Ray Manzarek remembered with an epic recount of a New York adventure
The book, for those of you who haven’t read it, is great. It’s not what I expected at all. The first thing that comes through loud and clear when you read it is that Ray loved Jim very, very much. The second thing you notice is that Ray is a damn good writer. The book is essentially a Socratic dialogue between “Roy” and his long-missing friend, who he finds alive and well halfway around the world on a small island. The poet fills in the details of the missing years, illustrating a series of epiphanies that I truly believe Ray wished for his friend. The book is beautiful and filled with hope and longing and nostalgia and even sorrow. Ray manages to build in some grief, some long-overdue closure. The last ten or so pages made me cry when I read them, and I’ve found myself loaning the book out almost constantly since or buying copies for friends. To me, it read like Ray closing out a big part of his life with real grace and a generosity of spirit. I remember thinking at the end of the book, “I hope Ray does something else soon.”
And that’s where Tim Sullivan comes back in.
Tim called me last week to talk about one of the things he’s working on. He’s working on two horror films I knew about (2001 MANIACS and SHE-FREAK), but he’s also working on something that he’d hinted at in the past. The new project is a script that Tim co-wrote with Chris Kobin and Ray Manzarek. Yeah... the real Ray Manzarek. It’s a picture called RIDERS ON THE STORM that’s supposed to start shooting at the start of the year with Eddie Furlong and Peter Stormare the first actors to sign on to what promises to be an ensemble road picture.
”It’s EASY RIDER meets THE SEARCHERS,” Tim told me. I believe in aiming high, and that’s certainly an ambitious combination. The idea of Ray directing a film of any kind intrigued me. If he’s as intuitive a filmmaker as he is a novelist, then it could be something worth getting excited about. Tim is producing along with Brett Nemeroff, and Tim explained to me that the two of them had also ended up working with Ray on a couple of other things.
My spider-sense started tingling. “What sort of things, Tim?” I asked.
”The sort of things you might want to see. The sort of things you’d rent out a rehearsal studio for.” I could hear how pleased he was, how much fun Tim was having getting around to his news. “And Brett and Chris and I were wondering... maybe you’d like to come out and SEE these things we’re talking about.”
”You mean... see The Doors?”
”Could be,” he said. And then he gave me the directions to the small, unassuming space where the band was going to be meeting on a Monday afternoon.
That’s how I found myself standing in the lobby of that rehearsal studio, waiting for Tim to show up with Brett. I stared up at the pictures of Veronica Lake and Humphrey Bogart that dominate the upper walls of the lobby, and I smiled at how appropriate they seemed. After all, I can’t think of many rock bands where the convergence of cinema and music were more direct. Ray and Jim and Robbie met at UCLA, after all, where Ray and Jim were film majors and Robbie was studying history. Their songs paint very particular visual images, like the opening of “Riders On The Storm” or the entire frenzied crescendo of “The End.”
And then there’s Oliver Stone’s movie about the band from ’91. I know that Ray has lamented the film in the past, calling it “a white powder movie about a psychedelic band,” and I would imagine it’s hard to watch if you were actually there, actually part of that story. Your memories are never going to match up with what you’re seeing onscreen, filtered through someone else’s idea of what the band and the era was all about.
But for me, the film felt like the closest I’d ever get to seeing this band play. I especially love the film’s final image, as the credits play and Oliver pushes through the whole recording studio, showing us each member of the band in their spot, playing their part, happy and creating music, the propulsive “L.A. Woman” on the soundtrack. At the very end of this long steadicam shot, we finally find Val Kilmer as Jim, sitting on a toilet with the lid down, singing his ass off, so full of energy that it makes you wanna weep. To a lifelong fan, a moment like that is as good as it gets.
Or so I thought.
When Tim showed up, he was visibly pleased, a huge smile on his face. He knew he was about to make my brain melt. He walked me into the actual rehearsal studio, and I saw that it had been set up for a band to play onstage. I tried to remain calm, but when Robbie Krieger showed up, I could barely contain myself. Tim asked me to explain Ain’t It Cool News to Robbie, and I babbled out something about “fans” and “website” and then swallowed my tongue. It’s funny... I don’t get like this about filmmakers. But The Doors... they’re rock stars. Rock legends. It’s so much more impressive to me.
Ray Manzarek was the next one to show up, looking exactly like you’d expect. Ray’s got a great centered tranquil aura that he puts out, and even when he’s joking around (which appears to be frequently), he’s relaxed, never frantic. He and Robbie began to set up their equipment, and I asked Tim when Densmore would be there.
He shook his head. “It’s not John. Not for these shows. They’ve got someone else now.”
Tim laughed as my jaw hit the floor, Tex Avery-style.
”Is everybody in?” he asked me. “Is everybody in? The ceremony... is about to begin...”