My phoner with Ray (Ray Manzarek, 1939-2013)

Ray Manzarek, 20th century. Not a fox, but a damn good keyboardist.

Ray Manzarek, mid-20th century. Not a fox, but a damn good keyboardist.

May 20, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the end for Ray Manzarek. The clock said it’s time to close now. News just came in a few minutes ago of the death today of Manzarek — The Doors’ keyboardist/co-founder and producer of X’s first two albums — after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74. (Can’t believe he was only three years younger than my mother …)

I interviewed Ray on the phone one morning in April 2003 for the New Haven Register. It was a preview of The Doors 21st Century — that abomination of a tour with Ian Astbury pretending to be Jim Morrison — coming to the Oakdale Theatre in nearby Wallingford; the story and sidebar ran on the morning of the show, April 28. It was the first time Ray and Robby Krieger (with a hired-gun drummer and bassist) had played that close to New Haven since, well, Dec. 9, 1967, when they did a little show at the old New Haven Arena.

None of my Register stories made the conversion to electronic archives unscathed (every one of my stories I’ve found has had the first sentence, paragraph or page missing), and all my clips are in storage, but thankfully, I’ve been able to find the pieces here and here. Ray seemed very upbeat over the phone from his home in Los Angeles — maybe because he was anticipating a return to New Haven? Who knows? But it went well. And here are the main story and the sidebar in their entirety:

Strange days, indeed

Three decades later, a reincarnation of The Doors

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

April 28, 2003

The big question isn’t why Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger have revived The Doors without the band’s focal point. After all, they recorded two albums and carried on for 16 months after the death of singer Jim Morrison in July 1971. As what’s being billed as The Doors 21st Century pulls into Wallingford’s Oakdale Theatre for a show tonight, the big question is: Why now?

There have been other times when it would have made more sense – say, the late ’70s, when Doorsmania inexplicably erupted (hallmarked by the Rolling Stone Morrison cover: “He’s Hot. He’s Sexy. He’s Dead.”); or perhaps in 1991, when Oliver Stone’s film “The Doors” came out, starring Val Kilmer as Morrison.

“Why now? Because it’s the 21st century,” said Manzarek, the band’s keyboardist, from his Los Angeles home two weeks ago. “The Doors were not going to get together in the 20th century. But there’s wars going on and the economy is going down the drain and the environment is being threatened … it’s like the ’60s all over again.” Besides, he added, “In ’91, it would have been clever to capitalize on the movie. But who would we have gotten to sing?” You could hear the sneer. “Vallll – Kilmer?”

The singer this time is Ian Astbury, longtime leader of English band The Cult. He hooked up with Manzarek and guitarist Krieger at a “VH-1 Storytellers” session last year, at which they also played with Scott Stapp of Creed and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. The TV show was, in fact, the reason Manzarek and Krieger’s fire was lit to reunite.

“Ian just did a bangup job,” Manzarek said. Shortly after, Harley-Davidson called Krieger, asking them to play the company’s 100th-anniversary concerts. “We said, ‘Let’s get Ian,'” said Manzarek. “The Cult was breaking up, the timing was right – BOOM! That was it.”

The Doors 20th Century: Manzarek, John Densmore, some guy Val Kilmer tried to imitate and Robby Krieger.

The Doors 20th Century: Manzarek, John Densmore, some guy Val Kilmer badly tried to imitate and Robby Krieger.

Astbury has dark, brooding features like Morrison did, but his voice is different – a top-of-the-lungs delivery compared to Morrison’s raw yell from the middle of his gut. Well, don’t expect another Morrison, Manzarek said; they weren’t trying to mimic him.

“He’s got that touch of the shaman to him,” said Manzarek. “He’s not Jim Morrison, but some people say he’s channeling him. He’s into the same things Jim was into: American Indians, spirituality, that sorta black Celtic thing Morrison had going. (But) it’s not Jim Morrison. It’s Ian singing. It’s his interpretation of Doors songs.”

As it turned out, getting the drummer turned out to be the tricky part. Manzarek and Krieger currently have not one, but two lawsuits to eventually contend with. Original drummer John Densmore sued the band for copyright infringement and breach of contract. Then, former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who played a few shows with them last year, sued for $1 million because he said the band broke an oral contract with him when they decided to continue without him. Meanwhile, this version of The Doors carries on with drummer Ty Dennis and bassist Angelo Barbera. (The bassist is a new twist; in the “classic” days, Manzarek played the bass parts on the keyboard.)

“That’s nuisance lawsuits,” said Manzarek. “That’s a couple of drummers having a hissy fit. Stewart is having a hissy fit; John is having a hissy fit. We don’t take it real seriously. It’s drummers having semi-hysterical reactions. Stewart we decided against because he didn’t have the mystery. John, there was talk of a pre-existing medical condition I don’t want to talk about. (He did mention tinnitus to Dave Ferman of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.) Besides, I don’t think he could play two hours of solid rock ‘n’ roll. And John’s always been at sixes-and-nines with us, always being contrary.”

But to The Doors’ credit, this isn’t going to be just a jukebox show of everything you’ve heard ad nauseum on “rock” radio the past 35 years. Of course, you’ll hear “Light My Fire” (which was written by Krieger), “Roadhouse Blues,” “Break On Through,” etc. There will also be an unexpected rarity, such as “Maggie M’Gill.” But the group will also play some new material as well.

Manzarek and Krieger are writing the music for an album to be released later this year; the lyrics are being written by an array of people, including poets Jim Carroll and Michael McClure, and singers Henry Rollins and John Doe (whose 1979 debut album with the band X, “Los Angeles,” was produced by Manzarek and included a version of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen”).

But there will always be the piercing eyes of the young, adventurous, self-destructive Morrison lurking in the background. “It’s a dionysian resurrection,” said Manzarek, 64, referring to Dionysus, the dying-and-resurrecting god of ancient Greece. “Dionysus resurrects himself every spring. Morrison was Dionysus, man, in an American guise.”

*****

Blood in the streets? It was more like Mace in the Arena

“Who could forget it?” Ray Manzarek said.

Manzarek, the keyboardist for The Doors, had one of the best vantage points to see New Haven policemen arrest singer Jim Morrison on stage at the old New Haven Arena Dec. 9, 1967. The charge was “performing an indecent and immoral exhibition,” breach of peace and resisting arrest. But all Morrison did was recount to the audience his encounter with a police officer backstage.

Manzarek reiterated the events that a later generation might have read about in Jerry Hopkins and Daniel Sugerman’s Morrison biography, “No One Here Gets Out Alive” – a Saturday night also recorded in the pages of the Register and old Journal-Courier:

A half-hour before the show, Morrison had found a shower room backstage to get acquainted with a Southern Connecticut State College co-ed, when a cop tried to shoo them away. Morrison mouthed off (he reportedly said, “Eat me”), the conversation escalated and the officer sprayed Morrison in the face with Mace. When he realized who he sprayed, he and the band’s crew doused Morrison’s eyes with water. Apologies were exchanged. Shortly after, the show began, and something was amiss.

“When we got out on stage, there was a line of cops in front of the stage,” Manzarek said two weeks ago. “We asked why and they told us to protect us. From WHAT? From making love to us?”

In the instrumental break of “Back Door Man,” Morrison said, “I want to tell you about something that happened a few minutes ago right here in New Haven. This is New Haven, isn’t it? New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America?” Soon after, the lights came on and an officer told Morrison he was under arrest. He was taken away by two men in blue.

“New Haven is seared in my memory,” said Manzarek. “The show-stopping Captain Kelly, the two guys grabbing Jim, Captain Kelly saying the immortal words, ‘You’ve gone too far, young man. You’ve gone too far, young man.’ I thought, ‘Is that a crime? Is there a law about going too far, and how far is too far?’” (Actually, it wasn’t Captain Kelly; it was Lt. James Kelly, who was head of the NHPD’s Youth Division.)

After Morrison’s arrest, a melee broke out in which 13 more people were arrested, including a music critic for the Village Voice, and a photographer and a researcher for Life magazine. The photographer, Tim Page, according to a Journal-Courier story, was arrested while shooting a policeman “roughing up a kid.” The arrest of a rock star on stage, combined with the apprehension of members of the national press, ensured widespread coverage of the story.

The charges were dropped a month later when Morrison failed to appear in Circuit Court a month later; he forfeited his $1,500 bond, but no re-arrest warrant was issued. Morrison immortalized the Elm City in the song “Peace Frog,” on The Doors’ 1970 album “Morrison Hotel” – the song with the line “Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven.”

When asked if they’ll be playing the song tonight at Oakdale, Manzarek enthused, “Oh, yeah! ‘Peace Frog’ is part of our set.”

And when told the old Arena site is now the home of New Haven’s FBI building, Manzarek replied, “Isn’t that perfect! What a perfect placement.”

— Fran Fried

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