By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic
Would the Beatles be the Beatles minus two members? How about Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant? The Rolling Stones minus Mick and Keith?
Some bands age with taste. Others flounder on, pleasing fans thirsty for nostalgia, but denting their legacy in the process. The Doors of the 21st Century are now on the road, sparking controversy and lawsuits.
Original keyboardist Ray Manzarek, 68, and guitarist Robby Krieger, 57, are on board, but former drummer John Densmore is suing them trying to stop the party. And, well, Jim Morrison died in 1971 at age 27.
Densmore’s lawsuit was followed by another from Morrison’s parents and one more from former Police drummer Stewart Copeland who argued he was fired from the group after a verbal agreement.
Manzarek, who grew upon Chicago’s South Side, talked recently about what is motivating his Doors tribute. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q. You grew up in Chicago in the ’50s, at the height of the post-World War II blues era.
A. It was incredible. You heard Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed on the radio.
Q. You got an economics degree at DePaul.
A. Yeah, downtown, which was great because I was right around the corner from Orchestra Hall and they’d have Wednesday matinees. There was also a place called the World Cinema where I saw “Black Orpheus,” “The 400 Blows” and the beginning of the French New Wave.
Q. When you finally got to California for film school and met Morrison, what was your first impression?
A. Nothing much. He was just one of the guys, smart as a whip and a stoner, but then again weren’t we all?
Q. Next to Elvis and Jimi Hendrix, he became mythical after he died. Since you actually knew him, did that rub you the wrong way?
A. It distorts the poet and the intellectual. But we’re America. We don’t want to know about a poet intellectual, we want to know about the wildest man in rock and roll. “He was totally dangerous.” Huh? What the (expletive) does that mean?
It’s an extension of the myth of Dionysus. The Greek gods are personifications of various impulses in humanity … Dionysus is the dying and resurrecting god of sexual wildness. This has been a suppressed thing in Christianity and Judeo-Christian culture for 2,000 years and it comes out with Elvis and Morrison.
He has take on that persona and he is the god who will release in you a sexual freedom so that you can break beyond the bounds of your constraining puritanical religions. … You can break out of that and for a moment in a rock concert follow Morrison into a state of ecstatic freedom. That’s what people are looking for.
Q. For a guy who knew him, this must be ridiculous.
A. Right … Can you read his poetry, please? “Poetry? We don’t care about his poetry!” This is a human being just like you; this is not the wild man of all time.
Q. What do you say to people who say that your new revamped Doors is a crass fraud?
A. Don’t come. All I can say to that is, for God’s sake, don’t come. You should see Aerosmith. Yeah, that would be much better. Go see Aerosmith.
But if you want to listen to the guitar player who wrote “Light My Fire” and the keyboard player who put the band together with Jim Morrison and wrote the “Light My Fire” organ riff, come. We are The Doors.
We had John Densmore as a drummer, and John Densmore chose not to play for whatever reasons.
We asked him many times to play. Does it make any difference to you, the audience, if John Densmore plays or not? No. I don’t think he could play for two and a half hours anyway, his ears wouldn’t allow it. He couldn’t do it. And Jim is dead.
Q. Don’t you think (new singer) Ian Astbury is simply doing a Morrison impression?
A. He has that dark, brooding, Christian, shamanism thing that Morrison had but he’s not imitating. He’s his own man, doing Doors songs. So as far as the legitimacy of it, hey we’re the illegitimate sons of a rock and roll band. Because Jim is dead. This is the only chance we have to play these songs when we’re still loaded with piss and vinegar.
Q. Morrison’s untimely death is considered one of the landmarks of the ’69s dark side. How real was the decade’s slide?
A. The dark side of the ’60s was the opposite of the light of the ’60s. The light of the ’60s was the light of love, peace and harmony, which makes absolutely no sense in this day and age unfortunately. In this day and age, we lost all the ideals of the prophet from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. We actually tried to implement the message of Jesus Christ – love thy neighbor as thyself. that’s certainly gone now.
Q. Some would say your generation dropped the ball.
A. Yeah, sure they did. Shame on them, and here we are today with the 21st century and we’re still fighting the same battles of the ’60s with the forces of darkness in charge of the government today. That’s the dark side of the ’60s: Wage war and control countries and spoil the environment.