Photos Copyright Doors Property, LLC

Photos Copyright Doors Property, LLC

Interviewer: Maranda Pleasant

Maranda Pleasant: Thank you so much for doing this with us. I just got your book, Unhinged. What a great title! What is it, when you wake up in the morning, that makes you come alive?

John Densmore: My goodness. Well. When I wake up in the morning, I meditate immediately, before I even get out of bed. I meditate in—what’s the last yoga pose? The slab or whatever it is?

MP: Savasana!

JD: So I lay there and meditate for a while, and also do some sort of—do you know who Rick Rubin is?

MP: Of course, I work with Rick.

JD: Yeah, he taught me some wake up facial yoga stuff, which I do. I’ve been very blessed to make a living in stuff I love and am totally passionate about, music and writing. So I’m eager to see what the day will bring, how I will feed that passion.

MP: How do you keep your center in the middle of chaos?

Photo by Bob Stevens

Photo by Bob Stevens

JD: Well, in the Doors heydays and all that intensity, I meditated twice a day for ten years. Jim would have to go have a snack while I meditated. Robby, the guitar player, and I would go into the vocal booth for twenty minutes in the late afternoon and everybody would have to go entertain themselves. Jim would probably go get a beer while we’re meditating.

MP: What does love mean to you? I know it’s a very small question to answer.

JD: Caring. I avoid the “g” word—not g-spot, g-word. [laughing] As in “God.” I was raised Catholic. I didn’t appreciate the guilt and sin part of it. I see how everyone gets into, “My “G” is better than your “G” so let’s have a war.” I hate that. I say I believe in the mystery, and I don’t want to take it any further than that. Maybe what I mean by that is love.

MP: How do you handle emotional pain when it comes in?

JD: I handle it better now. When you get older, you’ve been through a lot, and you sort of go, okay, another bump in the road! Another rock. Okay, I’m not going to emotionally build this into a boulder, it’s just a fucking rock. I’ll survive. But in your twenties, everything makes you crazy.

MP: Are there any causes right now on the planet that you’re particularly passionate about?

JD: I’ve been a longtime supporter of all sorts of environmental groups. My ex-wife and I made several documentaries on the prison-industrial complex, which hasn’t really improved. Although we did get a bill passed in Congress. I’m passionate about all that stuff. Heal the Bay, Rainforest Action Network—they organized, they helped me and Bonnie Raitt go to jail. You’ll read about that in this book.

MP: Very few humans in this life will ever experience what you have. You have a different relationship to music than anybody else, and the way you feel the beat and the way it goes through your body and the way you channel it, I feel like it’s just different for a drummer. Being in the Doors, was it the spiritual experience?

JD: The first drum beat we all heard was our mother. We’re in the womb. Oh! We have our own little heartbeat, too. We already have what I would call polyrhythms going on. And so, when we come out later, if an ensemble—I don’t care if it’s a duet or a forty-piece orchestra—the musicians, the two of them or the forty of them, are all trying to play as tight as possible, as one person. They’re trying to play like they are one person. And if you’re playing live, I like to think of the ensemble, whether it’s the duet or a forty piece orchestra, as one person. And the entire audience, whether it’s twelve people or twelve thousand at Madison Square Garden, is the other person. The two of you are going to dance together tonight. How is that going to go? It could be a waltz. It could be a hot salsa. And that’s the beauty of live performance. The more the ensemble, the duet or the forty piece orchestra, plays as one person, the more it makes people dance, because you’re back in the womb. You feel mom’s heartbeat. It makes you move. It reminds you of that warm, groovy space you were in. Boy, that was cosmic! [laughing]


When an ensemble is really tight or playing as one, it’s a transcendental experience. It is spiritual. It goes beyond the ensemble. Ray and I and Robby and Jim were pretty tight, musically and spiritually. Somehow we got left by the muse; it wasn’t us, something came through that made it bigger than the four of us.

The question is sort of like, what makes me special? People forget that public people and celebrities, they too have to go to the bathroom and get divorced. Riders on the Storm has a lot of that. I dedicated it to John Lennon because through his songs, he revealed so much of his personal life, and it’s so touching.

MP: Did you realize that you were making history when you were making history?

JD: We had a hunch that we were being visited by the muse in the garage. Jim became an alcoholic and had a disease. I didn’t know that. I knew something was wrong but we didn’t have substance abuse clinics back then, we didn’t have the knowledge that we do today. But despite that, L.A. Woman is our best album, and it was our last album. And he was in serious trouble. But somehow, when we were alone in the studio, we were blessed by the muse every time. I’m thankful to that. There was a sense that—when he would give me some lyrics, I’d just be flabbergasted. I heard drumbeats within the words. They were percussive. They were so unique, I immediately had ideas about how to support it. He’d just sing it. He couldn’t play a chord on any instrument. He had no musical ability. He was a genius because he had all these words and the only way he could remember them was to think of melodies. It was a beautiful. In his naivete, it made for four equal parts, even though he became the lead singer.

He’d just say, how do you write songs? He also said, well, “Let’s not even credit the lyrics to me, let’s say all music by the Doors. Let’s split all the money. Let’s have veto power in case anybody gets weird.” I was primarily vetoing the idea of “breaking on through to a new deodorant”—selling Doors songs for commercials.

MP: He really was a poet, an artist. It’s amazing to hear about him through you, who knew him so closely. I’m bowing to you for knowing his vision and knowing how he felt, and then honoring that when he’s gone.

Photo by Bob Stevens

Photo by Bob Stevens

JD: You’ll read it in Unhinged. We were proposed, “Come on Buick, light my fire.” Jim primarily didn’t write those lyrics, Robby did. Jim blew up because we were considering it, because the money was great and we were young. He said, “Oh, cool, I’ve got an idea for an ad campaign! I’ll smash a Buick on television with a sledgehammer!”

I have never forgotten that. And he’s my ancestor now, and I won’t let that go. So we’re not going to “Love me two times because I just took Viagra.” No! It’s, “Love me two times because I’m going away.”

MP: It must be so amazing to know that your art transformed and impacted so many people’s lives. That’s got to be amazing. We were sorry to hear that Ray Manzarek passed.

JD: Ray had cancer for a while and we all knew about it, the inner circle, so we weren’t quite as shocked as everyone else. There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate for providing a mattress for Jim’s words to lay on. Bass players and drummers are brothers in the basement cooking up the groove that makes people move. We were very close that way. I will forever miss that.

MP: A question from Facebook: What do you think Jim will say to Ray? [laughing]

JD: I think he will say the same thing that Ray’s going to say to me when I get there. He will say, “How was the light I provided?” Meaning, Jim went ahead of Ray, Ray’s gone ahead of me. Those who go ahead provide a little light into the unknown.

Going first is courageous. I’m just talking on a spirit level now. It’s real sad over here that Ray’s gone. But his spirit was ready to go and went ahead of me, and so he’s providing light for when I come along.

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