I grew up in the 60’s to the strains of not “selling out” to the man, corporate America, and it was the musicians of the era that voiced those sentiments. When the 60’s were over, and the Vietnam War was over, and the sit-ins and love-ins were history, the baby boomer generation of hippies very quickly metamorphosed/mutated into the yuppies. Some of the same rock stars of the 60‘s that swore they would never sell out now have, or allowed their songs to be used in advertising. So were the 60’s ideals just a fad or real? Are those ideals relevant today? Doors drummer John Densmore tries to answer these questions in The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy on Trial as he recounts his experience in suing Doors keyboardist and guitarist Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger for using The Doors name and logo without permission. A book or manifesto from someone of Densmore’s generation on this issue is long overdue.
The Doors were a group that famously didn’t “sell out.” Jim Morrison didn’t change the lyrics of “Light My Fire” for the Ed Sullivan show, and when he heard the rest of the group had sold the rights to Buick to use the same song he threatened to sue the rest of the band if they didn’t kill the deal and he would bring a Buick onstage and destroy it with a sledgehammer (more than a decade before Wendy O. Williams would do it in the Plasmatics) to see if Buick still wanted to use the song. Among fans, The Doors are famous for being a democratic organization, that is, all four members of the group were equals and any one could veto a plan or suggestion and it wouldn’t happen. This was their practice and even documented before Jim Morrison left for Paris in the spring of 1971.
Unlike other rock bands of the era, The Doors had avoided the internecine battles and courtroom wars that other bands had gone through until Manzarek and Krieger decided to launch The Doors of the 21st Century in 2002. The advertising used the logo of The Doors and pictures of Jim Morrison in the marketing of the band. Densmore stated his concerns early to Krieger who never followed through and soon The Doors found themselves in the last venue they would play as a group, in court. Soon Manzarek and Krieger would countersue Densmore for vetoing an ad for Cadillac that wanted to use “Break On Through” as a slogan (an ad that later ran with only the words ‘Break Through’ in it with a Led Zeppelin song instead of The Doors), the sides were drawn, Densmore and the estate of Jim Morrison versus Manzarek and Krieger.
“The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy on Trial” is John Densmore’s telling of the events in and around the trial. It isn’t a question by question of the transcript of the trial in legalese (such as Lenny Bruce got caught up in at the end of his career), but a highly accessible narrative of the highpoints of the trial plus what was going on in Densmore’s head surrounding the trial. At certain points the writing of the trial is riveting. Some of things we learn in “The Doors Unhinged” is that Stewart Copeland played a key part in Densmore’s case, and that when Jim’s father testified most of his testimony was his resume and status as a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and he disapproved of those trying to use his son’s image without permission. It seems the Manzarek/Krieger legal team didn’t think it would help their case to try and discredit a man with those credentials. We learn that Jim Morrison had added a clause to their contract with their business manager stipulating that The Doors’ songs couldn’t be used in advertising without the written consent of all four members of the band.
A couple of things that stand out: there are some anachronistic errors in the book; at one point Manzarek/Krieger’s lawyer asked Densmore about the late Michael Jackson owning and selling to advertising The Beatles catalogue, but Michael Jackson wasn’t dead at the time of the 2003 trial. In the midst of the book is a chapter and half of Densmore’s political philosophy and beliefs which (and as much as I agree with them) seem a bit tedious and add nothing to our understanding of the trial or the issues involved in it. It also seems anachronistic to speak more to our current political situation as opposed to the 2003 political situation
One of Densmore’s stated goals in publishing “The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy on Trial” is that he hopes the last chapter will be a healing letter to his “musical brothers.” Will Ray and Robby read Densmore’s last chapter? I don’t know. Will it have the effect Densmore says he is looking for? Again, I don’t know, but there are a lot of reasons in “The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy on Trial” to read this book whether you’re a Doors fan or a rock fan in general. It is an intimate look inside a rock band and the dynamics that drive not only a band but individuals. You’re free to judge the members of The Doors based on their words and actions through the prism of Densmore’s viewpoint. But “The Doors Unhinged” should also bring up questions in the reader’s mind, such as what is the goal and message of an artistic work? Is the song in itself the message, or is the message a corporation wants you to hear in one of their advertisements?
Originally published April 18, 2013.