For the past year and a half, I’ve been devouring books about The Beatles at the rate of about two a month, when a friend (several friends actually) suggested that there were other bands besides The Beatles, and that I ought to try reading something different once in a while. My first failed attempt was Hammer Of The Gods; a book about the band Led Zeppelin by author Stephen Davis. I painfully trudged through about two hundred pages before I just couldn’t take anymore. It wasn’t so much that the story of Led Zeppelin was lame (which it is), but more that Stephen Davis may very well be one of the worlds worst authors, at which point I dove head first back into my insular Beatles world.
Months later, it was suggested I try again, perhaps choosing a book about a band that might have some epic legend or mystique similar to that of The Beatles. But who? What band could have a story that came close to the Fab? It was then that I someone suggested I check out a book called Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors, authored by Doors drummer John Densmore. Ironically, as I began to flip through the opening pages, I took pause when I read the dedication;
To John Lennon who inspired me to put my personal life on the line.
I had to chuckle, thinking perhaps I was destined to never escape the ever present Beatle influence – but I digress…
Densmore’s book is brilliant, turning out to be a page turner that I found difficult to put down. The first chapter opens with John’s 1975 visit to Jim Morrison’s grave site in Paris, France, with deep but interesting insider reflection on the iconic Morrison. Naturally, the story then finds it’s chronological rhythm, which is perhaps only natural for a Jazz trained percussionist turned author. Riders On The Storm had rhythm, and John Densmore’s candid recounting of not only his own musical journey, but that of the four men known as The Doors held my attention just as I imagine a live Doors performance would have in 1967 or 1968 – at least one where Morrison wasn’t completely drunk or wasted, as Densmore recounts he was for nearly half of their shows.
A few weeks ago I published an article titled The Doors: A Cinematic Comparative, in which I do just that, compare two well produced, although somewhat embellished movies about Jim, Robby, John and Ray (The Doors). I had actually just finished reading Riders On The Storm a few days before writing that, and it took a great deal of restraint to not blow factual shotgun holes through both screenplays. Obviously, any book leans toward the perspective of the author, particularly an autobiographical., but somehow I get the impression that Densmore’s ‘behind the scenes’ narrative (literally and figuratively) is exponentially more accurate – and more interesting – than a motion picture could ever be.
One of the most interesting and insightful things about this book is the authors occasional breaks into candid dialogue with the deceased Morrison, expressing a spectrum of emotion from love to anger and everything in-between. It’s an interesting diversion from the traditional story-telling style, giving the reader a glimpse into Densmore’s stream of consciousness regarding the band’s frontman. The story dances from traditional telling to random interjection, without losing the reader in a confusing mess of randomness. Again, like a great drummer, John Densmore keeps the beat.
What I found to be ultimately charming and enveloping about the book though was John Densmore himself. I liked him, and I got a sense of realness from his tale that gave it an almost fireside chat like feel. The author not only speaks to (not ‘at’) the reader in a conversational tone, but does it in a candid and human way that not only kept my attention, but earned my trust in the teller himself. Densmore spoke of his own abilities as a musician with confidence, but also with humility, which is perhaps – at least in part – what makes The Doors so great.
Sorry, no spoilers here, but I will let Mr. Densmore give you a few spoilers of his own here in this clip from his one-man play, ‘Riders On The Storm’. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how it all went down.
As a final note, if you aren’t a fan of The Doors – as Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek once suggested – you really should give the music a chance. There is something truly unique about The Doors contribution, not only to rock, or rock n roll, but to the course of popular music’s very evolution.
Great book John, I hope to check out your show live if I ever get the chance.