My Life With Jim Morrison

And The Doors

By John Densmore

Delacorte. 352 pp. $18.95 THIS is an unusual and revealing memoir by John Densmore of his years as drummer for the Doors, one of the most influential and popular rock groups of the late '60s and very early '70s.

Riders on the Storm is told from the uneasy perspective of a middle-aged man obviously still struggling to come to terms with his years in the storm's eye of rock 'n' roll and his musical conspiracy with the Doors' darkly poetic, self-destructive lead singer, Jim Morrison.

Densmore's sometimes prosaic, but refreshingly candid, recollections seem driven by an intense, almost obsessive need for catharsis. His stint with the Doors was obviously an emotionally unsettling life passage which has eclipsed, and to some extent even tainted, all that has followed. He refers to his first meeting with Morrison as "the death of my innocence," and his time with the Doors as "the erosion of my sanity."

With no small gift for irony and detail, Densmore recollects the Doors' formative years when they scuffled for $40-a-night gigs on Sunset Boulevard. He evokes a chortle or two at his own expense, depicting himself as a callow suburbanite struggling to make the uneasy transition to the world of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. While the leather-clad Morrison (who is the subject of a forthcoming feature film by director Oliver Stone) attracted groupies like flies, the still-virgin Densmore grew sideburns, desperately hoping to get in on the action himself.

But at the height of the Doors' fame, despite all the sexual and financial perks, there was far less humor, or innocence. Densmore recalls his own rage and intolerance over Morrison's increasingly dissolute and self-destructive behavior, which was at first the band's life force, but ultimately led to Morrison's death, in 1971, at age 27). He also confesses his own growing uneasiness about the darker implications of the Doors' music, which has not only endured, but grown in popularity in the two decades since the band's demise. His lingering sense of guilt was heightened by the suicide of his schizophrenic younger brother (also named Jim) in 1978.

"I feel the rage rising again," he fulminates. "Is that . . . why {our music} lasted? Darkness? Because we represented the dark side of the psyche? Well, look what happened to Jim. He's dead. That's where darkness gets ya!" CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC Jimi Hendrix and the Post-War Rock 'n' Roll Revolution By Charles Shaar Murphy St. Martin's 256 pp. $18.95

IT'S ALWAYS seemed to me that an essentially harmless but cloying conceit exists among many English music critics who turn their attention to American music: the assumption that they understand and appreciate it far better than we Americans ever could.

There is a trace of this smugness in Crosstown Traffic.

The book is essentially an extended essay on Hendrix's music -- its influences, derivations and socio-cultural implications -- along with just about everything else vaguely related to postwar pop music on which the author happens to have an opinion. As Murray covers topics as far flung as 1950s British politics and tendentiously analyzes '60s rock lyrics, his narrative wavers between near-brilliance and sheer reductive dribble.

Hendrix, one of rock music's most innovative guitarists, died in 1970 at age 27. (He asphyxiated in his own vomit after an apparently accidental overdose of sleeping pills.) Despite the brevity of his career, he left an indelible impression on the face of rock music.

In the course of these 256 pages (including an extensive discography), Murray relentlessly dissects and analyzes Hendrix's music from a multiplicity of angles: "Jimi Hendrix Bluesman," "Jimi Hendrix and Soul Music," "The Black Artist and the White Audience," etc., etc.

As labored as it sometimes is, Crosstown Traffic weighs in as one of the most exhaustive studies yet of Hendrix the musician. But instead of possessing the frenzied magic and immediacy of a screaming Hendrix guitar aria, Murray's narrative is often so dryly turgid that it should have come with Cliff's Notes.


The Godfather of Soul

By James Brown

With Bruce Tucker

Thunder's Mouth Press

382 pp. $13.95 THE influence of James Brown on the contemporary music scene is ubiquitous. Rock critic Dave Marsh, who has written a provocative epilogue to Brown's newly reissued autobiography (first published in 1986), calls him the most influential American popular musician of the latter half of the 20th century. Indeed, one has to wonder if there would have ever been a Michael Jackson, a Prince, a Mick Jagger or a whole new generation of rap, funk, disco and hip hop artists, if Brown had not first paved the way in the '50s and '60s with his frightfully original musical style and brilliantly flamboyant stage persona.

In the late 1960s, Brown, a former convict and brothel barker, was one of the most successful recording artists and revered public figures in America. He was courted by civil rights leaders and presidential candidates alike, and was on his way to amassing a financial empire. But by the mid-1970s, Brown was without a recording contract, the IRS was hounding him for millions in unpaid taxes and his empire had crumbled into a hopeless quagmire of legal and financial entanglements. Tragically, Brown's most recent skirmishes with the headlines have had to do with his arrest and incarceration earlier this year, following a series of charges, including drug possession, assault and evading arrest.

One does not have to read too deeply between the lines in Brown's engrossing but self-serving memoir to detect the towering hubris, rampant egotism and unresolved emotional contradictions that have fueled the singer's phenomenal, but ultimately disheartening, rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags life story.

For instance: "The government is responsible for {the tax problems} because they didn't allow me to go to school," asserts the singer, who came of age serving time in a Georgia reformatory. "They have no legal boundaries over me. By the Constitution of the United States. The people who represented me had shingles and sheepskins, and I didn't have any of them. So I owe nothing."

In the final pages of this fascinating, if often stubbornly unrevealing book (which does not cover the more recent and unsavory episodes in the singer's career) Brown emphasizes:

"I've always tried to remember that there's JAMES BROWN the myth, and James Brown the man. . . . The minute I say, 'I'm JAMES BROWN,' and believe it, then it will be the end of James Brown."

Sadly, recent events, and the occasional flights of high-handed self-righteousness in Godfather of Soul, suggest that, in Brown's own imagination, this crucial distinction has become hopelessly blurred.



Radio Deejays of

The 50s and 60s

By Wes Smith

Longstreet Press. 300 pp. $16.95

WES SMITH, a feature writer with the Chicago Tribune, gives us this irreverent, and affectionate, if occasionally disjointed, tribute to some of the unsung heroes and anti-heroes of early rock n' roll, the leading rock deejays of the '50s and early '60s.

In his opening chapter, "Booze, Broads, and Bribes," Smith, with almost comic zeal, recounts the golden years of corruption, debauchery, payola and sleazy collusion between the radio and record industries.

The degree to which racism permeated the early rock radio industry is also vividly documented. Most all of the white rock jocks profiled in Pied Pipers of Rock 'n' Roll made their marks emulating the jive patois of blacks. Even though blacks were occasionaly hired to tutor them, they themselves were, for years, systematically barred from the airways.

Pied Pipers makes for interesting reading, even when the author segues from one mini-profile or subtopic to the next with such abruptness that the reader loses a sense of chronology.

To his mild detriment, though, Smith fails to emphasize that the same endemic graft, corruption, scams and promotional shell games that plagued the early rock era (and which, through the rosy prism of nostalgia, now seem like mere child's play) still persist today -- albeit in more sophisticated disguises. And the listening public, then as now, is still the ultimate victim.

Bob Allen's novel on John Wilkes Booth will be published next year.