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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 20, 2000
The Doors, from left, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison,
John Densmore and Robby Krieger, in a 1968 photo.

Life’s an
open Doors for
leader of legendary
rock band

Ray Manzarek: What Stone
did to Morrison was
a travesty

By Tim Ryan


A much-used expression says if you can remember the '60s you weren't really there. Cute, but not universally true, and certainly inaccurate when it comes to Doors' keyboardist and musical leader Ray Manzarek, who recently visited Hawaii to celebrate his birthday -- 61 -- and look for a "retirement" house.

" 'Light My Fire' has been very good to all the Doors," Manzarek joked from his oceanfront room at the Ilikai Hotel.

Musical memories of the '60s lead straight to the Doors, a band that captured the orgiastic mood of the Age of Aquarius, L.A. style, by mixing mystical lyrics and extended psychedelic jamming with the signature sound of Manzarek's carnival-like electric keyboard stylings. The group was led by a poet who became an alcoholic, Jim Morrison.

"We were a representative American group," Manzarek says while sipping orange juice. "America is a melting pot and so were we. Our influences sprung from lots of places which we amalgamated, blending divergent styles into our own thing.

"Anything people say about America could be said about The Doors."

Manzarek's book "Light My Fire, My Life with The Doors" -- published in 1998 -- has just been released in paperback.

Manzarek and wife Dorothy, whom he met and married 30 years ago when they were students at UCLA, have just finished a breakfast more fitting for a fitness guru than a rock star, retired or not: papayas, bananas, grapes, orange slices, wheat toast, mineral water, juice.

Manzarek said his Chicago upbringing thrust him into music.

"South Side of Chicago around 35th and Western, St. Rita High School, De Paul University, and the blues on the South Side of Chicago," he recalled. "Man, that's what really did it to me ... it's made me everything I am. Just hearing Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker and Magic Sam on the radio killed me."

Doors members Robby Krieger, guitarist, left; Ray
Manzarek, keyboardist and John Densmore,
drummer in 1987.

After graduating from De Paul University Manzarek moved to California to attend UCLA film school.

"I never really considered staying in music," he said. "Jim (Morrison) and I were in the same class."

After graduating, Manzarek wasn't able to find a job and Morrison planned to move to New York. But some four months later at Venice Beach, Morrison and Manzarek bumped into one another.

"Jim had been writing songs and he sang me a bit from 'Moonlight Drive.' " Manzarek said. "It just blew me away so I said let's get a rock 'n' roll band together. It's what he wanted to do too."

Two years later in 1967, the fledgling group hit it big with several hits on the "The Doors" album, including the pulsating "Break on Through," an 11-minute version of "The End," and, of course, "Light My Fire" which became the No. 1 single in the country.

"Light my Fire" was band member Robby Krieger's first song. He wrote it in two days.

"But it sounded like a Sonny and Cher, Southern California jingle-jangle melody with nice chord changes," Manzarek said.

A Latin beat was added; Morrison contributed the second verse; Manzarek the compelling introduction.

The Doors' performed at the Whisky-A-Go-Go where they first introduced the long version of "Light My Fire." The group was fired after performing "The End."

"The Whiskey management was right," Manzarek said. "The Doors were an acquired taste; our music had a tendency to be dark."

Manzarek's first royalty check from the album was $50,000. He hurried home to then girlfriend Dorothy to ask her marry him, saying, "I now can support you in the manner to which you have not been accustomed."

The couple bought a two-bedroom, one-bath house in West Hollywood for $49,500 complete with fish pond and pool.

"Early on Dorothy and I decided our lives would be in the arts," Manzarek said. "See, I was supposed to be a lawyer; she something in the medical profession. We didn't get together for any rock 'n' roll motives."

Manzarek said he wrote his book to set the record straight from Oliver Stone's film, "The Doors," which starred Val Kilmer.

"The film was wrong because it was a white powder movie, not a psychedelic movie," Manzarek said. "We were a band of consciousness expansion."

"Stone portrayed Jim as a completely insane sort of guy," Manzarek said. "Yes, he was an alcoholic, but also a poet, an artist, sensitive and funny. What Stone did to Morrison was a travesty."

Although the remaining Doors' members were consulted by Stone, the director "had his own ideas," Manzarek said.

"It was Oliver Stone saying if he were a rock star, 'I'd have black leather and be in a band like the Doors.' "

In his book and interviews, Manzarek doesn't sugarcoat Morrison's addictions, bizarre behavior or the band's feeble attempt to get the singer to slow down.

Morrison's stage behavior reached a peak in 1969, when after a Florida concert, he was indicted for indecent exposure, public intoxication and profane, lewd and lascivious conduct.

"When you're that famous, all sins are permitted you," Manzarek said. "You're totally indulged and all your transgressions are forgiven. Sure you made an asshole of yourself and bummed out everyone in the whole room, but that's OK because you're Jim Morrison."

The band didn't know how to deal with Morrison.

"We weren't aware that anyone at age 25 could go from being a consciousness-expanding, psychedelic person to a juicer," Manzarek said. "We were really just a bunch of pakalolo heads. The only alcoholics we knew were skid-row bums."

The group hired bodyguards to keep Morrison away from booze but the guards ended up drinking with the singer.

"In the '60s everyone was allowed to do their own thing so to tell Jim to stop drinking was very weird for us," Manzarek said. "But (in 1970) we held a meeting to tell him he was drinking too much, that it was affecting his health and he had to stop. Jim said 'You're right, I'm trying to cut down.'

"So we all sighed with relief and said, 'Great, meeting's over.' "

The Doors last live performance was in December 1970; seven months later Morrison, 28, was found dead in Paris, officially from a heart attack.

These days, Manzarek works with beat poet Michael McClure, a Morrison friend, performing at universities, colleges and coffee houses in an "esoteric evening of poetry and piano."

Manzarek said a Doors' reunion is possible "someday."

In the meantime, the royalty checks keep rolling in.

"Oh, it's a fine life isn't it, matey," Manzarek says with a wink and a nod.

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