When is a Door not a Door? When it’s subject to a lawsuit prohibiting it from calling itself a Door. What would Jim Morrison, now in his 37th year of being dead, have made of the row that has broken out between his three bandmates? That it all seems a little sad is one thing on which Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore are all agreed. The absence of Morrison can’t be the only sticking point here. In 1972 and 1973, the three Doors who didn’t die in a Parisian bathtub made a pair of albums – Full Circle and Other Voices – which are being readied for their first ever CD release this autumn. These days, however, Densmore no longer wants to be a Door. And if he can’t be a Door, then he doesn’t feel that any band with Krieger and Manzarek in it has enough Doors in it to be The Doors. Over a phone line from his home in Los Angeles, he does however offer the news that he will be touring with his own band Tribal Jazz, featuring a keyboard player who he deems to be as good as his idol Herbie Hancock. At no point does he say anything nearly as nice about Ray Manzarek. Not that Manzarek will lose any sleep over that. “Hey man, I made The Golden Scarab with [revered jazz drummer] Tony Williams. It’s a brilliant record, even if I say so myself.”
Though at times a little gauche when attempting to justify the umpteenth remastering of what must be the most re-remastered back catalogue of all time, Ray Manzarek is also an astute talker, so he’ll almost certainly be aware of the irony that unfolds on the fifth floor at London’s swish Sanderson Hotel as he holds forth. Though ost here to talk about yet another batch of Doors reissues, he spends much of that time ruefully pondering the lack of attention accorded to his post-Doors works such as his treatment of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a recently published novel (Snake Moon) and, of course, The Golden Scarab.
But while he bemoans his own post-Doors profile, Manzarek is fiercely protective of Morrison’s reputation. And with the self-styled Lizard King not around to do his own PR, the keyboard player feels that someone has to stick up for Morrison as he really was – not the caricature depicted in Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic. Manzarek remembers going to see the film in a Los Angeles cinema, turning to his wife Dorothy halfway through and declaring, “Man, I’m leaving this band! If this is what this guy is really like, I’m walking out!” Perhaps he should have walked out. That way, he wouldn’t have got to see the bit at the end of the film where the Manzareks give birth to a daughter called Princess (they don’t have a daughter, Princess or otherwise).
“What Oliver Stone made,” continues Manzarek, “was as much a movie about Oliver Stone as Jim Morrison. He made a white powder-tequila movie about a psychedelic band, in the process missing the entire spirituality of The Doors – not to mention the humour of Jim Morrison. Jim was a regular guy and a poet. Oliver Stone’s treatment of a poet is like some overheated Victorian women’s novel of what a poet is. So you see Jim walking around spouting this poetry in a wibbly-wobby walk which he supposedly had because he was always stoned. Insane, man! Jim Morrison could put one foot in front of the other and walk normally, and he never spouted this poetry. He wrote stuff down.”
Manzarek’s attempts at damage limitation at what surely ranks as the corniest biopic committed to celluloid – how those myriad cosy chats between Morrison and his Red Indian apparition chum linger in the memory! – are admirable. At the same time, it’s unclear how much damage limitation is possible when it comes to preserving the creative legacy of a man who, at least some of the time, appeared to think he was part lizard, who mendaciously claimed that his mother and father were dead and once recorded a long, rambling poem about the death of his penis (“Lament for my cock/Sore and crucified/I seek to know you”).
Perhaps the truth about Morrison was best summed up by another leather-trousered extrovert. Writing about The Doors singer, Julian Cope suggested that the job of any great rock star was like that of a modern day Dionysis – to walk the tightrope “between untouchable sex god and total asshole.” Robby Krieger is tickled by Cope’s portrayal of Morrison. “That describes Jim to a tee,” says the guitarist, who wrote Doors hits such as Light My Fire, Love Me Two Times, You’re Lost Little Girl, Touch Me and Love Her Madly. “He could be both of those things – often within the same minute.”
By way of illustration, Krieger remembers a story dating back to the day that The Doors recorded The End, the Oedipal epic that concludes the group’s eponymous first album. “Jim had taken a good dose of acid, and we recorded the song in two takes – so, as you can imagine, afterwards, we were elated. We went our separate ways at the end of the night, but Jim wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to do more. So he snuck back into the studio, but of couse, no-one was there. So what did he decide to do? He decided to spray the whole place down with fire retardant. He ruined the whole damn studio.”
A few months ago, Krieger and Manzarek arrived in Britain to play a series of Doors-based shows. What they couldn’t do, of course, was call themselves The Doors. Nonetheless, with The Cult’s Ian Astbury on hand as a surprisingly convincing Morrison, Riders On The Storm offered a truly authentic spectacle for short-sighted baby boomers. Did they ever have the occasional moment when they gazed on at the leonine, leather trousered Astbury and forget that they weren’t in 1967? Not for a moment, says Krieger. “Jim tended to command attention by standing still a lot of the time, whereas with Ian, it’s a different dynamic.”
Now that Astbury has left to make another Cult album, Riders On The Storm have appointed a replacement – former Fuel singer Brett Scallions, who, apparently, “wears leather like it’s liquorice”. If Morrison had made it back from Paris and The Doors were still a going concern, what kind of music would they be making? Manzarek lets it be known that he hates these hypothetical questions – “People always ask that question. How the f*** do I know, man?” – before elaborately speculating on the kind of music a 21st century Lizard King might make. “What we’d be doing is making music like An American Prayer. It’d be a combination of jazz, rock’n’roll, spoken poetry and atmospheric sounds. We would have expanded our stage show to a more theatrical prepared theatre. We would go into a city and stay there for maybe a week at a time and rig sounds under the seats.” Manzarek proceeds to quote his favourite poem at length, Angels And Sailors – a sadistic Catholic fantasy, which ends, “Lying on stained, wretched sheets with a bleeding virgin We could plan a murder Or start a religion.”
If Manzarek is, at least initially, wary of speculating on the music Morrison might have made with The Doors in 2007, he seems less uncertain about the singer’s position on the use of his songs in advertisements. Offered a rumoured $15,000,000 for the use of Break On Through in a Cadillac ad, Krieger and Manzarek gave their assent. But without a yes from Densmore, the deal fell through. Interviewed for the L.A. Times in 2005, the drummer explained, “People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. I’ve had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn’t commit suicide because of this music…. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That’s not for rent.” Densmore’s words are relayed to Krieger and Manzarek, although judging from their reactions, you suspect they have a pretty good recall of them. “That’s not for rent?” smiles Krieger, “Every time someone buys those records, we still collect royalties, so I guess it is for rent.”
I suggest to Krieger that the main bone of contention might be those songs being used to sell a product that isn’t a Doors album. “You know, back in the day, we were gonna use light my fire for a Buick ad. We couldn’t get a hold of Jim to ask him if we should do it or not and so the rest of us we signed off on it. In the end though, Jim went crazy when he found out, so we ended up pulling the ad.” Manzarek says he can’t see what the fuss is about. “The word ‘sell out’ is ridiculous. If you’re using something and you like it, and they come to you and say we’d like to use one of your songs in an ad for, say, Apple – well, we all use Apple, don’t we? Then, what’s the harm in that?” According to Krieger, Densmore has even said that “he would do an ad if it was the right one.”
Densmore, however, flatly denies having said any such thing. “I’m actually writing about this at the moment, for a book that’s due next year. I’ve been going through documents that Jim had drawn up to prevent people from doing this very thing. This has all just come to light, so there’s a little coup for you. I was surprised by just how adamant Jim was [on this matter].”
Is there something to be said for the view, favoured by Krieger and Manzarek, that time may have moderated Morrison’s stance? “What?” scoffs Densmore, “That Jim’s dead and that’s the precise reason why we should do it?”
Such is the gulf that appears to have opened up between Densmore and Manzarek in particular that it’s hard to imagine them ever having been in the same band. Whilst both are talking to me for ostensibly promotional reasons, their appetites for the hard sell couldn’t be more different. “I’m telling you that the state of the art fidelity on these CDs is just amazing,” says Manzarek, referring to the 40th aniversary remasters of the Doors’ six albums. “And we’ve added little cookies, little bits of candy and fluff and things that were on the original multitracks. [At the time] we didn’t use them, [but now] we thought let’s stick them in.”
By contrast Densmore offers up a recollection dating back to 1966, less than a year after The Doors’ inception. “I remember how shocked we all were when the Rolling Stones released their first hits album High Tide & Green Grass. And now here we are and there have been 400 Doors greatest hits albums.” He’s exaggerating, but not by much. Coming in the wake of 13, Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine, Classics, Greatest Hits, Best Of The Doors, The Very Best Of The Doors Legacy – The Absolute Best, and The Doors (Original Soundtrack), a brand new expanded Very Best Of The Doors (it now comes with a DVD) means that Doors compilations now comfortably outnumber studio albums.
Does it matter? Not to Manzarek, who sees the endless stream of reissues as a way of ensuring that new generations get turned on to Doors music. In their different ways, all three surviving members feel they are staying true to their singer’s spirit. But 37 years is a long time to go without seeing someone. Who exactly are you remembering after all these years? Just like the famous quote from Aldous Huxley’s Doors Of Perception, from which the group took their name, there are things that are known and things that are unknown. Suspended on the threshold between them is what Jim Morrison would have really wanted.