Ray Manzarek of The Doors Talks "L.A. Woman", A Favorite Jim Morrison Memory, "She Smells So Nice", Skrillex, and "2001: A Spacey Odyssey"
Wed, 18 Jan 2012 08:18:39
There has always been film noir about Los Angeles.
The city seamlessly lends itself to the genre and the exploration of anti-heroes, femme fatales, and all things seedy and lascivious. However, the best example of "music noir" would be L.A. Woman from The Doors. The group's swan song is the greatest album ever written about Los Angeles and a seminal piece of art whose influence will be felt forever.
L.A. Woman 40th Anniversary Edition is the definitive take on the album. Including the unreleased "She Smells So Nice" as well as alternate versions of classic album tracks, the 40th Anniversary Edition calls for complete immersion. The result is pure sonic bliss of the highest order.
In order to unlock the mysteries and mythos behind L.A. Woman, ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief and Dolor author spoke to Ray Manzarek keyboardist of The Doors for this exclusive interview. Manzarek discusses the story behind the album, his favorite memory of Jim Morrison from those days, "She Smells So Nice", recording with Skrillex, and going as a group to experience 2001: A Space Odyssey…
Given its cohesion, did you approach L.A. Woman with one vision?
It's not a concept album, but we always have one vision. It's called 'Doors songs'. So, no and yes [Laughs]. We didn't approach the album with one vision, but after we started working on the songs, we realized that they're talking about L.A. They're about men, women, boys, girls, love, loss, lovers-lost, and lovers-found in Los Angeles. "Cars hiss by my window like the waves on the beach"—that's down in Venice. "Riders on the Storm" is outside of Los Angeles. It's heading in from the desert. "I live uptown, I live downtown, I live all around"—that's L.A., but it's also New York because we spent a lot of time there. That adds a city aspect to the music. It's about the city of Los Angeles and everything that goes on in it. It turned out that it was an unconscious homage to our city. Jim Morrison completed it and left the city never to return again.
It's apropos since the album is a love letter to Los Angeles.
Yes, exactly, it's a final love letter.
Was the pervasive blues influence conscious?
It was totally unconscious. As an artist or a songwriter, I don't think you can set out to do one thing. You don't say, "You know what I'm going to do today? I'm going to be make an all-blues record". I think the blues naturally came out. The Doors are a blues band with literary aspirations.
What do you mean by that?
Well, there's Jim's poetry and certainly Robby Krieger's too. Jim was always aspiring to be literary and be something above and beyond the mundane and the quotidian. We were aspiring to a cleaner and purer realm of artistic creation in which you plug into the oneness of all things and create from that space. I know I certainly do musically. You attempt to hit a Zen meditative state in your playing of music. That state is at one with the rhythm, chord changes, and the energy being generated by the other guys in the room. It becomes magnificent. It's marvelous. If you're an old acid head, it's divine [Laughs]. If you're a young acid head, which is what we were back then, it's divine. You're entering a divine energy. It's the same energy that creates and sustains the universe and you. You can approximate that energy by joining into it with your fellows as you play your music. Man, what fun. It couldn't be more fun. Sex and music—that's fun!
Do you have a favorite memory of Jim Morrison from the L.A. Woman era?
It would be Jim singing "Riders on the Storm". He was locked in the downstairs bathroom of our little rehearsal studio, The Doors Workshop, on the corner of La Cienega Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. The singer has to be in an isolation booth away from the instruments. Jim's isolation booth was the bathroom so he got the classic "bathroom echo" sound that people used to talk about in the '60s. Listening to him on the earphones, his performance of "Riders on the Storm" was absolutely haunted. It was his last vocal. After he'd gotten done, he came out and said, "I can't do any better than that". We all went, "Yeah, man, whoa!" There's no reason to be better than it. It's phenomenal. It was a dark, haunted moment, and he relieved that with levity when he came out of the bathroom.
What does "Riders on the Storm" mean to you?
It means rain on the desert. It's a cinematic song. It's The Doors being cinematic again. Much of The Doors music creates pictures and images in your mind. For me, the image is that lonely stretch of desert highway, and there's a young man hitchhiking. He's coming into or going out of Los Angeles. Either way, there's rain on the desert. It's a very unusual sight. There are also Jim's "Dead Indians" on the highway. When he was a child traveling with his mother and father on the desert, they came across that overturned truck of Indian workers somewhere in New Mexico. Some of them were dying on the side of the road. It's that image along with the rain on the desert. The desert can make incredible thunderstorms. Way off in the distance, there's the glow of the lights of Los Angeles, but that person on the road is mad—"If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die". However, what I love about the lyrics is in the end Morrison turns it around and makes a song of redemption out of it. He makes the ultimate love song. "His world on you depends, your life will never end. Girl, you've got to love your man" is the last line." It's a hint. It's a foreshadowing. It's Jim's unconscious telling us all and maybe telling him it's the last one. But, your life will never end. What's the ultimate salvation? Two people loving each other is the ultimate salvation on planet Earth.
What movies were you watching at the time?
We watched everything that came out! We needed the cinematic release. Had Mr. Fellini made a movie? Was there a release in 1971? We were watching whatever Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and Jean Luc-Goddard made. I wasn't reading contemporary novels. It was a more historical search going from Eastern religious tracts to nonfiction. The masters were all still alive. The young vibrant Americans were all coming along, and stuff like Bonnie and Clyde was coming out. It was a very throbbing cinematic American art scene from the '60s into the '70s. It was very exciting and alive.
It seems like everything kicked off with Rosemary's Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
We got tickets to see 2001 at the eight o'clock show on opening day in Los Angeles. All of a sudden, there were ten tickets at The Doors office. We got something to eat and smoked a joint. It was very important to smoke a joint before we saw this outer space movie [Laughs]. We walked into the theater, and the place was packed. The only seats available were in the front row. We were like, "Awe fuck man, who wants to sit in the front row for a movie?" We didn't know what we were going to see though. We sat in the front row stoned, and the movie started with that wonderful "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss and those incredible shots of the earth, moon, and the sun. We were completely blown away. At the end of that opening title sequence, Morrison stood up and said, "Well, we can go now. That's the best movie I've ever seen!" [Laughs] We were like, "Sit down, wise guy!" We were all of the same opinion after a minute to two-minute sequence. It couldn't have been a better seat. At the end, we all thought it was the best movie we'd ever seen and we had a hearty laugh. The theater was called the "Pacific Theater", and it was on Hollywood Boulevard. The screen wasn't a Cinerama screen, but it was as wide and curving as it could get. It was a great huge screen with nothing in front of us. We were driving the spaceship stoned out of our minds [Laughs]. It was a real head flick.
What's the story behind "She Smells So Nice"?
It came out of the blue, man! We were jamming and putting it together. It's instantaneous creation and spontaneous generation right then and there. Because it was spontaneous, John, Robbie, and I forgot about it! We had no memory of it until we started listening to the outtakes for L.A. Woman. All of sudden, we were like, "Eureka, what is this?" It's virtually as brand new for us as it is for the listener.
How was your experience working with Skrillex?
It was great! We went into the studio. He put some beats down, and we improvised to it. We started off with a throbbing track at 155bpm. We had him take it down a little, and I had this whole line that kicked off some vaguely rock 'n' roll Miles Davis "Milestones" thing. We jammed on that, and we into a couple of other things. Sonny cut the beat in half, and we did the same thing in half-time setting. We all started shouting and singing. He started singing, "I'm breaking a sweat" and I yelled, "Well, it's alright". Then we threw in "Come on, baby, light my fire" of course. Robbie played a solo over the top, and it worked like a champ. It was totally natural. I hope to do some more stuff with him. We'll see what the future brings!
Who are some film composers you admire?
Bernard Hermann is the greatest. The first time I heard the work he did for Taxi Driver, I wasn't paying attention to who the composer was in the credits I was so absorbed in the movie. At the end of it, I realized it was him. That score was so good. It was like symphonic Japanese Gagaku. He was doing Japanese Zen composition for a symphonic orchestra. It was fucking brilliant. I said, "I quit! That's the best composer around, man. No one is ever going to top that guy including me! What's the point of playing anymore?" [Laughs] He was totally brilliant. Lalo Schifrin did some great composing too. What a great fucking piano player!
What's your favorite song from L.A. Woman?
Photo Credit: Wendell Hamick