John Densmore, at a crossroads
John Densmore, at a crossroads
© Scott Mitchell

Standing at the Crossroads: Between Morrison and Densmore

Many years ago, while driving down Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, I noticed Densmore Street. It gave me a chuckle. Then, several years ago, I decided to make a right turn and see whassup on my street! After a mile or so IT CROSSED MORRISON STREET! I knew the singer and drummer were connected, but …  this was the coolest! Clearly, the streets were named way before our band was formed, but this felt like a validation … a validation after years of my being pegged by some (falsely) as Jim’s nemesis.

I have a long history, now, with James Douglas. We started out with me picking him up at his apartment in Venice, driving to Hollywood for breakfast. For the entire ride, we discussed how to make it in the music business. Jim talked about blues singers he loved, and I told him about jazz musicians. He had a charming Southern demeanor and was extremely good-looking. That was back in the day. As our career skyrocketed, his substance abuse increased and I found myself distancing from him … not wanting to get caught in the shadow of his Achilles' heel. Recently, a mutual friend of mine and Jim’s, Pulitzer-nominated poet Michael C. Ford, told me that he had to sandbag more Coke into his rum & Coke drink to keep up with Jim. They were at the Whiskey a Go Go in the ’60s, where Mr. Morrison downed 11 of those drinks. That’s just a couple short of the number of vodkas that took out Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham.

So there were several books that labeled me as someone that didn’t want to hang out with Jim toward the end of his life. Danny Sugarman’s book No One Here Gets Out Alive describes me as gripping my drumsticks with “white knuckles,” I was so angry at him for coming to the Miami concert drunk. Danny didn’t understand until later that my reaction was one of tough love. The late, great keyboardist Ray Manzarek wrote in his memoir that Jim “hated me as a human being.” I loved Jim as a human being — I hated his self-destruction … and he knew it. So the last several years we were estranged … not musically in the least, but socially.

You see, I didn’t want Jim to die. I was so in love with his percussive lyrics, drum rhythms were coming out of my ears. And my hands. He had helped me find my path in life. We were star-crossed lovers (metaphorically); he bent on Dionysus, me “waiting for the sun.” Maybe that’s what helped make the band so successful — we held the “opposites.” Not a bad metaphor for our country right now — listen to opposing opinions and stay in the band!

So I recently went to the Morrison/Densmore crossroads for a ceremony putting both the street signs on the same pole. A photo op, to say the least. But also a reminder that Jim stood at the “Crossroads” early in our career and, like the song lyric, possibly made a bargain with the dark forces. He became an icon but drowned in alcohol.

My biggest regret is that I couldn’t, or wasn’t capable then, of helping him. Our solace — we have his gorgeous music and poetry.

John Densmore was a founding member of The Doors, with whom he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His autobiography, Riders on the Storm, was a New York Times best-seller. He is also an actor and producer with numerous theater, TV and film credits, including his one-man show Skins and the award-winning documentaries Juvies (executive producer) and Road to Return (co-producer).

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