The Doors' office is in a brightly painted yellow stucco building set back off Santa Monica Boulevard. Located over an antique shop, it boasts a large front window that continues to bear traces of former inhabitants: signs of Diners Club and the Bank Of America are in the process of being removed.
Just inside the office a secretary sits in solitary splendour; she is surrounded by little more than a stereo set and an electric typewriter. Bill Siddons, the Doors' youthful manager had a small office in the back. From all appearances, everybody has just moved in. On the walls are three Gold Records: one for The Doors, one for Strange Days and one for 'Light My Fire'.
Two of the Doors have already arrived: Jim Morrison wearing, despite the 80-degree Los Angeles heat, a burgundy cossack shirt and the infamous 'vinyl' pants; and Ray Manzarek, looking a good deal blonder, thinner, and altogether more remarkable than he appears to in the stills which show him hunched over his keyboard in introverted madness. Robby Krieger, burnished from days at the beach, and John Densmore, wearing even larger mutton-chop sideburns, come in sometime later.
At the time of this interview, the new Doors single, 'Hello, I Love You' has just been released, and their third album Waiting For The Sun, is in the final stages of completion.
Jim and Ray are talking.
Jim: Let's talk to Paul [Rothchild, Doors Producer] about 'Texas Radio', with a little blues accompaniment –
Ray: Yeah, but that's going to entail going in and setting up for a whole recording. I mean, it would be quick, but it wouldn't be that quick.
Jim: It would sound good just spoken, you know.
Ray [flipping through a manila folder containing some of Jim's poems]: Maybe we should do something else. A lot these things are good, too.
Jim: These are just the ones I was going to show Paul. These are songs that we could use for the next album. I think that if I do 'Texas Radio', it should all be read.
Q: What is your third album like?
Jim: It's.....just songs. There are no real long ones.
Q: Is it true that, at one point, you were going to use an entire side for a single song?
Jim: No we tried that, but it didn't work out. But we did use part of it. I think we're going to wait and do that later, maybe as part of a live album. Our new album is called Waiting For The Sun. We're thinking of adding something else to it.
Q: Are you planning to read some more poetry on your LP's?
Q: Were you happy with the poem on Strange Days?
Jim: Yeah. I liked it a lot. 'Horse Latitudes'. It was good.
Q: In 'Hello I Love You', you seem to be going back to a more simple sound. Although 'The Unknown Soldier' was a great song, it didn't seem to do well on the charts.
Jim: Well, I liked 'Soldier' and I'm not sure what the trouble was. Most of the stuff at that time was real soft music, you know.
Q: Do you feel that the content of the record hurt it on the charts?
Jim: I doubt it, but it might have had something to do with it. I don't know. There have been war songs before. It wasn't really a war song anyway.
Ray: It came out at a bad time. If it had come out maybe six months earlier or four months later or right now, it probably would have done all right. It was the war thing, you know. When it came out, the war was just sort of really coming to a head. I think it came out just when we started negotiations and that everybody was really into a funny thing about the war. But now, I don't know, I guess the war is over. Everybody assumes it's over. It's not, of course. They're still fighting.
Q: Will your next album be a live album?
Ray: I don't know when we're going to do a live album. We have a lot of ideas, but what happens when it actually comes time to record is another story.
Q: How do you interpret the difference between the sound of the Doors in person and the sound that you create in the studio?
Ray: Well, we're different but we're not really that different. There aren't different vibrations from the group but from the audience, that's the only thing. In a studio, we have pretty much the same feeling.
Q: The Doors are so popular now. Do you feel any pressure to give the audience the performance they expect from such a famous group?
Jim: We do feel a little compelled to play the same songs over and over, the songs that people come to hear on the radio and on records. We used to invent things right on the stage, you know, but now we have huge crowds and only 40 to 50 minutes to play and that doesn't give us the time or the right atmosphere for that kind of improvisation.
Ray: Yeah, I really enjoyed that when we used to do it.
Q: Why can't you improvise now?
Jim: Well, we could – and I think that some people would like it – but it would disappoint a lot of people who come to hear the songs they know. Whenever we start a song that they know, they really start cheering.
Ray: And improvisation can't happen every night. I mean, when we used to do it, we were playing every night, three and four sets a night, and so there was a lot of time and a lot of playing in which to do it. Now, we're only on stage for an hour. And we don't do concerts every night.
Jim: You can't afford to make mistakes. We used to be able to afford mistakes because no one was watching that closely.
Ray: Most of the time, there was no one in the club anyway. We could do anything.
Q: Someone told me that your recent performance at Santa Clara didn't go too well. If an audience isn't responding to what you're doing, do you try to make a change?
Jim: We played outdoors at Santa Clara. We've never done too well in those outdoor daytime concerts. I think that we need the night and sort of theatre-type atmosphere and mood in which to work. There's something about the daylight and the open spaces that just sort of dissipates the whole magic.
Q: Do you think that you'll be able to overcome the outdoors in your upcoming Hollywood Bowl concert?
Jim: Well, it will be at night, and the atmosphere will be very theatrical. Santa Clara was just a big open field with a stage in the middle of it. Most of the people couldn't even see or hear what we were doing. As far as I can tell, I don't think that anyone does well in these outdoor daytime things.
Q: At one time, you spoke a great deal about 'total theatre'. Have you achieved 'total theatre' in your performances?
Jim: In a way, we have; in a way, we haven't. I mean, each time that somebody gets up on stage, it's theatre. We might do an actual play, one with a plot or story, and it wouldn't be just a lot of songs, you know. I think that we'll do that. That's definitely where it's going. I think that what's going to happen now will be a crisis of music. It's no longer primitive rock music, as it was. There's been a split. A lot of people will go into theatre and musicals and opera and that kind of thing, and get further away from pure music, but rock, the primitive rock music, will reassert itself eventually. Eventually, there'll come a need for that basic blues beat again.
Q: Is this one of the reasons for the blues revival of today?
Jim: Well, that's what's happening. Half of the people are getting very classical, sophisticated, and theatrical, and then there's the need for blues. There's a split. I'd like to do both. I enjoy both. I think that the Doors have a combination of both now. I think that it's a successful combination. But we're going to have to go in that other direction, into theatre and electronics and that kind of thing, or we're going to have to get more basic again. I think that we'll probably go in the other direction and let someone else do the basics.
Q: As a musician, Ray, do you feel that playing with the same people over and over again stagnates you in any way?
Ray: No, not at all. Because they're always doing something new. John and Robby are really great musicians. We vary. We always vary from performance to performance. We never know exactly what's going to be played. We never play any song the same way twice. The basic chord structure is there, and the song is there, but we all play around with it. Like, I'll know at one point that I'll have to put in a rhythm structure. I feel that the musical exploration has just begun.
Q: Do you ever disagree musically? What happens if someone wants to go in one direction, but the others don't?
Ray: No, I think that we all pretty much agree. Everybody suggests their ideas, and we weigh them. If something appeals to everyone, then we do it. If it doesn't, we drop it.
Q: How many of the ideas for the film of 'The Unknown Soldier' came directly from the group?
Jim: We conceived and directed the large sequence, the execution on the beach, but the rest of the film was stock footage that was done in New York. We had nothing to do with the final editing. But I think that it was a very effective film. I enjoyed it. A couple of times, we've run the film at a concert. As the film ends, we join in 'live' and continue to play after it's over.
Q: Both of you studied film at UCLA. Why did you switch from film to rock?
Ray: Well, it was really a utilization of other talents. Jim was a writer, and I had always been playing music. We had these other things as well as music. Jim put his lyrics to songs, and I was able to work the songs out and to play the music. It was something that we had always done. It was perhaps an interim step between here and film.
Q: Are you doing anything with films at the moment?
Ray: We're making a film now and we'll probably continue to make movies. But we'll also do other things such as stage and theatrical presentations.
Q: What's the film about?
Ray: It's kind of a documentary thing about the Doors.
Jim: It's about us but in a way that just uses us as an excuse to get from one town to another and to show America the way it is today. It shows the things that are happening today. Paul Ferrara is shooting it.
Ray: I think it's really going to be a television show. That's what we're making it for. We want to do an hour long show.
John: Did you see the James Brown thing on TV last night?
Jim: Last night?
John: Yeah. I mean, I don't know anything about camera angles, but there was no light, just two strobe lights on each side, and the main angle was right about here [gesturing], you know, getting his jaw and the sound was awful. We really have to be careful of the sound.
Jim: We're shooting the film partly on tour at concerts. Whenever something's happening, we shoot. For example, if something started happening right there, right out on the street, we'd run out and film it. We're producing the film ourselves. For television, hopefully.
Q: The Doors really haven't done too much television. Is that your idea or the networks?
Jim: I know. Actually, after New Haven, no one will hire us. We had a show scheduled, and they cancelled it. I got dragged off of the stage on an array of charges that were later dropped, but the publicity scared the television people off. I like TV. It's great. We did a few shows and were getting better each time.
Q: When an audience is becoming difficult, what do you do to get involvement?
Jim: You can't predict what's going to happen. You just have to go with it. We're trying to project our music, us, our ideas. Our ideas are in the songs, in the music. We can't verbalize them. If we could we'd be doing that instead.
Q: Do you feel that you reflect society in your songs?
Jim: It has to be. You don't have any choice in that. You live in a certain time and you can't help but reflect it. But you also influence it. At the same time, you act as a mirror. Then, those things, in turn, come back on you and it just goes on.
Q: Do you feel that you influence an audience?
Ray: Well, I suppose that they're influenced. Hopefully, they come to get involved: that's the music part of it. If they become involved, there's an influence that stays with them because they realize perhaps that they have experienced the same involvement. Hopefully, they'll like it and want even more involvement.
Q: With constant exposure to anything, people tend to become jaded. When psychedelic lights came out, they grabbed everyone immediately. Now, only fantastic light shows, like the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey, seem to really involve people. Do you feel that you constantly have to find something new with which to grab people who were immediately with you when you first started?
Ray: You naturally evolve into new areas and you explore the areas you're in. That exploration opens new doors into other areas. Then, there's all of your own accumulated influences. All these years, you've been accumulating these things, and these ideas have to be expressed, too. But that's getting into the areas of film and theatre. Those were the influences on me, and so I'd like to work in those areas, too.
Q: The area of theatre would seem to involve a slightly different discipline than that of a rock concert. Do you feel that you could work within the framework of theatre?
Ray: It might be a different kind of discipline, of work. It's easy to think in terms of what's already been done. But the new things probably won't come out that way. It probably won't be Brecht and Weill. It won't be Marat/Sade, it will be something else. It will be something in that genre but not exactly like that. It will be something different. I really don't know what it will be.
Q: John, Ray was already asked whether or not he felt any musical stagnation from playing with the same musicians all of he time. Do you feel that this limits you in any way?
John: No, it's not limiting because you get to know the other musicians. You know them and immediately you know what they're going to do. That's true even with the words. Jim will improvise, but we know one another so we can immediately respond. That's a very broadening thing. You can listen to other musicians on records. I heard Cannonball (Adderly, a famous jazz musician) last night. His pianist just killed me. They did this one thing and Cannonball said, 'We have the greatest pianist in the world in our band and we're going to let him play as long as he wants or as short as he wants.' Then they all split, and he went crazy for about 15 minutes.
Ray: Do you know what I was thinking of doing? I was talking to Bill [Siddons, the Doors' manager] about maybe getting someone like Miles Davis-
Robby: Not Miles.
John: Well, maybe someone like Cannonball. Cannonball's had two hits, 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy' and –
Ray: They'd be good. They'd be on a show, and it would be a good show. Let's start doing that.
John: Did we ever try Jerry Lee Lewis?
Q: It is impossible for you to do the same kind of improvisations that jazz musicians do?
Ray: We could.
John: But it's a different situation. We're not in a small club now.
Robby: The Doors have the greatest guitarist in the world but they never let him do anything!
Q: Frank Zappa once said that an audience's attention span is about three minutes long. Do you feel that your audience limits you, that unless Jim throws the microphone off the stage, no one is going to listen?
Robby: Well, Zappa is exaggerating. I don't think that our audience limits us. When we play, the kids are staring. They can't take their eyes off the stage.
John: Each person does his thing.
Robby: I know that they say that a person's attention span for a record is about three minutes. But I think that it's different in a concert because the audience has the sound. It keeps your attention.
John: We played 'Light My Fire' the other night. Jim left the stage, and we played solos for about 15 minutes. Everybody's got to get their rocks off.
Q.: WHAT IS the basic difference between jazz and experimental rock?
Jim (pointing at John): Ask him.
John: There are similarities and there are differences. The main similarity is the improvisation; the main difference is probably in the beat. Rock 'n' roll is much harder and more straight – hard 4/4, you know – and jazz gets into 3/4 and other things.
Robby (referring to a song on the radio): That's Mike Bloomfield playing now. It's still rock: you can hear the beat.
John: Who says you can't hear the beat in jazz? It's just subtler and not as outrageous, that's all. It's not as obvious.
Ray: Like John was saying, I think that the real difference between rock and jazz is in the rhythm. Jazz is built from a swing rhythm, a kind of older, loping rhythm, while rock is built from a kind of hard, straight-up-and-down rhythm. It's as if people were finally standing straight and walking straight, you know, very tall and feeling the rhythm, rather than walking or loping along like animals. I think that's the whole difference. People are standing up now. They're standing straight and standing tall.
Q.: Is this why jazz isn't as popular now?
Ray: Yeah, it's got a lot to do with it. People are marching to a different drummer – they really are. It will develop into a conglomeration of more sounds rather than going back to anything.
Q.: The pop music scene on the radio is really strange. For a while there, you had the Doors' kind of music and also things like 'Honey'...
John: Oh, that's great! (Sings:) "I took so long to bake it ..." If they did it as a put-on, it's just great.
Ray: I liked 'Honey' the first time I heard it – the first time, the second time, even the third time...
John: You old softie.
Ray: Yeah, it got to a soft spot. Everyone can get into that bag once in a while, but they overdid it with 'Honey'. It was...
Q.: Does all of the airplay tend to make groups more commercial and perhaps duller?
Ray: Well, rock is really a day-to-day thing, a present thing. When a good song comes out, everybody wants to hear it. You hear it a lot, then pretty soon you've heard it a lot, and then it's on to the next thing. It's all newness; you know. That's what pop radio and rock 'n' roll are all about: just going from one new thing to another. This goes on constantly.
Q.: How much pressure do you feel on yourselves to make your albums commercial?
Ray: You always take your audience into consideration. You realize that you are making albums that people are going to want to listen to. Hopefully, they'll buy them.
Robby: But when we did 'When the Music's Over', we didn't do it because everyone wanted us to do another long thing like 'The End'.
Q.: Each time a group comes out with a new album, they seem to be criticized either for repeating their sound or abandoning it. Are you really damned if you do and damned if you don't?
John: A lot of people rapped Waiting for the Sun, and a lot of people were refreshed.
Ray: You just have to go ahead and make your albums because the critics are going to be of many different minds: you're going to get all sorts of criticism. You can't hope to please everybody. That's impossible.
John: The thing that's really a drag is singles. That's where the pressure is. We don't try to write singles, but when it comes time to choose them and to guess, "Well, do you think the kids will buy this one?" no one really knows what's going on.
Ray: We all pick the singles, and that's where we really take the audience into consideration. We have to think about what they'll play on Top 40 stations. After 'The Unknown Soldier', we realized that a lot of the stations just wouldn't play much what we put out. And, you know, we want to have hits.
John: We wanted to get something that they'd finally play, since our last two singles ('Love Me Two Times' and 'The Unknown Soldier') were banned, and so we did 'Hello, I Love You'. A lot of people said, "Aww, man!" but that's just because we were trying to get back on the radio. They were happy with the album, though, because they heard all of that other stuff.
Q.: When you first started, you said things like "We're a communist group," but recently quite a bit of the attention has been focused solely on Jim. How do you feel about this?
Robby (with straight-faced humor): We resent it.
John: I don't care. It's groovy.
Ray (to Robby): They focus on you, man, they really do. You've seen the billing: "Robby Kreiger and the Doors." Sure, you're the best guitar player, but Jim's the best singer and he's the focal point of the thing. It's only logical and it's only right that the attention should be focused on him because he's the guy who is standing up and singing.
John: He's not necessarily the leader, but the attention should be there. You know that I'm not out in front!
Ray: If you have a singer, he has to be out in front. It's his job to be out there in front.
John: Maybe we should put him behind me, behind the bass drum.(Laughter).