Riders on the Storm
As a member of the late-1960’s rock band the Doors, John Densmore is able to tell the story of the band’s success and Jim Morrison’s disintegration from a unique perspective—as Densmore puts it, “from the drum stool.” The Doors were unusual among the bands that emerged during the late 1960’s; their music explored the dark corners of the psyche, somehow achieving commercial success while expressing a gloomy alienation. Central to both the success and the moody darkness was singer and songwriter Jim Morrison. Morrison was a compelling presence, yet his self-destructive nature (particularly his alcoholism) constantly threatened to destroy his personal relationships and the band’s career.
Densmore begins his narrative with a visit to Morrison’s grave in Paris in 1975, then writes of the moment in 1971 when he first heard of Morrison’s death. He then begins to skip back and forth in time, first telling of his own life before the Doors, then alternating between his years with the band and his life since the Doors disbanded. Therefore, two stories are interwoven—the Morrison story and the Densmore story—one of them outrageous, the other, by comparison, downright ordinary.
Densmore writes, in one of the many passages “spoken” to the dead Morrison, “For thirteen years I’ve been trying to crawl out from under your—our—shadow.” The statement typifies the odd situation in which Densmore finds himself as autobiographer. He is trying to come to terms with himself, with his own identity, yet in doing so he has written a book that centrally features the “black-leather Lizard King still casting a giant shadow.” Were his book not largely a story of Jim Morrison, it would not have been published; indeed, even in the jacket photo, Densmore is pictured standing behind Morrison.
What Densmore effectively expresses (and what others writing about Morrison could not) are the joys of recording and performing rock music and the intense personal frustration of working with an integral band member who was unpredictable and eventually utterly unreliable. (The experience gave Densmore psychosomatic skin rashes.) As the band became more successful and Morrison’s drinking and instability increased, everyone simply tried to ignore Jim’s problem and work around it in an almost surreal attempt to maintain the status quo. Rehabilitation clinics were uncommon then; the catchphrase was “Do your own thing.” Yet now, years later, Densmore is still wrestling with survivor’s guilt and wondering what—if anything—could have been done to save Jim Morrison from himself.