The Doors arrived on the rock scene in 1967, with band members Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, and over forty years later their music and legacy still abide.
The new documentary, When You’re Strange – A Film About The Doors, narrated by Johnny Depp, uncovers historic and previously unseen footage of the illustrious rock quartet and provides new insight into the revolutionary impact of its music.
I spoke with band members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger about the movie. Manzarek was the architect of The Doors’ intoxicating keyboard sound, and guitarist Robby Krieger brought the stinging intensity to their music and also wrote some of the group’s biggest hits, including Light My Fire.
I hear you guys weren’t thrilled with Oliver Stone’s depiction of the Doors. Was this footage something you wished the audience could have seen prior to now?
Ray Manzarek: No, I wish the public sees this footage now! We put it all together, and it’s not just the footage, but it’s the interpretation; it’s Dick Wolf, Tom DiCillo putting it all together into a cohesive form, telling the story of The Doors. Time does not enter into The Doors equation. Time is just a moment that we occupy in this brief spin around the planet.
How does it feel to see your story on the big screen?
Ray Manzarek: It feels good. Am I pleased with the results? Yes, absolutely. Johnny Depp did a great job with the narration. He’s got that subtle understated quality about him that lends itself perfectly to narrating this whole Doors story. It’s not sensational, and yet it’s very decisive.
Robby Krieger: Luckily we found Johnny, and it turned out he was a big Doors fan, which I think was a big decisive point for him to do it.
Not only did he do that, but he read a bunch of Jim’s poetry which found itself onto the soundtrack album for the movie.
What do think about an artist nowadays taking their music to the masses (via the internet)?
Ray Manzarek: God bless. We needed record companies to be the ones who would put it on this black 12-inch (record) and distribute it around the country, but the internet takes care of all of that. Of course, it also allows you to steal our heart, which is a bitch.
Before I left L.A., I was at a magazine stand and two guys came up to me and said, ‘Are you Ray from The Doors?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘Oh, man, we just downloaded L.A. Woman. ‘Oh, that’s great man, are you going to give me a dollar?’ When I sell a record I get a dollar. The guy actually started to reach for a dollar, and I said, ‘No, I don’t need it, I’m okay, I’m cool, keep you money.’
But what if I was a beginning band? What would I do? How do I pay the rent and keep playing music? That’s what it is all about. Can I pay the rent, feed myself, take care of my old lady, maybe my kids?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, it’s tough today, man, because there are more bands than there are audiences now. I think somebody figured that out. So you can’t get a gig anymore in L.A., you have to pay to play. How does a band make a living anymore?
What’s the solution?
Robby Krieger: There is no solution. There are too many bands and the quality of the music therefore has gone down, and people will lose interest in music after awhile. But it will right itself.
Throughout the movie there are a lot of difficult scenes with Jim’s erratic behavior and performance difficulties, how was it to soldier on that whole time?
Ray Manzarek: It’s all tough, living this life is hard, man. We did what we had to do. Jim was a little intoxicated and ‘Jimbo’ was taking over, it was another personality taking over. Okay, we’ll have to deal with ‘Jimbo,’ because we’ve got a great poet, Jim Morrison, a great songwriter, the rest of it is the hard part and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If you can’t do it, get out of the game.
Robby Krieger: He was locked into that body where he had his problems, but when we got together to play that was the good part. He always loved that part. That’s when he would be at his best.
Ray Manzarek: And ninety-percent of the time he would come through. There were only a few gigs that went really bad, and those happened at Seattle.
Robby Krieger: And Michigan.
Ray Manzarek: Oh yeah, the University of Michigan homecoming with the football players. ‘Jimbo’ took over and Jim was simply not able to perform. It was so bad John and Robby left the stage, I’d picked up a guitar and played some John Lee Hooker stuff hoping we could get through at least something, but Jim was drunk as a skunk, berated tuxedoed guys, gowned girls, and they had come to hear the band with the hit song Light My Fire and instead they got the dirty Doors, it was a tragedy,
Yeah, we had a tough time, but it was what you had to go through.
Robby Krieger: What band doesn’t?
Ray Manzarek: You have problems and then you play again – the art is the only thing that matters; whatever you have to go through to get to the art, that’s the only thing that matters. We had a tough time with the latter half of Jim’s short life on the planet, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.