It’s 1968, one of the most pivotal years for America in the 21st century. The Vietnam war is reaching its bloody crescendo and a hard-fought presidential campaign is underway.

Jim Morrison, legendary singer and poet of the Los Angeles rock band, the Doors, is out of town when his three bandmates, drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robbie Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, agree to a tentative deal allowing the use of their number-one-hit song, “Light My Fire,” in a television commercial for Buick cars.

This, despite band members’ unusual decision to share equal songwriting credit and make all decisions by consensus. This, despite the fact that the members had previously agreed that allowing their music to be used to sell a product, any product, would be akin to making a deal with the devil.

When Morrison, the personification of the Doors’ jazz-influenced, psychedelic, catchy and often political rock, found out, he was outraged. He accused his bandmates, who first jammed together in a garage in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, of selling out and threatened to smash a Buick, live onstage, in protest.

Ashamed, the three agreed to uphold their famous “all for one, one for all” partnership, and abandoned the Buick deal. (The band did allow their 1971 hit, “Riders on the Storm,” to be used in a British commercial for Parelli tires, the only time they did so, but donated the money they received to charity.)

“Jim did not primarily write ‘Light My Fire.’ He only wrote a line or two,” said Densmore, now 74. “He said ‘f-you’ to the rest of us, because we were considering ‘Come on Buick, Light my Fire.’ What does that say? That he cared about the whole catalog, all our songs, what we all represented.”

Fast forward three decades. Morrison is long gone, having died in Paris in 1971. Krieger and Manzarek are eager to sign a $15 million deal with Cadillac to use “Break on Through” in a commercial.

But this time, it’s Densmore who says no. He also balks at Krieger and Manzarek touring with Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Cult singer Ian Astbury as “The Doors of the 21st Century” (the last four words in decidedly small print) and using Morrison’s image to promote shows.

John Densmore. (Scott Mitchell Photography / Courtesy photo)

“That’s when,” Densmore said, “I made the very difficult decision to sue my bandmates for running off with the name. My premise was, the Doors without Jim is ludicrous, just as ludicrous as The Police without Sting, the Stones without Mick.”

Krieger and Manzarek countersued, and “all for one, one for all” looked as if it had been irrevocably shattered — forever.

Densmore recounts the story of the lengthy legal wrangling that followed, as Morrison’s parents — estranged from their talented, mercurial and troubled son during his rise to fame — joined the drummer’s suit, setting up a monumental battle that split the band in half, in his self-published book, “The Doors: Unhinged” (subtitled, “Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial”). Densmore will speak about and sign the book during his first visit to Boulder on Saturday.

“What I’m doing is going to places I’ve always wanted to go that I have never been to,” said Densmore, who first published the book in 2013. “I just did Santa Cruz, and since I’d never been to Boulder, I’m coming there.”

Densmore’s 1991 memoir “Riders on the Storm” was a New York Times bestseller. The story of the long legal wrangling over Morrison’s legacy, which also shines light on Densmore’s long-time political activism — he was once tossed in a paddy wagon with Bonnie Raitt for protesting the destruction of old-growth forests — has drawn accolades from numerous rock and roll legends.

On the back cover of Densmore’s book is a quote from Tom Waits: “John Densmore is not for sale and that is his gift to us.”

“Eddie Vedder said he hopes someone like me will be there to protect his legacy,” Densmore said.

At first, many fans viewed Densmore as a traitor. But the legal cases eventually were resolved in his favor and, he said, true fans see his act of rebellion for what it is.

“They know I’m trying to preserve John, Ray, Robbie and Jim,” he said, “not Fred or Tom or whoever.”

Talk-show host and author Tavis Smiley once told Densmore, “You’re either a saint, or you’re crazy,” to turn down a cool $5 million for the Cadillac commercial. Densmore said he was “just trying to listen to Jim’s ghost.”

“I just didn’t want to have ‘Break on Through’ used to sell a gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade,” he said. “I said to the guys, ‘We’ve all got a nice house, a couple cars. What do you need to buy so badly to sell out Jim’s legacy?’ They didn’t have any answer to that.”

The split was acrimonious, but Densmore wrote the final chapter as a plea to his former bandmates, whose friendship he couldn’t imagine living without.

“I wrote, basically, ‘Hey guys, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but please read this. How could I not love you guys for creating magic in a garage all those years ago?’” he said.

It took a few years, but both Manzarek and Krieger came around. When Densmore heard Manzarek was ill, the two spoke by phone. Manzarek died in May 2013.

“It was a short conversation, but healing. We had closure, thank God,” Densmore said.

And these days, he and Krieger get together to play music occasionally, including a recent rendition of “Hello, I Love You” — the band’s only other chart-topping hit — at a benefit event, with Jack Black on vocals.

“We were blessed by the muse. Something happened in that garage that was bigger than the four of us,” Densmore said. “We’ve got to honor that.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Densmore believes Morrison was an alcoholic. In his seminal band bio, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” Danny Sugarman describes an outraged Densmore following the infamous concert in Miami, where a drunken Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure onstage.

“I gripped the sticks so hard my knuckles turned white,” Densmore said. “What Danny didn’t understand was, that’s called ‘tough love.’ Something in my young psyche knew there was an elephant in the room, alcoholism, that no one was talking about. … Everybody wanted to keep playing, and the ‘greed gene’ kicked in. Me, I didn’t give a s**t if we had one less album, if (Morrison) would live.”

Densmore likes to believe that Morrison would be clean and sober today. He also believes that the painful decision to confront his bandmates resulted in a symbolic “healing of the ‘60s,” with Morrison’s parents coming together to celebrate and protect their estranged son’s legacy.

“Polar opposites, coming together for the common good,” he said. “It’s so touching. We entered this horrible situation, but we all came together for Jim.”

If you go

What: John Densmore, legendary drummer of The Doors, will speak and sign his book, “The Doors: Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St., Boulder

Tickets: Purchase the book for $27.16 for a spot in the signing line; books also will be on sale at the event

Info: or 303-447-2074

“The Doors: Unhinged”

By John Densmore. CreateSpace, 296 pages $27.16.

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