Ray Manzarek remembered with an epic recount of a New York adventure
I can say that with confidence having listened to them work their way through “Break On Through,” “When The Music’s Over,” and “Love Me Two Times.” On each song, they started getting looser, more comfortable with each other. Stewart is an explosive drummer. I saw the SYNCHRONICITY tour back in the day (I hesitated to tell Copeland how old I was, as I didn’t want to make him faint), and he hasn’t lost a bit of the energy or inventiveness that made him one of my favorite drummers back then. They went over a few bars of “When The Music’s Over” several times, working out the timing on “We want the world and we want it... now!” but for the most part, they just played a song and moved on to the next, working on their sense of rhythm in and out of the songs as much as the songs themselves.
As they warmed up for their Brecht/Weill-inspired "Alabama Song," Ray ended up playing what sounded like WWII-era German beer hall music. He sang in a joyously bad accent straight out of THE PRODUCERS about taking over Poland while everyone broke up. Ray seemed to love to break the mood between songs, if only for a moment. They pulled it together, though, then bulled through “Alabama Song,” “Backdoor Man,” and “5 To 1,” where they found themselves working on the arrangement, Angelo once again serving as the voice of authority. This was the raunchiest part of the day, and on "5 To 1" especially, they seemed to be aiming for that decadence.
After one pass on the song, Robbie suggested trying it again slower, and as they played the first few bars, the menace was obvious. Ray laughed and said, "That's going to seriously fuck them up the ass!" The song seemed darker, more malicious when played like that. They tried the ending of the song a few different ways before moving on, happy with the new arrangement they organically built based on what everyone was trying. Ray and Robbie aren’t trying to push the other players around onstage, and they didn’t pull rank. There was no sense that Stewart or Angelo or Ian were afraid to suggest something or experiment with something. This isn’t an attempt to reproduce the songs the way you’ve heard them a million times. Instead, it’s a celebration of this music, of these songs, a chance for these guys to take this material for a drive again. Imagine writing songs like “Strange Days” or “Ghost Song” and not being able to play them with your collaborators.
Now imagine how good it would feel to finally decide to play them together again. Imagine what a release it would be.
After the first half of the rehearsal, the guys took a break for a few minutes. The one thing that I felt I still didn’t have a handle on after nine full songs was Ian Astbury. I mean, I’ve seen the guy live before with his band The Cult, and I’ve always thought he was one of those great natural frontmen. His baritone is very much like Morrison’s, and there’s no missing Jim’s influence on The Cult lyrically. On CEREMONY, there’s a track called “Heart Of Soul” where he sings, “Down and out in London/Los Angeles/And Paris too/I drank a river/In my time/To get on through,” a sentiment that could have come directly from one of Jim’s journals. Ian’s fascinated by the same shamanistic history that so directly influenced Jim, and so much of that shows up in his work.
And when you guys point out that Ian isn’t Jim, I wonder who you think you’re cluing in to that fact. You think Ian doesn’t know what sort of shoes he’s stepping into? He’s in one of those classic no-win situations in rock music, where he’s performing songs that were very personal to a very particular talent, and that almost never works out. Sure, a band like AC/DC managed it, but they’re the exception, not the rule.
The band was still on break when Ian wandered over to where I was sitting. Tim had seeded the coffee table in front of me with bait. Ian’s a comic book fan (he seemed particularly keen on 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, the vampire story that Sam Raimi got so hot and bothered by recently), and Tim had brought in some great EC Comics reprints that he left sitting out. Ian and I started talking about comics, then drifted into talk of Alan Moore specifically. That led us to all sorts of other digressions, and what struck me about Ian is that he’s got a very sharp, dry sense of wit, and that once you get him talking, he’s quite engaging. I figured the last thing he’d want to talk about is the enormous weight of stepping in as the front man for The Doors, but he gave me a wry little laugh and said, “I’ve got arrows pointed at me from all sides.” Before we could continue down that conversational path, he looked over my shoulder and asked someone how they thought things were going for the day.
I turned, not realizing anyone had joined us while we were talking.
Robbie Krieger was seated next to me on the couch now. He answered Ian, but I didn’t hear what he said because I realized Ray Manzarek was next to him, in a chair, and that Stewart Copeland was sitting next to him. There I was, in the middle of The Doors...
... and there was no one else in the room.
As the band chatted, I watched the dynamic between them, and was impressed by the easy rapport they seem to have. Stewart and Ray could be brothers. They’re both tall, lean, well-preserved, with the same basic bone structure, both of them in glasses. They’re also both very quick, very witty men. Even between songs, there’s a sense of joking around, a sort of gameplay going on that really makes these guys feel like they’re coming together as a group. True... you won’t see years of shared experience between them onstage. Densmore is a particular piece of the puzzle, as was Jim. They don’t seem to be replacing those guys, though. They’re simply playing something different. These songs that they love playing are getting a fresh treatment from everyone.
They headed back onstage eventually, and began the second half of the rehearsal with a light as air rendition of “Love Street.” Astbury has a real warmth to him that came through loud and clear in that second half of the rehearsal. He had a hat pulled down over his eyes, and for the most part, he looked like Chuck Barris from THE GONG SHOW up there, not really moving much, simply working to find his space in the songs. And he did, too. As they moved through “Moonlight Drive,” “Wild Child,” and the unexpected pleasure of “Summer’s Almost Gone,” he really loosened up. By the time they launched into my very favorite Doors song ever, “L.A. Woman,” they were playing with incredible force and intensity, and Astbury had opened up completely. That slightest hint of an English accent in his voice brought an outsider’s edge to the song that made it sound new to me, and the band played the shit out of it. That song, even more than “The End,” is all about build-up and release for me. By the time Ian was singing “Just got into town about an hour ago/Took a look around to see which way the wind blow” for the second time, they weren’t just five musicians playing together.
They were The Doors. Absolutely and completely. In the end, no matter how much I acknowledge the individual contributions of someone on a band or in a film or in any collaborative medium, what matters most to me is the art itself. Two years of shitty rumors no longer matter when you’re sitting in a theater and a movie really works, transporting you in that almost chemical way that great movies can. And the spectre of a brilliant burn-out, the shadow of unfulfilled potential, no longer matters when a song like “L.A. Woman” blows through you like a desert wind. All the baggage simply falls away when it’s working, and I can honestly say... if this music matters to you, you are going to flip. If you’re in either Los Angeles or Toronto, make the effort. Make it to one of these shows. What you’ll see is a group of musicians who are playing something vital and alive, something I know I’ve personally always wanted to hear like this.