Tucked somewhere in the back of most of our minds is a discomforting cognizance of our country’s ugly history of mistreating Native Americans. But come Thanksgiving Day—and the corollary consumerism circus that is Black Friday—we tend not to dwell on that reality.
So for Record Store Day this year, artist-advocates John Densmore, drummer of The Doors, and Shepard Fairey, the iconoclastic artist, teamed up for a creative effort to rouse the country’s collective conscience—and shine light on a movement to uplift the indigenous community. The result of their collaborative vision is Ghost Song, a limited edition 12″ vinyl featuring The Doors 1978 hit and cover art by Fairey, hitting indie record stores on Friday, Nov. 28—”the day after the first peoples of this land taught us how to give, as in Thanksgiving,” Densmore explains. The proceeds will go toward Honor the Treaties, an organization dedicated to elevating indigenous communities via art and activism.
“The idea is that if you celebrate the idea of Thanksgiving,” explains Fairey, best for social justice, “then you should also be willing to ponder the darker side of our relationship with Native Americans.” Why the Black Friday release date? “It’s the day after the first peoples of this land taught us how to give, as in Thanksgiving,” Densmore says.
The record features the Jim Morrison-penned “Ghost Song” on one side—a somber reflection on violence experienced by Native Americans—and the haunting, hypnotic “Drums” by American Indian folksinger Peter La Farge on the the B-Side (La Farge made music with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash in the ’60s.) The visuals were a joint-effort as well: Fairey, best known for his work with Obey and the famous Obama “Hope” poster, illustrated the front of the album, a colorization of a photograph by National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey, while Native artist Cheyenne Randall designed the black-and-white back cover.
The purpose of the project is “to raise awareness that we shouldn’t forget that after we learned thanks-giving, we kind of stole the land,” explains Densmore, the mastermind behind the benefit. “We came over here from oppression, and then we oppressed… that needs to be more in our consciousness as a country.” Art and music have always been key in helping the oppressed raise our country’s consciousness of social injustices, like racial discrimination and the Vietnam War.
“Honor the Treaties has become a vehicle to support Native American artists, many of whom use their art to express a social point of view,” Fairey says. He and Denmore hope the vinyl will not only raise funds for art resources, but “generate awareness about a number of aspects of the deterioration of that culture and the difficulty of the living conditions on the reservation”—including poverty, economic isolation, substance abuse and environmental degradation. “It’s a sense of isolation and powerlessness, like the rest of the world has taken a lot in the past but is indifferent to what problems that’s created.”
Stronger than that sense of powerlessness, though, is the fire of advocacy and the faith that things are getting better. “‘There are drums beyond the mountains, and they’re getting’ mighty near’,” Densmore says, quoting La Farge’s track. “Meaning that the Native Americans are here, and there’s conscious ones that still hold the truth… they have the answers, if we’ll listen.”