The Doors: Ray Manzarek

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The Doors issued a coffee-table book and CD boxed set to mark their 40th anniversary in 2006. But there wasn’t much amity among the three surviving members. Drummer John Densmore, allied with the parents of Jim Morrison, was kicking the asses of keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger (pictured above, l-r) in a legal battle designed to stop them from touring as “The Doors.” The warring parties planned to promote the new releases with separate appearances on opposite sides of their old stomping grounds on the Sunset Strip. Ahead of the November event, I spoke to Densmore and Manzarek.

I called Manzarek first. He was living the life of a country gentleman in Napa Valley, near San Francisco, having relocated with his wife Dorothy from Los Angeles a few years earlier. A Doors management operative sat in on my phone interview with Densmore, and sent panicked text messages to the band’s publicist, who in turn freaked out that I was venturing into verboten territory by asking about the legal battle. A planned interview with Krieger was canceled. Here are edited highlights from the Manzarek interview.

When was the last time you communed with Jim? 

In a waking state or in a dream state? The last time I communicated with him was a couple of days before he left for Paris in 1971, and I said goodbye to my good friend, thinking that he was going to Paris to write poetry and to rediscover himself, and get away from being a rock star and get away from his drinking buddies and groupies, getting back to Jim Morrison, the artist/poet that I knew, that I put the band together with. We were doing poetry and rock ‘n’ roll the same way the Beats were doing poetry and jazz. That’s why Jim and I started the Doors in the first place.

Subsequent to that, have you had dreams or out-of-body experiences? 

I have dreams in which Jim’s back, and curiously so does Robby. We talked about it. It’s like, “My God, we’re having the same dream!” We’re in rehearsal on Santa Monica Blvd. and La Cienega in Los Angeles, at the Doors workshop, and who comes walking in, about 10 minutes late, 10 minutes after two, but Jim Morrison? We both turn and look at him, and say, “Hey! Jim! You’re back!” Jim says, “Yeah! Of course I’m back.” The first time I got together with him, I said, “Well, do you have any songs?” He said, “Ray, you bet I do.” And that’s where I wake up.

Are you all naked at the same time? 

Naked at the same time? In the room? No, it wasn’t a homosexual dream, I’m totally hetero. There would be no need to be naked with other men. But if I was in a playground and I was 10 years old, there’d be chances that I was running around naked.

You’ve had the greatest life, but do you feel trapped by your legacy – that the brief existence of the doors has overshadowed everything else?

No, it’s been a marvelous life. The Doors have allowed me to continue to be creative, to do all kinds of things, to write books. I’ve got a new book that just came out, called Snake Moon, a tale of the supernatural set in the Civil War. I’ve got a couple of new albums out there that I’ve done, one called Atonal Head that’s totally electronic. So the Doors allow me to engage in all kinds of artistic activities. I made a small movie – my directorial debut – called Love Her Madly, available on DVD. One of those direct-to-DVD movies. A very entertaining little flick about murder and madness and obsession on a contemporary college campus…

… There’s so many things, being in the Doors allows me to do all of that. It’s been great, absolutely great. Of course, the first thing people want to know is, “Tell me some stories about Jim Morrison. Are they true?!” And I invariably say, “Let me hear the stories you’ve heard and I’ll tell you whether those are true.” Usually it’s, “No … No … No … Yes … No … No … No … No … Double No … Yes … And I didn’t like the Oliver Stone movie, because it was Oliver Stone in leather pants and not the real Jim Morrison in leather pants.”

I thought enough time would have passed since 1991 for you to be a little more forgiving towards that movie?

Oh, no, never! Just yesterday, I was performing up here in the Napa Valley, at the old Napa Valley Opera House – what a great place, a hundred-year-old theater – and I was doing a benefit playing the piano and telling Doors stories. And one of the questions from the audience was, “What do you think of the Oliver Stone movie? Is it true?” I get that all the time, and I say, “No, that’s not true. That’s not Jim Morrison. That’s Oliver Stone.” Jim Morrison was a poet, an artist, sensitive, funny. Nobody in the Doors movie ever laughs … We laughed a great deal. You see none of that in the film. You don’t even get to understand the ’60s, which is the real tragedy, what the point of the view if the ’60s was. So I’ll be talking about that movie, bashing it, for the rest of my life.

Are there any disputes over songwriting credits?

Credits are no problem. Everything gets divided four ways, song credits and financial.

So even though Krieger more or less wrote “Light My Fire,” he splits it evenly with the others?

Exactly.

Who does that work out best for?

The drummer!

You don’t mind that? 

That’s the way it is, man. In the court of law, that’s the way it is.

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NOTE: This is an excerpt from my gossipy rock bio, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com

Copyright © 2006, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING

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