Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors by John Densmore (1991)

Riders-On-The-StormFrom amazon.com

I feel sorry for John Densmore. Despite having been a rock star, the member of what was one of the world’s top half dozen rock groups, with all the groupies and money and glamor that that entailed, he remains at this book’s writing phenomenally insecure – a nebbish who never found himself despite immersing himself in the California human potential culture purported to deliver exactly that.

He’s insecure about girls, insecure about who’s his friend, insecure about his drab middle-class roots, insecure about his life prospects and failure to have accomplished much of anything until he became part of the Doors. Some of the introspection in here is so bare and revealing it’s almost embarrassing to read. The picture of this naïve Everyman locked into a creative foursome with Jim Morrison, the quintessential dangerous and destructive rock star, is priceless.

America was transiting from harmless British Invasion into superficially benign Flower Power, but Morrison meanwhile was wearing black, singing about sex and death, leading concerts that were like dark seances with sombre endings, and challenging band mates and audiences alike to confront their darker selves and deeper fears. He scared the hell out of the likes of John Densmore.

Morrison, as we know from organist Ray Manzarek’s book “Light My Fire”, once demanded that Densmore be kicked out of the group; he was just too neurotic and got on Morrison’s nerves. Densmore found Morrison, particularly as his alcoholism and erratic behavior grew, so disturbing that Densmore had chronic skin rashes from the stress.

Densmore represents a certain sad byway of that era – people whose pursuit of peace and love, meditation and marijuana, sought to cover or compensate for intense feelings of inadequacy. Many young people who haven’t quite found their way in life can feel lost in this way. Marijuana seducing them into compulsive introspection certainly couldn’t have helped much. But accomplishing something – like, say, being a pretty fine jazz-rock drummer as Densmore was and putting out a unique body of work like the Doors’ music – ought to have helped someone get past that. Densmore doesn’t seem to have done so, remaining both lost and searching well into middle-age, and failing to see that maturity required moving beyond that. (Although later chapters touching on his men’s movement involvement with Robert Bly suggest that perhaps he was getting a clue about this.)

Densmore’s insecurity notwithstanding, this is still a worthwhile book. His painful honesty renders his memoir less varnished than Manzarek’s and occasionally more convincing. Densmore gets us a little closer to what really happened with Morrison’s death. Most signs point to an accidental heroin overdose, with the heroin provided by girlfriend Pam Courson, who later OD’ed herself, and who was being pursued by a French count who also used and also died of it. Densmore also gets us closer than Manzarek to the tragic sense Morrison projected and held of himself, that he told people he didn’t think he’d live beyond youth, that he started every day rebelling against the universe before breakfast. Densmore found playing live behind him “intoxicating … my new religion,” but saw what a price Morrison paid for the edge-living that fed his fire, too brightly and too quickly consumed. A Doors concert, Densmore says, left “everyone in attendance … cleansed – security guards included. What a show. A truly religious experience. Much better than church. Almost as good as sex! Better! A communion with twenty thousand people.”

Densmore loved him as well as fearing him; some passages of the book are written as the letters Densmore would be writing him, if he could. Densmore finds common themes in Morrison’s self-destruction and the suicide of Densmore’s own mentally ill brother, including his own survivor’s guilt and wondering if he could have done more to have saved either – concluding, ultimately, that no, he couldn’t. Morrison in a later age might have gone through rehab, but at that time his associates had no clue about what he was doing or how to deal with it. A pity. There have been many dead rock musicians but few took so much potential with them when they went.

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Book Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors by John Densmore | , | Leave a comment