by Kyle K. Mann
As a member of a dwindling tribe of rock fans who beheld the Doors in concert, I get this a lot. “You actually SAW the Doors?”
“Yep, in March ‘67, before they were famous,” I usually reply. I have had this conversation dozens of times in recent years, often with people half my age or less. It’s kind of nice to go from being regarded as a doddering oldster to a respected Witness to Legendary Rock History, in just a few seconds.
2017. Was it really a half century since the Doors first album?
The Doors have been celebrated many ways in their just-completed 50th anniversary year, starting with the January 4, 2017 proclamation by the City of Los Angeles that the date was now declared “The Day of the Doors.”
For some of those of us who remember the way the Doors were reviled by the establishment in the late 60s, the event was a profound shock.
The 20 minute outdoor ceremony in Venice Beach, attended by an estimated 500 faithful fans during a light rain, featured surviving Doors John Densmore and Robby Krieger on stage along with Jim Morrison’s family and Ray Manzarek’s wife Dorothy.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin read the proclamation and Krieger and Densmore made a few remarks. “From now on, everybody gets out of school on this date,” joked Krieger. Densmore pointed in the various directions to Doors historic points, including Jim Morrison’s Venice rooftop retreat, where, homeless in 1965, he wrote some of the lyrics that would later turn into well-known Doors songs.
Next, a Doors logo was lit beneath the famous Venice Beach sign, with an impromptu version of L.A. Woman performed afterwards. For those of us few in attendance who had been fans of the band all 50 of those years, the event was mind-altering.
There were further observations in 2017, both from the band’s record label Elektra which released deluxe editions of the two 1967 Doors albums, and institutional honors including the December 7 presentation of the MoPOP Founder’s Award in Seattle.
One 50th anniversary date not widely observed, however, was the police macing and subsequent arrest of singer Jim Morrison on stage in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 9, 1967. The date marks the first time in rock history that a performer was arrested on stage.
Though the charges against Morrison were eventually dropped, the New Haven incident began a spiral into legal troubles for Morrison that included further arrests, and the infamous Miami incident trial that wound up in a Morrison conviction and jail sentence. The verdict was immediately appealed and then mooted by Morrison’s death.
The conviction mess only formally ended with the 2010 posthumous pardon of Morrison by Florida’s Clemency Board, at the request of Republican Governor Charlie Crist. The three surviving Doors issued a statement saying the conviction should have been expunged, and an apology issued by the State of Florida and City of Miami. To date, neither expungement nor apology have occurred.
But in 2018, the honors process continues.
I walk into a hardware store in Woodland Hills, California, a few months ago. The Doors are playing over the speakers in the store, which in itself is not unusual. But it began to dawn on me that they were playing the complete first album, not just the hits. At the checkout counter I took note of the help, a couple young girls perhaps a third of my age. I grin. “Are you two playing this album?”
“Why, yes,” says one, a Latina with flashing eyes. She looks at me quizzically as I start laughing. She sees an aging hipster with no hair, sunglasses and a snow-white goatee.
“But, you are too young to remember the Doors,” I manage to say, still with a looney smile.
Now she and her fellow worker chuckle. “Awww but the Doors are awesome!”
I catch myself before starting in with my rap about how I saw them live. C’mon buddy, let it go, I think. “Well, thanks for playing it,” I state amiably. We all grin as I leave. Sometimes being a Senior ain’t so bad. A bit embarrassing, but it definitely beats the alternative.
In the course of writing various articles about the Doors, I’ve promoted them to certain parties, who have been kind enough to take note, and even forward the links. Now, I’ve been invited to a special ceremony in the L.A. town Encino, which conveniently has an intersection of Morrison Street and Densmore Avenue.
It’s my understanding that this event will mark further official commendation of the Doors, but that’s all I know. A plaque? A marker? A statue? Probably not a statue. The neighborhood is single family houses.
So, on January 4th 2018, the Day of the Doors, I head off to attend, at the surprisingly early hour of 10 AM, further political acknowledgment of this legacy group that has captured the attention and respect of multiple generations.
Political acknowledgement of the Doors, which comes a few days after recreational pot can legally be bought in stores in California.
The culture war started in the 60s is over.
The Doors won.
Notes on the Doors ceremony Jan 4, 2018
Standing here at Morrison and Densmore, with various people standing around. “By ten thirty they gotta be outta here,” says a guy in a day-glow traffic vest.
“Densmore’s gonna be here, man,” someone else says.
“Well, I hope so, they named a fuckin’ street after him.” I laugh, off to the side. Actually, the street was already named Densmore. “For all we know, Morrison’s gonna be here,” the guy continues. This time, everybody laughs.
News trucks pull up, the local ABC and NBC stations so far. News cameras being set up. It’s a nice day, about 65 degrees at the moment. I’m groggy from lack of sleep, have never really been a morning person. Still the weather is a break. It’s 20 below back east today.
I’m here under one of the intersection street signs. There are three sets at this T-shaped intersection, all covered. The guy with the traffic vest, an L.A. Department of Transportation worker I believe, produces a ladder, and pulls down the street’s stop sign. I guess it’s in the shot and somebody asked it be removed, but I don’t ask. More cameramen show up, and now cops. Oh, the irony, I think.
Listening to the car radio on the way here from Topanga was discouraging. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a real creep, is threatening to roll back the state recreational pot laws which are just a few days old. I guess eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
A neighbor emerges from a driveway, looks around dubiously, and drives off, right through the remaining stop sign. If I was a resident here I’m thinking I might not like this historic rock designation. Unless I was a Doors fan. Who knows, maybe they are loving it. They must have been consulted first, I suppose. At least I hope so.
“I wonder if the property values will go up because of the ceremony,” I wonder aloud.
“Probably go down,” snaps a guy walking past. 5 minutes to 10AM. About 35 people standing around. A younger fellow and I chat about the Psychedelic Rangers, the band Densmore and Krieger were in before the Doors. We laugh when I suggest they reform and play benefit concerts for the mushroom legalization ballot initiative. Good idea!
10 AM. The ceremony begins.
The Doors Triumphant, Part 2
…Densmore interrupted his remarks to ask if “Kyle Mann from GonzoToday.com” was present. When a white-goateed man spoke up that he was, Densmore observed that website’s article “John Densmore: Doors’ Defender” was worth a read…
No, that wasn’t in the L.A. Times or Rolling Stone. But it happened, and it took me over a week to come out of it.
Ok. The ceremony was cool. Densmore was in great form, reading a bit of Jim’s poetry, hamming it up for the photographers, and cheerfully accepting another elaborate framed proclamation.
But when he brought me up, I went down the rabbit hole. Kyle K. Mann, shocked 60s survivor, carried on. But I felt like I was on acid.
It was like a psychedelic sand-bagging.
Afterwards, we had a chance to chat, despite several interruptions. We had Topanga in common, and hashed that over for a minute. Densmore has lived in a couple different spots in Topanga Canyon over the decades.
I mentioned how surreal the ceremony felt, what with the second L.A. Councilmember in two years honoring The Doors, when back in the late 60s and early 70s there were politicians calling for their heads.
Densmore nodded thoughtfully and pointed out a passage in his book “Riders on the Storm” where he quotes Morrison: “It’s that old thing like a first novel, they usually give the cat a break, everybody kind of pats him on the back. And the second one, they really chop him up. Then if he does a few more, and shows he has staying power, they say welcome back to the fold, the family embraces you. I think it will be the same way with us. We just have to hold out for a while, and one day everyone will realize: ‘they’re just like old friends, they’ve been around for years now, they’re part of our national psyche.’”
John Densmore noted that he had taken substantial additional heat from Doors fans over his adamant stand against selling out the band legacy, which involved years of court proceedings, but ended in his favor. But now, he is lauded for fighting for what Morrison demanded back in 1968, when the singer refused to hawk “Light my Fire” to Buick.
Densmore comes off as disarmingly direct and candid. He embraces his role as a Surviving Door with grace and good humor.
Looking for the above quote, this passage in Densmore’s book just jumped out at me: “When I see Ringo doing a Schweppes commercial, or Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie making ten-million-dollar soft drink deals, I think of Jim. Friends have asked me if Jim was an asshole or really brilliant. He was both. He was foolish and destroyed himself, and he also had integrity.”
And there you have it. There are plenty of great musicians who had big hits. There are precious few who refuse to monetize their recorded works by advertising the products of huge Corporations.
The Doors have lasted over 50 years as an institution. As Densmore quotes Robby Krieger, “The Doors were a real band.” Simply but effectively put, and why they are now, in their own way, an empire… not for selling cars or Viagra, though using Love Me Two Times would be funny, I admit, but an empire of both music and moral sensibility. Which is deeply ironic.
I have a couple items on my wishlist for the Doors. One is a well-budgeted historical documentary to be made that covers the Doors phenomenon with finality. Yeah, several already exist. Still.
The other is a Doors museum, hopefully in Venice or Hollywood, in one of the buildings of significance to the band.
50 years from now, we… who lived as beings that lived joyously and set ourselves free in the 60s… will all be dead.
Assuming humanity is still around, it’s likely the songs of the Doors will still be played.
by Kyle K. Mann
Part One, January 3-4, 2018, Topanga and Encino
Part Two, January 12, 2018, Topanga