My interview last week with John Densmore, longtime drummer with the legendary rock band the Doors, started off quite unexpectedly.
Rather than talk music or about his appearance this week at Euclid Records, Densmore asked right off the bat why don’t we just address the elephant in the room.
By elephant in the room, the L.A.-based musician was referring to Ferguson.
He wanted to know what I thought, but more importantly he had his own feelings about the killing of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and the unrest that followed.
We chatted about it for a few then proceeded to talk about his book signing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for “The Doors: Unhinged.”
But Densmore wasn’t done.
In a turn we haven’t seen much of since Brown’s death nearly a month ago (that being classic rockers speaking out about Ferguson), Densmore penned some words on his feelings and experiences going back a ‘60s visit to the Midwest with the Doors.
He said there was an experience back then in a diner in Ohio in which he momentarily felt what it must feel like to be black and unwelcome.
Here’s what he had to say in a piece Densmore titled, naturally, “Hands Up...Don’t Shoot.”
“Even though Euclid Records (where I’ll be doing a book signing) is a ways away from Ferguson, I’ll certainly be driving under the giant croquet hoop into St. Louis. The recent troubles reminded me of an incident way back in the 60’s before we made a splash with ‘Light My Fire.’ The Doors finished a gig at the Scene, a small club in NYC. Our keyboardist, the late, great, Ray Manzarek, his girlfriend Dorothy, and I decided to drive across the country back home to L.A. It was 1965 and we wanted to see America before it changed. Revolution was in the air. You could smell it strong in New York, San Francisco, and L.A., but we suspected the heartland hadn’t, and didn’t, want anything upsetting the status quo.
We sensed that the tribe vibe; hippies sporting long hair and colorful threads, which was bursting at the seems on the lower eastside of Manhattan, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, and LA’s Sunset Strip, would soon be a Tsunami hitting the Midwest from both sides of the country, and that things could get ugly.
We also were saving a lot of bread driving an old Chevy one-way instead of flying. The rent-a-car was free, except for gas. Someone needed it delivered to the West Coast, and hopefully there was nothing illegal stuffed under the floor mats. When the Chevy started slippin’ and a slidin’ through a Jersey snowstorm, we crashed at Howard Johnson’s. Waking to a white Christmas, after sunny side up with orange juice and orange décor, we drove all day and once again our stomachs called us into a very cool-looking diner in Ohio. Well… our welcome there was not ‘cool’ at all. It got very hot. Something about young white men with hair down to their shoulders set off the clientele. Not to mention that the two Caucasian dudes were with a Japanese chick.
We entered the establishment, and several heads turned that were sitting on bodies, which were parked at stools along the counter. Unfortunately I didn’t notice the red paint plastered behind their necks until it was too late. As we sat down in a booth, a voice bellowed from the counter. “Hey Shirley… do you have any scissors in this joint?” We ordered our food and the comments and stares keep comin’. The waitress came back in a hurry, saying that maybe we should make our order to go. We said fine, and avoided any eye contact with the penis gallery. On the way out, I thought to myself… well this is what it’s like to be black… only we don’t have to deal with it everyday. I often wonder how many of those threatening Ray and me were playing our music, emulating Jim Morrison, and growing their own hair just a few years later.
So this scenario was doing a re-run through my skull as I watch Ferguson unfold. Haven’t we learned anything from the 60’s? Yes, we have. We’ve come along way, but it isn’t over like some right-wingers claim when the man from Kenya became our president. “There’s no racism… we have a black president!” Well, this long summer of police violence has proven that there is a daunting amount of work to do. We still are too separated by our differences: our race, our religion, and our political affiliations rather than appreciating each other for our common humanity. We could wait a couple of decades when the majority will be a minority population, but that will prove to be even more explosive.
Of course, income inequality is behind most of the struggle. As a renegade Catholic, I can’t believe I agree with the new Pope, but he has said some very insightful things on this issue. Nature can’t understand what all the fuss is about. To them, we’re all one species, and the fighting over race, gender, and class is some weird gene we have. In my new book, “The Doors: Unhinged,” I call this phenomenon “The Greed Gene”. I recount a story of back in the early 80’s when I made the commitment to tithe 10%, and while writing those checks during the release of Oliver Stone’s movie on my band, my hand shook with fear at how large the amounts were I committed to give. The hand of greed… right in me. Pulsing through my veins. I found it quite interesting, because it only meant I was doing really well financially. But money is like heroin, security taken to the max. The rich aren’t rich; they’re “comfortable.” Well, I’ll say it, “I’M RICH!” Not in the 1% hovering over the 99, but my pockets are fairly deep compared to my lower-middle class upbringing. And as I also said in ‘Unhinged,’ “money is like fertilizer… when horded it stinks, when spread around things grow.”
So the right, doesn’t want to give a hand out to the struggling minorities, but when the deck is so stacked that if you grow up in the “hood” there is only a couple of choices (join the army or deal drugs), it would behoove the conservatives to think of it as a hand up. Otherwise, we all suffer the consequences – violence. Violence from the military armed police who are supposed to ‘protect and serve” us, and violence from the extremely frustrated oppressed. I’m praying for Ferguson, not only because of the good people on both sides of the struggle, but because metaphorically there is a Ferguson in every single one of our small towns and big cities."