- 03 Jul 19
On the 48th anniversary of rock legend Jim Morrison's death, we're revisiting our 2004 interview with The Doors' co-founder Ray Manzarek, who reflects on Morrison and the legacy of the band.
“I’m having déjà vu. It’s a bad acid flashback! And acid flashbacks are good!” declares first generation hippy and undisputed Legend Of Rock Ray Manzarek in his slow but dramatic US drawl.
The Doors keyboardist is proclaiming his dismay at the state of the modern world as his band – which now includes former Cult frontman Ian Astbury on vocals – prepare to re-ignite the ’60s spirit of love not war with a world tour and a brand new album.
“This is a bad trip though because this one is in reality,” he continues. “We’ve got an insane President, and we’ve got an insane war going on, and the terrorists – the Islamic terrorists – they’ve all gone insane, and it’s like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ We’re after the world’s oil. And all the things that we were fighting for in the ’60s we’re fighting for again.”
The idea to bring The Doors back to life came when the band were filming a documentary for VH1. Having made a discreet amendment to their name (they are now The Doors Of The 21st Century), Manzarek and Robbie Krieger attempted to enlist the skills of the group’s original drummer, John Densmore, but he declined the offer.
“John has like totally flipped out,” says Manzarek, sounding like an extra from Saved By The Bell. “We don’t understand John, we want him to play, we asked him to play, we said, ‘C’mon! Let’s play! We’re having a great time, the people love it, Ian’s doing a great job. It’s fun! We’re playing ‘Light My Fire Again’!’ But he just refuses to play. So, with that as the case, we got Stuart Copeland from The Police, but that didn’t work out either. Wrong metronome.”
After much legal wrangling and internal rows, the group finally settled on drummer Ty Dennis, as well as recruiting bass guitarist Angelo Barbera, thus freeing up Manzarek’s left hand – something he cites as “absolutely fantastic”.
“Hopefully it’ll take you outside of your everyday reality,” he says, of the band’s live show. “You’re going to come into the cathedral, the temple where music is going to be performed. A kind of ‘Be here now’, Zen Buddhist state of mind, in which you are in this temple and nothing is going to exist for you except the rhythm, the sound and the music. That’s what it’s all about, and it’s certainly what it’s all about for us.”
But, all that said, surely the reality of standing on stage and playing Doors songs to a live audience and looking up to see anyone other than Jim Morrison standing there is incredibly difficult?
“Well, it breaks my heart.” He pauses. “Y’know. It breaks my heart that it’s not Jim Morrison in 1968. But instead, it’s the 21st Century, Jim has leapt upwards into the loam and he is no longer with us. And now we have a singer who is equally passionate about things spiritual, about Native Americans, about the state of the planet, about Zen Buddhism, and who loves Jim Morrison and Jim Morrison’s poetry. And he is interpreting Jim’s poetry. He’s being Ian Astbury, he’s not doing a cover at all, he’s totally himself. That makes it exciting, and it’s also what constantly brings me back to the present on stage: the passion in hearing Ian Astbury sing ‘Light My Fire’.
“And Jim would love this! My God! He’d love this! Jim’s a poet, and a poet wants his words spoken. He wants his poetry read to people. And now, here, his buddies Ray and Robbie from the original band are out there playing with a guy who loves Jim Morrison. And this guy is singing Jim’s words one more time. Ten thousand people in Paris on Jim’s birthday and he’s singing ‘Break On Through To The Other Side’. Jim, as a poet, as an artist, would love it.”
While he is reluctant to talk about the new album, (“everything is coming, none of it’s quite finished,” he eventually concedes), he does inform us that lyrical duties are being shared by a host of US poets, including Basketball Diaries author Jim Carroll, as well as the aforementioned Ian Astbury.
As our interview draws to a close, I point out that Manzarek has often referred to The Doors’ music as the soundtrack to the movie in his head. So what’s he watching?
“Oh… uhm… It’d be a Josef von Sternberg movie with Marlene Dietrich probably, and Anna Mae Wong. Probably the movie Shanghai Express, then it would also be Frederico Fellini’s 8½. Those two movies are the movies in my head.”