John Densmore – Rockstar from next door

2 min.

John Densmore (of the legendary Doors) in Città di Castello

When it comes to music legends four, maybe five names spring to mind; Lennon, Elvis, Dylan and Jim Morrison.

They’re too big, too mythical, too much of everything! But late one April morning in a cafe, between the haggard man with a shopping bag and children on their bikes, I spy a man with round glasses and white hair in a ponytail… Good grief ! What’s John Densmore, drummer and founder of The Doors doing in the Piazza di Sotto? My friend brings me back to reality, saying that the University for Foreigners, (Perugia), was holding an important meeting about Jim Morrison where there would be music, film and the story of some of the ‘stars’.

I remember reading that the veterans of this legendary group had found themselves involved in one of the largest lawsuits in rock music history. Ray Manzarek,(the keyboard player,) wanted to sell Morrison’s legacy, his songs and poems, to some multinational companies for advertising, for millions of dollars, but Mr. Densmore refused.

This has been a big deal in the U.S. where people like Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder and Jay Z have sided with him. Anxious not to disturb him though, maybe with a question in bad English and looking like an idiot, I don’t bother. The next day I found out that John had visited the Burri galleries, and in front of the ‘Cretti’ he exclaimed, “Hey! This is Death Valley”, acknowledging the famous American desert that inspired Burri; the very same one where The Doors, at more or less the same time, wrote songs that changed music forever.

Later, at the University, John arrives with a police escort, and amongst the flashbulbs firing, the screams and the fans pushing says, “Good evening, my name is Marcello Mastroianni”. Even legends have heroes! I read that this exclusive, national meeting was organized by ‘Altotevere Live’, and so thank Giuseppe, Luca and Gianluca who were involved. And what an atmosphere. John jokes , reads , recites , and even plays bits of ‘The End’, ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Riders on the Storm’; explaining that behind all this were four boys in California, enjoying the nights and having adventures.

There’s a surprise! The ‘Collettivo Ginsberg’ – rather more than a cover band, churned out a wonderful version of a suite of Morrison’s poetry, ‘The Celebration of the Lizard’. The grand finale – John returns to the stage and reminds us that the music of The Doors is a unique heritage and ‘priceless’, as Jim used to say, and that you can’t use it to sell cars or other products. This is a “no” to easy money, but also an extraordinary lesson on how to remain free in the face of temptation, shortcuts and ultimately, to anything that smothers creativity.

It was an intimate moment, though one shared by many people, each of whom probably had a different concept of the myth of Morrison and The Doors, but who now know more about artistic integrity. When John sits down with an African bongo his voice intones ‘An American Prayer’ a happy prayer for those who were part of an era, and whose stars continue to shine in the Heavens – and yes… even in a little corner of Umbria.

Francesca , University of Perugia

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