Riders on the Storm - My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors

by John Densmore

The first biography of The Doors to be written by a band member. Densmore, The Doors' percussionist, gives a reasonably written, detailed, and insightful personal account of his life with The Doors. I like to call it The Gospel of John.

In addition to The Doors, Densmore gives the reader significant insight into his personal character and its many facets. He gives detailed accounts of the intense fear and loathing that he experienced as a potential draftee, the woeful parallels between his family life and band life, and his love/hate relationship with Jim Morrison and by extension, The Doors.

Densmore also takes a number of opportunities to denounce Ray Manzarek's eternally optimistic perception of their life with The Doors and Morrison. He accuses Ray of distorting Jim's vision with his own and refusing to acknowledge Jim's darkness.

While this account of The Doors is by no means unbiased, it is nevertheless a must-read for any Doors Fan.

Other Recommended Reading:

Light My Fire - The Gospel of Ray

The Doors: The Illustrated History - Possibly the least biased Doors biography

Jack’s migraine headache was developing its own personality. To some that might have seemed odd, but for something that had persisted in its existence for nearly twenty years, it was about time it developed its own personality. He had to feed it, bathe it and talk to it over breakfast in the morning.

It was raining somewhere over the horizon and Jack could feel the first few drops against his forehead, even though he was inside his apartment with all the windows closed. At the request of his migraine he went outside and got behind the wheel of his old Dodge.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm

There were too many people traveling across the countryside this warm, rainy afternoon. They were mostly the kind of “pretty people” that Jack despised. What right did they have to stain his landscape with their sparkling, freshly washed new cars and their forty dollar haircuts. From every corner of his mind they mocked him. They laughed at his misfortune. They giggled at his soiled clothes and sweat stained baseball cap. They even made fun of his pain. They were too glad to be alive. Jack was just happy to survive another day in the hellish glare of his existence here in this most unpleasant place.

Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown

Most of Jack’s tires did not have nearly enough air in them to afford a comfortable ride on the gravel of the state highway. He grumbled about it, but refused to remedy the situation. He wasn’t about to have some seventeen year old blowhard convince him to spend two hundred dollars on new tires. It would start there and then it would never end. They would convince him he needed to change the oil, tune up the engine and have his radiator flushed. A car was a dead object that simply wasn’t worth spending money on.

Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

Brad took care in washing the windshield of his brand new Cadillac. This was its maiden voyage, even though he had used it to commute to work for the past three weeks. This was the first time it was being used to take his family on a weekend trip. It was the first time it would be used for pleasure, and Brad reveled in the fact that they complimented him on the car and how much of a change it was from the old Plymouth station wagon they had failed to grow accustomed to for the past ten years.

Brad’s wife, Dorothy, understood that the car was a symbol of her husband’s hard work, a reward for all he had done for the company, the commitment of his long hours and sleepless nights. She smiled at the way he checked the oil every time he stopped for gas, and took a long look at how everything under the hood was functioning. She finally felt safe and secure. Not only for herself. Mostly she loved what it meant for Tommy and Jimmy, her children in the back seat. Tommy was barely out of his car seat and diapers. Jimmy was starting his first year of Pee Wee soccer. They were so much quieter on this journey, now having the luxury of their own radio headphones and the little television screen in the back seat. It was quite an upgrade from the old Plymouth, where the only entertainment was a squeaky fan belt and a radio that changed stations randomly with every bump in the road.

There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad

He was standing right behind Brad, who had not noticed his presence until he dropped the hood of the Cadillac and turned around. Dressed in a dirty white sleeveless t-shirt and jeans splattered with ugly stains, he smiled grimly at Brad, displaying a mouth filled with uncomfortable looking teeth.

“Hey, buddy, can you spare like five bucks so I can get a tonic and a sammich inside?” asked the stranger, pointing towards the gas station with his gnarled thumb.

“Can’t help you out,” was all Brad said before he quickly got back into the Cadillac. The man wouldn’t move, so Brad backed the car out of the gas station and made great haste in heading down the road.

Take a long holiday
Let your children play

“What did that creepy man want?” Dorothy asked after they were a safe distance from the gas station.

“Just some bum wanting a handout. Trash like that needs to get a job and stop bothering honest working people.”

Brad slipped a CD into the Cadillac’s expensive audio system and let the sounds of his favorite Jazz band soothe his nerves. For whatever reason, the filth encrusted stranger had pushed his anger meter to an uncomfortable level. Brad remembered how he had struggled after his parents’ divorce. They could no longer afford pay his college tuition, or at least so they said. He worked a series of odd jobs, barely making ends meet, keeping his eyes open for the chance that the winds of opportunity would blow his way. He had never asked anyone for anything other than a chance to prove himself and had no patience for those who did not adhere to the same philosophy.

There was an old Dodge in the rear view mirror. It swerved back and forth across the road with a long plume of black smoke pouring from its back end. The Dodge was keeping pace with the Cadillac, so Brad gave his new car a little more gas and pulled away. His anger crossed streams with an uncomfortable feeling. His rational mind lost sight of the task at hand. All he needed to do was to safely deliver his family to the state park so they could see the sights of natural beauty on display there.

If ya give this man a ride
Sweet family will die

Jack’s migraine headache demanded he keep pace with this sharp dressed pinhead that considered Jack to be inferior to his own pompous self. Strutting about at the gas station, flashing his fancy car and exclusive men’s store clothing, this man was the kind of dirt that Jack had no patience for. Jack was not an animal. He made his own way in life, answering to no one and keeping his eye on the wandering stars. Anyone who wore a five hundred dollar watch and couldn’t spare a few dollars so a fellow human being could get something to eat was less than human. There was still supposed to be something called kindness in the world. A lack of that human quality in any person required that they be punished.

Killer on the road, yeah

His eyes constantly looking back at the old Dodge in the rear view mirror, Brad did not pay as much attention to the road ahead as he normally would. When the jagged concrete block appeared on the gravel highway, Jack never saw it. Dorothy yelled out to him, but Brad had stopped paying attention to her. All he saw in the tunnel vision of his mind was the image of the car coming up behind his family and the threat he believed it to represent.

Girl ya gotta love your man
Girl ya gotta love your man

The right front tire blew, the result of a huge gash that required all the stale air inside escape into the rain as quickly as possible. Brad hugged the steering wheel, remembering all the safety features of his new car, and watched as the air bags inflated and the car slid off the road. Landing sideways in a ditch, Brad felt his head strike the driver’s side window. His vision blurred, and he felt himself drifting in and out of consciousness, with the only clear vision being that of the old Dodge pulling onto the shoulder of the road and coming to a stop just over the ditch where Brad’s new car was sadly ensnared.

"Brad, are you okay? It’s that man from the gas station. He’s coming to help us---"

Take him by the hand
Make him understand

Jack was diverted from his quest by the discovery of a cigarette butt just off the side of the road. Someone had evidently taken one of two drags and then extinguished it. There was still quite a bit of tasty tobacco, and the rain had not yet soaked through the paper. Jack picked it up, blew on it, and then lit it. Of all his possessions, the old Air Force Zippo that had once belonged to his father was his most treasured. If only they hadn’t done what they did to him in that prison camp, he might have been able to see Jack grow up to be strong and healthy.

The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah

Dorothy got out of the car and silently stared at Jack. He wiped the rain from his face with the front of his sleeveless t-shirt, for a moment displaying his skinny chest and stomach, covered with the scars and tattoos of a difficult youth. She wasn’t sure if this man was coming to help, or if he had some other reason for his pursuit of the family car.

"Your old man looks like he’s fucking dead," muttered Jack. "He ain’t no good anyhow. Y’all needs me to finish him off?"

"Call an ambulance or something. Get some help. He’s hurt."

Jack pulled open the driver’s side door, wrenched Brad free from the air bag and steering wheel, then dumped him unceremoniously on the wet ground. Brad began stirring, trying to stand up and trying even harder to speak. All he could manage were a few disjointed phrases and spasmodic movements. Jack put his left foot, encased in an old military boot that was all that remained of what his father had left him, on Brad’s esophagus and winked at Dorothy.

"Out here everything is so clean and so right. There is nothing anyone can do."

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm

"Please, don’t hurt us. My children are in the back seat. Can’t you please get us some help?"

"The kind of help you need only God can give you. This fucker needs to learn a lesson this afternoon. Respect human life. Do unto others what they have done unto you."

Jack pressed his boot down on Brad’s throat hard enough to make him cough and gag. Dorothy rushed over to her husband’s side, dropped to her knees and begged Jack to stop what he was doing "for the love of God!"

"Your God lost interest in this place and its people a long time ago. Pray all you want. He'll never hear your sorry ass. These are strange ass motherfucking days for you, bitch. Don’t you want your little ones to see you get it right from a real man who respects human life?"

Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown

Dorothy was silent except for the sound of her crying. She was stunned and unable to respond or even process what was happening. Jack grinned, showing her his mouth full of uncomfortable teeth, before coughing up something from the back of his throat and letting it fall less than gracefully onto Brad’s face.

"I'll do anything you want. Money? You want money? You can have it. Please, just leave us alone!"

Dorothy had managed to gather her wits enough to begin to fight, but it could never be enough. Jack would no longer be satisfied with being paid off by these subhuman creatures who pretended to have superiority over him.

Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone

Jack took his migraine headache and his satisfied vengeance and got back behind the wheel of his old Dodge. The tires still didn’t have enough air in them and there was a dark cloud constantly following him. Oil was always better when it burned. Life was always better when it left a bad taste in your mouth. The taste was always better than the flavor of humiliation.

Riders on the storm


Lyrics copyright Doors Music Co., ASCAP
As written by Jim Morrison and performed by The Doors
copyright 1971 Electra/Asylum Records.
(Jim told me in a dream it was okay to use them.)

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