Ray Manzarek

17 Mar

Interview: Ray Manzarek of the Doors

The return of the Lizard King, sort of

By TOM MEEK  |  April 5, 2010

Ray-manzarek_main
Photo:http://www.visum-reportagen.de

It’s been nearly 40 years since the death of Jim Morrison, but the surviving members of the Doors, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and percussionist John Densmore have kept soldiering on, playing in various reformations (Densmore has, for the most part, largely declined to partake) of the ground-breaking band.  The meteoric rise of the band, during Morrison’s brief stint, is chronicled in the new documentary, When You’re Strange directed by longtime indie stalwart, Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede and Living inOblivion).

Manzarek has openly called the film “the true story of the Doors” and the “anti-Oliver Stone,” in reference to the 1991 bio-pic The Doors, starring Val Kilmer. I spoke with Manzarek via telephone to get his input on the film, Oliver Stone, his relationship with Morrison, and his upcoming East Coast tour (including a Boston stop) with Krieger as Manzarek–Krieger (with former Fuel front man Brett Scallions filling Morrison’s large shoes).

So how did the project come together?
Dick Wolf, the TV producer.  He was a big fan of the Doors and booked the Doors when he was in college a long time ago.  So he’s been a Doors fan ever since, and he came to us and said, “Let’s make a documentary.”  He had won an Academy Award with a documentary short about two firefighters who died during 9/11 [Twin Towers, 2003] and he wanted to make a feature and hired Tom DiCillo, a guy who had made documentaries and did well at Sundance. So we talked to Tom and he had a lot of great ideas, especially the whole shamanic thing with Morrison driving in his car and hearing about the death of Jim Morrison.  It was something Tom wanted to cut back to [in the film]; Jim Morrison coming back to Los Angeles even if he was dead, or is he? [The footage was from a short film Morrison made during the recording of L.A. Woman, the Doors last album with Morrison]. I thought it was an in interesting idea. 

Where did all the great archival footage come from?
We have it all in a vault at the office. We’re down the hall from the Eagles and they have tons and tons of tape. The footage was shot by Jim and I and one of our buddies from the UCLA Film School, Paul Ferrara, and we’ve had the footage ever since we started shooting it, right after “Light My Fire.” So it’s been sitting there, it just hasn’t been used in quite some while.

In that short, was the voice on the radio, saying that Jim was dead, something that Jim did for his movie or something Tom added?
That’s something Tom put in.

I’ve read several remarks about how you have been displeased with the Oliver Stone film, The Doors.
Oliver Stone is the anti-Doors. Oliver Stone’s movie makes Jim out to be an alcoholic, drunk weirdo; a strange poet totally out of control and you never see the intellectual side of Jim Morrison. You never see the wit, the charm, the elegance. You never get a sense of the real poet. You see a crazed Jim Morrison. Don’t forget the next movie Oliver Stone made, what movie did he make after The Doors?

JFK?
No, Natural Born Killers.

That was 1994, you sure it’s not JFK?
Well you may be right, but that [Natural Born Killers] is the one that resembles The Doors movie. He started off with the idea for Natural Born Killers and turned into The Doors movie. It’s not Jim Morrison, it’s Oliver Stone in leather pants.

What did you think of Val Kilmer’s performance?
He was good. He was just over the top. The film was over the top, everything about it was. It was Natural Born Killers as rock-n-rollers.

Did Oliver, during that making of that movie, ever consult any of you guys?
He talked to me, and he talked to John and Robby, sure. But he didn’t hear what I had to say, he had his own vent. He had his own twisted vent he wanted to make and he did, fine. Now this [When You’re Strange] is the antidote to the poison Oliver Stone spewed out 20 years ago.

Stone’s film shows that Jim used substances and it impacted his career and performances, When You’re Strange shows that too, so is that not the same truth?
What were those substances?

Alcohol and marijuana?
Oh man, think of the period, but to put it right, just alcohol and some pills. The Doors are an LSD pothead band. Earlier, we took acid to open the doors of perception, that’s where the name of the band comes from [taken from Aldous Huxley’s so named book]. But then later, alcohol took over Jim Morrison because he had a genetic predisposition towards alcohol and that’s what happened. Alcohol was poison to him. Alcohol allowed an alternate personality to emerge.

You sound like you really were tight with Jim and have a lot of admiration for him.
I do, he was a great poet and a great friend. We had a lot of great times together. And you don’t see any of that in the Oliver Stone movie at all.

What was is your most fond memory of Jim Morrison?
Walking on the beach and discussing philosophy and jazz. That’s what we did. We’d sit on Venice Beach and watch the sun set and Jim would say, “it’s morning in Asia.” Then he’d cite a Zen haiku.

And the most difficult?
Miami, without a doubt. You can imagine. We all had to go to court. Jim Morrison was on trial in Miami for obscenity. When he went off to Paris, he was still under repeal, so it was still possible that they might put him away in place called Raiford. If he had been found guilty they could have put him away for three and a half years. And when they took his mug shot, the cop pulled on his hair and said, “You wait til we get you in Raiford boy, we’ll see about that long hair.” This was Cool Hand Luke time for real. It really weighed on him.

Would you say that weight had a hand in his downfall?
No doubt.

And what about him having had whipped it out?
During the trial there hundred of photos offered in evidence, but not one photo of Jim Morrison’s ivory shaft. There were loads of people taking pictures. Did all 14,000 of those people gasp as to not take a picture, did time stop, or did it just never happen? There were photos of everything else, the stage collapsing, Jim with the lamb, cops, chaos, riots and everything, but not that.

In When You’re Strange, they say that Jim made one film at UCLA and he got a D for it.
It was a poetic collision of images. It was Eisensteinian. There wasn’t any narrative or dialogue. Oliver Stone did a version of it in his movie. He made it seem like it was a Nazi movie when all it was a big German girl doing a hochi cuchi routine on top of a TV and Jim turns on the TV and there are Nazi storm troopers on the TV. It was a terrific image. All that Oliver Stone heard was Nazis and he constructs this whole insane Adolf Hitler thing.

Why has Densmore not rejoined you in any of the various reformations of the band?
I don’t know, you’d have to talk to him. We invite him to play, but he declines the offer.

We’ll be playing Boston in May [as] Manzarek–Krieger.

Was it true that when Jim died you were going to replace him with Iggy Pop?
True.

And why did that not happen?
Who knows? Gremlins, the spirits, the kachinas didn’t want it to happen? I have no idea. We never even got to rehearse together.

Is there anything beyond music that you’re passionate about?
I like to put my hands in the soil. I try to be at one with the earth and realize that for all our silliness and screaming and shouting at each other, Republican verses Democrat, the earth, like the Dude, abides us. The food here [Napa area] is fantastic. You guys have great food there too. I always love the fresh seafood there.

DiCillo, recused himself as narrator and brought in Johnny Depp, any insight into that?
Wouldn’t you? I mean what a great choice and what a great voice, he’s almost hypnotic.

Like Jim?
Absolutely.

What do you want fans to take from the movie?
Just to open your own doors of perception and let it wash over you and join the Doors on our quest into the infinite.

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