Blast From The Past: My Afternoon With Ray Manzarek

Welcome to the first edition of BLAST FROM THE PAST or otherwise known on Twitter as #ThrowbackThursday. On March 27, 1999, I got to meet one of my all-time favourite band’s founder, keyboard player and songwriter, the legendary Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Sadly, we lost Ray on May 20, 2013 when he finally broke on through to the Other Side. He joined a legion of music heroes in Rock’n’Roll Heaven but his legacy will never die. (*Note: The following post is Rated R as it contains drug use, explicit sexuality and harsh language.)

BLAST FROM THE PAST

The Coolest Thing: My Afternoon with Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek of The Doors

by Christine Bode
April 5, 1999

I have been a big fan of Jim Morrison and The Doors since my early twenties. I’m 35 now. I work as a legal secretary, and lead a pretty straight life. However, if I were to be true to my authentic self, I’d have to say that I am also a poet and a stoner at heart. When Oliver Stone released his film “The Doors” starring Val Kilmer as Jim in 1991 (a controversial fan that many Doors fans didn’t like), it reaffirmed my initial interest and set me on a path to ingesting everything I could get my hands on about Jim Morrison and The Doors. I’ve read “No One Here Gets Out Alive” by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, “Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess” by Danny Sugerman, “Riders On The Storm” by John Densmore, “Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison” by Patricia Kenneally-Morrison, and two books of Jim’s poetry, “Wilderness” and “American Night, Volume 1”. I was completely mesmerized by Morrison’s myth and his creative, poetic soul. I still am!

On Saturday, March 27th, 1999, I did the coolest thing! I attended a four hour seminar (minus a one hour lunch break) hosted by Ray Manzarek, founder and former keyboard player for The Doors. My friend Donna had pointed the event out to me in the free magazine from The Learning Annex and I will likely attend many more interesting and exciting seminars, lectures and workshops that are offered by The Learning Annex (as I bought a membership). Right now however, I want to recount the highlights from “Light My Fire: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors”.

The seminar was held in the Grande Ballroom East of the Colony Toronto Hotel. I arrived at 10:30 a.m. and had a croissant and an orange juice in the hotel lobby before taking my seat in the auditorium. It was a fairly large room with two crystal chandeliers and an old, faded floral carpet. There were seven rows of chairs and I would guess that at least 50 people attended the seminar. The room housed a large stage and on it sat a long table covered in a white cloth. It was positioned against the wall and held a pitcher of water and a glass. One single, green, upholstered high chair with a brown wood frame sat stage front and centre. There was a stereo off to stage left that played Doors music while everyone was waiting for Manzarek to arrive. There was also a long table positioned at the left hand side of the entrance and on it were copies of Ray’s book “Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors” for sale, as well as many different books on such New Age themes as Shamanism, The Tao of Music, and Zen Enlightenment, among other topics and of course, Doors CDs. I immediately purchased a copy of Ray’s book for $40 and asked the salesperson if he thought Ray would sign it. He said he would if I asked him to! All right! I was SO excited!

Ray Manzarek arrived on time at 11:00 a.m. and I was struck by the fact that he looked much younger than his 60 years and was more handsome that I had expected! He had spiky grey hair and piercing blue eyes, covered by wireless, clear eyeglasses. He stood about 6’ tall and was still quite lanky. He wore baggy black pants with a pale turquoise T-shirt under a dark blue and green plaid shirt that hung loose over his pants. He was very casual, comfortable and pleasant. He spoke in a deep, clear, emphatic voice and I liked him immediately.

He welcomed everyone for coming and started out by talking about what a great city Toronto is and how it is a lot like his hometown, Chicago. He noted that cultural diversity is one of the best things about Toronto and that in particular, it’s great to be able to try all the different kinds of local foods. He said that Toronto has just about everything except for authentic Mexican food. There’s no place like California for that!

Ray referred to himself as “Manzarek” and to Jim Morrison as simply, “Morrison”. He still sounds like a man of the Sixties as he constantly said “Man!” after everything! I couldn’t stop smiling! He told us that The Doors played in Toronto in May or June of 1967. They also appeared on a CBC production of Noel Harrison’s show and played “The End”, but the producers cut out the lyrics “Father, I want to kill you….Mother, I want to fuck you!” Ray said that most obscene words such as fuck and cunt are probably of Celtic origin! I laughed out loud at that one!

Manzarek covered many topics during the first hour and 45 minutes of the seminar and the following are some of the things he told us about as well as some direct quotes:

“Only meth (e.g. methane) heads and speed freaks from the desert of California love Oliver Stone’s movie!” Ray made it clear in no uncertain terms that he absolutely abhors Oliver Stone and his completely inaccurate 1991 movie, “The Doors”.

Ray and Doors producer, Bruce Botnick are going to release a Doors documentary within the next 6 to 8 months with Toronto footage from the show he mentioned earlier. On April 13th, there will be a DVD release of The Doors laser disc that will include Ray, his wife Dorothy and Jim as college students as well as Ray’s student film from UCLA that Jim is in. He exclaimed, “Get yourself a DVD player!” He’s really excited about it!

Ray loves Latin music and congas.

He reminisced about growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and told us that cool guys wore powder blue and rust coloured clothes because they were the hippest colours. “But you still couldn’t get laid because it was the 50’s!” He recalled memories of being at the drive-in with his date and actually touching pubic hair. Everyone in the room was laughing. “Everyone in the 50’s had amazing breasts! Maybe it was the bras!” I sat there thinking, “Oh yeah, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! I’m with ya, man!” They’d listen to songs like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Rumble On The Dock” and watch five Sal Mineo pictures at the drive-in and just neck and neck and neck. “The 50’s were very HORNY! As soon as it became 1960, it was okay to fuck!” (And now it’s the end of the 90’s and it’s NOT, again!)

Ray left Chicago behind to go to UCLA in California. He met Jim in film school at UCLA and they were both stoners. “Induction”, his student film was about signing up for the army. Ray enlisted to get away and heal his broken heart. He went to New York City and then to Thailand with the army and said “I got stoned for the first time courtesy of the US Army!” He recounted the first time he smoked Thai stick in Thailand. He said that he couldn’t have sex over there because there was a 90% chance of getting VD, so everyone got stoned instead. He got the dope for free from a Thai kid in exchange for cigarettes. The kid gave him a pail full of this wicked weed and he said that was the first time he realized what being stoned really meant! He smoked some Thai stick under the hot sun and got completely body stoned. He couldn’t even move or talk for a whole afternoon! He said his tongue would fall out of his mouth without him even knowing it. I was laughing so hard because I know what he was talking about! He said that “was one of the best experiences I EVER had!” He also said that, “Jim, Ray and Dorothy were stoners.”

He shipped his footlocker, full of pot, home from the Army to his parents’ house in Redondo Beach. He said that when he got home from the Army, Dorothy met him at the airport and they went straight to a hotel and fucked their brains out for three days! All they did was eat and fuck – they didn’t even leave the hotel.” Soon after, they got a place in Venice and he got Dorothy stoned for the first time on the beach.

Ray told us about Josef “Kinky” von Sternberg who taught him directing at UCLA. Josef von Sternberg also made five films with Marlene Dietrich. He was German. He had a dark German soul and did deep, dark, psychological films noir. His films, such as “The Blue Angel” and “Shanghai Express” reflected German romantic decadence. Jim loved Marlene Dietrich! Ray and Jim were also into Kurt Weill and Bertoldt Brecht. Manzarek believes: “The Communists and Fascists first crack down on the artists, musicians and poets!”

Manzarek met John Densmore and Robby Krieger when they got out of the Maharishi’s meditation camp. They were into Transcendental Meditation and so was Ray. He said that Robby Krieger is a great guitar player/songwriter that could pick up chords like nothing. He also wrote the song “Light My Fire”. Ray conspicuously left out any real mention of John Densmore, so I’ll have to read his book to find out why.

Ray said that Jim was a funny guy and good to be with (a fact that Oliver Stone neglected to emphasize). They’d discuss the merits of John Coltrane vs. Sonny Rawlins and things like that. Dorothy had a great job and she supported them. Ray wanted to ask Dorothy to marry him but he didn’t have a nickel.

He talked about his first band, “Rick and The Ravens” and his moniker then was “Screaming Ray Daniels”. Ray was totally into the blues. (I could have married this man, but I was only 3 years old in 1967!) When he and his brother played in that band, they made $15 a night. They played in a wine bar. “Jim loved “Louie Louie”! He could have sworn the word “fuck” was in the song. All the southern guys loved that song. Jim sang that song the first time he got on stage at the wine cooler bar.” “Rick and The Ravens” played at a prom where Sonny and Cher were also on the bill. Jim played “fake guitar” at the gig and got paid $20. That experience got him hooked on performing.

Jim could roll a joint perfectly but he couldn’t splice his 16mm film properly, so his student film at UCLA couldn’t make it through the projector. He had to re-splice it before it could be shown to his class. Jim smoked a big bomber in his student film and then it cuts to an atomic bomb explosion. There was also a part in it with his friend’s girlfriend, a big German girl named Elke who wore a bra, panties and fishnet stockings and stood on top of a TV in a Marlene Dietrich outfit. Ray said that “Oliver Stone turned Jim’s film into some sick anti-Semitic diatribe…into some sort of Nazi diatribe/Aryan supremacy propaganda film!” But, “Morrison was a Native American Shaman – a cross between a cowboy and an Indian.” Jim’s film was “pure poetry”. In Stone’s movie, Jim supposedly quit when his student film was harshly criticized but that wasn’t true at all. Jim graduated in 1965 from film school. Ray has a Masters Degree in film.

Jim planned to go to New York after graduating to make poetic cinema and Ray thought he’d never see him again. However, “40 days and 40 nights later Jim shows up on the beach” when Ray was there smoking a joint and pondering his future. When he saw Jim, he’d gone from 165 lbs. (“soft and doughy”) to 135 lbs. and had long hair. Jim had been dropping acid and writing poetry that summer. That was when Jim recited the words to “Moonlight Drive” to Ray for the first time. Jim didn’t think he could sing, but Ray said “Bob Dylan can’t sing, man! YOU can sing!” That’s when they decided to put a band together as a showcase for Jim’s poetry. The rest as they say, is history.

“We’re all infinite; cosmically one. We’re all the Buddha, all God, all one!” (Reflection on Ray’s LSD trips.) Ray told this great story of his view of the story of Adam & Eve. “Adam blames his old lady for eating the apple! Fucking GUY ate the apple! We’re not Teletubbies, we’re human beings – we are God! Our job is to conquer the fear and greed and to become conscious of the difference between good and evil. We shouldn’t fear death – it’s divine light (i.e. the feeling of being warm and baking in the sun and our soul leaving our body, just heading to the light).” They learned this by taking LSD. Ray doesn’t recommend taking LSD, but thinks that pot and mushrooms – all things organic – are just fine!

One of my favourite quotes from that day was “You’ll never move beyond the message of love.” I really related to Ray because he thinks religion is seriously weird shit and we have to start a new religion. He said that’s what The Doors were about. Jim said their music was primeval. It’s about: “Let’s save Mother Earth!” “YOU ARE THAT!”

Just before we broke for an hour long lunch break, Ray started to talk about how Jim’s alcoholism made him metamorphose into a character he called “Jimbo”. That was the person Oliver Stone chose to present to the world in his movie.

I was just peaking when we broke for lunch. I had brought a joint with me that Stacey had given me the night before and I just had to go and find a discreet place to smoke some of it. I knew I wouldn’t smoke it all because it was killer shit! I was all dressed up in a skirt and jacket with heels and was wearing my glasses and I’m sure that I looked like the last person who would have been sneaking out of that room to go smoke a joint. I walked around the side of the hotel and found a bench under a tree along the walkway that led away from the hotel. I smoked half of the joint and then went to the bar in the hotel lobby and drank two tequila and 7-Ups for my lunch. There was a girl sitting alone at the bar who asked me if she’d seen me upstairs and I said, “Where?” She said “with Ray…” I admitted that I’d been there and she commented on how excellent he was. I agreed but I found it so difficult to carry on a conversation with her because I was very stoned at that point and completely paranoid that I’d say something stupid. So unfortunately, we didn’t say anything else to each other.

I bought a Snickers bar and started eating it on my way back into the auditorium. When I sat down in the chair I’d been sitting in previously, I wrote the following:

I’m so stoned now that I don’t know how I’m going to be able to take more notes when Ray comes back on. We’ve been on a lunch break from 12:50 -1:30 p.m. I bought a large Snickers bar for lunch and just finished eating it. I’m still feeling the peanuts in my teeth as I sit here waiting for Ray to return. This is so fucking cool! I wish Jen were here SO BAD! Oh shit, now I have dry mouth, but I don’t want to get up and walk across the room to get a glass of ice water ‘cause I’m too high.

“Love Her Madly” is playing and I can’t remember when “LA Woman” ended.

Oh no, the yawns are starting and he hasn’t come back yet. God I wish I had a glass of water. Jim Morrison would have approved of my condition at this moment. How bizarre is this? “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?!”

Wow, this guy is such a performer and storyteller! Ray’s telling us about the highs and lows of LSD trips. Gurus, mantras, meditation, etc…Maharishi’s meditation. He highly recommends it!

Now he’s saying that Oliver Stone is a fascist and a killer! (I felt bad to hear that because I actually really enjoyed his movie, because I thought Val Kilmer gave such an awesome performance as Jim! It was a lot of fun to watch!)

I’m having a hard time getting all this down. It’s a really weird thing that a 60-year-old man can make a living talking about his life…what a character! He’s now talking about how “Light My Fire” came to be. My butt is getting numb and the left side of my neck is pinched. He’s blathering about how the song “Light My Fire” was created and how they knew it was a good, fucking song and it was going to be a hit.

“Jim was living his life like a reprobate until he began to dissipate…” (Ray actually said that!) into an alcoholic when “Jimbo” took over Jim’s body.

At this point, I couldn’t write any more. I just wanted to listen. Ray only talked for about 45 minutes after we came back fromRay Manzarek lunch and then he held a Q & A session, which was great! I asked him, “What do you think of Patricia Kenneally’s book and how much of it is accurate?” He said that he hadn’t read the book but asked me if I had and if so, what did I think of it. I told him that I thought it offered a different perspective on Jim’s character from anything else that I’d read. Ray said that Patricia was in fact in love with Jim and that they’d had an affair, and then went on to mention how the scene that depicted the Wiccan marriage ceremony in Oliver Stone’s movie had made Jim out to be some sort of Satanist. Another guy in the audience piped up that Patricia had a web site that is just bizarre and that she says that Pam was responsible for Jim’s death and that she murdered him with a heroin overdose! Ray seemed genuinely shocked and said, “Man, you know, I just don’t want to know!” He is really only familiar with The Official Doors Web Site at www.thedoors.com and hasn’t seen any of the other ones.

A Greek girl in the audience went on to say that there was an inscription in Greek on Jim’s original headstone in Pere Lachaise cemetery that when translated basically read “Go down to your demons!” She thought it was horrible that someone close to Jim would put such a thing on his headstone, effectively damning him to hell for all eternity. Ray revealed that he believed that it was Jim’s father who did that. Jim hated his father and in fact always said that he had no family and that his parents were dead. Jim’s father was in the Navy and never forgave Jim for what he had become. That was very sad to hear.

There were several more questions answered before Ray told us he was going to sign copies of his book for us. So everyone lined up and waited for their turn to meet Ray. I was trying to think of something really intelligent to ask him, but I was too overwhelmed. I had brought my camera and took a few shots of Ray on stage, but I really wanted to get someone to take a picture of us together, because the guy in front of me did, but he had an idiot-proof, auto focus, auto flash unit and mine was just too damn complicated to explain to anyone in my stoned state. So I didn’t ask. I regret that.

When I got to Ray, he asked to whom should he sign the book. I spelled out my name for him and said, “You are a great speaker and I really enjoyed that. Thank you!” He replied, “Why thank YOU darlin’!” And that was it. We smiled at each other and I walked away…completely lost on Cloud Nine. And what a darlin’ he is! Now I can’t wait to run right out and watch every Marlene Dietrich film I can find and read all the beat poets including Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. I am currently reading Ray’s book and man, I am SO inspired!

That my friends, was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

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Over the years I’ve written about much of my life because I always thought that some day I would write a book. I have kept journals, written poetry, short stories, reviews and more. I thought it’s about time I start to share some of that with you, not only so that you can get to know me better, but also to understand why music and pop culture has always been such a huge part of my life and, because I may never write that book. My best friend Jen and I are always talking about how much we wish there really was a Hot Tub Time Machine we could use to go back to so many of the memorable moments we’ve had in our lives. In lieu of the lack of such an invention to date, we can always choose to revisit a choice Blast From The Past.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti SmithBook Review
Title: Just Kids
Author:  Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco
Released: October 24, 2010
Pages: 306
ISBN-10: 0060936223
ISBN-13: 978-0060936228
Stars:  5.0

Like Patti Smith, I grew up writing poetry and listening to rock’n’roll. That is where the similarity ends because I am not an artist, only an appreciator of them. Although I haven’t read Arthur Rimbaud or Jean Genet, nor have I yet been to Paris, I have always been captivated by the music of the 70s and the writings of Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll and Jim Morrison. I had no idea that Shepard and Carroll were Smith’s lovers but reading the dreamy, tender narrative of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe surprised me in many ways, including the fact that he was also her lover, because I knew he was openly gay. Until now, I haven’t known very much about Patti Smith except that some of my friends are big fans of hers, she’s collaborated with Springsteen (one of my music heroes), and that her poetry, music and art earned her a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

I often dream of where I’d go if I had my own hot tub time machine and New York City during the late 60s/early 70s is definitely one of the places I’d choose. Patti Smith was born almost 20 years before me, but I’ve listened to and loved a lot of the music that was created by her contemporaries (in particular, The Doors and Janis Joplin) and have been a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography for a long time. However, she has made me appreciate his work with new eyes and I’m grateful for that. Reading Smith’s autobiography Just Kids is the next best thing to using a hot tub time machine as she has written an exquisite account of her early years as a struggling artist and Mapplethorpe’s muse.

From 1967 to 1978, Patti shares her memories of their lives in New York City and specifically at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a dreamscape so perfectly realized and vividly fascinating that you feel as if you’re there with them. We meet many legendary artists including William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard and Tom Verlaine, although none of them holds a candle to the flame that is the telling of the birth of Smith’s and Mapplethorpe’s artistic legacy.

Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946 and was part of a close knit family that included her siblings Linda, Todd and Kimberly, who later relocated with their parents to South Jersey. What struck me about Patti that I wasn’t expecting is that she’s a very down-to-earth, deeply spiritual person and was never a drug addict as one who hasn’t known her might imagine based on her skinny heroin chic look and the time in which she came of age and became famous for being a punk rocker poet. In researching her for this review, I discovered that we share a very similar view of religion as well:

I believe there is good in in [sic] all religions. But religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition. (Rolling Stone)

Patti’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe was utterly pure and transcended any boundaries that society might have wanted to instill upon them. Although they weren’t meant to be together as husband and wife, they were most certainly soul mates (regardless of her marriage to MC5 guitarist Fred Sonic Smith) up until his tragic death at the age of 42. On March 9, 1989 Robert died from complications due to AIDS. Her recollection of his passing within the pages of this book brought me to tears. Just Kids opens with the phone call she received from Robert’s brother Edward telling her that he had finally succumbed to his illness, at which moment she was listening to Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, and it ends with her making peace with having to say goodbye. (“Smile for me Patti, as I am smiling for you.”) In between, we get to know Robert Mapplethorpe as intimately as a stranger can and develop an understanding of what inspired him as an artist as she traces “their first meetings (there were two of them before one fateful night in Tompkins Square Park) to their days in and out of hotels, love affairs, creative collaborations, nightclubs, and gritty neighborhoods…” (Interview Magazine)

Just Kids is a masterpiece, filled with iconic black and white photographs of Smith and Mapplethorpe, including some of their art and a few of Smith’s poems as well. She’s a very gifted poet and although I confess that I was never a big fan of her music aside from “Because The Night” and “Power To The People”, (I was 11 when Horses was released) I’m listening to it now with new ears and would love to read more of her poetry and song lyrics because this book has made me fall for her…hard. I now understand why she has endured and why there will never be another female rock artist like her. Anyone who can write a memoir that inspires someone to discover their career forty years after it began deserves to be the national treasure that Patti Smith is.