Penthouse Retrospective

by John Densmore Originally Published: September, 1990

The Doors: Abre Las Puertas | 30 Years Ago This Month

It was orange blossom time, the summer of 1965, T-shirt weather, and I was sitting in the backseat of Ray’s yellow VW bug as he headed south on the San Diego Freeway. Jim was in the passenger seat, dressed in jeans, T- shirt, and bare feet. He never seemed to wear shoes. He lighted up a number. (Rick and Jim Manczarek had since quit the band, and I brought in guitarist Robby Krieger, whom I’d played with before.)

“I’m lonely up here,” Jim Morrison said. “I need some love.” He bowed his head and I thought of Pam. Now I felt sad and embarrassed for Jim. He shouldn’t show that much vulnerability.”

“What do you think of the name ‘the Doors’?” Jim asked while turning around and handing me the joint.

“Hmm… it’s short and simple,” I responded, taking it from him. “Aren’t you paranoid about smoking in the car?”

Jim shrugged his shoulders. I took a short drag and handed it back in a hurry.

“Keep that roach down, would you, guys?” Ray chimed in. “And give me a hit.” Morrison held the joint up to Ray’s lips and he took a huge toke. “Jim got the idea for the name from the Huxley book, The Doors of Perception.”

“The Doors.” I ran it over in my mind. “I like it. It’s different. It sounds odd.” Huxley, I thought to myself, I’ve heard of him. Better read that book.

Morrison explained that Huxley had gotten the phrase from William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” When I heard that, I was convinced we had a legitimate poet in the band.

The Doors. I liked the bluntness of it.

“What do you think we should wear?” Jim continued with a straight face. “How about wearing suits?”

“I don’t know… let’s see what evolves,” I muttered, thinking to myself that Jim’s wardrobe suggestion was the worst ever.

Sometimes Jim was so naive, I thought. Some of his Jacksonville, Florida, roots were showing through. Not too hip. More hick.

The last thing that stood in our way was the army draft. The idea of learning how to kill made me sick. Just as worrisome was the fear that the group would be destroyed if someone was drafted. Vietnam was heating up fast. Several friends had already been called up. I couldn’t figure how our government came to the conclusion that our national security was threatened by Communists going into some Far Eastern country on the other side of the world.

Ray had already been in the service a few years before. He didn’t have to sweat it. I remember the story from his student film, Induction, which was fairly autobiographical. Depressed over a lost girlfriend, Ray had enlisted. (Must have been really down. Must have been some girl!) A year after turning on to grass for the first time and smoking Thai sticks in Asia, Ray wanted out. He swallowed a small ball of aluminum foil, which showed up in his X rays as an ulcer. Then he told them he was homosexual and ·they said go home.

That summer Jim, Robby, and I received our notices to report for our army physicals. Robby’s well-to-do family hired a psychiatrist to write up a letter saying he was unfit. Then they sent him to the draft board in Tucson, Arizona, where the local antidraft movement hadn’t yet made them immune to excuses. I had to go down to the induction center in L.A.; Jim was to follow the next week.

The physical was one of the low points of my life. The headlines in the Los Angeles Times told of the first draft dodger sent to jail. He was a friend of a friend whom I had met once. With that in mind, I had been up for. days taking Methedrine that Robby had thoughtfully provided and reading Kenneth Patchen’s Journal of Albion Moonlight for inspiration. With pacifist rhetoric under my belt and Bob Dylan’s lonesome harmonica playing “With God on Our Side” in the background, I tried to convince myself I had the courage of a Quaker. By the time my parents dropped me off downtown at the induction center, I was a nervous wreck. Wearing a blue-and-pink striped shirt and brown cords that hadn’t been laundered in weeks, I pushed open the swinging doors into the large, noisy army headquarters to await my fate. My clothes smelled so bad I couldn’t stand it myself.

I soon found myself in front of a long table where the completed forms were being collected. A black woman volunteer put out her hand to file my papers. Around 50 years old and bursting out of the seams of her uniform, she had the first warm face I had seen all day. As I handed her my forms, she sensed my dejection and took me aside. Pointing suggestively to the “homosexual tendencies” box on the form, she asked, “Is there anything else you want to check?”

I looked at her, first startled, then hopefully, and she nodded toward the papers as if to say “Check it.” I don’t know whether she honestly thought I was gay or just too brittle for the army. The look in those maternal eyes assured me that if I checked that box I would be spared.

People who have never heard of the The Doors could well be familiar with their music. An insider now opens The Doors for Penthouse.

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