Off Topic Messages

The Doors' Densmore Attacked for Not 'Selling Out'

Thu Oct 06, 2005 4:41 pm

October 5, 2005

Ex-Door Lighting Their Ire

Drummer John Densmore refuses to let the group's songs be used in TV ads, much to the chagrin of his former bandmates.

By Geoff Boucher, LA Times Staff Writer

Bob Dylan is singing "The Times They Are A-Changin' " in a television ad for healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente these days, and who could argue? With Led Zeppelin pitching Cadillacs, the Rolling Stones strutting in an Ameriquest Mortgage ad and Paul McCartney warbling for Fidelity Investments, it's clear that the old counterculture heroes of classic rock are now firmly entrenched as the house band of corporate America.

That only makes the case of John Densmore all the more intriguing.
Once, back when rock 'n' roll still seemed dangerous, Densmore was the drummer for the Doors, the band with dark hits such as "Light My Fire" and "People Are Strange." That band more or less went into the grave with lead singer Jim Morrison in 1971, but, like all top classic-rock franchises, it now has the chance to exploit a lucrative afterlife in television commercials. Offers keep coming in, such as the $15 million dangled by Cadillac last year to lease the song "Break On Through (to the Other Side)" to hawk its luxury SUVs.

To the surprise of the corporation and the chagrin of his former bandmates, Densmore vetoed the idea. He said he did the same when Apple Computer called with a $4-million offer, and every time "some deodorant company wants to use 'Light My Fire.' "

The reason? Prepare to get a lump in your throat or to roll your eyes.

"People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music," Densmore said. "I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music…. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

That not only sets the Doors apart from the long, long list of classic rock acts that have had their songs licensed for major U.S. commercial campaigns, it also has added considerably to Densmore's estrangement from former bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger, a trio that last set eyes on one another in the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse last year.

"Everyone wanted him to do it," said John Branca, an attorney who worked on the Cadillac proposal. "I told him that, really, people don't frown on this anymore. It's considered a branding exercise for the music. He told me he just couldn't sell a song to a company that was polluting the world.

"I shook my head," Branca said, "but, hey, you have to respect that. How many of your principles would you reconsider when people start talking millions of dollars?"

Densmore relented once. Back in the 1970s, he agreed to let "Riders on the Storm" be used to sell Pirelli Tires in a TV spot in England. When he saw it he was sick. "I gave every cent to charity. Jim's ghost was in my ear, and I felt terrible. If I needed proof that it was the wrong thing to do, I got it."

Since then, the animus between the drummer and Manzarek and Krieger has intensified, including a bitter dispute over naming rights.

In August, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Alarcon ruled that Manzarek and Krieger could no longer tour together as the "Doors of the 21st Century." The pair, with former Cult singer Ian Astbury handling Morrison's vocal duties, were in Canada at the time and grudgingly switched their marquee to the acronym "D21C."

Densmore had filed the suit in 2003 to block the neo-Doors from using any permutation of the old band's name. In this battle, he was joined by the Morrison estate, which is the late singer's parents and the parents of his late girlfriend, Pamela Courson.

An audit is underway to determine how much money Krieger and Manzarek must turn over from their two years of touring with their old band name. The touring grossed $8 million, court documents show.

Manzarek said the view that Densmore was selflessly protecting the Doors legacy was laughable.

"John is going to get about a million dollars for doing nothing," Manzarek said. "He gets an equal share as us, and we were out there working. A free million bucks. That's a gig I'd like."

Manzarek, whose keyboards strongly contribute to the singular sound of the Doors, said his old friend should join the neo-Doors. "He should come and play drums with us," Manzarek said, "not fight us at every turn."

Even if Densmore is loath to tour and disdainful of Astbury playing the late Morrison ("Nobody can fill those leather pants"), Manzarek said his old mate should allow Doors hits to be used in tasteful commercials that could add flicker to the band's pop-culture memory. He pointed out that Zeppelin and U2 recently relented in their long holdouts against ad licensing and that there was hardly a stigma these days to the practice.

"We're all getting older," said Manzarek, the band's eldest member, now 66. "We should, the three of us, be playing these songs because, hey, the end is always near. Morrison was a poet, and above all, a poet wants his words heard."

Perhaps more years of life would have changed his view, but in 1969 it was quite clear that the poet of the Doors did not want to be a pitchman.

The Doors had formed in 1965. As the decade was ending, they were hailed in some quarters as the "Rolling Stones of America." An advertising firm came to the band with an offer: $50,000 to allow their biggest hit, "Light My Fire," to be used in a commercial for the Buick Opel.

Morrison was in Europe and his bandmates voted in his absence; Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek agreed to the deal. Morrison returned and was furious, vowing to sledgehammer a Buick on stage at every concert if the commercial went forward. It did not.

In November 1970, the lesson learned from the Buick fiasco was put in writing. The Doors members agreed that any licensing agreement would require a unanimous vote. Even before that, the band had agreed that the members would share equally in all music publishing rights, an arrangement that set them apart from most bands.

Those agreements also set the stage for Densmore to be a human handbrake that again and again stops the Doors profit machine from speeding down new avenues.

"There's a lot of pressure, from everyone," Densmore said recently with a weary sigh. "Pressure from the guys, the manager, the [Morrison] estate."

He was sitting in the back-house office of his Santa Monica home. The walls are covered with photos and newspaper clippings, among them a framed Morrison poem about the vantage point of man beyond the grave. Among the lines:

No more money

no more fancy dress

This other kingdom seems by far the best….

Morrison is dead but hardly forgotten. Just the opposite, his popularity has surged in the years since his heart gave out.

There was the one-two punch of the 1979 release of the film "Apocalypse Now," with its signature moments using the band's music, and the 1980 publication of the band tell-all book "No One Here Gets Out Alive" by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman. In 1991, another revival was stirred by Oliver Stone's movie "The Doors." Since that film's release, 14 million Doors albums have been sold in the United States alone.

Those album sales combine with the money generated by radio airplay, merchandising and the other royalty streams to put steady deposits into the bank accounts of the surviving members and the Morrison estate.

Densmore said that the money coming in should relieve pressure on the band to drift into areas that would trample the legacy. "When Ray calls, I always ask him, 'What is it you want to buy?' "

Still, there are no bigger paydays these days available for classic-rock outfits than the low-sweat licensing deals for television commercials and the warm embrace of the concert road tour. That was underscored last year when Manzarek and Krieger alleged that Densmore had committed a "breach of fiduciary duty" to the Doors partnership. Basically, the argument was that the money now was so good that Densmore couldn't reasonably say no.

When Cadillac offered $15 million last year, the money made Densmore dizzy ("More money than any of us have made on anything we've ever done," he said), but he was resolute. "Robbie was on the fence; Ray wanted to do it," Densmore said. "All of it made me think about this book I want to write. It's about greed."

Manzarek, on the other hand, describes the car commercial in tie-dyed hues. "Cadillac said we could all fly out to Detroit and give input as they start putting together their hybrid models and the way they would be presented to the public…. Artists and corporations working together, that's the 21st century. That's the true Age of Aquarius. But John's ego wouldn't let him see it was a good thing to do."

In the end, Cadillac held on to the motto "Break Through" but used a different dark anthem — the commercial, now in heavy rotation, features Zeppelin's frenetic 1972 single "Rock and Roll." Cadillac's eight-figure offer was enough to coax the band to plunge into the advertising profit stream.

When Nike used the Beatles' recording of "Revolution" for a sneaker ad two decades ago, there was widespread criticism. The hubbub quieted when the commercial was retired after one year. Nowadays, the debate is largely muted. The new take? Holding out is bad for music.

"Using your music in the modern landscape is not selling out; if it's done right, it's giving it new life," said Amy Kavanaugh, an executive vice president at Edelman, the Los Angeles public relations and marketing firm that has worked with Starbucks on the coffee merchant's extensive branding efforts with music.

Even among the classic-rock purist audience, there is a shift in expectation. Pete Howard, editor in chief of Ice magazine, a music publication tailored to audiophiles and intense rock music collectors, not only thinks that the Doors should take money for the songs of the past, he believes that they are risking their future if they don't.

"They get a gold star for integrity, but they are missing a train that is leaving the station," Howard said. "Advertising is no longer a dirty word to the Woodstock generation, and in fact, in this landscape, the band will find that if it relies on people who hear the music in films, on radio in prerecorded formats, that with each decade their niche among music fans will narrow. It's advertising — with its broad audience and ubiquity — that gets new ears."

If Densmore is a dinosaur, he is not the last surviving one. Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles continue to say no to commercials. So do Neil Young and Carlos Santana. But all of them still pull in concert revenues that make that choice far easier. Densmore himself points out that if he were poor he might make a different choice.

But his stance against commercialization has won a chorus of support from the true believers of rock. In the Nation, Tom Waits wrote a letter in praise of Densmore: Corporations "suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product. Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos."

Waits has since learned that holding out isn't necessarily effective: He is suing General Motors for using what he describes as a Waits sound-alike in its European car commercials. Which make and model is involved? The Buick Opel, the same car that led Morrison to slam shut the band's corporate flirtations.

"Is it that they just didn't learn or they just don't care? I don't know," Densmore said, shaking his head. "Maybe I'm the one who is just out of touch with the times."

Now he waits to see if his old bandmates will appeal the court decision banning the use of the Doors name for their concert tours. For the time being, Manzarek has said that the band will continue on with the name Riders on the Storm. Densmore said he would not dispute them on that. Manzarek said the fans and reviews have been great, and Astbury has the same "dark, shamanistic, powerful, Celtic-Christian, mystical" vibe as his old friend Morrison. Manzarek said the group will soon record a new studio album.
"It doesn't matter what we call it, it's still Robbie and I together playing 'Light My Fire' and 'Love Me Two Times.' John should come and play and let us celebrate and keep this music alive," Manzarek said. "Look, what do I say to the cynics? I would like to play with Jim Morrison again. But you know what? I can't call him. I'm sorry. He's dead. He's busy. He's in eternity."

Densmore said he tires of the fighting.

So what about that invitation from Manzarek?

"I would love to play with the Doors and play those songs again. I would. And I will play again as the Doors. Just as soon as Jim shows up."
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Thu Oct 06, 2005 9:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Thu Oct 06, 2005 5:57 pm

if music is sooooo sacred and integral, then why put a price tag on each and every LP in a retail store.

it's made to be SOLD - and each buyer/listener is actually a renter.

Denzmore needs to think of his future, not so much his past.

when there's emergencies and old age and illness, and nesteggs needed, that licensing money would be there for he and his family.

but oh no not that.

putting/hearing a song in a commercial is not the ultimate sin.

silly hippie crap.

Thu Oct 06, 2005 6:32 pm

No, he's just drawing the line.

The hippie thing (today) to do would be to sell it off. Whether
one disagrees or not, he's stayed true to his code. He never said
he was Jesus Christ, but he's saying the music was made for records,
not as commericials to sell soap.

Commerce doesn't rule everything, he feels, and he's
trying to respect some of the spirit and content of the music.

The reason? Prepare to get a lump in your throat or to roll your eyes.

"People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music," Densmore said. "I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

Morrison's dead and you have to respect that he's sticking up
for his old friend.

They made their money...but don't flog it.

I normally like Manzarek but there's something about Densmore's
stand that's cool. It's downright quaint.

Thu Oct 06, 2005 7:22 pm

I'd put a song or 2 in an advertisement - so what.

make some fresh coin off that old record.

the original listeners/consumers he's trying to "protect" and "be loyal to" are old and nearing kick-the-bucket realm,

he prefers a limited dying-out fanbase?!?!?

how does he expect to achieve a new young generation of Doors fans?

"buy the Oliver Stone motion picture soundtrack, dude!"

getting into somebody's music - involves a transaction/purchase somewhere somehow!

maybe Denzmore prefers freebie file sharing. :roll:

Thu Oct 06, 2005 7:40 pm

gimme a break (part 2)

Denzmore surely own a car, huh? buys deodorant, soap, mac&cheese, etc

he has/buys the products any artist gets approached to let their music be tied-in with.

hasn't there ever been a TV spot advertising
The Best Of The Doors Cassette or CD ---- "Order Now"

- t'would be a hypocrit to allow that but deny other televised usage.

if the day comes he's flat broke - no royalties whatsoever, and he's panhandling/begging down on Santa Monica Blvd, he will have truly achieved ARTISTIC INTEGRITY.

hey denzie, put the friggin song in the commercial, let us have 29 seconds of that kick ass tune, and you collect your share of compensation, and sit back and "mellow dude".

Thu Oct 06, 2005 7:47 pm

I don't see why it bothers you so much.

He's drawing the line. We all do it.

There's jobs you won't do and there's personal items
you would never sell off for personal / nostalgic reasons.

Surely he's allowed to make that distinction..

After all, he's been well-paid already.

I think it's rather honorable.

Thu Oct 06, 2005 7:55 pm

ok - we can't hear the doors and associate the music with a roomy confortable cadillac, driving free and breezy and in style,

it must be that when hearing the doors, it's solely music associated with doped-up dropouts strung-out freaks and draftdodgers,

and retiring babyboomers (whom many own cadillacs - lol)

- oh well, the drummer prefers it that way.

far out.

but it's not far enough in making that old music pay off.

He's been paid, as you say, but just a pittance stretched over 38 years compared to a huge windfall he smugly turns his back to.

hippies just can't grasp capitalism.
or preparing for retirement.

- Didn't they all profess to wanna die before they got old?

Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:30 pm

"Hippies" (the historical version) as the article makes clear (didn' t you
read it?) have (with some exceptions) nearly all "gone capitalist." Famously so.

He even acknowledges that if he "hadn't been paid" it might
be another story. He's not saying he's Christ. It's just
a personal sense of drawing the line and saying "not everything's for

Artists (and that's what they often are called regardless of
the reality) at least profess to not wanting to prostitute their
work..Here's a guy trying to stay clear of having "Light
My Fire" be used as a deoderant commericial and saying,
"No, thanks."

By the way:
The Doors really rocked out and Morrison was at least in the same
ballpark of Elvis vocally (manly, barritone, bluesy) and really were
not all that hippy-dippy. They also weren't afraid to use
horns and strings.
There's arguably more common ground between Elvis and the Doors than
the Beatles, musically.

A tip of the hat to Densmore to "doing his own thing" as they used to say. After all, it'd be easier to say just "yes."

Anyway, the ideal of America isn't just about selling things and yourself. It can be about sticking
up for the lonely cause- and for individual rights. He's doing that.

Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:50 pm

Densmore is doing the right thing!

Sincerely MB280E

Thu Oct 06, 2005 9:23 pm

Crass comercialism in the entertainment business will win out every time.

Elvis fan

Thu Oct 06, 2005 10:18 pm

Graceland Gardener wrote:
- Didn't they all profess to wanna die before they got old?


Thu Oct 06, 2005 11:44 pm

I also don't see anything wrong with Densmore's decision.
Although I don't mind hearing The Who as the credits roll for the first two CSI shows, putting classic rock to silly commercials is pretty embarassing at times.

jeff R

Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:11 am

Is Denzmore's name on the publishing of the Doors songs?

Must be, for he to be a lone hold-out.

If Ray and Robbie vote to license, then 2-thirds majortiy wins.

I understand this "won't prostitute my art" as a theory and concept and attitude.

yeh yeh (Elvis freely endorsed gatorade for years - no pay!)

But Denzmore's maybe a billionaire for him to be so "I don't need the money" -
The surviving band members and their kids and grandkids probably could use the money in the long run.

and hey, isn't Doors music in movies? same difference.

Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:37 am

good one, C.

- first off, Elvis is the only one in rock history who made "sacred music" (aka gospel)

I don't recall many members here mad when ALLC and Rubberneckin was in commercials. ?

- as for licensing for films, like Doors music has been used before, maybe he didn't realize movies are looong commercials
(promotional tools to promote directors/actors/studios)

I wonder if Denzmore would say No.....if "Break On Through" was wanted for a Public Service Announcement .

Fri Oct 07, 2005 5:55 am

GG, you seem to be the only one on this thread that think's Densmore is in the wrong. Nothing wrong with that but why do you keep going on about someone who you really don't know or, for that matter, know how to spell his name?
Let the man alone. Let him do what he feels is right in his heart. It's his choice.

jeff R

Fri Oct 07, 2005 6:54 am

Good for him for standing by for what he believes in ! Money is'nt the end all and be all of everything ! And I'm sure he has enough money anyway !

Fri Oct 07, 2005 9:08 am

just this very evening, on tv, there was Foghat's "Slow Ride" in Honda spot,
Jane's Addicition in a Jack Daniels spot, and Led Zeppelin in a car spot.

Ramones have also done tv ads.
so too, Foreigner - coffee

- those artists (who move units less now than in the "old days" and collectively are not young anymore)
are not betraying anyone,
not ruining anything,
and they are certainly assuring their family/heirs of college educations and trust funds. for years to come

Densmore's heirs get what? a hell of a lot less and alot less possible.

the recordings are so sacred, man.

imo, Densmore is being selfish. Maybe yard sales are integral if need be he must resort to that.

an aging rocker who doesn't do endorsements for extra income must certainly be Super Rich
- like Mike Nesmith,
- and Macca, of course,
but probably not any of the Doors survivors.

that's why the other 2 want to do the deals!

But Macca does have a tv spot - fidelity insurance?
A lot of footage of him from over the years! seen it?

Robert DeNiro is doing a credit card spot

- its not the end of the world. It's OK.

"Gatorade. Good for your gator"
- Elvis
and he didn't receive any money for that.
hell, if you're gonna plug it, get paid.

Fri Oct 07, 2005 1:54 pm

So are you saying that Krieger and Manzarek want to let them use it because they need the money? Do you honestly believe that yourself, or are you perhaps just creating facts here?

How can it possibly be selfish to not let anyone reduce the meaning your art by preventing them to use it to back up commercials?

Sincerely MB280E

Sat Oct 08, 2005 12:56 am

The Doors publishing and album sales alone generate millions every year. They all equally share the pot (Densmore, Krieger, Manzarek, the Morrison/Coursen estates). They make plenty of money outside of potential commercial endorsement income.

Sat Oct 08, 2005 6:36 am

With all due respect to Gardener, who's a sharp mind who contributes
much to our board, I'm taken by the degree to which so many Americans (and I can only speak for my country) think commerce is "normal"
for just about "everything." How sad. A man who says, "no, I'm
not interested in your money" is ridiculed for "selfishness" and being
"out of step" with capitalism and for "not going along."

Gardener, didn't Elvis face a lot of people who told him what to do
and when?

You make some good points by pointing out the contradictions of
such a purist stance by Densmore , but really, why does it bother you so?

God forbid someone have something that's not "for sale."

The "free" Elvis stuff I've received from fellow fans here must be
subversive or some kind of "hippie" ideology <shudder> :oops: :wink:
After all, these FECCers could have milked every last dollar..!

The day when no one dissents against whatever the prevailing wisdom
is will be a sad day indeed. Some good things occur outside
of "the market." Individual freedom to say "no" should be respected
in this case.

Sat Oct 08, 2005 8:46 am

I'll bet that the Cadillac offer (how atrocious and unthinkable it is!) was brought on by the Cadillac Co. Marketing Dept. having A DOORS FAN working there, who suggested the band's songs.

- poor guy, oh the hornets' nest he unleashed.

we ALL endorse one thing or another - whether we realize it or not; get paid for it or not.

Preferences for food, clothes, products, vehicles.

Densmore makes it sound like he has no automobile - none - and hitchhikes everywhere, and scorns money. (and worships Jim)

Manzerek (who is a big Elvis fan btw) seemes more level-headed, and maybe the band members do need the money.

IMO, Elvis Presley should have done a few select paid endorsements in the 1970s due to the fact he was "nearly broke" anyway.

We know he spoke of liking Jell-O, and Gatorade, and Harley-Davidsons, as well as being photographed on the bikes.

Doing a full-page ad or TV spot to raise extra funds is more dignfied and
*in hindsight* less embarassing than to go to a Memphis bank for a loan with Graceland as collateral.
which he did in '75.

Might've been better that he did a paid endorsement (of course something he truly likes, consumes, or does)

"I'm Elvis Presley. I love Hawaii. A beautiful place, and when I fly here, I fly Delta Airlines."

hmm. doing such a thing is not a deal with the devil, people.


this GG post sponsored by Pepsi.

Sat Oct 08, 2005 3:36 pm

Oh for shame that there should be profit from some good tunes.

A good song is a good song, and I don't care how many tidy bowl(hmmm do I have stock for mentioning it. :lol: :lol: commercials its listed in.

If Densmore wants to hold out, then that is his right....just as it is mine and GG's for wanting to criticize him.

It is flower power at its finest. His music isn't that sacred, and pointing out the obvious, there are many stars far more talented who have done it.

Sell out(as Gene Simmons would say)....damn right every night.

As for the "not paying" for Elvis bootlegs or the like. Rule #1 is not to go around bragging about it. I do not condone the advertisement of "sharing" stuff like FTD. Though it is an arm and a leg, somebody has got to pay to keep it going.

Mon Oct 17, 2005 10:57 pm

Gardener, no one said it's strictly black & white but Densmore
has every right as an American to restrict commerce to that which
is actually for sale. I say it's a refreshing change. It would have been
easier to say "okay, just send me the check."

And for anyone to call this merely as a "hippie" indulgence is
sadly elevating commerce above everything.

But then I suppose Jesus was just another another radical hippie. :roll:

Mon Oct 17, 2005 11:09 pm

I never said Desnmore DIDN'T have the right to say no.

But his reasons are very "hippie"

He told me he just couldn't sell a song to a company that was polluting the world

I guess by Elvis buying all those cadillacs for years, adding more to the open road, he was not only flaunting his wealth, but also contributing to the pollution.

This GG post sponsored by Ford Motor Co.

Mon Oct 17, 2005 11:14 pm

Graceland Gardener wrote:I never said Desnmore DIDN'T have the right to say no.

But his reasons are very "hippie"

He told me he just couldn't sell a song to a company that was polluting the world

I guess by Elvis buying all those cadillacs for years, adding more to the open road, he was not only flaunting his wealth, but also contributing to the pollution.

It's very "Fox News" to dismiss anything that doesn't go along
with the market place as "hippie." Or, better yet, something
out of the Nixon administration, circa 1969. How ridiculous.

Give us a break. Very few of us are hippies or even liberals.

Densmore maybe, but why not?

And by your logic, we should applaud how Elvis catalog is being
ruined by the flogging by RCA/ BMG with items like LOVE, ELVIS
and HITSTORY. Not everything has to be flogged.

Elvis' legacy, even now, would benefit from a little more "hippie"
reticence and a little less of apparently money-making Elvis ducks and new "hit" compilations.