See new book from The Doors drummer John Densmore about working with Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, and more
The Doors lasted less than a decade as a band, but their collective experiences far exceed their actual time together. John Densmore, the band's iconic drummer, is releasing a new book this November — a follow-up, if you will, to his 1990 memoir about life with Jim Morrison — titled The Seekers: Meetings With Remarkable Musicians. The book reflects on Densmore's own creative process and his journey in the industry alongside his famous peers like Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Paul Simon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, and Bob Marley.
EW is exclusively revealing the cover, designed by the one and only Shepard Fairey (yes, the artist behind Barack Obama's famous Hope posters), as well as a first look inside the book. "For the cover, I envisioned a tapestry with multiple epic figures whose threads are intertwined with John Densmore himself, the central beating heart and storyteller," says Fairey.
Below, read an excerpt from the introduction.
Because of my good fortune, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with some extraordinary people. To be a member of The Doors and have the unusual access I have been afforded is one of the greatest blessings of my life. But what I’ve learned is that anyone can access the magical moments these gifted artists live in. Whether you have a nine-to-five job, or you sit alone at the piano playing something only you will ever hear, or you’re an aspiring artist hungry to learn how these heroes approach their work (like me), this book is a guide for the Seeker in us all.
If beauty is the only real antidote to this modern, crazy world, then, as the mythologist Michael Meade says, “Art is a form of refuge.” And if that’s true, then we’re all refugees. Meade elaborates: “We’re all looking for a sanctuary, a place to feel at peace with ourselves and the world.” William Blake said that “each day has a moment of eternity waiting for you.”
So even if you’re not a “professional” musician, you can access the same zone a professional does; you too can open the door (pun intended!) to the other world. I’m not one of the fastest drummers, and fortunately accessing that creative zone is not all about technique either. It’s about the heart: when the heart is open, the muses will be attracted and show up. In matters of spirit, the most direct connection is through music. The ancestor spirits want to participate when they sense the presence of feeling instead of logic. So just sing or play an instrument and you will quickly become enchanted. (Chanson is the French word for “song.”)
As we try to glean everything we can from these icons, notice they have accomplished this elevated status not by pursuing the outer world, but the inner world of sound. Most of these artists certainly are idols in the public’s eyes, but their initial incentive came not from wanting outward approval, but from an inner desire—an almost unstoppable drive to create something. Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony (possibly his greatest) when he was completely deaf. He could only hear it in his head, and the fact that a stagehand had to tap him on the shoulder to signal that it was time to come out for another curtain call after conducting the work is almost unimaginably sad. When composing, Ludwig would put a pencil in his mouth and press it against the piano to feel the vibrations because he couldn’t hear them. But his deafness also points to the richness of his inner sonic life. In the words of the great sage Ram Dass, “The quieter you are, the more you hear.”
The muse is very psychic, and as I said, she will come when the heart is open, but a well-crafted vessel attracts her big-time. Sometimes she blows the circuitry like in Janis Joplin’s case. Fueled by substance abuse, the muse will devastate the vessel and wound the soul. But there are also very disciplined artists, such as the impeccable Ravi Shankar, whose vessel is as solid as a rock. Bob Marley is somewhere in between. He has the right amount of craft that is needed for his message. That’s the thing about technique: you need just enough to get across your gift (and we’ve all come into this world with a unique gift to bring), but you can have too much. That is to say, you can be seduced by learning to go faster and faster, but as the great American poet Robert Bly used to say, “slow equals soul.”
I feel so blessed to have been in the presence of these great artists, some for a moment, some for an extended time over many years. Some have broken on through to the other side, while some are still here in their physical form. So this is my thank-you, my tip of the hat to these artists and musicians, classically trained or barely schooled at all. I’ve thrown in a couple of writers as well because, in my opinion, they’re looking for music in between the sentences.
The passion of what these icons are trying to say comes through in spades; they sparkle like diamonds in the rough or fully polished. That sparkle is the thread that tugs on our humanity and reminds us that we come from the same family and that everyone is struggling to make sense out of their lives. And everyone can glean inspiration from these artists. The food they offer is so rich that only a little can be savored for a lifetime.
Excerpted from THE SEEKERS: Meetings With Remarkable Musicians (and Other Artists) by John Densmore. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.