Proving tragedy can indeed bring people together, last night surviving Doors members John Densmore and Robby Krieger shared a stage for the first time in 15 years, overcoming years of well-documented legal disputes over the band’s legacy and name. Last night, they were on hand at the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art’s multi-tiered event “An Evening With the Doors.”
The two old friends laughed onstage and off, first during a Q&A with host Elvis Mitchell, then in a surprise, brief four-song set that included classic Doors tunes “People Are Strange” and “Love Me Two Times.”
Rolling Stone caught up with Densmore and Krieger afterwards, where they reflected on changing the course of music, the songs that still resonate with them and drugs.
Does it surprise you that 40 years later people are still picking up new things from the Doors’ music?
Krieger: It doesn’t amaze me, but it makes me happy. I was thinking back then, “Oh shit, people are never gonna fucking realize how great these songs are.” After Jim died I thought, “A couple of years, people are never gonna think about us anymore.” If you listen to those albums, there’s so much in there that people still don’t even know about.
John Densmore: Do you remember when, sometime after the first album or two, Jim said to you and me, “I want to be bigger than the Beatles.” We went, “Holy shit!” Well, we’re not, but we’re in the register.
Krieger: He would be happy if he were here, I think.
What are some of the other songs you’d like to see people discover?
Krieger: We have on the L.A. Woman album “The Wasp.”
Densmore: “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” – yeah, I like that one.
Krieger: The words are great, but the music is fucking great, too. It’s so unusual.
What would Jim have done Sunday to celebrate his birthday?
Krieger: I’m sure by this time he would want to forget about his birthday. He’d want to forget how old he was. In Dennis [Jakob]’s book he told Dennis, “I’ll never live to be 30.” And he didn’t.
Densmore: Remember, one year on his birthday, Frank and Paul and all bought him a giant thing of Courvoisier, and we just went, “Oh God, don’t feed the beast.”
When you see the stuff that happened with Jim and Janis [Joplin], and then you see the same thing happening with people today like Amy Winehouse, are you amazed that the people that surround musicians keep feeding those habits?
Krieger: It’s not as bad. At least there are rehabs and stuff, and at least people talk about it. Back then you wouldn’t even fucking say a word – it was just, “Hey, man, it’s cool, it’s the Sixties.” That’s what you did.
Densmore: Well, we didn’t know. Substance abuse clinics weren’t around. Was Amy 27 as well? Let’s talk about that. What the fuck is that? I’ll tell you what it is. The Africans have a thing, it’s this old, old myth – it’s the period between 14 and 27, where the elders watch over the youth. If they get past 27 they’ll make it. I was watching the Hendrix doc on American Masters on his birthday just a week ago and it made me so sad, because Jim was an alcoholic, Janis was a junkie, but Jimi just took too many little sleeping pills one night. He had a big future.
Krieger: He was into junk, too.
Densmore: He was, but he was not fucked up like them. I think he had a lot more music in him. He was gonna play with Miles [Davis], damn it.
Don’t you feel like Jim had a lot more music in him?
Densmore: He loved the blues. We would’ve made more blues, more “L.A. Woman.”
Krieger: No, for sure, he would’ve never stopped making music. He was going to Paris to take a rest from it all – mainly the trial and all the hoopla.
Densmore: The problem is over there they have wine for breakfast. I love them, but the culture parties.
Krieger: Not only that, there was more heroin over there at that time than over here, by a long shot.
Any chance you’d go on the road, or this is a one-off show?
Densmore: I had a lot of fun. I would do this again a few times, maybe.
Krieger: It was actually more fun last night, when he just came to my house and we just played a few songs together. If we did this again, it would be for some charity.
This was the first gig for you two in 15 years. Are you surprised how quickly it came back musically?
Krieger: It’s like riding a bike, I guess. I’ve been playing these songs for years without him and I’ve had so many drummers that I played with, and none of them actually play it correctly like he does, so it’s kind of cool.
Densmore: These songs are in our blood, when you play them forever. It just takes a few bars and then you’re back. You know the feel of everything.
Where do you go from here?
Krieger: We’re talking about a show, a tribute to Ray for his birthday, February 12th. We’re gonna try and get something together.
Densmore: The difficulty is getting all of them together in one city in one night, so we’ll either be at the Whisky or Madison Square Garden.
As much as you guys were having fun up there, is it also hard?
Densmore: Here’s the deal. Thank God for our music and painting, because when we lose somebody like Ray, we still have those solos in “Riders” [“on the Storm]” and “Light My Fire.” We can go to that and still feel his spirit, so that helps.