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.

Interview with Writer/Director Tom DiCillo of When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

I’ve been following writer/director Tom DiCillo’s (Johnny Suede, Living in Oblivion, Delirious) blog at www.tomdicillo.com for the past six months, ever since I heard of the impending release of his rock documentary, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors. Tom’s passion and commitment to his projects is visceral, both on the page and on the screen, and he is extremely gracious and forthright with his fans and fellow film lovers. Tom, thank you for agreeing to talk to Press+1 (Note: Sept. 18/15: This interview was originally published at a now defunct online entertainment magazine).

What was the single most important thing that you took away from the experience of writing and directing When You’re Strange?

Making the film affected me in a surprisingly large number of ways, and still does. But, the thing that struck me the most was the band’s commitment to artistic integrity. They had it from the beginning and they kept it throughout. They made the music they wanted to hear. As an independent filmmaker it was deeply inspiring to be reminded that not everything is for sale.

What was your first thought when you learned that the documentary had been nominated for an Emmy?

Utter bewilderment.

What do you say to those who have said that When You’re Strange is unflattering towards Jim Morrison?

I say that my sole intent with this film was to portray Jim, and the entire band, as truthfully as possible. So much has been said about Jim and The Doors. Much of it is superstition, legend and frankly bullshit. I think it is obvious the enormous respect and admiration I have for Jim and for Ray, John and Robby. The footage I immersed myself in for two years provided an incredibly intimate view of all of them. To me, truth and honesty are the only things that matter. Jim Morrison is immensely more interesting to me as a human being than as a god or a devil. He was a man. He lived and breathed. He was human. To accept all the things that made him human was the only way I could show how deeply I was impressed by him.

Have you read Ray Manzarek’s (Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors) or John Densmore’s (Riders On The Storm) books about The Doors? If so, did you take anything from them for the script? I ask because some of the narration sounds a lot like what I’ve heard Ray say about them.

I read both books. And I spoke at length to Ray, John and Robby. If the narration echoes some of what they wrote that is purely accidental. The fact is the story of the Doors is relatively clear and straightforward. What happened is what happened. There really are not too many ways to describe how Jim was arrested at New Haven.

I was very much aware that many things have been written or said about the band by historians or experts much more experienced than me. I had to find something truthful for myself in order to make this film. And that truth was that the Doors were made up of four intensely gifted musicians. And although Jim was the front man, dominating the spotlight, each of them contributed something invaluable to the music.

Much of the narration is really a reflection of my subconscious thought patterns as I was originally watching all the footage. Most of it was silent and so it freed my mind to just look at what was happening and think about what I was seeing.

I heard on a recent Today is Boring podcast that you did that Jim’s film HWY is going to be released as a feature film in the not too distant future. Do you know any more details about this release?

That is all I know. The rights to the film, as well as all of Jim’s writing, reverted to Pam Courson’s mother after Pam’s death and are now jointly owned by the Courson’s and Morrison’s brother and sister. I’m not sure why they’ve waited so long to put the film out there on its own.

Did you ever see The Doors perform live?

Regrettably, no. I envy anyone who did.

What is your favourite Doors song?

Very hard to pick one. “Roadhouse Blues” always blows my mind. It sounds like it was written yesterday.

Do you think that The Doors have had any influence in your own new music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre?

Perhaps. Making the film has opened my eyes to the idea that all artistic impulses have value and none should be dismissed, or diminished. Believe me, the critics will do that for you.

Can you describe The Black and Blue Orkestre and how it was born?

The Black and Blue Orkestre is a transatlantic musical crew consisting of three people; me, Will Crewdson in the UK, and Grog in LA. It began about 3 years ago when Will wrote into my blog (www.tomdicillo.com) inquiring about my last film, Delirious. He was very supportive and offered to help bring it to the attention of some sluggish UK distributors.

We kept in contact and eventually he revealed his musical interests to me. He’s been very active in some cool UK bands for several years. How I ever decided to reveal to him that I’d just recorded my own version of “16 Tons” I can’t quite recall. But, I did. And then I took the even stranger step of sending it to him. He laid down an incredible guitar track and suddenly this little home-recording I’d made took on an entirely different sound.

I’ve never really played with other musicians. To have Will integrate a many-layered guitar part, as well as adding synth and some percussion, opened me up to working with real musicians; people who could actually play and contribute other levels to the song.

We sent a few more songs back and forth, including two that I’d written myself. I’d never let anyone hear me sing before. Will not only did not laugh, he quietly encouraged me. The collaboration kept bringing new dimension to the songs. Will knew Grog from a tour they did together. I met her when they played in NYC. Will asked her to write the bass part for one of my songs “Will Been Done”, and we were both blown away. And so she joined the trio.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I like a wide variety of music. I’m keenly into the Eastern/Western hiphop fusion that’s been going on for several years. Rachid Taha, Khaled, Natascha Atlas to name only a very few. African guitar-based music is inspiring; Salif Keita, Mama Sissoko.

I love underground American surf music from the late 50’s and 60’s. There were some amazing bands that few people ever get acquainted with because the genre was so quickly homogenized. The Fireballs, The Trashmen, Dick Dale, Link Wray.

I think Nick Cave rivals Neil Young in consistency and his constant quest to make new music that no one has heard before.

And I think Eminem’s latest album has some incredible stuff on it. I’m inspired by anyone who brings something truly new and original to my ears.

Tom, your bio on imdb.com states that a trademark of your films is that they often contain a dream sequence that is central to the plot. Are you a lucid dreamer and do you immediately write down visions for film that come to you that way?

I don’t know who wrote that bio but, I don’t think it is too accurate. Box of Moonlight has no dreams in it; nor does The Real Blonde or Delirious. However, many people smarter than me have described film as the art form closest to dream and I would agree.

I think if they are handled carefully, dropping dreams into a film can provide the audience with a deeply rewarding surprise. The fact is we all dream every night. And never during our dreams is there any pink smoke or ominous dwarf roaming around to indicate, or assure us, it is only a dream. When we dream we are convinced at that moment that what we are experiencing is absolutely REAL.

This is why dreams are so powerful. My dreams are intensely vivid and complex. I frequently wake up exhausted. I don’t tend to draw from them specifically. I actually see life most of the time as some kind of strange dream where the edges are blurred, where danger and intense joy lie around every corner.

Your films are often described as satires or black comedies. Why do you enjoy – excuse the phrase – taking the piss out of a subject on film?

Well, partly this comes from looking around me and seeing a world that appears to be frantically going blind. More, the things people are obsessed with seem completely bewildering to me. If anyone inspired me in this world-view it was Mark Twain. One of his central themes is how relentlessly the world shrinks away from anything close to the truth.

So, for example, making Living In Oblivion was a definite attempt to show the world what being an independent film director was REALLY like. To most people the indie director embodies the essence of cool; leather jacket, shades, a cigarette. In my experience, every independent director I’ve ever seen on the set (including myself) is a bundle of nerves, fear, ego and complete insecurity.

So I said, f—k it, let me just show it as it is.

Do you think you have a twisted sense of humour?

Only to the degree that I enjoy helping some people see how stupid they are.

Were the Delirious Marketing Meeting videos including the ones you made with Steve Buscemi and Kieran Culkin on YouTube for real?

I’m glad you had to ask me that. I worked very hard on those videos to make them seem like they were real. Actually, they were all scripted and acted. I was assisted by a young filmmaker Chioke Nasoor who had the original idea. He’d heard me talking at a pre-release screening of Delirious about how the distributor was not spending any money on advertising.

He approached me and suggested the idea of doing some web-based video skits that might grab people’s attention and help promote the film. At the time there was great interest in the leaked video of director David O. Russell freaking out on set of I Heart Huckabees. We used that as a model and tried to devise a series of “real” videos that would place me in the most frustrating and demeaning positions possible.

For the Buscemi piece Chioke and I actually crashed the press day for Steve’s own film, Interview. So, it was a combination of scripted stuff and complete improvisation. I greatly enjoyed acting in them.

Have you ever attended the Toronto International Film Festival or would you when you don’t have a film to present?

I attended Toronto with all of my films except the last three. I’m not sure I would see the need to go there without a film.

Are you working on another film project now or are you concentrating on your music for a while?

I have two narrative feature scripts I’ve written in development. That is a strange word which really means that I’m actively trying to arrange financing and casting on a daily basis. This process can take years. But, I’m very excited about both scripts. One is a contemporary sex comedy called Lost In Blue and the other is a tense, sexually complex crime thriller called Lighthouse Road.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom you can share with struggling filmmakers and musicians?

The only words I can say have been said so many times they probably seem meaningless. Keep going. The easiest thing for producers, agents, critics, distributors or financiers to say is NO. And so, they do. As disappointing as the rejection is the only response is to keep going and not take it personally.

Because, it isn’t personal. These people don’t know you. They know nothing about you. So why would you let someone like this tell you who you are? No one can tell you what you can do. Most of these people have no idea who they are themselves and are terrified of taking responsibility to make any kind of decision about anything.

You just have to keep going. It is not easy. Actually, it is incredibly hard. Because we all have to survive somehow. We all need to generate income, to pay the rent, to eat. And if pursuing an artistic career does not provide these things then life can seem pretty bleak and scary.

How do you stay optimistic? How do you keep going when it seems like you’re all alone and no one in the entire world seems to give a sh-t if you give up tomorrow?

I’m not sure I know the exact answer. But your question takes me back to your first one; what I learned from making When You’re Strange. Jim Morrison’s belief in the power of artistic integrity was unshakeable. He left home when he was 17. No one in his family had any faith in his ability to sing or write music. His father actually advised a friend not to invest money in the Doors.

And yet, Jim kept going. Some part of him already knew that there was little if any value in waiting for approval and validation from other people.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors


DVD Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Stars: 4.0

As the imperturbable narrator Johnny Depp has already said, “As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.”

The mesmerizing When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo, opened in North America on April 9th of this year and I attended the premiere that evening in Kingston. The theatre screening was two-thirds full with an audience of mixed demographics and everyone sat still with rapt attention and watched for the most part in sober silence for 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense. The DVD viewing experience allows you to truly indulge in your emotional response to it, out loud. For Doors fans, it is the ultimate film treasure.

The opening sequence of When You’re Strange is riveting, with Jim Morrison climbing out of a crashed car on a desert highway in never-before-seen footage from his and Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY, that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As Jim drives along a California highway in a slick, blue Shelby GT500 we hear reports of his death on the car radio and so begins a factual and retrospective look back at one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever to grace this planet. With Johnny Depp at the helm, we’re taken for a sail back through time to an era when counterculture was born and a gorgeous, young, Elvis-obsessed, and very well read James Douglas Morrison was quoting William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Jim also knowingly said, “The music can’t help but reflect things that are happening around it.” That is still true of music today although no other band has so clearly defined an era in history as perfectly as The Doors depicted the end of the 1960s and the end of the Kennedys’ Camelot vision for America. Tom DiCillo has captured this fact perfectly in his commanding film about Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison and he made sure to emphasize the importance of each band member’s contribution. Presented primarily in chronological order from archival footage supplied by Wolf Films and producer Peter Jankowski, When You’re Strange is not only a bittersweet love letter to the band, but a Dear John letter to the era that spawned them.

“The fact is the music is strange. It is music for the different, for the uninvited. It carries the listener into the shadowy realm of dream.”

The film’s editing is superb and perfectly paced with Depp’s narration while the sequence with “Riders On The Storm” playing during graphic footage of the Vietnam War is particularly powerful. When You’re Strange covers all the well known seminal moments in the career of The Doors as well as some private ones among the band members which offer a more well-rounded depiction of their relationship. It reveals the fact that even before the infamous Miami concert the cops were really hard on Morrison and denied him his constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was DiCillo’s position to simply allow their story to unfold as it happened within the contexts of the footage he had to work with and the major news events of the time period (1965-1971) and he let the material speak for itself.

You will thoroughly enjoy the footage that you haven’t seen before while being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. When You’re Strange can’t help but stir up emotions for anyone who lived through the time period it represents but it also gives new fans the big picture as to why The Doors music is timeless and why it continues to live on long past the lives of the men who dared to challenge the boundaries of rock music with intelligent, poetic lyrics and jazz, flamenco, classical and blues infused rock’n’roll. No one had done it before and no one has made music like it since.

The one DVD bonus feature is an interview with Jim’s father Admiral George S. Morrison (who admitted that he was a very poor interpreter of Jim’s talent and didn’t know him very well after he left home) and his sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning who share their fond memories of Jim.

When You’re Strange was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, aired on PBS’ American Masters program on May 26, 2010 and has gone on to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in a Non-Fiction Series. It continues to do well in Europe and will undoubtedly make Top 10 Best Rock Documentary lists all over the world.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors by Tom DiCillo

When You're StrangeI don’t normally blog about movies but this particular film is an exception because it’s a documentary about one of my all-time favourite bands, The Doors, narrated by my favourite actor, Johnny Depp. As my good friend Tracie said, (and I concur) “It’s a win win for me!”

We’re going to see the special event screening of Tom DiCillo’s film on Thursday, April 15th, 2010 at 7:00 pm at the Cineplex-Odeon in Kingston. I’m very excited about this because I’ve been a big fan of Jim Morrison and The Doors for as long as I can remember, have read numerous books written about them and by them, and even had the privilege of meeting Ray Manzarek at a book signing in Toronto in 1999 when he was promoting Light My Fire: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors.

I am hereby joining The Doors Street Team (you can too!) and am going to pass along their information about When You’re Strange here. From the official website:

Following a prestigious festival run, WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE: A FILM ABOUT THE DOORS will receive a theatrical release in select markets on Friday, April 9. The crowd-pleasing documentary has been featured at the Sundance, Berlin, Deauville and San Sebastian Film Festivals and most recently played to sold-out shows at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Produced by Wolf Films/Strange Pictures, in association with Rhino Entertainment, and released by Abramorama, the 90-minute film is the first feature documentary about The Doors.

“They say if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there,” said producer Dick Wolf. “I can state definitively that one of the things I do remember is buying THE DOORS first album the day it came out and then listening to it about ten or twelve times in a row. Both sides. Every song. I’ve been a fan ever since. This movie is the story of the band but it is also an insight into a moment in time that will never be repeated.”

WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE uncovers historic and previously unseen footage of the illustrious rock quartet and provides new insight into the revolutionary impact of its music and legacy. Directed by award-winning writer/director Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp, the film is a riveting account of the band’s history.

Said Depp, “Watching the hypnotic, hitherto unreleased footage of Jim, John, Ray and Robby, I felt like I experienced it all through their eyes. As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. What an honor to have been involved. I am as proud of this as anything I have ever done.”

The film reveals an intimate perspective on the creative chemistry between drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison — four brilliant artists who made The Doors one of America’s most iconic and influential rock bands. Using footage shot between the band’s 1965 formation and Morrison’s 1971 death, WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE follows the band from the corridors of UCLA’s film school, where Manzarek and Morrison met, to the stages of sold-out arenas.

Shortly before the film’s theatrical release, its soundtrack will be available March 30 and features 13-songs chronicling The Doors’ six landmark albums with studio versions of classic tracks mixed with legendary live cuts including performances from The Ed Sullivan Show and The Isle Of Wight Festival.

The film is produced by Wolf Films/Strange Pictures, in association with Rhino Entertainment, and released by Abramorama. Additional credits for WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE include producers Dick Wolf, John Beug, Jeff Jampol, and Peter Jankowski. The film is written and directed by Tom DiCillo (“Johnny Suede,” “Living in Oblivion”). Narrated by Johnny Depp.

Solutions To This Abstract Mind by Jon Roy

CD Review
Title: Solutions To This Abstract Mind
Artist: Jon Roy
Label: Convoy Productions
Released: October 2009
Stars: 4.0

The first track on Solutions To This Abstract Mind is entitled “Still Not A Rockstar” and my immediate impression was Robert Gordon & Link Wray meet The Alan Parsons Project. Could you think of anything more eclectic than that combination? This is one of the most interesting, atmospheric collections of songs I’ve heard in a very long time.

The more you listen to Ottawa songwriter Jon Roy’s self-produced debut album, the more it grows on you and I found myself falling back into a sonic, progressive rock fugue, the likes of which I haven’t heard since The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd created some of their masterpieces.

Note: If you listen to the tracks on Roy’s website, they don’t sound the same as they do on the CD. The production quality is different.

Roy owns Convoy Productions, a recording studio he developed to produce his own work as well as that of other artists. Details about his production services can be found on its website.

Although he describes this work as a combination of modern acoustic feelings and raw sounds of 90s rock influences, my ears recall – and I’m showing my age here – the 1970s and bands such as The Alan Parsons Project, The Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and I suspect this has a lot to do with its production style. The stylistic origins of progressive rock as described on Wikipedia include psychedelic rock, jazz fusion, blues-rock, hard rock, folk rock, world music, electronic art, classical music and free jazz and I believe that most of these origins can be found in the symphonic offerings of Solutions To This Abstract Mind. There is a texture and imagery found here that you don’t hear on current rock radio anymore and I find it incredibly refreshing.

The players on Solutions To This Abstract Mind include lead guitarist Adam Wollinger (Roy’s childhood friend with whom he credits the album’s “ambient and haunting melodies”), bassist and pianist Jeremy Stroud, drummer Mike Smirnov and Jon Roy as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist.

Jon talks about Solutions:

Influences

“I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, some of my favorites were Led Zeppelin, Supertramp and The Doors. As an early teen, the Seattle and grunge scene started, this is where I started playing guitar, influenced by bands from Nirvana to Alice in Chains, but one of my biggest then and still today was Pearl Jam, especially the ballads, I wanted to be able to write these more eclectic rock songs with powerful vocals and lyrical content like Eddie Vedder. In the last 5 years, a lot of my influences come from some Canadian artists like Dallas Green and Hawksley Workman, as well as bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Muse, and The White Stripes.”

Time line

“These songs have been written throughout the last 5 years, mostly as acoustic songs but about a year and half ago I started working with my childhood friend (and lead guitarist on the album) Adam Wollinger to create a sound that would fit better to make a full band album which we recorded and produced at my home, Convoy Productions studios. The album was later mixed by Bryan Ruckstuhl, a local musician and sound engineer who mixes for the indie rock station Live 88.5 in Ottawa.”

Themes/Concept

“Solutions To This Abstract Mind was conceived from the idea of a solution to getting some order to the musical mess I had in my head I guess. But still today I find myself writing bits and pieces of songs, jumping from one to the other and touching on every style of music that runs through my head. But the main themes of the album were based on personal relationships and my struggles with juggling the 9-5 and trying to break out as a musician in a very conservative government town like Ottawa.”

Step Mother Nature

Cigarettes burn faster now
addiction infection
south seems to be
a better direction

Been here before
can’t remember when
all they’re looking for
is another yes man

(Chorus)
And the wind still flows from the north
making it hard to move forth
tips of fingers frozen
the path that i’ve chosen
but still i strive
to rid this constant 9 to 5.

While you can definitely hear the acoustic guitar in ballads like “Dead Man’s Guitar”, “Round The Table”, “Karma” and “Jesus Fish”, they are still very much electrically charged and range from slow to mid-tempo, punctuated by Roy’s evocative vocal performances. The Pearl Jam influence shines through in “Sober” and “Always: My Favourite Word.” It was very hard for me to choose a favourite track on Solutions because I like most of them so much and when you listen to the album in its entirety without focusing on individual songs or analyzing lyrics, it’s an incredibly nostalgic and pleasurable experience. It’s the perfect music for a rainy day or for when you just want to relax on the couch, stare at the ceiling and lose yourself in the music.

Solutions To The Abstract Mind is available at iTunes, CDBaby and Digstation.