Entertainment behind the scenes
Morrison self-destructed while Doors watched, drummer says
The haunting message that keeps returning throughout Tom DiCillo’s documentary about Jim Morrison and The Doors — “When You’re Strange” — is that the other three band members were growing fed up with their leader’s erratic behaviour and losing battle with drugs and alcohol. But they never brought up the issue that so much exasperated them even though Morrison’s alcohol and drug-induced demise was causing them all sorts of problems.
DiCillo’s otherwise favourable portrayal of the band, a film shown internationally for the first time at the Berlin Film Festival, is critical of drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robbie Krieger and keyboard player Ray Manzarek for failing Morrison by avoiding the issue that was tearing the singer, and their band, apart rather than talking to him about it.
So — and this is the best part of a big film festival like Berlin — when the now grey-haired Densmore popped up on stage after the screening to talk about the documentary and take a few questions, I was able to ask: “The film keeps asking the question: Why didn’t any of you talk to him about his problems or do anything about it? Why didn’t you?”
“Way back then,” Densmore said, looking down at the floor as the theatre went quiet, “there wasn’t any such thing as a substance-abuse clinic. We didn’t really know he was an alcoholic. We knew he had problems. It drove me nuts. That’s why I quit one day and came back the next day. I knew it was an ‘elephant in the room’. We all saw it: Our singer’s going down — what are we gonna do? But at the same time we were making good music. I was crucified between those two feelings. I didn’t know what to do.”
Morrison died at the age of 27 in Paris in 1971. According to the documentary, the band sold 80 million albums despite its relatively short 54-month career — and still sells 1 million albums a year. “When You’re Strange” is more than just another rock documentary. DiCillo said he wanted to disentagle the truth from the myth and depict Morrison as an artist as well as someone with substance abuse problems — and to showcase the rest of the band that Morrison overshadows.
Densmore said he immensely enjoyed “When You’re Strange” because it went beyond a lot of the already known material on Morrison and his demise. “I like it very much,” he said. “I think it shows a little about all four of us. There’s some more depth about Jim that comes out in this. His innocence and his shyness. I love it. I love seeing that. That’s the Jim I knew and then I saw him self-destruct. I like this more well-rounded picture.”