The Doors 40th Anniversary Celebration: Live from the Sunset Strip, 2006

The night I met (two of) The Doors.
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In November 2006, The Doors began celebrating their 40th anniversary with a yearlong celebration that included new products to take full advantage of the nostalgia. The Doors by The Doors is a fantastic book that examines the band’s career and legacy through interviews and over 300 photos. It is co-written by Ben Fong-Torres and includes input from Jim Morrison’s family. Perspective is yet another remastered collection of the entire Doors’ studio album catalog. This time, the CDs were augmented with unreleased bonus tracks and paired with DVDs featuring 5.1 surround sound mixes and even more content. While I understand leaving out Full Circle, I wondered where was the quintessential Doors album, An American Prayer? In 2007, there were plans for The Doors to be featured in Break On Through - The Lasting Legacy Of The Doors, a major exhibit at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.doors 40th.jpg

The festivities kicked off in West Hollywood at a number of places on The Sunset Strip that the band used to frequent. My partner Mike was going to cover the Whisky a Go Go where Robbie Krieger was previewing the new box set while I bounced between events hosted by Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. Ray was next door at The Cat Club, formerly the London Fog when The Doors debuted there, previewing The Doors exhibit, and John was down about a block at Book Soup, formerly the Cinematheque 16 movie house where legend has it that Jim read poetry. Fittingly, there was going to be a tribute reading of Jim’s poetry by Perry Farrell and others. The night would conclude with a performance at the Whisky with special guests. The entire event was a hybrid of “open to the public” and VIP/Press with the organizers completely unaware the drawing power the band still retained because none of the venues came close to handling the capacity of interested parties.

I arrived a little after six o’clock, when the events were supposed to begin, and wisely passed on the idea of going gonzo by getting drunk, stoned, or wasted on hallucinogens to honor Jim. The sidewalks around the Whisky were teeming with people. At the media check-in, everyone had a different answer on what to do. “Get in that line.” “Stay right here.” “Move out of the way.” Media members were being escorted in, so I hovered around the entrance. A few revelers in the “open to the public” line had their brown-bagged beers taken away by security and heartbreakingly poured out in the street.

After about 30 minutes, the VIP line began moving. I got into it and received my red VIP bracelet. The VIP section was a large, tented area behind the Whisky. Media types and people who knew people were mingling, all making sure to hit the open bar, including your intrepid reporter. I peeked inside the Whisky where Doors’ music was playing and went downstairs to the main floor. A rather unruly line was attempting to meet and greet Robbie, who was gracious enough to sign autographs, shake hands, and take photos. This was my first chance to see the book. Under the dim lights, I was impressed with the number of pictures. Even though the book was $45, I went ahead and bought one, considering it the price of admission, and hoped I would have a chance to get some autographs later.

Mike finally made it into the VIP tent about a half hour after I did. I ran down my reconnaissance, including the open bar where we grabbed Heinekens, before heading inside. It was very wild inside and didn’t appear that anything official would happen anytime soon. Coupled with the fact that Mike was covering the Whisky events, I decided to get Krieger’s autograph. Mike stood with me, but it quickly became apparent that not everyone honored the line, so I gave up on it. I worked through the crowd towards Robbie’s table, but then I looked over and saw him standing next to the stage. No wonder the line was a mess.

In a matter of minutes, he was onstage with Ray; Fong-Torres: Los Angeles radio legend Jim Ladd, who was broadcasting on KLOS from the VIP tent; the Mario Maglieri family, owners of the Whisky; and an official from the Hall of Fame. They were taking part in the dedication of the Whisky, which was being honored with landmark status by the Hall. A mock-up of the plaque was revealed and it was a very nice moment for Mario Maglieri who was touched. I leaned over to Mike and asked, “Where is Densmore?” as he wasn’t around.

Robbie went back to the signing table, and I plowed ahead. Mike followed, staying as close behind as he could, but since it didn’t seem like a good place for an interview, he opted to wait for me at the bar. As I moved closer, the spaces between bodies disappeared. When I could see my goal, I noticed that everyone was crowding towards the table from every direction possible, reminiscent of news footage of the UN handing out food in remote areas. You had to fight to retain control of your body as the mob undulated whenever someone broke away from the table.

A fat, lip-pierced security guard bellowed orders to keep a path clear, but everyone knew if you created an opening, someone else would fill it. I persevered and stretched out my book to the older gentleman behind the table like I was handing over a child to be rescued. Robbie scribbled in it, and we shook hands. I was trapped and couldn’t leave the table. “If you let me out, you get closer,” I shouted. Some people chuckled as I repeated myself, fighting my way through like a salmon upstream.

After breaking free, I told Mike I was heading next door, and since not much was happening at the Whisky, he joined me. Out the back door and back under the VIP tent, I saw Jim Ladd broadcasting at a little table. Fong-Torres was sitting next to him, getting ready to be interviewed. As a fellow music journalist, I got his autograph and he seemed surprised he was asked.

Out the VIP tent and down an alley that runs behind a series of buildings, we found the back of The Cat Club where the line for Ray spilled out, but at least there was an actual line. Many people were just hanging out and smoking cigarettes. Apparently they were so cool that not only did they not have to attend, but also they had to be far enough away to retain their aloofness. Before making it inside the building, a woman asked us what the line was for. With all the hassle it took to get in, it was awfully annoying to meet an empty-headed club-goer who was taking the place of a fan left out on the street just because she’s sleeping with the right people.

Ray’s line moved slowly, but there was a sense of accomplishment with each step. I got autograph number two, but since Ray didn’t want to remove the pen out of his hand, we did this weird pseudo-shake/grab with our left hands. Ever the professional with tape recorder in hand, Mike jumped right in with a question about the validity of some woman who claims to have been Jim’s secret gal and how a few songs are based on her. Ray responded along the lines of “Do you believe it?” Mike said, “Maybe,” and was quick to follow up, specifically asking Ray if he did. He said, “No” with an air of annoyance. I snapped a quick picture of them and we went out the front door, failing to notice what little of a spread they had for the exhibit.

We made our way to Book Soup, and the poetry reading was already happening. It was held in a small annex next to the main shop, but we got in line just in case. Security stated no more people were going in. Odd that there wasn’t a speaker available so those on the street could overhear. At least, we would have a signing when they were done. I asked a Book Soup worker, and she said we needed a ticket for the signing. What? How do you get that? If you bought a book from the store prior to the event, you received one. She then suggested if we waited around, he might sign anyway. The reading ended. Fans streamed out the front door while everyone else went out the back. We turned around to head into Book Soup, and they were closing. What about the signing? All we received was a shrug from a bookseller.

Neither Mike nor I had eaten dinner, so we stopped at a little pizza shop that serves large New York-style slices. As we chatted over our meal, I saw an entourage walk by with people following. John Densmore was at the center. He must have been heading to the Whisky. I was relieved that there would be an opportunity to complete my autograph trifecta. Not 10 minutes later, the Densmore entourage rushed back passed us. Not a good sign. We jumped out of our seats and joined the chase.

Waiting for the streetlight to change, security kept a good buffer, but a determined fan ran up and John signed his poster. The light changed, and as we crossed the street, someone else ran up and John signed their item. A voice shouted out for him to turn for a picture, which he did while moving. He was encouraging everyone to be rude and rush him. We passed Book Soup and he scribbled his name on the window with a Sharpie pen. He told security to stop everyone and headed off to his ride. What a jerk! Many were left disappointed at the lack of organization and his attitude.

We headed back to the Whisky for the concert, which was coming up in almost an hour; however, when we returned the fire department had arrived, proclaiming the Whisky was filled to capacity, although "beyond capacity" was a more accurate description. No one was getting in unless someone left. How unbelievably aggravating. We had been all set previously, but my desire to see John’s event and get his autograph ruined our chances to see the mini-concert. If I had any clue how he was going to act and what a mess we’d be stepping into, we would have stayed camped inside the Whisky all night.

We went around back to the VIP line and it was long. We were all entertained by the antics of an idiot who ran a siren on a police motorcycle. What was especially funny is he continued to sit on it and seemed genuinely surprised that he was being arrested. As I maneuvered around the front of the line, I saw guitarist Gilby Clark hustled straight in. Then there was Tom Green hobbling in on crutches. If they continued to let in these “celebrities” when the place was full what chance did we have?

We barely moved in 15 minutes, and my resolve started to wear. It was 11 o’clock, and the concert was supposed to start. We were not much closer to the entrance, and no one in their right mind was going to leave at this point. We overheard that no one from the tent was getting in the building, either. That was enough for me. I was not interested in waiting around only to find out I couldn’t get into the VIP tent. I asked Mike if he was ready to go, and since I was a major factor in his still being there, we got out of line.

To get to our cars, we walked past the front of the Whisky and the huddled masses yearning and scheming to get in. Just as I stepped past the open door of The Cat Club, inspiration hit. “Let’s try something,” I said. We walked into the club and straight to the back. People lined the bar, but the back door was wide open. The alley was still filled with smokers and hangers-on. We made our way to the back entrance of the VIP tent, walking passed security with a wave of our VIP wristbands. It was surprisingly simple.

We grabbed a place in front of a TV screen and I looked like a genius to Mike, who though he was very tired, did want to see the show. All the doors into the club were manned with two security guards, and no one was getting in. Not a cute girl, not some guy from Linkin Park, and not even Jim Ladd, who worked the event.  They were all denied.

Robbie and Ray were joined by Slash on guitar.  On vocals were Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and Perry Farrell, whose band at the time, The Satellite Party, filled in on guitar, bass, and drums. They played “Roadhouse Blues” and “Break On Through.” Video shot by one of Tom Green's assistants is on YouTube, though it sounds terrible.

Val Kilmer had rehearsed the former during the sound check, but wasn’t around. Rumors were that he didn’t want to share vocals, but it could have been a brilliant bit of theatre as Jim was a tad unreliable back in the day.

Slash and Chester walked off stage, and Perry sang “Touch Me.” As we watched the screens, Slash walked right by us out the VIP area and was whisked away in his car. What was the point in showing up for such a brief appearance? Chester came back and they played “People Are Strange,” “LA Woman,” and closed with “Light My Fire.” Chester’s voice is deeper than Perry’s, so he sounded more like Morrison, although neither will replace Ian Astbury, who did a stint of concerts with Robbie and Ray. The band sounded good, and Ray and Robbie proved they could still deliver the goods.

The 40th anniversary event was controlled chaos at its best and probably represented The Doors more accurately than they could have planned. It was what you made of it; however, I don’t know how the fan off the street was supposed to take part when the VIP bracelet granted so much access and so many were deemed VIP. I’m sure many fans were left frustrated.

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