Ray Manzarek of the US rock band The Doors died on Monday at the age of 74 after battling bile duct cancer. Together with the guitarist Robby Krieger, the innovative keyboardist wrote the music that accompanied Jim Morrison’s lyrics.
I met Manzarek at his home in Los Angeles in 2003 and in London in 2007. Topics of discussion included famous Doors songs and Jim Morrison’s death.
On what influenced The Doors
Jim [Morrison] and I both read novels by Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure. If Kerouac hadn’t written On the Road, The Doors wouldn’t have been instilled with that sense of search, that sense of freeing ourselves. Philosophically, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception was obviously important, because that’s where we got the band name. We were also into Friedrich Nietzsche and his philosophy of the Übermensch, the man who has risen above. Musically, we were into the blues: Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reid and John Lee Hooker. Jazz for us was Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I was more into jazz than Jim was. We were also influenced by classical and Latin music.
On what he and Morrison learnt while studying at UCLA film school in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s
We were instructed by [the Austrian-American filmmaker] Josef Von Sternberg. His style of directing had a direct impact on our music. He showed us Marlene Dietrich in Morocco and Blonde Venus. His movies had such a sense of existential ominousness to them. These were not kids’ movies; they were about adults in adult situations. I thought Sternberg was an amazing intellectual and had translated what he knew into cinema to probe the darker areas of the human psyche. Jim had a class with him also. Seeing Dietrich infused Jim’s stage persona with a lot of dramatic darkness. I always felt that I played Joseph Von Sternberg to Jim Morrison’s male Marlene Dietrich.
On the four members of The Doors
Robby Krieger [guitar] is quiet and deep, and another man with a high IQ. Jim Morrison was a very handsome guy and girls loved him like Dionysian maenads loving Dionysus and tearing him apart. Girls loved Jim Morrison to death. John Densmore [drums] was a puckish lad with a good deal of cheek and a great deal of rhythmic sensibility, and Ray Manzarek is everything that I am. I don’t categorise myself – I am everything. I am all things and all things are me.
On composing the organ hook of Light My Fire
I said: “You guys take a walk down to the ocean and I’ll have something by the time you come back.” The muse jumped into my fingers and made my J?S Bach studies come out. I did a circle of fifths and stumbled a bit with the filigrees, but it all resolved itself in about 10 to 15 minutes.
On writing LA Woman
It was originally a slow blues, which Jim and Robby had put together the chord changes for. It didn't work, though. I said: "LA Woman? That's the freeway! We're driving on the freeways of Los Angeles. It's 2am and we're really going, man. Each one of us has got our own car and we've each got our own LA Woman beside us." I said: "Let's kick that song into gear, let's take it up to 75mph." Once that idea got into The Doors' communal consciousness, it just exploded.
On Riders on the Storm
I saw it as an update on Ghost Riders in the Sky, which was written [by Stan Jones in 1948] before Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and all those guys invented rock 'n' roll. That whispered voice you hear was the last vocal Jim recorded on planet Earth. It was the voice of the spirits, and the spirit world was calling the shaman out of his physical form and into the next realm of existence. Had I known that Jim was so close to death, I would have seen it as a sign, maybe even a cry for help. But he was only 27 years old and it was impossible for anyone to believe that Jim was about to die.
On Jim Morrison’s death in Paris
I’d thought we were destined for other things: filmmaking and, after filmmaking, politics. I thought we were going to change the destiny of America. It all happened so fast that there was no opportunity to get over there. I said: “Baloney, I don’t believe it.” They’d already said Jim was dead a few times. Paul McCartney was dead. Janis Joplin was dead. Everybody was dead. The second phone call I got was to say that Jim was already buried at Père Lachaise cemetery. His place was secured by his filmmaker friend Agnès Varda and the French filmmaker, writer and photographer Alain Ronay, who had somehow or other gotten Jim in there. That was absolutely marvellous. There couldn’t have been a better place in Paris for an American artist to be buried.
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