Tuesday, June 28, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Shout! The Beatles In Their Generation

Ah, Shout!...one of the most popular yet polarizing books about the Beatles that's ever been published. While Hunter Davies' 1968 book remains the only authorized biography of the band and is a wonderful time-capsule view of the Beatles from the inside, for many years Shout! was the only extensively researched, definitive, and all-encompassing book about the band's entire career and its aftermath. Author Philip Norman, who should be familiar to any Beatles fan as well as anyone reading my site since I've recently reviewed his Lennon, McCartney, and Jagger biographies, caused quite a stir when Shout! was released in 1981. McCartney took to calling the book Shite! and Harrison had some creative edits when it came to the book's title page, as seen below...

George chimes in with his opinions on Shout!

Much of the criticism stemmed from Norman's portrayal of John Lennon as the only talented member of the group, his unflattering portrayals of McCartney (especially), Harrison, and Starr, and his public pronouncements in the media at the time that Lennon was "3/4 of the Beatles" all by himself. It was with this reputation that I first read the book many years ago. I found myself agreeing with those assessments, although I did find Norman's writing style easy and enjoyable to read and the book as a whole fairly entertaining. Since I've reviewed three more of Norman's books and hadn't read Shout! in a long time, I gave the updated edition a fresh re-reading for this review. I was also interested to see if my opinion of the book had changed in the intervening years...

***special thanks to Courtney at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of the book to review!***

The first thing to note is that, in his introduction to this 2003 updated edition which centers mainly on noting that Beatlemania never really went away and that, with the deaths of John in 1980 and George in 2001, people were starting to realize they wouldn't always be around forever, he readily acknowledges that he went too far in the original book with his praise of John and his shabby treatment of Paul. The changes made to the updated edition included added material, corrections, and revisions as well as some slightly toned down language when it came to McCartney (George wasn't so lucky). One last interesting note from the intro is that Norman mentions that his assistant while he was working on the book in the late 1970s/early 1980s was none other than young Mark Lewisohn, who of course is now widely regarded as the world's eminent Beatles scholar and who, with the release of the first of his three-volume biography of the band in 2013, has already eclipsed his former mentor as author of the definitive Beatles bio. With that being said, the big question remains: is there still value in Shout?

Norman begins the book, naturally, with the birth and childhood of the Beatles in WWII-era Liverpool, focusing first on John and then Paul leading up to their initial meeting and formation of the Quarrymen. George is brought into the fold and the Hamburg years, Brian Epstein coming on as their manager, and their initial EMI audition before Ringo is finally brought into the picture are all chronicled. The well known story, which I won't bother regurgitating here, is told expertly and in detail that must have seemed to fans and readers in 1981 the way Lewisohn's work is now regarded. As always, Philip Norman's prose flow nicely and is pleasing to read, regardless of the content. However, what of the content and tone? I will say that, at least to my eyes, he seems to have toned down the countless swipes at Paul, although there are still numerous subtle digs sprinkled throughout the book. I'm not going to go through the story as it's been told, told, and told again innumerable times, but overall Norman does a good job in giving a high-level and fairly (though not completely) accurate telling of their story. He hits all of the important points and squeezes in enough nuggets of info to satisfy most fans...these bits of info, which seem passe now, must have been revelatory when the book was first published in 1981. However, there are many instances where Norman is flat-out wrong and while the inaccuracies are mainly minor and often inconsequential, for seasoned Beatles fans, they'll be pretty obvious. Among them are his assertion that George wrote "Only a Northern Song" specifically for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack (he didn't, it was originally written and recorded for Sgt. Pepper a year earlier), that John and Yoko were dressed all in white when dancing to "I Me Mine" in the Let it Be film (a quick look at the film shows them both in black save for John's purple shirt and white sneakers), that the final photographs of Brian Epstein were taken at the recording session for "A Day in the Life" (they are in fact from the "All You Need is Love" sessions almost four months later), calling Paul's first drummer in Wings Danny Sewell (his name was Denny), and several others. While on the one hand it's nice to read a Beatles biography that covers all of the important events without getting too bogged down in minutiae, on the other it's frustrating that when Norman does try to reach a bit and include finer details, he often gets it completely wrong. Again, for the casual Beatles fan these will go either unnoticed or pass without concern, but for those of us with an in-depth knowledge of all things Beatles, such things will stick out like a sore thumb.

After the end of the Beatles' career, Norman briskly covers their solo careers up to and including John's murder in 1980. For this updated edition, he has also added material covering Paul's knighting and the death of his beloved Linda, and George's death from cancer in 2001, bringing the story into the 21st century. It's here where his nastiness toward Paul and George, in particular, shine through loud and clear, and it's interesting that while he seems to have toned down his bias for John and against the other three in the main book, the newly added material in the update brings it back with a vengeance. From subtle swipes at Paul as "showbiz Paul" to the final say on George as being "just an average guitarist who got very lucky" and that the reactions to his death were completely over the top, it's clear that while the main text of the book seems to have softened up a bit, the underlying bias is still there. It's especially fascinating having recently read and reviewed Norman's recent comprehensive McCartney biography in which he seems to have realized the error of his ways and done an about-face. I'm not holding out any hope that a subsequent Harrison volume will be following soon, though!

So in 2016, is Shout! still a worthwhile book? My answer is a qualified "yes," and allow me to elaborate. As a thorough, well-written, and reasonably detailed biography on the Beatles, it was up until 2013 the best book on the band's overall career (since Hunter Davies' book ends in early 1968, when it was published). For casual Beatles fans, it's probably still the best and most accessible book even with all of its faults. It's miles better than most of the myriad other shoddily-written bios that have cropped up through the years, including the putrid biography by Bob Spitz from several years ago (I won't elaborate any more as that could take an entire post in and of itself, but wow...do I despise that book).  However, with the publication of Mark Lewisohn's first of three volumes of his ultimate Beatles biography, for truly serious and obsessive Bealtes fans such as myself Shout! is now obsolete. It's still worth reading and has its merits, but it should no longer considered definitive in any way. The more I think about it, I'm not sure if Norman truly toned down the John worship and Paul and George bashing or if it just seems a bit less harsh that it used to when I first read the book years ago, but I do think at present that the bad reputation the book has in the more dedicated quarters of Beatles fandom is still a bit over the top. It has flaws, absolutely, but it's also pretty good in a lot of ways. If you're a new, casual, or moderate Beatles fan, this book is definitely worthwhile, and if you're a hardcore fan, you'll probably have already read it and can make up your own mind. For me, it's no longer my go-to Beatles bio, but still one I'm fine owning and reading every once in a while.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rock Music and Drugs: Why Do They Always Seem to Go Together?

The stereotype of rock musicians (remember them? They were these mythical creatures who were the most popular type of musicians during the second half of the 20th century) is one that has at the top of the list having long hair and  being a drug taker. Now, obviously, there are exceptions to these (and other) rules all the time; for instance, Frank Zappa had long hair and was notoriously anti-drug, while Elvis had (relatively) short hair and died from his prodigious drug habit. Stereotypes exist for a reason, though, and I've always been baffled by the fact that so many...in fact, almost all, musicians, not just in rock, but also in jazz, blues, reggae, rap, pop, all dabbling in drugs to some extent, if not becoming habitual users and/or full on addicts? Why is this?

Keep in mind as you read this that I am not an expert in any way, shape, or form when it comes to drugs, psychology, addiction, or anything of the sort. Everything you read in this article is 100% informed conjecture, speculation, and musing on the part of someone (me) who has been obsessed with music and spent a lifetime in and around music, listening to, reading, and writing about it endlessly as an art form. I'm also someone who has ZERO experience with drugs myself. I've never done anything beyond taking one drag on a cigarette when I was 17 (it was disgusting) and I've smoked maybe a dozen cigars over the last twenty years. I've never been drunk and while I do enjoy beer, wine, and liquor (G&T is my favorite if you're buying), I never have more than two or three drinks in an evening. I've never done drugs, never done marijuana, LSD, cocaine, heroin, NOTHING. I've never been high or in an altered state of consciousness that was aided by chemicals. Many a teacher and fellow student in high school used to marvel how I could listen to all that "druggy" music like mid-period Beatles, Hendrix, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, etc and not be into drugs myself. I always said the same thing in response: I love the MUSIC...that's all it's about and all it's ever been about for me, period. I've certainly been around people doing drugs...it's almost impossible to go to any concert, especially at a large venue, and not smell pot smoke. But that's the extent of my dealings with drugs.  Also, I'm not in any way going to pass judgment on anyone who has done or continues to do drugs, whether they're famous musicians, unknown musicians, or regular people, and that goes for any of you reading this article. While I don't agree with the choice to do drugs, I also fully accept that it's exactly that: a choice, and one that each individual has to make for themselves, including dealing with the consequences. Finally, while I never try to paint everyone with a broad brush, I *am* going to be making some generalizations because even though not all rock musicians do drugs, a whole hell of a lot do...certainly enough to warrant generalizations, at least. With all of that now out of the way, let's get into my main point...

It's completely and utterly cliche, and has been for decades, that many musicians, regardless of their level of fame, will develop some predilection, to whatever degree, for drug use.  In fact, you could replace the word "musician" with "creative type" and probably come to much the same conclusion...they don't call so many creative people "tortured artists" for nothing. But sticking solely to musicians for the purpose of this article, the general view since the 1950s (probably even earlier for jazz and blues musicians, not to mention classical composers even further back, but let's stick to rock music) is that rock music leads to drug use for both the performers and the fans. The caricature of the rock star who gets famous, starts earning big money, and becomes a drug addict, oftentimes in the process ruining their career if not their life, has been around for a long time and really flourished in the 1960s. I've always wondered, though, WHY? What makes it so that almost every rock musician, especially famous ones, ends up doing drugs to some extent once they've made it big (or, if they dabbled before fame, they ramp it up once they get famous)? There's certainly some element of "that's what you're supposed to do when you're a star" copycatting, although my guess is that that's only a small part of it. Some of it is also probably due to the huge sums of money all of a sudden being earned after (usually) many years of hard slog and living a meager existence as a working musician. I'm not sure why that first flush of real money would spur so many on to start taking drugs, but it has. I can see splurging on cars, houses, clothes, and jewelry, but I've never gotten the drug thing.

So, why do so many musicians end up taking drugs? Some of it is certainly physical...stimulant substances like amphetamines and cocaine help them stay active, awake, and alert for extended periods of times without needing to sleep, although in the case of cocaine, the accompanying high is probably also part of the appeal even if the subsequent addiction isn't. Another part of it is to enhance creativity. This was especially true in the 1960s, when marijuana and LSD seemed to expand musicians' minds and the sounds they created, as well as the consciousness and sensations of the fans listening. However, most of the acts from that era have admitted that while those substances enhanced the listening of music and the ideas they came up with, they very rarely wrote, recorded, or performed under the influence; when they did, most admit they played so poorly that the resulting recording sessions or concerts were among their worst. (Ringo Starr in the Beatles Anthology: "every time we recorded when we were under the influence, it just sounded like shit!"). The main reasons I keep coming back to when I think about it, though, is that they're probably just bored or trying to cope. Perhaps the biggest outside culprit is boredom. Whether it's waiting for weeks on end to record the next song or album, or getting through the endless grind of traveling and sitting around in hotel rooms between tour stops, it seems that so many musicians turn to drugs as a way to alleviate their boredom during the long stretches between the short-lived and less chemically enhanced highs of creating music in the studio or performing on stage. Again, I can't relate to this because never in my moments of absolute tedium have I ever thought that getting wasted would enhance the experience, but then again I've not been caught in the grind of planes, buses, hotel rooms, and dressing rooms for weeks on end without respite. I suppose for many there is also the thrill of doing something new and dangerous, something illegal and unknown, and it's usually in our younger days that we tend to be a bit more reckless with our thrill-seeking, in whatever form that may take. When you're young, famous, bored, and rich...well, that can be a dangerous combination. Many musicians may also use drugs for much the same reason that a lot of regular people do, and that is to try and cope with some past or present pain or trauma. Whether it was an already existing issue from years before or is something more recent, many creative types have issues just like the rest of us and will turn to substances (including alcohol, which I'm classing as a drug for the purposes of this article...see: Jim Morrison) in order to try and numb their pain.

It very well may be that the rate of drug usage among musicians is not much higher than that for the general population, and that we just hear about it more because so many stars have their problems reported on in the press; that, and the fact that there have been many high profile cases of those who have died from drugs including, but not limited to, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, John Bonham, John Entwistle, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison as the most famous examples. The fact is that there is such a correlation when it comes to musicians (rock musicians in particular) and drugs and it has to be more than mere coincidence. In the 1960s and 1970s, taking drugs was seen as a rebellion against "straight" society and a way to celebrate the recklessness and invulnerability of youth. There was also a sincere, however naive and misguided it seems now, quest to achieve a higher spiritual state of consciousness and a misguided belief that through mind-expanding drugs and rock music, the world could be changed for the better and peace could be achieved. However, the soft drugs championed in the 1960s like pot and acid gave way in the 1970s to harder stuff like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and it became more sinister, lethal. The desire for peace and harmony gave way to substances whose entire effect was just a way to just get utterly wasted even though the underlying rationale for usage was probably for many of the same reasons. I suppose no one will ever know in any concrete sense why there is such a prevalence of drug use when it comes to rock stars; my personal opinion is that it is not for one overarching reason, but rather some combination of the reasons I mentioned above (and perhaps other reasons I didn't). In any event, while I won't deny that some of the greatest music (as well as literature, art, etc.) ever made has been conceived of by chemically enhanced imaginations, I've never felt the urge or need to do the same. Whether creating my own music or enjoying the work of others, I get a natural high simply through the pure physical, mental, and emotional joy that I derive from music. I guess in a way, music is my drug of choice, and it's 100% harmless, healthy, and has never let me down.

What do you think? Why do so many rock musicians seem to take drugs? I'd love to discuss this in the comments below, so chime in with your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Baseball Has Been Very, Very Good...and it Still Is

This isn't going to be one of those cranky "get off of my lawn!" posts by some (not-quite) middle-aged guy lamenting the way things are now and how they were so much better back in his day. First, you wouldn't want to read that (and I wouldn't want to write that!), and second, I'm only 36 so I'm not old enough to act that way. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll be upfront and say that I am going to talk about how things are different now than they were when I was growing up 20-30 years ago, but only as it pertains to baseball (which you had probably already guessed from the title of this post...you're clever, you!). 

The seed idea for this post was planted a few weeks ago when I was talking baseball with some of the guys at work. As the lone New Englander in my building, I was talking about the current Major League season with some coworkers. I'm a Red Sox fan, one of them is a Yankees fan, another is a Pirates fan, and another is a Mets fan. One day when we were speaking, something struck me and it was so obvious that I was doubly shocked I hadn't noticed it sooner...I was the only one in the group who was under sixty years old. That got me thinking some more and I realized that even outside of work, it's very rare for me to talk baseball with anyone around my own age. Even on those occasions when the other person is closer in age to me, they're always older. That got the wheels in my head turning, the full idea for this post began to germinate, and so here we are discussing it now.

Thinking back to my childhood in the 1980s and 1990s, baseball was almost an obsession for me and my friends. I grew up watching, playing, and loving the game from as far back as I can remember. I played Little League baseball from age five until I was 12 and I played on the junior high team until I went to high school...I was a catcher for all of those seasons. I even played a season in college on my university club team as an outfielder. I didn't play in high school, though, which has been a regret of mine ever since. When my friends and I weren't playing baseball, we played whiffleball for hours. We collected baseball cards, watched baseball on TV, and talked about it all the time. The stats, the teams, the history, what was going on during the season...it was all consuming. Additionally, I grew up with a grandfather who was a lifelong and passionate baseball fan. Since he spent the first sixteen or so years of his life in the Bronx, he was a lifelong Yankees fan, but I was able to give him a pass for that! He passed away seven years ago and I still miss him terribly. He was my pal and I loved spending time with him, and one of the reasons was baseball. We used to watch baseball on TV, we'd talk about it, he'd tell me stories of all of the Yankees greats he got to watch play (many of them in person), and he would always come watch me play baseball when he could. It was a real bonding thing between us and even now when I enjoy baseball I always think of him and the time we spent together with the game. My own dad taught me all about the rules of the game, how to throw and catch, how to hit, and about a lot of the game's history. It just seemed during my life and even into my early twenties that baseball was still hugely popular. I also had the good fortune to grow up in a baseball-crazy region of the country where the Red Sox are almost a religion and everyone, old and young, lives and dies with the team. That passion, along with a whole lot of heartache, was finally rewarded in 2004 when the Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. Additional wins in 2007 and 2013 solidified them as one of the dominant teams of the decade, although for long time fans like myself and others who had followed the team through all of the shocking defeats and losing years, it also brought along some problems.  These were (and still are) mainly the huge swaths of new fans who were attracted not necessarily by the game of baseball, but by the success of the Red Sox and the fact that Fenway Park is now a "cool" place to go. This, and the pricing out of the real fans in order to pack in more of the new fair-weather fans, has rankled many longtime fans (myself included) who remember the bad old days. This is the same problem fans of the other pro teams in town, especially the Patriots, are also having. It's not unique to the Red Sox, but unfortunately attracting all of these new non-fans hasn't resulted in an uptick of creating a huge new block of true baseball fans, which leads me to my next point...

The main criticisms you hear about baseball, from fans and non-fans alike, is that it's too slow, the games are too long, and the sport itself is just too boring. I've discussed it before, but for me that's part of the beauty of the game. It's the only major American sport that doesn't run by a clock and while the games can be long or short depending on how the teams are doing, that unpredictability and tension is one of the things that makes the game unique. It's also been said for years that baseball is too slow-paced and doesn't have enough action to hold viewer attention, especially in today's hyperfast-paced world. This is almost always given as the main reason why fewer and fewer kids are drawn to the game when compared to years passed. But is that really an indictment of baseball? Or rather a comment on modern society and how we're raising our kids to always need stimulation and instant gratification in order to keep them from getting bored?  Watching a baseball game on TV, and especially going to the ballpark to watch a game, is totally unique in sports, from the feel of the game to the tension and excitement that hangs on every pitch, every hit, and every play in the field where things can change in the blink of an eye. The strategy, where managers manipulate the players on the field almost like pieces on a chessboard in order to counter the other team's moves, and the arcane and ancient traditions of the game, from the seventh inning stretch to players policing themselves...baseball has the longest and richest history of all the major sports to draw from and this is but one of its many charms.

On a more personal level, all four of my kids now play the game. My two oldest daughters played softball a few years back but didn't play again until this year when they both played fast-pitch softball. My son played teeball last year and loved it, so we played him up a level this year so he could play real baseball, and my youngest daughter started with teeball. Besides the obvious parental pride in seeing them play, have fun, and improve as the season progressed, and as well as the enjoyment in watching the games (which were almost always very entertaining and exciting), the oldest three have all definitely caught the baseball/softball bug. My son was obsessed as soon as he started playing last year and is now at the point where he can't wait to get outside to practice or play. However, my two oldest girls really seemed to fall in love with the game this year. They ask questions about the rules and strategies, have improved immeasurably both hitting and in the field, and are really interested in watching baseball and softball games on TV and discussing what's going on. For a baseball junkie like me, it's really cool to see them so interested in the game and wanting to play. My youngest? She had fun at teeball (I was one of her coaches) and she definitely improved, especially at hitting,, but she's also extremely high energy so we'll see if she wants to continue on with it or not...she's only five, so she has time! My oldest three now want to play fall ball and my two oldest daughters want to do a softball camp at the local university this summer, so I think it's safe to say they well and truly enjoy the sport!

I guess what I'm finally trying to get at with all of this is that while baseball seems to be almost anachronistic in today's fast-paced society, it also can be seen to offer a respite from it. It offers a different kind of drama and excitement from the other three major American sports (all of which I love). It's so inextricably interwoven with our country's values, history, and culture that it not only reflects Americana, it is a part of the Americana. It was one of our greatest non-monetary gifts to Japan when we rebuilt that country after the war, and it's now played by millions of children and adults all over Asia, Latin America, and beyond. It's near and dear to my heart both as a fan, as someone who used to play the game, and for the connection I had with my grandfather through the game and that I know have with my own children. I also see that, at least where we now live in Pennsylvania, baseball is very popular in youth sports (although I'd still say that hockey is king around here). Maybe not at the level that it was when I was growing up, but enough for me to believe that a new generation of baseball fans and lovers will come of age to keep the cycle going. It's my strong belief that there will always be a place for the baseball and those who love it, no matter how hectic and breakneck our world becomes, and that the talk from pundits and journalists that baseball is dying or that it needs to change in order to fit the modern world are not only premature but flat out wrong. Baseball may not be king anymore (I'm looking at you, NFL), but it will always be America's pastime, it's still going strong, and I think (and hope) that it always will.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors

Perhaps unfairly, in the caricature of the Doors that's been propagated since the ludicrous (but still strangely satisfying) 1991 Oliver Stone movie about the band, John Densmore has been relegated to being the "whiny" member of the group, the one who didn't get along with Jim Morrison and complained about everything. Ray Manzarek was the gregarious, ebullient one, Robby Krieger the quiet, introspective driving force behind most of their music, and Jim Morrison...well, we all know about Jim. John's excellent and unique drumming in the Doors has oftentimes been largely overlooked and his personality has taken a hit...even well researched new books on the Doors paint him as the perennially negative one. In addition to numerous biographies on the Doors and Jim Morrison (a couple of which have been reviewed here on this site), Ray Manzarek also published a memoir several years back. While that book was good, it was also peppered with his over-the-top proselytizing and perpetuation of the Doors and Jim Morrison myths. John Densmore, along with Robby Krieger as the quietest of the Doors, published his own book in 1991. Krieger supplied a quote on the back cover which simply stated "this is the real story of the Doors"...but is this true?

The subtitle of Densmore's book is "My Life With the Doors and Jim Morrison," but I'll say up front that this sells the book a little bit short. True, the main focus is on his life and career in the band and with their mercurial lead singer, as well as the long-lasting effects it's had on his life. However, there is also a story of personal discovery and a journey for inner peace and understanding that bubbles just below the surface. In particular, his story focuses on the two Jims in his life, Morrison and Densmore (his younger brother). John starts the book discussing his childhood in the Los Angeles suburbs and how his growing love of jazz and blues music helped him overcome his insecurity and shyness. After playing in a succession of local groups, he and a guitarist he'd met along the way, Robby Krieger, decided to form a group with another local musician, UCLA film student Ray Manzarek and his two brothers. This quintet even managed to record a demo tape before Ray's two brothers decided to leave...however, he knew just the person to join their trio. Fellow UCLA film student Jim Morrison completed the lineup and brought his considerable poetic and melodic skills to the collective. The rest is, obviously, history as the Doors went on to become one of the most influential and popular bands of the 1960s, their impact being felt and their legacy still going strong today. Equally strong today is the myth of Jim Morrison, which is split into two predominating camps: that he was either a tortured genius who couldn't handle the fame and attention and burned out, or that he was a first-class asshole and a drunk who slurred his way through the band's career, churning out pretentious lyrics passed off as poetry. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle and that's something Densmore tries to get at, even tossing in some (mostly) friendly barbs a Ray's building-up of the Morrison myth since the singer's death.

The overall tenor of the book is, however, fairly dour...there's never a really joyful sense to the overall story even though John does get exuberant when discussing his beloved music, drumming, and the initial flush of creativity and success the Doors had in 1966 and 1967. There's an undercurrent of dread running throughout, though, as he struggles against wanting to continue creating music with the band, the other three members of which he considers his brothers, and wanting to quit because of having to deal with Jim's increasingly erratic, destructive, and addictive behavior. He actually did quit once, in 1968 during the sessions for the Waiting For the Sun album, but quickly rejoined. Eventually, the band's trajectory took them down the path that's now well known to history and Jim ended up dying in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27, becoming the fourth 1960s rock legend in two years (after Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin) to die at that age. There's not much factually new revealed during John's discussion of the Doors' career; rather he offers his personal perspective on the entire experience and how Jim's life and death affected him then and continues to now. Running alongside all of this is his battle against insecurity and his two failed marriages, as well as the troubling descent into mental illness of his younger brother Jim. The young boy who was so talented at painting (and later at music, although less so) became an unstable man who was prone to what seemed, at least in my opinion based on John's descriptions, as manic-depressive type behavior. Tragically, he ended up committing suicide and the death of the two Jims, both of whom John tried to help so many times, haunted him for many years. Throughout the book are a series of "letters" that Densmore has written to Morrison looking back on their friendship and their time in the band. Some of them are admonishing and almost scornful, but most are wistful and sad at the self-destructive behavior and squandered talent of his friend. Through these letters, many of which relate the changes in the band to John's personal life, there is an inner journey, aided by his lifelong dedication to meditation, that eventually leads Densmore to a separate peace. By the end of the book, he is secure and content with the Doors' legacy, his new career as a writer of and actor in plays, and as a father.

While John Densmore's book doesn't shed much new light on any of the Doors' music or the inner workings of the band, it definitely offers valuable insight and an alternative perspective compared to Ray Manzarek's. It does seem to be rather heavily focused on Morrison and at points almost reads like a Morrison biography that happened to be written by his bandmate. However, as one of only three other people who lived with Jim day in and day out for six years, it's also understandable that Morrison's talent, behavior, demise, and the creation of his legend in the wake of his death would have a profound influence on Densmore. Riders on the Storm is quite enjoyable and fascinating...the pace of the narrative is snappy and it touches on all of the important highs and lows of the Doors' career and music in adequate detail. He does get some facts wrong (coincidentally, as it was the previous book I reviewed, about their appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival!) but overall, it's a valuable and informative look at the band from the inside. Whereas Manzarek's book was often too over-the-top in its promulgation of the Morrison legend, Densmore's can be seen as tilting perhaps a little bit too much in the other direction in trying to tear it down. It does bring a needed balance, though, and with a look at the Doors from two band members, on the whole it's the more enjoyable of the books, even twenty-five years after publication.