The John Densmore issue is one that ought to make people stop and think for a moment before proclaiming the fundamental righteousness of the man for holding out against the Empire, as was reported in an LA Times story by Geoff Boucher. That Densmore is unrelenting in his resistance to allowing The Doors music to be used for ads—despite the fact that the other two remaining breathing members of the band, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, want to increase their income through the sales of the commercial use of the band’s songs—may seem laudable, but is not such a simple matter.
Fundamentally, the music of any band or performer tends to be sold in some way, shape, or form, whether it is a piece of ticket for a concert or in the price of a bottle of beer in a bar where a band is playing. Or it is the price paid via iTunes or at a music retailer (bricks and mortar or otherwise). When you’re listening to music on the radio—even satellite radio, in some instances—you are also hearing the advertisements, which is the price you pay to listen (and if it is satellite, there is a price on top of that price). So while it is seemingly a far, far better thing Densmore does to keep Cadillac from using “Break On Through (to the Other Side)”—which would have made more sense for the carmaker’s campaign, which uses “Break Through” as its tag line, than Zepplin’s “Rock and Roll,” which has nothing to do with breaking through anything (if they wanted to use Zep, then why not “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid”: “She’s cool around town in her aged Cadillac”)—for $14-million, what, really, is the point? When the music was first heard on FM stations, those stations were selling their time to advertisers for everything from Great Shakes to Falstaff (ads for them done, respectively, by The Who and Cream), so is there some sort of purity here? I don’t think so.
By the time that Morrison gave it up in Paris, he was about one waist size away from being the Fat Elvis of Vegas; somehow, the opening for Strauss’s “Thus Sprach Zarathustra” would have been more appropriate for the Lizard King. Can there be any doubt that he’d have taken the money and waddled? Trust me: I love their music and have vivid memories of a fabulous concert in Cobo Arena in 1970 (a legendary event when Morrison refused to leave the stage, houselights up notwithstanding). But I’d also like to think that the band members earn what they can from what they’ve done.
I’d like to think that the people making ads are clever enough to come up with ideas that don’t require them to use what some people consider to be “sacred” music. I’d also like to think that filmmakers could do the same thing. But guess what? They can’t, apparently. How many soundtrack albums are nowadays chock-a-block full of what’s been played and what’s now playing? There’s less music being broken in those venues and more being shilled for the purpose of selling seats in theatres (and popcorn, sodas, etc.).
The state of affairs is simple: Money matters to musicians just like everyone else. You’ll notice that there are ads on the page you are reading this on. Yes, we too could be considered whores for our art, except we aren’t being paid for it.