“I’ll tell you what happened to me when I first opened up my doors of perception …”
How many interviews can one sort through before they find a question that hasn’t been asked or answered? When it comes to co-founder and illustrious keyboardist, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, there aren’t many.
RIP Ray Manzarek. Your infinite influence will never be forgotten.
With that said, the 15 questions I had compiled for the interview were thrown in the trash shortly before calling Ray.
From what I have read about Ray and how closely I am connected to the music of The Doors, I felt I knew enough to just wing it. If I ran into Ray Manzarek on the street and got into a conversation with him, I wouldn’t need a list of questions, just proper knowledge of who he is.
Turns out that at the vibrant age of 73, this man lives life to its fullest, residing in his California home in the rolling hills of the Napa Valley with his wife, Dorothy. We caught up with Ray, who is currently on tour with Robby Krieger of The Doors, and threw contrived questions and caution to the wind. Although he is a healthy, spiritual, and well-rounded individual, it seems Ray is still trying to convince Doors fans, young and old, to open up their own doors of perception.
[Phone rings for a while]
Ray, Craig calling about an interview.
Oh, you want to do an interview with Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of The Doors?
Yes, Exactly. Can you help me out with that?
Yeah, I can do that right now. OK, You got a tape recorder?
Is it on? Is it going?
It’s in motion.
OK. Good. Lets do this.
It’s great that you guys are still touring. I’m excited to see The Doors’s music live.
Yeah, we play The Doors music. Robby Krieger wrote “Light My Fire.” you will hear Robby Krieger play “Light My Fire.” I invented the intro to “Light My Fire.” You will hear Ray Manzarek play “Light -My- Fire.” It’ll be a remarkable recreation of The Doors, one more time. So, If you never saw The Doors, this is your chance to get as close as possible with two of the original Doors.
Die Hard Doors fans, they…
Well, they’re pretty old now … It happened to me. I got older.
You sound the same as when you were young.
Bummer. But, yeah. I can’t touch the rim on the basketball hoop anymore.
How do you perceive the younger generations’s interest with The Doors?
Younger Doors fans are very intelligent. They know what’s going on. They know Jim’s lyrics and the songs when they come to hear them play live. They’re hip and smart. A lot like the kids were in the ’60s. They probably haven’t taken LSD.
I’m sure they will after listening to your music. I did, but I’m not into giving them any ideas.
We’ll get arrested.
But, I’ll tell you what happened to me when I first opened up my doors of perception. I realized that you and I, and all the rest of the people in Boston are all the same energy and the same creation. They’re all, dare I say it? God. And, hell does not exist. Only heaven.
I thought hell existed on Earth?
Hell exists here and now, but it doesn’t exist in the afterlife. In the afterlife it’s only heaven.
In popular music yesterday and today, you hear lots of classic rock influence from bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Kinks, but you never hear or see too many modern bands that show influence to The Doors music in their songwriting and performing. Could it be because of the jazz influence you guys had?
Our background was certainly in Jazz. [The Doors's drummer] John Densmore was a jazz drummer. I grew up listening to Jazz in Chicago. Yeah, Jazz is part of The Doors background. Hold on .. .there’s a balloon landed two houses over in the backyard.
A hot air balloon?
Hot air balloon in the Napa Valley, coming down. They just pulled the plug and the thing is collapsing. Very cool … [Laughs]
No action like that happening here. I’ve said it before. I’m on the wrong coast.
No. No hot air balloons in Boston. Otherwise you’d be blown away. The winds in Boston are like hurricane force. They call Chicago the windy city? Jesus. Anyway, The Doors background is Jazz, blues, and classical with flamenco guitar and a French symbolist poet, American Gothic, and beat poet thrown into that mix. That mix is not difficult, but you have to find the right four souls, that’s the hard part.
That one incredible moment at the beach in Venice when Jim and I came together and then I met John [Densmore] and Robby at Maharishi’s meditation. Psychological, spirituality, literary, cinema, it’s all involved in The Doors music.
Looking back at the ’60s era from the 21st century, it was an American Renaissance.
It was. A post-war generation coming of age and we had received everything from our parents and said ‘go to college’.
The ’50s was the great foundation of security and we broke free of that security and let into the unknown void and found we were totally secure.
There was nothing to be afraid of. To create to the best of our ability. We became artists and intoxicants.
You always hear of parents being strict in those days. Now they’re barely around it seems.
We were all given lessons. The parents in the ’50s and ’60s, after [World War II], were really good parents and we were the fruit of that. Boy, there weren’t any divorces right after WWII. They would fight it out and work it out. They took care of their children. And then their children opened the doors of perception. On the beach in Venice.
You guys were down in Venice, and 350 miles north in San Francisco a musical revolution was happening as well. Musically, would you say there was a difference between the two cities?
Nah, just location, man.
Everybody’s head was open to the stars. Our feet were in the mud and our heads were big balls of sun radiating energy.
The clothes were different. We had the beach in southern California, and northern California, they had the city. San Francisco was so incredibly hip; a beautiful wonderful city. LA was more of an outdoor setting—growing out of the Beach Boys, you know? There was surfing at the beaches. But it also had that aspect left over from the ’50s of cool jazz. Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, and just the cool west coast sound which I loved. There were convertibles. You know, a white guy could be driving with his Chinese, Japanese girlfriend in an MG listening to Gerry Mulligan on the radio along the Pacific Coast Highway with the sun beating down on you and palm trees racing past. The Beats were all up in San Francisco. Michael McClure, Jim Morrison’s good buddy and Poet. Gary Schneider, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac.
You’ve written some novels. Who’s your literary hero?
John Steinbeck.When I read Steinbeck in Chicago, I just had to get out to California.
In 1969, The Doors played Toronto Peace Festival with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and John Lennon. Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker filmed it, but The Doors were not filmed. I don’t even think there is a soundboard recording, just bootlegs.
Maybe he didn’t know who The Doors were.
Oh yeah, that happened a lot. The Doors have the power to cloud men’s minds. You didn’t want to know about The Doors; it’s not regular rock. ‘Never heard of them’. They don’t know “Light My Fire”; some call it, “Come On Baby Light My Fire”. As soon as that happens, I know right away they know nothing about The Doors. The Oedipal complex? They don’t want that in music, “Father I want to kill you, Mother I want to fuck you”? [Laughs].
Well Jim wasn’t about incense and peppermints or freak out rock, but in terms of real psychedelic music, The Doors locked you in and without a doubt altered your mind.
I’ve never felt like psychedelic meant “freak-out,” but you younger guys do.
Yeah, for us, the term psychedelic meant actually taking hallucinogenics.
I’ve eaten my share of acid, but I won’t meddle with it anymore. Talk about a freak-out; I had a near death experience.
Ohh, OK. Did it open the doors of perception? You thought you were going to die, right?
Oh It did. It was a rough time even days afterward. Maybe months. Maybe Still.
Well, right. You got to put that all back together again. Exactly. That’s the whole point of it.
Christ, how long does it take?
Well, you read and you think about it and you … uh … don’t take anymore … you know? Do you meditate or anything?
When I can. The last five years haven’t been much of a spiritual awakening, just have gotten a bit sour.
Well for one, you’re fucking lucky to be alive, man, on the planet Earth. You’re breathing. Take lots of deep breaths.
Do you exercise, or workout?
I keep active, but don’t have an exercise regime. I’m ideal weight for my height and I have outstanding reflexes.
Well just make sure you stay in shape physically and mentally and uh … were you raised a Catholic?
Not in an orthodox sense. My parents let me quit Sunday School when I was 12. I’m afraid of the devil.
Well, yeah, sure, you’re afraid of going to Hell. But don’t worry. Take it from me: Hell does not exist. It’s OK. You don’t have to worry about it. Even if you die, you’re going right into eternity; the golden eternity or pure bliss, pure joy, and pure happiness. You leave your body and you dissolve into the universe and you know all secrets of the universe and everything will be revealed to you and you’ll become one with everything.
All right, man, I got to get going. I’m going to pump some iron. My wife and I are gonna go and work out. Feel young man, feel young.