As he painstakingly went through music and photos for the new Doors app on the iPad, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman found the bit he was looking for on a tape reel marked “Excited Utterances.” The clip was frontman Jim Morrison shouting “you’re all a bunch of fucking idiots!” – something Doors archivists knew he had said during a 1969 Miami concert, where he allegedly exposed himself and was later arrested. Holzman and his colleagues used software to compare waveforms of the Morrison clip with other bits from the same show and put together a sonic document of “the Miami incident.”
To tell the story, Holzman asked his son, Adam, to write a graphic novel called “The Doors in Miami” and comic-book artist Dean Haspiel to illustrate it. The “fucking idiots!” clip arrives at the beginning – a new way of telling an old story. “When you touch the balloon over Jim’s head, you get this miracle,” says Holzman, 81, who signed the Doors in 1966 and spent 16 months working on the app, out May 8th. “It really pulls you right into it.”
The app, which costs $4.99 and includes hundreds of photos, cartoons, FBI documents and court transcripts, essays by Patti Smith and surviving Doors members, interviews and concert footage, is Holzman’s attempt to document a storied band in the post-CD age. “The idea I started out with was, ‘How can I tell the story as if it were a box set?’ – without the advantages and limitations of $50-and-up box sets,” he says. “The best thing about the box set was generally the box. The problem was, you could not tell a contiguous story. If you had something on a DVD, it did not relate temporally with what you had on CD or in text or photographs. I wanted to unite the entire experience.”
To document the Doors’ brief, strange history, Holzman and his team, including co-producer Robin Hurley, organized the band’s career according to albums and incidents. The page dealing with The Doors album includes a “Break On Through” promotional video, previously published essays by drummer John Densmore and critic Greil Marcus, photos of equipment from the Sunset Sound studio in Hollywood and new liner notes by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, in addition to songs available for iTunes purchase.
One tough-to-secure excerpt was a quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s book “Generation of Swine,” in which he writes of Morrison Hotel: “Stand back somewhere on the main beams of a big log house and feel the music come up through your femurs, ho ho, and after that you can always say for sure, that you once knew what it was like to hear men play rock ‘n’ roll music.” Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher, was reluctant to give up the rights until Holzman called to say, “The daughter of your founder, Carly Simon, was an Elektra artist.” Adds Holzman: “I had no problems after that.”
In addition to signing the Doors to the label he founded in 1950, Holzman has spent most of his career in the record industry linking music and technology. He worked with the Monkees‘ Michael Nesmith on an influential pre-MTV video company, was a president of video-equipment company Panavision and served on Atari’s board of directors. For years, Holzman has been the rare record executive fluent in both technology and music. When CDs were first introduced in the early Eighties and record-label executives feared they would enable piracy, Holzman argued in favor of the technology. Later, top label executives viewed Napster as a tool for theft and copyright infringement, but Holzman argued they should have seen opportunity to sell singles in addition to full-length CDs.
“I saw things were going to take longer than people realized,” he says. “The digital evolution was not going to happen overnight, and it was a matter of balance. You had a foot on a wharf, and a foot on a boat, and they were going to separate over time. You had to try to hang on and keep the balance appropriate.”
The Doors app began when Holzman set out to memorialize the Doors’ 1971 album L.A. Woman on its 40th anniversary. He decided to remember the band’s entire career instead. Once he dug in, securing approvals for videos and book excerpts, working with the band’s former engineer Bruce Botnick, overseeing new recordings by the surviving Doors, running ideas by a group of online “uber-fans” and assembling everything into an app that would take up no more than one gigabyte on an iPad, he exhausted himself.
“This has been a major, major project. I felt like the guy who went up 27 miles and jumped out with the parachute,” Holzman says. “I enjoyed working all night getting something down. I didn’t enjoy the next morning dragging my ass. But it’s worth it.”