Ray Manzarek Interview

November 1989 by Rainer Moddemann

Before my interview with Ray Manzarek during my third stay in Los Angeles, his manager, Danny Sugerman, informed me while having breakfast at Duke's, that Ray had cancelled all future interviews, as he had got so sick and tired of all the hype to do with Oliver Stone's Doors film, and also because the press had ridiculed him after his withdrawal from the shooting of the film. In other words: Ray was in a huff. Evil tongues were rumoring that him and Danny had been compulsorily removed from the set, as apparently there had been a quarrel between Oliver Stone and Ray, because he had not seen his ideas realized in the film. When I phoned Ray after this to arrange a date, I got a different impression. Ray jovially asked me whether I could please make arrangements to have his date of birth rectified in a newly published Rock Encyclopaedia. He invited me to his house, so that we were "left in peace and have time for the interview". Punctually at 3.00 p.m. I arrived at his English country style mansion situated near the exclusive Rodeo Drive. "Hello, how are you? Nice to see you", he said. "Drive your car up in front of the garage, otherwise you'll get a ticket!" After I had parked my "rental" behind the small Japanese car standing in front of the garage, Ray waved me into his house. "May I introduce you to my wife, Dorothy? I'm afraid she is a little disabled at the moment ..." Dorothy was sitting on a large sofa in the lounge, which was not only decorated with large-sized modern avant-garde paintings by obscure modern painters, but also with a surprisingly small music system, connected to the television. Ray's wife, who is of Japanese descent, had her leg covered in Plaster of Paris resting comfortably on a glass table.

Ray Manzarek and Rainer Moddemann.
Photo Rainer Moddemann/The Doors Quarterly Magazine

I said "Hello" to Dorothy. "We have met once and talked at Pere Lachaise for a short while", I said. "You were sitting on one of the graves with Pablo, am I right?" Dorothy nodded and said that she had then rather preferred to go shopping with Pablo, instead of being part of the chaos on July 3, 1981. In the meantime, Ray had served me a can of cold ginger drink. I placed my tape recorder on the glass table and gave Ray a record and a book as a present.

Rainer: Alright, what was this thing, you know, you were talking to me about on the phone, about your date of birth?
Ray: Oh, somebody has February 12, 1935, somebody else has some other date, so the official date is February 12, 1939!
Rainer: Where did you read that?
Ray: Yeah, I read that in a Rock Encyclopedia. It's a German one, I'm surprised that the Germans would get anything wrong.
Rainer: Do you know the title?
Ray: Ah no, no, just some sort of Rock Encyclopedia. You know, some encyclopedia.
Rainer: Yeah, I'll check the bookstores.
Ray: And it had, you know, the Doors, and it had each member, and had their birthdates, and what instrument they played, and a brief background on them.
Rainer: I don't remember that I did it wrong.
Ray: No, no, not you, you didn't do it wrong. I'm just trying to get it right ! So what's the book you're gonna write ?
Rainer: Well, this is gonna contain some of the Doors discography, you know, most of their records. You know, including bootleg stuff you know, everything I collected ...
Ray: Ahm, ahm!
Rainer: ... during the past 20 years. So, and it's gonna include all record covers and all original singles and stuff like that. You might enjoy it, you know, when you read it.
Ray: Good!
Rainer: So, I try to my very best to do a next to complete one, you know. Although this is very difficult, you know. I found out about more than 500 records, different ones, you know.
Ray: It's incredible (laughs).
Rainer: It's incredible, I tell you that ! You know, just a little list. This is what is out in Germany on singles ... (I show him the list of German 45's I had in my bag)
Ray: Right!
Rainer: ... on 45's. It's quite a lot. We also had "Waiting For The Sun" out on a single. Why didn't you publish this in America over here?
Ray: No, we didn't. I don't know why.
Rainer: It made a good single. Topped the charts...
Ray: Yeah. It's a great song. I love that song.
Rainer: Can you tell me something about, you know, where you come from, and, you know ... your grandparents were from Poland ?
Ray: Yeah, right, right, on both sides, mother and father. They're both from Poland. My father's side is from a city called "Wijalistock", and, err, the Kolenda family, Manzarek from my father's side, obviously, Kolenda's (he spells) K-O-L-E-N-D-A, and interesting there were ... on my father's side there were two brothers, who both left Poland at the same time. And they were undecided as to where to go and one said, "I'm going to Chicago", and the other one went to Brazil. So I could've... fortunately, I come out of the one who went to Chicago rather then Brazil, so I guess I've got some relatives down in Brazil. Although that wouldn't have been bad either with the Samba and everything, so I could have gotten into... and as it is now I do a lot of Samba stuff so I love the rhythms of Brazil ....
Rainer: So you grew up in Chicago?
Ray: In Chicago, right, I went to a grammar school called Everett, (he spells) E-V-E-R-E-T-T, Everett School on the south side of Chicago, and then I went to St. Rita Highschool, and then I went to De Paul University, and got a bachelor's degree in economics at De Paul University, and graduated from there and went to UCLA to law-school at UCLA, where I stayed in law-school for about two weeks, and dropped out of law-school realizing that that was totally insane for me to be in law-school. And, ah, I didn't know what I was going to do, I applied to be ... I thought I would get an advanced degree in philosophy. I applied to the philosophy-department and they said, "Well, look, it's, you know, it's two weeks of school already gone by," and it was like maybe a week or two later after that so they said, "Look, a month has gone by, why don't you, if you want to apply, why don't apply next semester." So I said, "Fine," and then in between that somebody said to me, "You know, UCLA has got a great film-department," and I said, "Film-department, perfect, that's what I wanna do!" Music, theater, photography, all of it; the cinema combining all of the art forms, writing, acting, music, cameras, so, you know, all the things that I was interested in all went together into the film ... to make films, so I thought that's what I wanna do. So I went and enrolled in the film-department.
Rainer: How did you become interested in making films? Thru' the "Nouvelle Vague"?
Ray: Oh yeah, right, through the "Four Hundred Blows" by Truffaut, and "Orpheo Negro", "Black Orpheus" the great ... that movie was just absolutely influential, because you could combine really intense rhythm and music and tell mythological stories. And while was back in Chicago I was always involved in theatre groups and I, you know, I did some still-photography, and I've always been involved in music, so all of it all went together to ... perfect, the perfect artform. The great artform of the 20th century combining all the various disciplines.
Rainer: And you're still working on video as well?
Ray: Videos and I just finished "L.A. Woman". I finished writing my screen-play to "L.A. Woman", a contemporary erotic, psychological thriller about a woman in Los Angeles and her battle with the forces of darkness, and an attempt to regain the light and the two guides who represent good and evil, and her relationship between these two men. And I just finished that a couple of weeks ago and a demo-soundtrack for it. We'll be doing one or two Doors songs. The title character is a performance artist, singer and poet, and she sings a Doors song, she sings "Strange Days" in the movie and "Love Street" along with some original compositions, too. And so hopefully within the next six months we can, you know, get ... I need three million dollars to make a low-budget, intellectual, artistic, exciting, erotic movie with a great soundtrack. If all goes well, hopefully in a year, year and a half, "L.A. Woman" will be reality.
Rainer: Good. Is this gonna be in the movies or planned to be out just on video?
Ray: No, film, movie, movie theatres.
Rainer: How long is the film gonna be?
Ray: An hour and a half.
Rainer: Really?
Ray: Yeah! Full length, a feature, make a feature. My feature film debut, and I get to direct a feature film.
Rainer: It's based on the song "L.A. Woman" ...
Ray: ... based on the song, but set today. Contemporary today.
Rainer: How do you compare it to the video "L.A. Woman", which is on "Dance on fire"?
Ray: Well, it's a ... "L.A. Woman", the video, is sorta like a visual presentation of what the movie "L.A. Woman" will look like, it's the look of the film and the style of the film. Then we add to that all the dialogue and the story, and characters, and everything. (The telephone rings in the background and I put off the tape for a while. Ray talks with a photographer, who is doing some new promo photos, for a few minutes. In the meantime I realized that Ray did not at all appear "to be in a huff", but to the contrary was answering my questions with his well-known enthusiasm and his distinctive facial expressions. I have often had the opportunity to talk to Ray before, and it again became clear to me why he used to be described as the spokesman for The Doors and why the fans liked to listen to him. Ray Manzarek talks in a lively fashion and underlines his words with an abundance of gestures. His sonorous voice makes him believable. Once he starts going during a conversation there is no way to stop him. A very pleasant interview partner. Dorothy seems like his shadow, hardly ever leaves his side and appears to be Ray's silent support. During the conversation they exchange hardly noticeable glances, as if Ray loved to be reassured by her. Although Dorothy must have heard some of the answers and stories countless times, she was showing obvious interest in our conversation. After the telephone call I pressed my recorder button again and we continued our interview.)
Rainer: Are you going to use the same actors, like John Doe from 'X'?
Ray: No, no, no, no. Some actors ...
Rainer: He was really good in that 'L.A. Woman' video.
Ray: Yeah, he was. Oh, John's terrific, man, yeah.
Rainer: Who was that girl?
Ray: Christa Erikson was the girl.
Rainer: One of Danny's girl-friends.
Ray: Yeah, at the time, right. (laughs)
Rainer: At the time, oh yeah. I met her two years ago.
Ray: Yeah, very nice, very nice girl.
Rainer: Yes, she is.
Ray: Now we'll get some other people. It's yet to be cast.
Rainer: Are you still working with Michael McClure?
Ray: Yes, yes, yes. Michael and I are playing as a matter of fact in two weeks in Vancouver. And.. yeah, we still do that. We just did ... I had a wonderful three ... three gigs, three great performances in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco with Michael McClure and myself opening for Alan Ginsberg, so it was a night of poetry and music that was just amazing. Ginsberg was ... was fabulous. The man is so filled with energy, you know, "On The Road" ... I forget what the character's name is that Alan Ginsberg is ... but this character is always dashing about. Alan Ginsberg is still dashing about. He's 65 years old and he's just loaded with energy and charm and wit and, you know, his mind is constantly racing and invariably you have to take him by the arm and say "C'mon man, it's late, we've gotta get on the plane," you know, he says, "All right, of course," and he dashes off towards the plane and then you find yourself running after him, and he's 65 years old. It's amazing. And reading on stage he was great, so we had three just absolutely incredible ... it was, it was like being a beatnik, it was like, you know, it was like 1960/58/60/62. It was absolutely amazing. The audiences were just charged with emotion, they were great for Michael and me, and then for Alan. They were just over the top, just screaming, just shouting, and ... it's rare to see a poetry-reading with all that intensity coming back from the audience. It was great.
Rainer: What about going to England with this show?
Ray: Oh, I'd love to, oh God, yeah, I'd love to get over to Europe with it. Yeah, we've been, ahhhh ... we did have ... Michael and I had a European tour booked, but it didn't include, you know, London, Paris, you know, Frankfurt, any of the ... it didn't include any major cities. We were playing in Toulouse, and Lyon, and I forget where, you know, some small city in the Switzerland, and then we had three gigs in Norway.
Rainer: In Norway!?
Ray: Right. I looked at the town and I said, "What is this, this is insane," right. (laughs) I said, "Where's Paris," you know, "where's Milan, aren't we playing Milan? Aren't we playing Rome, aren't we playing London, Madrid?", you know, "Berlin, Frankfurt." What's the city in southern Germany?
Rainer: Munich.
Ray: Munich! "Aren't we playing Munich? What's going on?" Everybody speaks English. Why are we playing in places where people don't even speak English? Let's go to Germany, for God's ... how come we're not playing Germany? I wanted some roast goose, an Eisbein, I wanted an Eisbein. If I go to Europe, you know, I mean outside of England and Paris, I wanna go to Germany, so I can get my Eisbein. Kasseler Rippchen, you know, I need that kind of food. (laughs)
Ray In Berlin, Germany, 1991.
Photo Rainer Moddemann/The Doors Quarterly Magazine
Rainer: (laughs) That's good stuff...
Ray: Last time we were in Munich somebody said, "C'mon, we're gonna go out, let's go out to a restaurant," and I said, "Okay, fine, what kind of restaurant?" And they said, "Well, you know, it's contemporary, sort of, you know, like Nouvelle California cuisine?" I said, "I don't want that, I don't want that. I want Eisbein." And they said, "Ahhh, okay, we know the place." So we went to, you know, an old 17th-18th century house and just had ... Dorothy had the most wonderful ... they had one quarter of a goose left, that's what they had, some roast goose. We both wanted the roast goose and there was only a quarter so I had the Eisbein, of course, and the roast goose was just perhaps the best roast I've ever had in my life.
Rainer: Really?
Ray: Oh God, sensational.
Rainer: Along with sauerkraut....
Ray: Sauerkraut and, right, red cabbage, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, you know, mass of beer, and a roast goose, I thought this is heaven. 'Cos we had been in Paris like for a week, week and a half, and after the French food it was ... "could you give me something with some heart to it, some real, some serious, honest food here."
Rainer: That's what we call 'soul food' in Germany.
Ray: That's what it was, yeah, right, German soul food, that's exact. We needed it, you know, after the effete French food, you know, although, you know, I love French food, but after a week and a half of French food it's a little effete. (laughs)
Rainer: There's a lot of talk about your new album "Bamboo Jungle".
Ray: Ahh, it's not ready yet ... no. No, Pablo and I are still working on various things. We'll get around to that one to these days. There's no rush.
Rainer: What is this gonna be all about?
Ray: Oh, the tropic belt around the planet, the equatorial belt, the rhythms and the music from the area between the tropic of cancer and the tropic of capricorn. Just the hot, the hot jungle belt around the planet and all the various rhythms that go on and the rhythms and the melodies and, you know, contemporary, contemporary keyboard adaptations with those rhythms.
Rainer: Sounds interesting....
Ray: Oh, I can't wait to do it, but...
Rainer: You've been working on this project for years...
Ray: For years, 'n years, 'n years, 'n years, 'n years. I've been sitting on a stack of tapes, I've got... Dorothy: You're not gonna be serious until you go to one of those places.
Ray: That could be...
Dorothy: I think you have to go to Bali first....
Ray: Aha.
Rainer: Bali?
Ray: Yeah, there's a Balinese piece, there's a ... obviously, a lot of Samba stuff, there's some African things, Middle Eastern music, ah, ... and we just sort of put it all together and, you know, do a contemporary adaptation, an homage to, an homage to where rhythm comes from, that's ... those people are all dependent on the rhythm as we are now through Rock'n'Roll, you know, through the, through the backbeat in America, if there was, if there was no black man there would be no Rock'n'Roll. The beat, the rhythms of Africa are what created Rock'n'Roll, and Jazz, and, you know, the power of the beat on aetwo' and aefour' rather than on aeone' and aethree', because Western civilization was all either a walz or a aeone' and aethree', "dum-ching, dum-ching, dum-ching", like the "Whiskey Bar". But you add the aetwo' and the aefour', the rhythm, putting an accent on the second beat..., you put an accent on the second and the fourth beat and it becomes what white people called it at the time "the devil's beat ", the beat of the devil, the devil's beat, because it's not the devil's beat, it's the beat, it's the beat of the earth, the beat, the rhythm of the earth, it's the beat of Dionysos, it's Pan, it's ... it's the Gods' and the Goddesses' in the forest, it's what it is. It's Pooti, the bird ... (Dorothy enters the room carrying a large cage. In it sits a colorful, about 20 cm long parrot. "This is Pooti," she says and opens the cage. The bird glares at me with suspicion. Ray explains: "He is a nice little fellow. He'll probably come to you in a minute, just wait for it. Not at once; he has to watch you for a while first." Pooti slowly starts waddling across the table and puts his head to one side. He then slowly climbs up my arm. The grip from his claws irritates me.)
Rainer: Pooti, the bird ...
Ray: P-O-O-T-I, Pooti. Pooti is an Australian parrot.
Rainer: Very pretty bird.
Ray: Yeah, he's a nice bird, he's a good guy.
Rainer: All those colors...
Ray: Yeah, 'n he's probably gonna... check him out, go ahead. At some point he'll come to you.
Rainer: Yeah.
Ray: Not yet. First he's gonna look at you for a while.
Rainer: Okay.
Ray: He'll eventually come over.
Rainer: He's not used to me. I've got a dog at home, you know, she's always friendly towards strangers, but, you know, very suspicious at first. Aehm, "Carmina Burana", I was really amazed when I heard that first...
Ray: Oh good, good, thank you.
Rainer: Did you take some of the original chanting from from a Carl Orff-record or..
Ray: Well, ah, no. I got it from the music. I got the orchest-..., not the orchestral score, the vocal score. I went down to one of, you know, the local music ... music publishing places, and bought the vocal score. The vocal score has the four vocal parts, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and at the bottom it has a piano accompaniment to work with the singers. And as I was playing the piano accompaniment looking at the meters of the pieces, what time signatures they were in and "what not", ah, I realized that the music was so similar to the, to Doors music, the first part of it, especially the piano part was like exactly what I did ... get out, get out, no cigarettes! (Pooti showed some interest in the ashtray on the table and was just going to pick up a cigarette butt, when Ray took away the ashtray.)
Ray: First part was exactly the way I would play, and do play that; after looking at the orchestra and the vocal score I thought this could all be done with ... this could be a whole Rock'n'Roll rhythmic, guitars and drums, and it just fits, it fits perfectly to it. So, with Philip Glass I set out to, you know, to do a little rearrangement to make it a little bit shorter because the piece as it runs is about an hour and five minutes or so and ideally on a black disc you wanna have about twenty minutes a side, and at the time - '83/'84 - CDs weren't that big yet. On a CD I could have done the whole piece easily, but on a black disc to make 40 minutes I had to do a little rearranging and compression and eliminate a couple of pieces, but that was a lot of fun. It was great working with Philip Glass and all those people back in New York.
Rainer: Yeah, that's what I was asking. How was it working with an avant-garde composer?
Ray: Oh, great! I mean he thinks..
Rainer: You with your background as a Rock musician.
Ray: Right. It was, it was fine, it was wonderful, you know, and we, ah, in a way played the same way, too. Philip Glass composes in a similar fashion to working out arpeggios to what I like to play anyway, with a rhythmic pulse to it, so it was no problem working with him at all. It was just the opposite, very stimulating, and he had a great keyboard-player with him, Michael Riesman, who did a lot of the synthesizer parts; we'd work on the things together. So Michael brought in the orchestral score and we would go through the orchestral score with an emulator and decide on which part we wanted to use or which parts we didn't need. 'Cause we had the drums, and the guitar, and the bass and everything going so you didn't need to add a lot of timpani or things 'cos the drums were covered. So, that was a lot of fun, and all the singers were people that had originally sung "Carmina Burana". That's where Philip was instrumental in getting people from the New York ... from the New York opera, and, you know, classical singers who had sung the piece before. And when they came into the studio they had no idea what to expect, they knew that they were gonna be doing "Carmina Burana", but they didn't know that it was going to be a whole contemporary version. And when they heard the music, when they heard, you know, the drums and everything and ... they had a grand time. It was really fun to watch those people sing. Okay, "Carmina Burana", you know, to classical people "Carmina Burana" is an old chestnut, okay, we know that piece, yeah, my God, they're gonna do it again, not again. But when they heard the drums and the piano and the bass and everything just really chugging, they were marvelous, they just rose to the occasion, you could see the men out there speak, they became the monks, you know, it was great to watch them. And at the end of the session they said "This was so much fun, we've never had so much fun in a recording studio." Well... it's Rock'n'Roll, man. (laughs)
Rainer: Really, really ...
Ray: That's what it's all about. The rhythm, back to Africa, back to the rhythm.
Rainer: Yeah, this composition implies, you know, to have more rhythm than the original, I always thought?
Ray: And what Carl Orff did to it, Carl Orff got a lot of heat for ... they were very, very perturbed, a lot of classical scholars, music scholars, were very perturbed, a lot of classical scholars, music scholars, were very perturbed at what Carl Orff did to the piece, because he had ... he made one a tango, and, you know, he did all kinds of things, so if you have an original recording or a recording of the original text, and musical text of "Carmina Burana", it's very 13th/14th century. Very medieval and none ... it doesn't have that powerful rhythm but there was something in the ... in the text that just struck Carl Orff the right way, and he just said "This has gotta be a piece of great power, and majesty, and excitement". So he did that and then, you know, 25, 30, 40, 50 years later having the same experience from his version of it when I did my version of it.
Rainer: In Germany you can find it filed under the classical section along with all other Carl Orff interpretations, you know, there's your record, you know.
Ray: Good!
Rainer: And it still sells, you know.
Ray: Great! (laughs)
Rainer: I got many people to listen to it, we even use it at school, you know, I'm a teacher and I gave it to one of the music teachers, and he was so fascinated, he uses it in his lessons.
Ray: Oh, great, great. And from a musician's standpoint it would certainly be ... God, I always thought it would be a lot of fun to see how ... how the adaptation was done because I juggled around some of the parts, I would take a piece from here and a part from this piece and a part of the other piece and put those together into ... into various ... into one piece, I mean, in a sense, you know, violating Orff's original intent, but staying true to ... I feel staying absolutely true to Carl Orff's heart. You know, if not the intellect, certainly his heart, and, you know, that the piece is pure emotion anyway. So ...
Rainer: That's true. Does this also go for The Golden Scarab'?
Ray: Ahhhh, 'The Golden Scarab', no, 'The Golden Scarab' is just my baby, my baby entirely. That's all about that's the hero's journey, that's Joseph's Campbell. That's why it is called a rhythm myth, it's a myth, it's a mythic story of a young man and his quest for consciousness and all the things that it takes him through. And all the various things that happen to him until he finally comes back around full circle to realize that where he was is infinity to begin with and to end with so he comes back to an infinity place in time, where the only thing that ultimately matters is to eat an ice-cream cone, play a slide trombone, plant a small tree, good God, now you're free. So it was a statement about attaining freedom on the planet to finally work your way free of, you know, at all the structure of 2000 years of Judea-Christian-Greco-Roman-Western civilization to become a free man on the planet, not beholden to any one form of thought, but worshipping at the altar of freedom. And that's what it's about. (In the meantime, Pooti has reached my shoulder and is nibbling on my right ear. I move my head to prevent him from making a meal of my ear lobes. The Manzareks find Pooti's actions amusing.)
Rainer: Why don't you put this out on CD...
Ray: Yeah!
Rainer: The vinyl is getting pretty rare, you know.
Ray: Yeah, yeah. I'm, ah,... as a matter of fact, I have, ahhh, it's interesting you mention that, because sitting right over here in the corner there's one of the two multitracks of 'The Golden Scarab'. I'm gonna transfer them to digital, and ah, one of these days. And, ah, you know, do a remix on it, so, and hopefully get it out under some label or another.
Rainer: That's a pretty good idea.
Ray: Definitely. And I'll remix it, so, there are the multitracks sitting there just waiting to go.
Rainer: That's really interesting ...


Ray Manzarek in his garden after the interview (November 1990) saying "Do I look too religious with that shirt?" He signed the photo for me in 1993.
Photo Rainer Moddemann/The Doors Quarterly Magazine

(very special thanks to Lindsey McFadyen)

1999 Rainer Moddemann, The Doors Quarterly Magazine. This interview may not be distributed in any other context or media.