John 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.
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)