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Jeff Jampol (manager of The Doors) responds to The Lefsetz Letter
Fri, Oct 31, 2008
Film, Merch, Music, Must Reads, New Media, Tech

Jeff Jampol has written a brilliant response to a Lefsetz Letter criticizing The Doors’ licensing deal with Converse. If you have any interest in the thought processes involved in the licensing of iconic band imagery, or the way licensing works or doesn’t work, this is a must read.

The Lefsetz Letter
October 2008
The End

It’s bad enough that “Rolling Stone” has morphed into “Esquire” for a slightly younger generation, with a perfect binding that makes it impossible to fully grasp Angus Young’s mug, he looks like some origami trick from the back cover of “MAD”, but what had me blowing chunks was the ad four pages into the magazine: “THE DOORS INSPIRED CHUCK TAYLOR”.

Are you fucking kidding me? I thought that John Densmore had a lock on this kind of shit. Or maybe that was just the band’s music. Their image!

I love the Doors. Their first album was transcendent. But I’ve never ever owned a pair of Chuck Taylors. I’m just not a Converse kind of guy. To tie up the Doors with Chuck Taylor is like hooking up Metallica with Maypo. What’s next, the Stones for Stride-Rite?

Shit, is there no commercial opportunity these bands won’t turn down? The concept of legacy has been completely forgotten. But, a great band’s music never will be. Isn’t that the lesson of AC/DC, that despite refusing to whore themselves out, endorse products, feature their music in commercials, they own the second biggest selling catalog?

Respect the music.

But no one buys that anymore. Our whole country has lost its dignity. As Ray Davies once sang, money talks and we’re the living proof.

If you’re educated, you’re an elitist. You should be working a blue collar job like a real American, not prepared for change that might come down the pike, and about to be fired because the man shipped your job overseas. Forced to buy all your goods at the big box store known as Wal-Mart that raped your city’s downtown and replaced reasonable jobs with low-paying gigs akin to those in a jail. Not as guards, but as PRISONERS!

Has the Doors music been forgotten? What caused the last renaissance, twenty five years ago? When suddenly everybody wanted to listen to “The End”. There was no advertising then, just WORD OF MOUTH!

God, does the Vatican have to do a deal for the Sistine Chapel? To make sure people continue to come? Too bad Picasso’s dead, otherwise he could be hawking scarves for Target. Hell, couldn’t they do one of those ads where they take footage and he appears with his daughter Paloma? Just because the body’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t make some money on it.

And did Jim Morrison even OWN a pair of sneakers? Never mind Chuck Taylors? I remember him dressed in black. The Ramones were big on canvas shoes, but not the rockers of the sixties.
But Chuck Taylor’s got a lot of bread. They want to make the brand cool. And their advertising agency likes the Doors… I mean who’s cooler than Jim Morrison? So you make an offer of beaucoup bucks and the only person who gets fucked in the ass is the fan. I respect the act. I’m not whoring myself out. How do you expect me to buy music if I can’t respect it?
What’s next?

Come on! Can’t John Lennon sell glasses?

Or maybe that’s Buddy Holly’s purview.

And if the Doors are in danger of being forgotten, how about Sinatra?

If the music is great, it’ll last forever. And that’s why classic rock endures. Because of its greatness.

The Doors might not sell quite the tonnage of AC/DC, but that’s because their music is cerebral. It’s for people who want to delve a bit deeper, who want to think. It’s a rite of passage for those who read Vonnegut and Hesse in high school as opposed to dropping out and working at the 7-11. You’re not even aware of the Oedipus complex unless you finish high school… How are you supposed to comprehend “The End”?

But now that you’ve seen the band has aligned with Chuck Taylor, you’re gonna check ‘em out. You’re gonna buy all those albums because the band inspired sneakers, if you can stomach that bullshit.
Don’t tell me that things have changed. These are my memories, this is my life. You can make a ton of dough and lose it all in the market, seemingly overnight. But it takes a lifetime to build memories. Respect them. They pay dividends. Not only monetary, but emotional. And that’s what we are, not the sum of our toys, but our experiences, our moods, our memories, our histories. Great music is not only part of our identity, it IMPACTS our identity. We respect artists who are grasping for greatness, who want to get it right, who want to say something as opposed to cashing the check.
Jim Morrison might be six feet under, but he’s alive and well in my mind. Long live the Lizard King!

Jeff Jampol Responds
October 31, 2008

Hi, Bob:

As The Doors’ manager, I thought I’d take a stab at weighing in after reading your interesting commentary.

First off, let me state for the record that I am clearly biased here and in no way objective – The Doors pay me, and when The Doors make money, I make money. Their legacy is not mine, though I AM hired to promote it, protect it, monetize it, guide it, and keep it alive for the NEXT generation as WELL as their current (and past) fans. On the one hand, I am supposed to find ways to make them money. On the other hand, I am supposed to protect their legacy. And, finally, I am to promote their name, their music, and their message to the new generations coming up – and as we all know, marketing to existing fans, and an older fanbase, is MUCH, MUCH different than marketing to a newer generation of young fans, to whom The Doors are a new band and a “new idea.” We must do BOTH, and although they have a lot of overlap, they are separate tasks, and are done in differing ways. Makes for a heady brew of conflict!

It is many times because of this inherent conflict in what we are trying to do that occasionally we will cross lines and upset some folks. Sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, and sometimes people seem to get upset whenever they see change of any kind. Our job here is to try and discern what they’re really upset about, take a look at it, and see if we are wrong, if they’ve raised valid issues, if we’ve taken a misstep, or if we are rightly hewing true to what we believe. Many times, the points raised have validity and help us to become better, smarter humans, as well as better “keepers of the flame.”

I have read your comments, and I want to try and shed a little light on how I look at this – hopefully, you will try to be as open-minded as I am trying to be, and together, we can reach some kind of consensus — or not, I guess. It is ultimately up to each individual to embrace The Doors’ legacy as well as their music and message the best way he or she sees fit, and if everyone agreed with us (or me), I probably wouldn’t be doing my job!

In this case, the music had nothing to do with this. We are not USING Doors music, just, as you had written, the image (or, name and likeness, as we hoary businessmen say), so let’s be clear what we are discussing – and we are NOT discussing the use of The Doors’ music.

You invoke John Densmore’s name in your letter, and I think it’s pretty obvious to many that John Densmore is completely passionate and devoted to his particular beliefs and the way he approaches the issues at hand. John and I have had MANY “spirited discussions” about matters pertaining to promoting the Doors’ legacy, and I must say, I love and respect John immensely – he truly walks like he talks, and I have seen him, time and again, sacrifice personal comfort, ease, dollars, and serenity in order to stand up for what he believes in, not only in business, but in his personal life, and not only for The Doors, but for ANY cause or issue with which he is involved.

You asked in your letter, “What caused the last renaissance, twenty five years ago? When suddenly everybody wanted to listen to ‘The End’. There was no advertising then, just WORD OF MOUTH!” And you are correct when you say there was no advertising, per se, but there WAS a major motion picture, Oliver Stone’s “The Doors”. The release of that movie tripled The Doors’ catalogue sales at the time. Terrestrial radio was also THE major factor in exposing music to new generations, and we had RECORD STORES to go browse in, hang out in, and salivate over the newest releases – sadly, as you reported on in an earlier letter, these stores have disappeared and been somewhat replaced by Apple stores – where music is not the product they are selling. So, we have none of these tools available to us anymore.

Now, down to the issue of Converse shoes and The Doors. Perhaps we have overstepped here (I couldn’t resist the pun), and perhaps we have not. Let’s take a look at how I see it, as I have already read how YOU see it. Let me explain what I see as a few factual circumstances, and let’s also get down to the philosophical issues at hand.

First off, we see the music and the name somewhat differently – they are BOTH important to us, but to me, there are degrees of sanctity, if you will, when it comes to marketing and promoting The Doors’ legacy: the most sacrosanct thing that exists is the music. Next in this hierarchy is Jim’s poetry (which is owned by the Morrison successors), then the name “The Doors,” followed by the photos and images, and last but not least, the individual members themselves.

The Doors decided long ago (way before MY time) that apparel was an acceptable category in which to license The Doors’ name, and acceptable to market, sell and promote, not only to enhance their legacy, but to make a profit as well (we like to do that – we are not a nonprofit organization). I’m told that some of The Doors also felt that we were being bootlegged so rampantly all over the world, and so much crappy stuff was out there, that they AND their fans would be better served by at least trying to put quality merchandise out there for fans to buy, and to also capture some of the millions that was being unfairly pocketed regardless by outsiders and fly-by-night, substandard bootleggers trading unfairly and illegally on The Doors’ name.

Some of what The Doors ultimately permitted to be manufactured, I disagreed with – and some, I stopped, discontinued, or outright denied.

A few examples? Although The Doors did Christmas ornaments, and several folks I know own them and apparently like them, I personally found them to be demeaning, and not in the spirit (excuse the pun again) of these “Erotic Politicians,” and I so advised The Doors (again, that’s my job). There was a “Light My Fyre! ” action-figure doll, which I found particularly repugnant (it pained me just to write that out), and many other categories, like cheap belt buckles, cheap calendars (note the word “cheap”: it’s there for a reason), lizard this-’n-that, feather earrings, etc. I could go on and on here – ugly incense holders, a disgusting purple plastic-topped Lava Lamp-like table lamp, a Jim action-figure doll (but not the Todd McFarland one, which is cool, to us), tawdry tapestries (??!), magnets, and even bobbleheads! I mean, c’mon! How does one make a logical connection between “Soul Kitchen” and a BOBBLEHEAD??!? In fact, when I first came on board, one of our first actions as a management team was to terminate deals for over 150 items – all of which had already been approved, wittingly or unwittingly, by The Doors. We then terminated about the same amount of apparel items and designs as being hoary, uncool, stupid, ugly, demeaning, cheap, and usually some combination of these horrible attributes. We disapprove and/or terminate WAY more than we ever approve.

As you can see, though, a lot of this is a judgment call – one man’s hoary, uncool trinket is another man’s prize…and so be it. We have to stay true to OUR vision, and I know we will not be in agreement with everyone – in fact, I often disagree with The Doors themselves, and we will all argue about it, talk it out, discuss, etc., but in the end, it is THEIR legacy, and I am happy to carry out whatever they direct me to move forward with.

So, we decided – GENERALLY (there can always be exceptions) – that some of the apparel categories we were okay with selling were: t-shirts, messenger bags, sweatshirts, shoes, outerwear/jackets, jeans, cycling jerseys, beanies, caps, belts, higher-end belt buckles, cool dress/tunic/overshirts for women (like the Trunk ones we did), leather jackets, and denim shirts.

I could be mistaken here, but I think the only categories we haven’t done yet are shoes, leather jackets, and jeans – there may be more. So, when this opportunity came along with Converse, we took a look at it. There is only ONE “first time” you can do something, and to me, the first time has to really count – we didn’t want to do something half-assed (I was gonna say “slipshod,” but I thought three puns was too many in one diatribe). You speak about AC/DC and insinuate that their marketing is more on point with respect to legacies – yet I believe AC/DC has done way more merchandise and retail items than The Doors EVER have! How is it that a t-shirt or a skateboard deck is cool, bit a sneaker somehow ISN’T??

Before I go further, here’s some insight and knowledge about how the merchandise business works: ALL of the items we do for The Doors – whether it’s a t-shirt, Converse shoes, a messenger bag, or Doors posters – are NOT items WE make, or have made, they are LICENSES. The Doors DO NOT manufacture anything – we never have. I don’t know any major artists who do. We’re not in the manufacturing business – apparel manufacturers are. We don’t DO “Doors T-Shirts” – we LICENSE the name “The Doors”, via our merchandising reps, to a t-shirt brand, or to a t-shirt vendor, who then manufactures them (or sources a manufacturer), and then sells them under their own brand name to retail, where you buy them, same as AC/DC, The Beatles, or any other major band. Even when a band is on tour (this again applies to bigger bands), the artists are not MANUFACTURING those shirts you buy at their gigs – they have LICENSED their band name and their tour merchandising rights to a merchandising company, who have their OWN brand of t-shirts – that merch company then goes out on the road with the artist and sets up merch tables, selling their (the company’s) t-shirts with the artists’ name on them.

When manufacturers want to license The Doors’ name to make a piece of Doors apparel for retail sale, we assure complete approval rights over every key aspect of the apparel: Which company is manufacturing the piece, what the item is (a t-shirt or a messenger bag), the design, the images used, the garment itself, where it’s distributed, how much it sells for, and how long it’s available. That way, we can insure that the item stays in keeping with the level of quality and the image of The Doors. If we don’t approve the final sample, it doesn’t get made. Period.

I spent virtually all of last year terminating almost ALL Doors licenses, in every category, and completely pulling The Doors OUT of the mass-market (Target, K-Mart, etc.) altogether. We don’t belong there right now, I don’t think. We WERE there, for certain and specific reasons I can’t get into (business stuff), but 2008 has been, for us, a year of retrenchment and “giving the name a rest.” We don’t ever want to be TOO ubiquitous, and I think part of the magic of The Doors is that they are a bit special, and above the fray, and not TOO common. We don’t want to be everywhere – I would like to see us as kind of exclusive. So, for 2008, we have done nothing but pull all Doors items off of the market.

We want to come back in 2009 (well, starting at Christmas 2008) with a whole new line: all-new designs, higher quality, finer garments, some better/different/rarer images, different categories (like maybe the shoes and jeans we’ve never done), and new retail outlets.

Which leads me back to Converse.

I think one of the things people may be having a problem with is that they see the Converse/Doors shoes as somehow selling out, or us putting OUR name on THEIR shoe. But this is what we do for EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF DOORS MERCHANDISE THAT HAS EVER BEEN PRODUCED. There is no difference here, other than the category of apparel – we have licensed The Doors name, for t-shirts and belt buckles (and many other items), but not for shoes. The only other difference I see here is that I think you perhaps view it differently because Converse has brand name recognition on its own, as opposed to companies like, say, “Liquid Blue”, “Winterland”, or “Junk Food”, who are some of our past t-shirt manufacturers/vendors.

True Religion made Doors sweatshirts, yet THEY have brand name recognition apart from The Doors – Trunk made Doors t-shirts, and Winterland made Doors t-shirts, hats and jackets, yet THEY have brand name recognition (albeit more limited) apart from The Doors.

The only difference here is that Junkfood sold Junkfood-branded shirts that said “The Doors” on them, Winterland sold Winterland-branded shirts, hats and jackets that said “The Doors” on them, and Converse will be selling Converse-branded shoes that say “The Doors” on them. And, I guess, that Converse is more well-known than Junkfood or Winterland. All of them also sell plenty of apparel with NO name on them except their own. (Though I am sure that Converse sells more than Junkfood or Winterland).

So, some take the position that it is okay to put The Doors name on a piece of merchandise as long as the brand of merchandise is small and/or unknown? Or is it sneakers/shoes in general? Or Converse in particular? Or ALL merchandise in general? Or just “successful” brands of apparel? Or is everything verboten except for t-shirts? Or are THEY verboten now, too?

Some of these positions seem a tad inconsistent – and I think part of the confusion may be that you are/were not aware of how the merchandising business really works. In fact, “merchandising” is a misnomer – it’s really a licensing business (which is why I went to such great pains to elucidate everything above).

One last word about Converse as a manufacturer, as a licensee, and shoes as a category of apparel – we considered all of the following:

*I look at shoes, t-shirts, jeans and leather & denim jackets as the “four corners” of the American rock ‘n roll wardrobe, if there is such an animal. Think James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause as the archetype. If one is okay with t-shirts, why not the other three items? It doesn’t seem to really make sense. True, we haven’t done shoes or jeans yet, but why not? Is there something intrinsically RIGHT with t-shirts but WRONG with leather jackets? Or sneakers? But that’s okay for metal die-cast cars? Is there something here that violates a tenet of The Doors as a name, or as a band? Surely jackets have been synonymous with rock bands since the ’70s at least! [ed. note: at LEAST we’re not making satin tour jackets]

*Sneakers ARE cool, to me, as an item of apparel. As well as being one of the above “four corners” of rock apparel that I mentioned above.

*Converse HAS been associated with rock ‘n roll. True, more so with bands like The Ramones or Nirvana, but I kinda feel like that’s credible company (again, a judgment call, for sure). And they are doing/have done FOUR of these sneaker lines: The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Kurt Cobain, and Black Sabbath.

*Converse has been around for 100 years, and they’re an American company, as The Doors are an American rock ‘n roll band (though Converse’s product IS made overseas, like most others).
*Their 100th Anniversary motto for 2008 is “First In Sports, First In Rock ‘N Roll.”

*WE designed the shoes (in collaboration with Converse, of course). I think they’re cool-looking, understated, and I’m proud of the design. I also think they’re definitely the coolest of the bunch. I’m sure you may disagree (I’m going with the odds here).

*As I understand it, we are the ONLY artist of the four who refused to let Converse distribute our shoes to mass-market. We will ONLY be doing two categories of retail: High-end stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue, and limited “specialty stores” like Jernees. And overseas.

*You surmised in your letter – or at least insinuated – that Converse wooed us with money when you wrote, “So make an offer of beaucoup bucks….” However, this deal is primarily a marketing device, in our eyes. What I mean by that is, the advance and royalty we received for this deal were very, very low. Insanely low. In fact, I think it may be the smallest advance deal we have ever done. We clearly did not do this just for the money. So, why else DID we do it? Simple – we want The Doors name to be promoted and marketed to as many people as we can, especially people who may not hear The Doors on the radio, and/or may not go to record stores – it’s a chance to reach a whole new stratum of potential Doors fans that we otherwise may never be able to get to. We feel that Converse will promote The Doors, as will the retailers that carry them. People will see the name of The Doors, they will see photos of the band, they will see our logo, and maybe, some stores will put up Doors displays (though that is not a part of the deal and is completely up to each store – I’m just being hopeful). We also feel that as kids wear these shoes, their peers will see The Doors name, and their awareness will be raised – hopefully enough to go check out the music!

*Lastly, we are NOT using music in ANY WAY, SHAPE or FORM here. No music at all. Just putting out Doors shoes. Which happen to be manufactured by Converse. And, I presume, Converse will promote them and publicize them. Trunk advertised Doors shirts manufactured by Trunk. There was nothing wrong with that. I’m sure Liquid Blue, Junk Food and Winterland have done ads, too, as well as co-op ads, and retail displays.

Look, I know that the “business” part of a rock ‘n roll band can seem a bit hoary, a bit crass, and NOT what the music was all about. And I agree with that. It IS a bit crass, in the end, isn’t it? It’s NOT the pure music. It’s business. But I have made a certain inner peace with myself over it. I’m not suggesting that you follow me, or that you are even like me – but I AM saying that I have a heart, and a soul, and I am human, and a HUGE Doors fan, too. I mean, I GET it. I love The Doors. I love Jim Morrison. I love his poetry. I love The Doors’ art and music. I want to keep it real, and pure, and alive! And here I am, presiding over an army of marketing, promotion and sales entities whose aim is to market, sell and profit from the free ideas and ideals that gave birth to the music in the first place. It IS a bit of a conflict – and I acknowledge this. I wrestle with it. I debate it with myself – and others. I think of myself as a sensitive guy (here’s a Kleenex, in case you were getting moist), and I want to do the best, most honest, forthright and credible job for my heroes. Part of that job is making them money and a profit from their band, its history, its name AND its music. And where profit motive comes into play, there is ALWAYS an element of the crass. You quoted Ray Davies in your piece, and perhaps an equally on-point quote is from Bob Dylan, when he sang, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” Again, I am human, I acknowledge this, and I try to do the best I can with it.

Bob, you say in your letter, “Don’t tell me that things have changed. These are my memories, this is my life.” And while these ARE your memories, Bob, and surely your life, I am here to tell you that times HAVE changed, and radically – said changes that you have reported on yourself, over and over.

I am faced with a business landscape that is horrible. Record sales are declining 20-30% every year. On top of that, MOST CDs in the nation are sold by “big-box” retailers (i.e., Best Buy, Wal-Mart), who don’t CARRY “catalogue” or Box Sets as a rule! They tend to carry the Top 40 current hits, because they’re not IN the record business. They use CDs as “loss-leaders” to get folks into their store, so they can then sell them a washer & dryer. And they have rightfully surmised that MOST folks want the current hits, so that’s what they carry. They don’t carry deep catalogue at all. Yes, Internet and digital sales are up – and so is vinyl. These are all good trends (great trends, actually), but they don’t come NEAR replacing the losses sustained by the overall record business. And terrestrial radio, long the bastion of classic rock, nee, of ALL rock ‘n roll for decades, is losing influence, and listeners, seemingly by the hour. Please don’t forget, also, that in the case of The Doors and many other classic rock artists (like another one of my clients, Janis Joplin), these artists have passed, hence we don’t have touring or new music to rely on in helping us expose new generations – two VERY powerful tools, forever gone from our available arsenal.

My task, then, my question, is: how am I going to expose these coming generations to The Doors if I don’t have terrestrial radio, new music coming from my artist(s), record stores OR touring? One of the (but not the only) answers is that I have to expose these generations to The Doors as an idea, as an institution, as a certain way of seeing the world, as well as a band, in a way that each different generation can relate to. As a NAME that’s cool to them and to their peers. There are SIX distinct generations, all of whom behave and respond differently, that we market and promote The Doors to: Baby Boomers, Post-Baby Boomers,Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials…and soon, Post-Millenials.

And how do we get to them? Not to YOU, per se – you already HAVE a relationship with The Doors, and you expect that relationship to go a certain way and have The Doors treated in a certain manner. But to the NEW generation(s)? How do I reach THEM? They are used to different things than we are, and they accept certain things that WE (you and, to a certain extent, I) may find repugnant or undesirable. They are influenced by, and in turn want to influence, their peers, just like I did when I was a kid, and just like I am betting you did, too. But make no mistake – IF YOU ARE BEYOND YOUR TEENS, YOU ARE NOT THEIR PEER (nor am I). How YOU think is very different than how THEY think. I appreciate the differences. I abhor many of them. But in the end, I respect them, and I deal with them, because it IS reality. These differences are clearly not something I am making up – I’m merely reporting them, as you have yourself many times.

We can continue to do things exactly as we would have a generation or so ago, keep The Doors all to ourselves, and go on about our lives. I think a certain number of new fans would never discover The Doors if that were to happen, though. Still, we can try to avoid the occasional missteps and overreaches that sometimes occur as we continue to try and insure that new kids will discover my heroes – whether that’s through a peer, a parent, a videogame, or a Doors sneaker. I am just trying to illustrate, again, HOW and WHY we decided to move forward with a Doors shoe in addition to our other Doors apparel. The only possible exception is that, in this case, there was not much of a money consideration here – it was purely an exercise in marketing.

We all discussed this move, and we all approved it. The question that remains is, did we misstep? Did we cross some invisible line? Were we wrong in our ideas? Have we missed something? We KNOW that not everyone will agree. We’re not trying to get everyone’s approval. The Doors NEVER did that. But we ARE trying to look at HOW we do things, and why, and make sure, to the best of our limited human ability, that we stay as true as possible.

I know that I will never convince anyone that is firmly to one side or the other of any particular ideology, or idea. And I am not even going to try to take on THAT “fool’s task.” You have your opinions, you are entitled to them, and I respect them. All of them.

You have made your feelings known. I have now exposed mine here. I have tried to explain how we came to this conclusion (and others). I hope we can both respect each other enough to take what each side has said and chew on it. I know I’M chewing on some of the things YOU brought up.

In the end, I do truly feel it’s a Doors sneaker, just like we have Doors t-shirts or a Doors messenger bags (and NOT a Doors Christmas ornament). In the end, Bob, it’s only rock ‘n roll, as I’ve oft-quoted Mick ‘n Keith – but I LOVE it.

“Long Live The Lizard King,” indeed!!
Peace. Love.

-Jeff Jampol
Manager, The Doors