Retro Quote #9: John Densmore is not a Sell Out

I'm so sick and tired of seeing all these hippies, who once vehemently railed against the establishment and the "plastics", sell out like a bunch of Saigon whores. Have you had the misfortune to hear billionare Steve Jobs and co-billionare Steve Wozniak claim that they still stand for hippie values? How about faux hippies and friends of the factory farm, Ben & Jerry?  I mean, seriously, can we cut the pretense? Pretty much everyone from The Rolling Stones to Clapton has completely sold out - so, it's okay to just admit you never really believed that hippie stuff, and you just want lots and lots of money. I have more respect for hip-hop artists than the Haight-Ashbury/Woodstock crowd because at least they're honest about it. At least they admit it's all about the dolla' bill.

Why am I so hot and bothered about this all of a sudden? I guess I've just seen the Dennis Hopper Ameriprise pension plan commercial one too many times. Or maybe I'm sick of seeing The Who open up for David Caruso. It's as if all these hippie rock stars just said, "Gotcha! It was all a joke. Time to cash in." Steppenwolf should change their song to "Born to be Mild".

Needless to say, the number of 1960's rockers who still maintain some semblance of credibility are few and far between. The remaining Beatles had a few sell-out moments (do expensive Rock Band video games count?), but they were due to forces outside their control (such as, Michael Jackson owning the rights to a chunk of their songs), and The Kinks have been pretty much unwavering. However, by far, my favorite hold out has to be John Densmore, the drummer for the Doors. Here's a quote from him that he should be proud of:

“People lost their virginity to this music. Got high for the first time to this music. I’ve had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music. Other people say they know someone who didn’t commit suicide because of this music. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That’s not for rent.”

Hell yes. In this day and time when EVERYTHING is for sale and disposable, it's nice to see that there's still something out there that money can't buy. There's still music that didn't end up just another product to be gobbled up and disposed of by consumers. Get this: Cadillac offered him 15 MILLION DOLLARS and he turned it down (much to the consternation of his bandmates). Stay strong, John!

On one occasion the temptation grew too strong, and Densmore sold out to a British tire company. The sound of Morrisson's voice alongside this piece of crap commercial made his stomach turn, and he donated all proceeds to charity.  I'm sure The Lizard King forgives you, John.

So, as I watch Graham Nash perform a duet to his counterculture anthem "Teach Your Children" on American Idol and hear The Who play background music for a Nissan commercial, it is comforting to know there are few out there that really did believe in what they were doing.  Their music meant something more than a paycheck.

15 million is a lot of money, and I can't honestly say I'd be able to resist that much money waved in front of my face. That being said, the day I hear Mister Mojo Risin singing the theme song to a Shoney's All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet will be a sad day indeed.


  1. I'm a massive doors fan and John Densmore speaks sense!

  2. The Who never were about that hippie crap anyway, being the english working class lads they were. At Woodstock they demanded cash up front, or else they wouldnt play.

  3. LOVE this post Gilligan!

  4. This was excellent, thanks Gilligan. I've gone back & forth on this a lot, the older I get--are these artists a sellout, or just facing their mortality (and making some nice money in the process).

    I'm not sure why some things bother me one way or the other; when the Beatles came out on that videogame, it looks fun & I thought "About time you guys let up a little & shared the love here." But when I see Dennis Hopper in those ads, I grimace!

    Loved reading about John Densmore--THAT'S integrity!

  5. I wrote about this very issue back in 2007. http://rantsbyrobert.blogspot.com/2007/08/john-densmore-of-doors-wont-sell-out.html

    My wife says "They were all just in it to get rich anyway, whey do you throw a fit about it all the time?"

    I used part of the same quote you did, but I have a little more. Check it out an let me know what you think.

  6. Anonymous - Agreed. The Who are probably a bad example. And yet, when I hear "Inbetween Days" by The Cure used to promote trash like "High School Reunion" on TV Land, my stomach turns even though The Cure weren't into that hippie crap either....

    And I don't buy the whole "working class lad" bit, either. The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Kinks weren't exactly sons of royalty - plus Townsend et al. were filthy stinking rich by the time they were in their twenties.

    Retrohound- liked your post. I agree that songs can be used in films and not be selling out. The credibility and memories associated with a tune aren't butched by being put in a movie. "Sweet Child o Mine" in "The Wrestler" was perfect. However, "Sweet Child o Mine" in a Hyundai commercial would be sacralege.

  7. Followed Retrohound's link and totally agree: All I have to say is 'Heinz' Anticipation Carly, Carly, Carly were things 'That' bad??- and Coca Cola http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mOEU87SBTU
    interesting twist on how the Coca Cola song actually became a hit 'after' the commercial by The New Seekers (who?)....

  8. My wife winces at these sorts of commercials, knowing that they'll always be followed by my non-question: Did [band or singer] really need that money?

    So good on John Densmore... and here's to Neil Young for taking his defiance even farther with "This Note's for You".

    But most of all, here's to folks like Leonard Cohen who - until recently, at least - very much needed the money... and still said "No".

  9. Basically, all musicians are sell outs. Hence, we get "Baby Come Back" and "Who's that Lady" on Swiffer commercials. I remember being highly offended when Lovin' Spoonful sold out to Bounce fabric softeners.

    I, too imagine that impressive amounts of cash would be hard to walk away from, and that the royalty payments are probably small, but it just seems that the old groups didn't have the integrity we believed they did.

    But then again, everyone was massively stoned then, and it was really easy to be anti-establishment when you were stoned.

  10. The Kinks 'Picture Book' appeared in a Polaroid or Kodak commercial, I forget which, and I've heard 'See My Friends' somewhere as well, possibly on some prescription medicine ad.

  11. Great post - reminds me of Eric Clapton's commercial plugging the myTouch Fender branded phone. It just sounds so weird to me to hear him say to Buddy Guy, "just hanging."

  12. Pop music isn't a religion, it's art, and art is a business. You don't curse out Michelangelo or Raphael because they got paid for what they sculpted or painted, do you?

  13. I don't think there's a good comparison to be made between Michelangelo's commisioned work for the Sistene Chapel and an ad for fabric softener, if you get my meaning. I don't fault Michaelangelo for getting paid any more than I fault a band for getting zillions of dollars in record sales. But if Michaelango had then saw fit to use his paintings for profit on cereal boxes, I think I'd be disappointed.

    That being said, I mentioned in my post that I had more respect for artists, hip hop artists in particular, who are up front about their materialism, rather than posture as someone not in it for the money.

  14. "Sweet Child o Mine" for Gerber! That's the ticket!

    @MPorcius: Art does NOT equal business. There are plenty of people who create without payment. And there's a difference between being paid and using your creation to shill someone else's product. Are Raphael's plump ladies being used to sell diet stuff? Would he approve of that?

    On the other hand, if a band that didn't make much money (such as the Violent Femmes) has a chance to make a little residual income from selling a song or two, is that bad?

  15. Did Simon & Garfunkel ever sell out? I can't recall. Kodachrome was their actual song, not an advertising plug...

  16. RetroHound,

    Plump ladies? Maybe you are thinking of Renoir.

    Why would it be OK for the Violent Femmes to make money but not the Who? Why do you care how much money Pete Townshend has lawfully acquired?

    Retrohound and Gilligan,

    Raphael's and Michelangelo's work for the Church and for rich clients could easily be seen as advertisements for the Church or for the subject; it was good for an aristocrat's or merchant's social/political/business career to have a Raphael portrait of himself. (Better examples than Raphael or Michelangelo may be Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, who were born after the Industrial Revolution and much of whose work consists of straight advertising.)

    Personally, I don't have anything against advertising; art generally conveys some message, and I don't think an artist whose work says "This cereal is tasty" is any morally worse than one whose work says "The Catholic Church can save your soul."

  17. The Kinks song People Take Pictures of Each Other has been used in commercials.

  18. Before the year 200 or so, I would've agreed with you, mostl. But we've raised ageneration that will not pay for music - they file-steal it. Many of the people who complain that artists are too concerned about a dollar are the same people who will illegally download the music to keep from paying 99 cents

  19. excellent post man... nothing else to say.. you just used the exact words

  20. I hear ya bro. But remember that these old hippie musicians aren't the voice of today's youth, anymore. They aren't the voice of this generation. Back then, they were young and idealistic and naive and angry...they did their job, and they did it well. A certain peace comes with getting older, I guess. I hear what you're saying about selling out to Rock Band and American Idol, but it was Rock Band and American Idol that brought history's greatest music to today's generation and made it cool again. I'm all for that.