July 19, 2010 BCB Drivetime on The Doors


Ray Manzarek & Robbie Krieger, telephone interview, Friday July 16, 2010, transmitted on BCB, Monday July 19, 2010.

Robbie Krieger (left) and Ray Manzarek, 2010

Robbie Krieger (left) and Ray Manzarek, 2010

Robbie Krieger:

You saw us at the Isle of Wight? Oh boy.

KD:

Some people, but I’m not one of them, might think it’s rather strange, the Doors appearing with a symphony orchestra. The reason why I don’t think it’s strange is because I’ve always detected quite a classical influence in your playing, Ray.

Ray Manzarek:

I should think so.

KD:

I mean your introduction, for instance, to Light My Fire, has a sort of baroque feel.

RM:

Yes it does. I agree with that. It’s based on Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s my Bach studies which turned the introduction to Light My Fire, into a rock and roll piece.

KD:

And you were originally a classical pianist.

RM:

Well I studied classical. But I also played a lot of jazz and blues on the South Side of Chicago.

KD:

And Robbie, of course, you composed Light My Fire.

RK:

That’s right.

KD:

Though it didn’t say so on the label, because it just said it was by the Doors.

Could we just clarify, because you wrote a number of songs for the Doors, as well as Light My Fire, what were the other ones you did?

RK:

Well, all the good ones, you know. Like Touch Me, Love Me Two Times, You’re Lost Little Girl, er, Love Her Madly, Spanish Caravan, I could go on and on.

KD:

That’s quite a number. And Light My Fire was the first one.

RK:

That’s right.

KD:

Had you composed any songs independently before that date?

RK:

A couple, but not very many.

KD:

How did this come about, because Jim was “the songwriter”, if you’d like to put it that way?

RK:

Right. Well one day Jim realised that we didn’t have enough originals, we were doing covers of songs in our sets when we played live, so we didn’t have enough originals, so he said: You guys go home and try to write a song because I’m tired of writing all the songs. And it was like a homework assignment. And I was the only one who came up with anything.

KD:

How did that come about? I mean the actual idea for the song? What was the inspiration?

RK:

Well, to compete with Jim’s stuff, it’s got to be something pretty heavy duty, right? So I said: OK, I’ll do something about either air, earth, fire or water. And I picked fire.

KD:

Now some people think there are drug connotations, you know, ‘light my fire’ is to do with lighting a joint, and then of course there’s the word ‘higher’, which you were told to change when you were on the television.

RK:

That’s right. And we didn’t.

KD:

Yeah, that comes over in the movie.

RK:

Well, Jim also used to tell me: If you’re going to write something, write something that might have double meaning, triple meaning, you know. So I came up with the words ‘light my fire’, and I thought, oh boy, this could be either lighting a cigarette, it could be lighting a joint, it could be talking about sex.

But the best one I heard, this guy came up to me, he was like a meditative type, and he said: Hey, I know what ‘light my fire’ means. I said: What? He said: It’s the third eye, the fire that burns eternally in the third eye.

KD:

Well, I can live with that.

RK:

Yeah, I thought that was great.

KD:

Can we just talk about the movie for a little while? It’s being presented as a movie about the Doors, but it’s really a movie about Jim Morrison, isn’t it?

RK:

I wouldn’t say that. I mean, it’s a movie about the entire Doors experience, and of course Jim Morrison’s going to be part of that.

KD:

Yes. Well, some would say the two things are synonymous, the story of Jim Morrison and the story of the Doors are identical. But here you are, how many years since his death?

RK:

Pretty close to a hundred.

(Actually, it’s almost exactly 40 years.-KD)

KD:

And you’re performing the music of the Doors with a symphony orchestra. What are the tunes you’re going to be doing?

RM:

Light My Fire, Touch Me, perhaps Riders on the Storm, perhaps Love Me Two Times, Wishful Sinful, and many others.

KD:

Will there be any vocals, or is that all instrumental.

RM:

No. We have a lead singer, Mili Matijevic, from a band called Steelheart. We also have a bass-player and a drummer.

KD:

So you won’t be doing that left-hand stuff, which you almost invented for the Doors.

RM:

What did he say?

KD:

The left hand.

RM:

Oh no, I won’t be doing that. Gee, I’m sorry. And my hair is different, too.

KD:

Isn’t it the case for all of us?

RM:

Yeah. And I don’t have the mutton-chop whiskers. People say: Hey, it’s too bad youj don’t have the exact same haircut you had . . .

KD:

I know! You’ve got to play fair for the fans. That’s what they want to see.

RM:

No, who cares?

If they want to see that, then they have to go and see the movie, When You’re Strange, narrated by Johnny Depp, which is of the era.

KD:

What did you think of Johnny Depp’s . . .

RM:

It’s terrific. He did a great job.

KD:

One of the things that struck me, when I talked to Jim back at the Isle of Wight, he was full of this talk of revolution, and of course ‘five to one baby, we’re taking over, we’re going to win, come on!’

Now, didn’t happen, did it?

RM:

No, because we’d be going up against the entire Judaeo-Christian Islamic myth, which has yet to dissipate itself. But it will, it will soon, because we’ll be moving into a new astrological age, and the revolution will come about through the revolution of the spirit, through the heart chakra, with each individual being the revolution.

KD:

Do you think that’s how Jim would have seen it?

RM:

Yes, that’s how Jim would have seen it.

KD:

At the time, certainly I, anyway, saw political implications . . .

RM:

Of course there’s political implications. We will overthrow the established structure which doesn’t mean that we can’t have democracy, and the vote and all of that, it’ll be exactly the same. But the individual populace there will be enlightenment, perhaps our leaders will actually be enlightened, some day. Not today.

KD:

But that was the time of the Vietnam war, which ended rather disastrously, and since then there’s been the Iraq war, and now Afghanistan . . .

RK:

We never learn, do we?

KD:

Well that’s it. But people don’t seem to be on the streets to the same extent they were at that time.

RK:

Well, things are cyclical I guess. You know every two hundred thousand years or so there’s a new cycle that comes around, it’s the tala juga.

RM:

We’re in, unfortunately, the tala yuga, which is the age of iron, and dullness, and darkness. But in that, each individual has a chance of seeing through the web of maya, and the veil of falsity that we live under and realising that we’re all one. We’re all the same, we’re emanate from love, you know, the love of the Creator, that makes us all human beings, that we find that within ourselves.

Like my God, could you actually imagine that Jews and Muslims could actually get together and love each other?

KD:

Well, they ought to. They all come from the same Bible.

RM:

Yeah, they’re both Abrahamic, they’re brothers. But they hate each other.

KD:

The left played a big part in the struggles of the Sixties. Do you think that society has moved on, or has the left still got a role?

RK:

The left, unfortunately, some of the left guys are just as crazy as some of the right. Too much polarity doesn’t do anybody any good. But the left will never be as bad as the right because, er, at least we care about people.

KD:

Would you say the Doors were a left-wing band?

RK:

No. The Doors were mirrors of society. You know, artists mirror society. They write about what they see. You know, we weren’t proselytising about what you should do, we were just saying: Hey, look inside, see what you’re doing.

KD:

One of the things that struck me about the movie was there were times when Jim appeared to be a bit out of it, that the band seemed to be working almost like free jazz, you know. It looked as if you weren’t quite sure what he was going to do, but whatever he did, you followed him. I was really impressed by that.

Was there a lot of spontaneity, where you didn’t actually you didn’t know what he was going to do next, but whatever he did you followed him? That was the way it appeared in the movie.

RM:

Oh yeah, that’s what happened. We didn’t know. He’d go out there, into far-out realms, and we’d following him, because of our ‘musical expertise’, It was like jazz. We were all improvising. And we were following, and sometimes pushing. Sometimes we would push Jim Morrison in different directions.

KD:

Could you give me an example of that?

RM:

I can’t. I will not. I cannot and I will not. You’d have to be there. It was a live experience. It might have happened at the second set at the Round House.

KD:

I was there.

RM:

And that’s in the film, too.

KD:

Was he a difficult person to work with?

RM:

Only when he was drunk. Other than that he was a delight. Charming man, very intelligent, funny, very poetic, very artistic. When he got drunk he was . . . when he was bad he was horrid. ‘When he was good he was very, very good, and when he was bad he was horrid’. (Longfellow)

So, unfortunately, alcohol consumed the good Jim Morrison, and Jimbo probably took Jim Morrison to Paris and killed him.

KD:

So you think it was definitely alcohol . . .

RM:

Well, Jim had a penchant for drink.

KD:

Oh yeah, indeed. Indeed.

I have to say I met Jim at the ICA, you may remember that’s where the press conference took place.

RM:

Yes, yes, yes.

KD:

And everything you’ve said about him . . . there was this sweet guy, and he was so friendly, and his conversation was so intelligent.

RM:

Yep.

KD:

I mean, I asked him a stupid journalistic-type question, which you sometimes have to do, you know?

Was his sexuality on stage, was that just an act, or was it real?

And he said to me: Well, you know, Karl, it’s like when you get up in the morning, you put on a suit of clothes, that’s what you’re deciding to do. Is that an act or is that yourself? And I thought it was such a profound way of looking at it . . .

RM:

That’s cool. Isn’t that good? It’s a very good answer, yes. I’m glad you met that Jim Morrison because very few people today have had that opportunity.

KD:

Yeah. My criticism of the movie is that we don’t see very much of that Jim Morrison, it’s all drink and drugs and . . .

RK:

But you see more of that Jim Morrison than you did in the Oliver Stone movie.

KD:

Oh I hated the Oliver Stone movie. How did you feel about the Oliver Stone movie.

RM:

Hated it! Hate . . . despise . . . loathe!

KD:

It’s amazing how some of Oliver Stone’s movies are so good, and others are so terrible. And I thought that was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

RM:

Well, it’s time to go my friend, we have some other interviews coming in, down the pike.

KD:

Right, well I do appreciate the chance of talking to you.

RM:

Likewise. Excellent questions.

KD:

We probably said a few words to each other at the ICA, but I’m afraid I concentrated on Jim.

RM:

You were quite right to do that, and so does the film.

KD:

There’s an old Zulu saying, Hamba khalie. It means go well.

RM:

Thank you my friend. The same to you.

Feature article for the Morning Star

In 1793, William Blake wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Flash forward to July 1965. James Douglas Morrison, the son of a US navy admiral, and Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr, a former basketball player, both of them former students at the UCLA film school, meet by chance on a California beach and decide to form a rock and roll band. Taking a tip from William Blake, they decide to call their band The Doors. The band go on to sell over 30 million albums in the US alone.

Flash forward again to July 2010, almost exactly forty years to the day since the alcohol-induced death of Jim Morrison in a Paris bathroom. Ray Manzarek (as he now calls himself) and Robbie Krieger, guitarist with the band and composer of the Doors’ greatest hit, Light My Fire, are in Britain to promote When You’re Strange, a movie supposedly about the Doors, but concentrating on the life and death of Jim Morrison.

I met up with Morrison several times, first in New York, then at the time of their British concert at London’s Roundhouse, sharing the bill with Jefferson Airplane in 1968, and finally at the disastrous Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. We always seemed to be talking about revolution, the subject of one of Morrison’s most powerful songs, Five to One (“The old get old and the young gets stronger/May take a week and it may take longer/They got the guns but we’ve got the numbers/Going to win cos we’re taking over/Come on!”)

When we spoke in 1968, the left was still rocked by the Chicago police riot at the Democratic National Convention, when it seemed like it was the US establishment that was taking over, I asked him how he now felt about the song.

“It’s a song, man,” he said. “It’s how I felt when I wrote it. That’s its validity; Now it’s just a song. Chicago didn’t change my memory of how I felt when I wrote the song.”

Two years later, at Isle of Wight, he was more upbeat: “Well, I don’t want to say too much, cos I haven’t studied politics that much, but it just seems to me you have to be in a constant state of revolution or you’re dead, you know, so . . . There always has to be a revolution. It has to be a constant thing. It’s not something that’s gonna change things and that’s it. ‘The revolution solves everything.’ It has to be every day.”

But it didn’t happen, did it, I say to Manzarek on the phone to his London hotel the day he and Krieger were due to perform their music with the London Symphony Orchestra.

“No,” he replies, “because we’d be going up against the entire Judaeo-Christian Islamic myth, which has yet to dissipate itself. But it will, it will soon, because we’ll be moving into a new astrological age, and the revolution will come about through the revolution of the spirit, through the heart chakra, with each individual being the revolution.

Did he think that’s how Jim would have seen it?

“Yes, that’s how Jim would have seen it.”

What about the political implications?

“Of course there’s political implications. We will overthrow the established structure which doesn’t mean that we can’t have democracy, and the vote and all of that, it’ll be exactly the same. But [for] the individual populace there will be enlightenment, perhaps our leaders will actually be enlightened, some day. Not today.”

The song was composed at the time of the Vietnam war, which ended rather disastrously, and since then there’s been the Iraq war, and now Afghanistan . . .

Robbie Krieger: “We never learn, do we?”

But people don’t seem to be on the streets to the same extent they were at that time.

“Well, things are cyclical I guess. You know every two hundred thousand years or so there’s a new cycle that comes around, it’s the tala juga.”

Huh?

Manzarek: “We’re in, unfortunately, the tala yuga, which is the age of iron, and dullness, and darkness. But in that, each individual has a chance of seeing through the web of maya, and the veil of falsity that we live under and realising that we’re all one. We’re all the same, we’re emanate from love, you know, the love of the Creator, that makes us all human beings, that we find that within ourselves.”

So would they say the Doors were a left-wing band?

Robbie Krieger says no. “No. The Doors were mirrors of society. You know, artists mirror society. They write about what they see. You know, we weren’t proselytising about what you should do, we were just saying: Hey, look inside, see what you’re doing.”

The new movie is well worth seeing, though personally I feel it concentrates too much on Morrison’s dissolute lifestyle, to the exclusion of the sweet, articulate, friendly guy I met one or two times. “But you see more of that Jim Morrison than you did in the Oliver Stone movie,” says Krieger. (Manzarek has gone on record several times to express his loathing of that film.)

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