21 Dec "The Doors Come Alive"
December 21, 2007
by Gillian G Gaar
Ray Manzarek discusses Rhino’s release of band’s 1970 Boston concerts
On Friday, April 10, 1970, The Doors were scheduled for two shows at the Boston Arena. The 7 p.m. show was respectable enough, beginning with some fierce wails from Jim Morrison before bursting into “Roadhouse Blues,” and concluding with the band’s biggest hit, “Light My Fire.”
But, it’s the second show where you really hear, in keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s words, “crazy, wild Doors at their best.”
The show was scheduled to start at 10 p.m. but didn’t actually get under way until after midnight. “Light My Fire” sprawls over nearly 20 minutes, with bits of “Fever” and “St. James Infirmary Blues” tossed in. Despite Morrison’s obvious state of altered consciousness, the show holds together very well – at least until the organizers decide that enough is enough, and they pull the plug, to the crowd’s great dissatisfaction.
Now, both shows in their entirety have been released on Rhino as Live In Boston 1970, a three-CD set that captures the band at a key point in its career. It was a year after the infamous performance in Miami that resulted in Morrison being charged with indecent exposure (“Do you want to see my genitals?” Morrison taunts the Boston audience at one point), and the band was still enjoying commercial success (the recently released Morrison Hotel was a Top 5 hit), but the band was careening toward the end of their life as a touring act, 14 months before Morrison’s unexpected death in Paris at age 27.
The Boston shows were taped along with a few others recorded on that spring tour.
“We’ve got about eight shows that are multi-tracked,” says Manzarek, speaking on the phone from Napa, Calif. “Then we cherry picked the best performances for Absolutely Live [released in July 1970]. But, now we’re releasing the entire show, because people have said, ‘Hey, we know you’ve got the entire shows; just release them already!’ So, that’s what we’re doing.”
Well before iTunes, The Doors already were reaching out to their fans online via their Bright Midnight Records label (now Bright Midnight Archives), which offered unreleased shows and interviews exclusively through the label’s Web site.
“Yeah, we were releasing live shows on a collectors-only Web site,” says Manzarek, “but now we’ve decided since, hey, there’s so many requests for them, why don’t we just put them out as regular CDs? Rhino does all The Doors catalog items, and they said, ‘Let’s do it; come on, we want put those out so they’re in the stores.’ And we said, ‘Okay, that’s fine, let’s go ahead and do it.’ Consequently, when you do that, interestingly enough, you get publicity! I’ve just read a review of Live In Boston in the Sunday paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. And if we had only released it online, it wouldn’t have been reviewed in the Chronicle. But now, people who read the Sunday paper can see a review of Live in Boston!”
Manzarek recalls the Boston shows as “manic, wild, crazy, intoxicated … the shaman was intoxicated in Boston. I don’t know if you’re allowed to even be a shaman in Boston. But Morrison sure as hell did it! Still, as intoxicated as Jim was, it was never a problem. Even in his most intoxicated state, he’d hit the musical cues. When we’d play ‘Light my Fire,’ you could solo as long as you wanted – and sometimes we did! – and then Jim would scream, improvise, add poetry, or whatever, sang some things that he felt like doing.
“The only thing that mattered was at the end of the solo we’d go back into the first verse of ‘Light my Fire,’ and it was imperative that Jim hit that mark, to start singing again, ‘You know that it would be untrue, you know that I would be a liar …’ And he always did, you know? As drunk as he was, or as out of it as he was, the shaman would be right there, hitting that cue’. And as long as he hit those musical cues, everything was fine. You’d just go out and burn, you know? The band burns, Morrison takes it wherever he wants to take it, and we’d follow him and keep burning.”
The band’s ability to go off on a tangent, and still keep the song together, adds a welcome dose of spontaneity in contrast to today’s arena shows, which often feel as scripted as a play.
“Well, we’d do ‘Light my Fire’ every night,” says Manzarek. “There’s certain things that if you’re a musician, you have to play; you have to play what people have come to hear. But we’re an improv band; that’s what we do, we improvise. So, to play whatever you want to play is valid, as long as you’re capable of playing it, capable of pulling if off.”
And certainly The Doors were more than capable of “pulling it off.” As opposed to some acts that try to recreate their records, the performances on Live In Boston inject new life into them; hence guitarist Robby Krieger can toss in a few licks from “My Favorite Things” during “Light My Fire,” while Morrison goes off on one of his improvisational raps, taking the familiar and making it something unique.
Live In Boston is the latest in a steady stream of Doors releases that have come out recently: A 40th anniversary box set released last year; the albums from the box released individually last January; and a best-of CD released this past July. And the good news for fans is that there’s more to come.
“What’s interesting is [we’ve] also [released] all six studio albums on vinyl, a limited-edition box set of vinyl,” Manzarek says, referring to The Doors Vinyl Box, released Sept. 25. The set contains the band’s six studio albums, in their original stereo mixes, on 180-gram virgin vinyl, along with a second copy of the band’s self-titled debut album in mono. The set is limited to 12,500 individually numbered copies, and packaged in a box covered in faux lizard skin (info: www.rhino.com and www.thedoors.com).
“It sounds so great; it’s so warm and rich,” says Manzarek. “Vinyl is just a beautiful sounding medium.”
And the other shows recorded on the 1970 tour will also be released “eventually” according to Manzarek. “The next batch that’s coming out will probably be early next year. Pittsburgh [May 2, 1970], and then we’re going to put out the four shows at Madison Square Garden [Jan. 17 and 18, 1970]. That’ll be some time … when we get around to it! Some time within the next year or so, year and a half.”
Of course, reissues and the occasional reunion tour aside, Manzarek’s career has encompassed a lot more than just his time with The Doors.
“I’ve done many other things, but none of them amount to squat,” he says cheerfully. “Although they’re all very good. But, since we live in America, and Americans only judge by the amount of sales you get, somebody says, ‘Gee, you haven’t done anything else that was successful.’ And I’d think, ‘Yeah, but it’s been good.’ Now it doesn’t matter to me; I’m past caring. If you like what I do, fine; if you don’t like what I do, who cares. I don’t care. What I’ve done with my life is projects that I consider to be very noteworthy. And excellent projects, but they haven’t sold. So if you look upon sales as success, I’ve been incredibly unsuccessful. On the other hand, I’m very happy.”
And he’s also happy to still be talking about The Doors, something he hadn’t imagined he’d be doing 40 years ago.
“No, I didn’t think I would be talking about the band,” he says. “But I’m certainly glad that 40 years later people are still appreciating the music of The Doors, and that it’s a subject worth talking about. I’m happy that The Doors are still appreciated, and Jim Morrison’s lyrics are still a thing to ponder. There’s still some intellectual merit to the Doors!”