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Ray Manzarek: Serious, Mellow Pace Is What Lights His Fire Now

November 17, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — Ray Manzarek was up bright and early last Thursday morning--so early, in fact, that when he called, a reporter was still in bed.

Since Manzarek had played a gig the night before, shouldn't the situation be reversed, the reporter wondered. After the show, don't most rock stars normally party until dawn?

"I'm sure there's plenty of that going on, but not for me," Manzarek said. "I did my partying years ago, and believe me, enough is enough."

Indeed. Between 1965 and 1971, Manzarek was keyboardist with the Doors, the trend-setting Los Angeles rock band whose on-stage party image invariably mirrored offstage reality.

Throughout each Doors concert, lead singer Jim Morrison routinely punctuated his lyrical wizardry with salacious gyrations and outrageous verbal diatribes, while his band's musicianship became increasingly frenzied.

After the shows came the notorious nights of revelry and drinking that would eventually lead to Morrison's death in 1971 of a heart attack in the bathtub of his Paris hotel room.

The three surviving members of the Doors promptly took heed and "mellowed out" their own life styles, Manzarek said. After two more albums without Morrison, they disbanded and went on to pursue separate, less hectic careers as record producers and film makers.

Today, however, Manzarek is back on the road--after more than a decade of spending most of his time in the studio, producing albums for new wave bands such as X and Echo and the Bunnymen.

But instead of pumping the electric organ in front of thousands of screaming teen-agers, he's playing the piano while beat poet Michael McClure quietly reads from his works to older crowds that generally number no more than several hundred. They'll appear tonight in an "Evening of Words and Music" at the Bacchanal in San Diego.

And instead of staying up all night, carousing, Manzarek makes a point of going straight home, to bed, immediately after each performance.

"What a luxury," the 48-year-old keyboardist said. "Not only am I doing what I've always enjoyed most--performing on stage--but I'm doing so in a way that's a lot less taxing on my body.

"You can only rock 'n' roll for so long, you know."

Still, the legacy of his rock 'n' roll past continues to surround Manzarek to this day. Whenever he's interviewed, he said, the conversation inevitably drifts to the Doors--and, in particular, to Morrison.

"Everyone always wants to talk about Jim, and it's been that way ever since we first met up on the beach in Venice back in 1965 and decided to put together a band," Manzarek said.

"My life has always been less press-worthy than Jim's. I mean, what are you going to write about: Ray Manzarek went home, his tomato plants are coming in nicely, he and his wife made pesto sauce with basil from their garden?

"But Jim going bonkers, Jim exposing himself on stage--that's the kind of stuff everyone wants to read about. In a way, though, I feel ashamed about all the attention Jim did get.

"He could never hide; he could never get away from the spotlight. And even now, 16 years after his death, things haven't changed. Everyone still wants to get to know Jim."

For several years after the demise of the Doors, Manzarek said, he tried his best to let Morrison rest in peace. He rarely spoke to the press, and when he did, he talked only about his current projects, like producing records for new wave bands and recording a solo album of contemporary classical music with minimalist composer Philip Glass.

But with time, Manzarek began to adopt a "grin and bear it" philosophy. He recently produced two films about the Doors: "Dance on Fire," a collection of old conceptual video clips, and "The Doors: Live at Hollywood Bowl," which consists of concert footage shot in 1968.

And on his current tour with McClure, Manzarek said, the celebrated beat author intersperses readings of his own works with recitations from Morrison's classic book of poetry, "Lords and Creatures."

"Jim was a wild man, but he was also very astute, very erudite," Manzarek said. "He was a devil and an angel; the devil drank and partied and got all sorts of notoriety, but the angel was a literary genius who wrote a lot of intense stuff that never got much attention, aside from what he wrote for the Doors."

Manzarek said he plans on producing a full-length feature film based on "L.A. Woman," one of the last songs Morrison wrote for the Doors, and recording an album of poetry and music with McClure.

"Even as a child growing up in Chicago, I was fascinated with both poetry and film," said Manzarek, who earned a master's degree in cinematography from UCLA before forming the Doors in 1965.

"For a while there, I got slightly sidetracked by that old devil, rock 'n' roll," he added. "But now, I'm back to my first two loves, poetry and film.

"And let me tell you, I fully intend to pursue both."

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