"The Doors Revisited: Ray Manzarek opens up about new Doors rock-doc"

08 Apr "The Doors Revisited: Ray Manzarek opens up about new Doors rock-doc"

The Patriot Ledger
Quincy, MA
April 8, 2010
by Ed Symkus

Ray Manzarek, keyboard player, writer, and after the demise of Jim Morrison, singer with the Doors, has no idea what his last name means. “It’s a Polish name,” he said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. “There was a ‘c’ in there before the ‘z’, but I took that out. I figure it must have something to do with the czar – man … czar … ek. Let’s say it means associate of the czar.” But Manzarek, 71, would much rather talk about the new Doors documentary, “When You’re Strange.” Almost two decades ago, he infamously called Oliver Stone’s film “The Doors” a “pack of lies.” But this time around, he said that writer-director Tom DiCillo got it right.

“We all put our two cents in,” said Manzarek, referring to himself and surviving Doors Robby Krieger and John Densmore. “We stuck our noses in every once in a while, saying this is good or that’s good. But Tom was on top of it. We had all of that footage, and I thought the idea of not using any talking heads was a good idea. I didn’t want to see the old-time Doors talking about the Doors a long time ago when they were young. The only time that works is in Warren Beatty’s movie ‘reds.'”

Manzarek has long been a film nut. He first met Jim Morrison when they were both students at the UCLA Film School. When the Doors toured, they featured short films such as “The Unknown Soldier” screening behind them as they played the song. “When You’re Strange” has a film-within-the film, pieces of Morrison’s short art film “HWY” spread through it.

“Jim and our cameraman buddy Paul Ferrara and a couple of guys went out to the desert to shoot 10 minutes of a hitchhiker on the road,” said Manzarek of the long-ago project. “Jim had ideas of making a film about a hitchhiking killer on the road – like ‘Riders on the Storm.’ Unfortunately, being stoners, they were out there on cannabinol, and just kept shooting film. They kept saying, ‘Hey, there’s a coyote on the highway. Hey, there’s some kids dancing. Hey, let’s shoot out of the car window as we’re coming into L.A.’ They ended up having at least an hour’s worth of film. But at least we do have that great 10 minutes of Jim driving a car and running down the highway and coming out of the water.”

The Doors really only lasted just over five years, bursting out of the L.A. scene in 1965, and ending in 1971 with Morrison’s mysterious death in Paris. The band struggled on without him for two more years, and finally disbanded.

But Manzarek vividly remembers the defining moment when he knew the Doors had made it.

“January, 1969, center stage, theater in the round, Madison Square Garden. That’s where the Lakers played the Knicks. That’s where I watched Kareem go up against Willis Reed. And now I’m playing there. Before we were ready to go, before the lights were turned on, the announcer said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Doors!’ and the people started shooting their little flashbulb cameras to get a souvenir. The place is dark. Just some work lights are on. We’re in the round, and these thousands of flashbulbs are going off. I just stood there and turned in a circle, watching the universe go nova. And I thought, ‘man, it doesn’t get any better than this. What a sight! Flashbulbs exploding like stars exploding in outer space.”

They didn’t have that kind of success 16 months earlier when they performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Sullivan instructed them to take the supposedly drug-related word “higher” out of “Light My Fire” but Morrison sang it anyway. After the show, an angry producer told them they would never play the Sullivan show again.

“Oh, that was great!” recalled Manzarek, laughing. “Jim said to the guy, ‘Hey man, we just did the Sullivan show.’ The irony is that that one performance has been seen a thousand times. It’s in ‘When You’re Strange.’ We did ‘the Ed Sullivan Show’ more than 40 years ago, and we never worked ‘the Ed Sullivan Show’ again? It’s 2010, man, and we’re still doing ‘the Ed Sullivan Show.'”

And Manzarek is still playing Doors music. A tour with Krieger will hit the Northeast in early June and will include Boston, but the date hasn’t been set. They’ll then go on to tour in Europe in July, and Australia and Japan in October.

Right now, Manzarek is enjoying some time off, settled in the Napa Valley with his wife Dorothy, drinking wine, growing vegetables and fruit trees, living what he calls the life of gentleman and gentlewoman farmers.

So when “Break on Through” comes on the car radio, does he turn it up, or change the station? “Oh, God, turn it up! Are you kidding?” he said. “Living up in northern California, it rains a lot, so they play the heck out of ‘Riders on the Storm.’ And when that comes on, I crank that sucker, man.

“When You’re Strange” opens at the Somerville Theatre on April 9.