your book, Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison And The Doors, an effort to set the record straight, or an exorcism?
John Densmore : I was real pleased to have my Riders On The Storm book out as an option, my pure vision of the truth of how it went. It started out being to set the record straight, but after a while it became cathartic to drop a letter in and out directly to Jim as if he could hear me, wherever he is, I could say things to him that maybe I wanted to. He had graduated UCLA in 2-1/2 years. He was stimulating, and funny and smart. We were going to change the world and make some money.
If you didn't challenge Jim, did he have any inkling of your displeasure?
John Densmore : Although he knew I disapproved by my actions...well, I quit the band one night, then crawled back the next day. How can I give up music, the path that I found in my life. But his self destruction was just driving me nuts. It was very difficult.
You have said that about 30% of Oliver Stone's movie The Doors, which portrayed Jim as a full time wild man, was baloney. How so?
John Densmore : As much as I love Oliver Stone for trying to 'do' the Doors, I think he was trying to do the tortured, creative artist, The Jim Morrison Story, frankly, which is fine. But it wasn't about The Doors, or the 60s. I just don't remember all those naked girls. I do want to say that Val Kilmer was fantastic, but Hollywood's poetic license...that's Stone's - from a foxhole in 'Nam-fantasy of what it would be like to be Jim. Where was Jim reading or writing poetry? Where was Jim hungover, which is when he got the great vocal takes, when he wrote at his best?
What did The Doors 'stand for', peace and love, rebel against the system
John Densmore : I don't know what we stood for, because it's so personal... I think Jim once said that if you get too self-conscious about what you're doing, you 'lose your trip.' I do know the line was crossed the day Jim wrote: 'I am the lizard king, I can do anything.' And we went 'woah', Jim, you're taking yourself too seriously. Your art is a gift, don't forget that.'
What was your role as a songwriter?
John Densmore : I knew intuitively when we needed a bridge or a solo or whatever. Another thing - what I consider my specialty - is the first job of a drummer is to keep the beat. Don't let the band rush or drag. Got to keep a good even feel. Then I found myself adding or punctuating Jim's lyrics with percussive comments. Like in "When The Music's Over" - 'What have they done to my earth - bam bam bam bam. Ripped her and bit her and stuck her with knives - bam bam bam bam.' Or "The End" there's big silences and then I just drop a bomb in there. It just came blasting out of me, I don't know where that came from.
How do you feel about always being 'of The Doors?
John Densmore : 'Of The Doors' seems to be etched into my forehead. When Robbie and I would grumble about it, Ray would say "It's better to have been in The Doors than not! We're all on our own paths, I'm real interested in writing a novel about the sixties, Robbie's got his band, Ray's playing with Michael McClure, one of the Beat Poets.
Are there any plans for future Doors product?
John Densmore : There has been a lot of talk of a Doors tribute album where other artists do Doors' songs. There's a lot of them out there like Bono, Eddie Vedder, David Bowie... A lot of times on these tribute albums one or two of the original band members sit in with the band, or we'd play with one of their singers or something. That's very enticing, that would be something I think we'd be interested in. That would be a nightmare putting the record company lawyers together, but they'd do it. We jammed with Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) a couple years ago at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when we got our induction. Fantastic! We had one rehearsal... the day before the presentation. Eddie drove down from Seattle. I said 'Hey, man, you missed the rehearsal.' He said: 'Well, I wanted to live the lyrics: "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel."' At the induction, we were going to play "Roadhouse" and "Light My Fire", but Eddie said: 'Man, I get chills when I hear "Break On Through," can we do that one?'
Why didn't The Doors hang it up right after Jim's death?
John Densmore : We stayed together because we didn't want to give up the musical synchronicity that we developed over six years. But after a couple of albums, we had the sense not to try and get someone to fill... Jim's leather pants. Like when Eddie sang with us, oh God, was that fabulous.
What was the best and the worst of the 60s?
John Densmore : Jerry Garcia... represented the best of the 60s and the worst. The best being he was this wonderful, giving, philanthropic guy, and the whole band (Grateful Dead) represents that...'Oh ya wanna bootleg? Here are the wires.' And the worst because he couldn't face that demon.
Do you consider yourself a survivor?
John Densmore : At these colleges (lectures) I do questions and answers afterwards, and if they don't talk about drugs, I bring it up. As someone who's been around the block, being in a rock and roll band, they listen. In the 60s we didn't have substance abuse clinics, I didn't know that (Jim) was an 'alcoholic.' I found out later when I went into a bar that we frequented near our rehearsal hall, and the bartender told me; 'That guy (Jim) drank more than I've ever seen' and this was an old bartender. Jim came in with some demons that were driving him, and if it wasn't music it would have been something else creatively, but boy, he was a comet meant to make a big bright impact and burnout. I like being an example of a survivor.
John's comments on a few Doors classics
BREAK ON THROUGH : That was one of the first lyrics that Ray handed me on a crumpled piece of paper at a rehearsal at his parents' garage - before I brought Robbie in the band - Ray's two brothers were playing. And I immediately knew I wanted to drum to those words. I didn't quite know what it meant.
LA WOMAN : One of my faves. When I crawled back the next day after throwing my sticks, I couldn't give up grooves like on "LA Woman." The groove was just it for me. It's the feel, feel. The whole album , the vocals are raw, it's just the ...guts. LA Woman was done on 8 track. The album before, Morrison Hotel, was done on 16 and we wanted to get more raw, and so we forced ourselves into using less tracks 'cause we wanted to do it in our rehearsal room where we were more relaxed, and it paid off.
LIGHT MY FIRE : The underground stations were playing the long version, six minutes and we kind of broke the three minute time barrier for a while there, which was real exciting. Radio stations were kind of forcing each other to play the long version. Then the record company said 'Come on,this is gonna go through the roof if you cut it for three minutes.' So Paul (Rothschild) did it. It's not a great edit, but it did the job. And then the AM stations, after it became # 1 for so long, they started playing the long version on AM which we were excited about. What was cut out of course was the two guitar and the piano solos, the long jazzy, Coltrain-like solos which we loved.
PEACE FROG : A lot of people go, 'Is that the Doors? What is that? That's cool, it doesn't sound like you guys.' Actually it's a riff that Robbie had ...which Ray and I loved. Jim wasn't coming up with anything lyrically and we just went ahead and recorded the track cause we just loved the groove. So later (late producer) Paul Rothschild started going through Jim's little notebook, saying, 'Come on, we got to find something to put on this, it's so great. And he found all this: "Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven, on the palm trees of Venice, blah, blah, blah. Jim just laid it on top, we told him where to stop. It's just so different.
RIDERS ON THE STORM : We were mixing the song, it had an eerie mood and I wanted to enhance that and I got this idea for Jim to do a whisper behind his main vocal. Then someone said 'Let's put some rain on there.' So we had one tape deck of constant rain and some thunderclaps - I'm really explaining the magic here - we had another tape deck cued up to exact thunderclaps, so we would drop them in - like playing God.
Strange Days and LA Woman are my favorite albums. Strange Days because we had made one record and we were a little more relaxed in the studio, and the studio was like the "Fifth Door," and another instrument to play. LA Woman (because we) got back to the raw essence after having experimented with horns and strings on Soft Parade. A lot of the press wasn't crazy about that. "Touch Me" was # 1. We wanted to try something, and we wouldn't have gotten back to LA Woman if we hadn't gone through that.