Back in 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing two of my musical heroes – Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger of The Doors – in support of their excellent, Johnny Depp-narrated documentary When You’re Strange. Manzarek’s haunting, jazz-infected organ parts helped define the band’s iconic sound, while Krieger’s mystical blend of trippy rock guitar and flamenco styles made him nothing short of an idiosyncratic genius.
Following the tragic passing of Ray Manzarek on 20 May 2013, aged 74, following a protracted battle with cancer, it is with mixed emotions that I revisit this interview, which remains to this day, one of the strangest and most colourful interviews I’ve done. To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing less…
Raymond Daniel Manzarek, musician and founding member of The Doors, born 12 February 1939; died 20 May 2013
I once read that David Bowie saw Satan at the bottom of his swimming pool in the 1970s. Have you ever had any stand-out supernatural experiences?
MANZAREK: Well England is a country of ghosts isn’t it. Paranormal experiences in England, my God! That’s all you have here, this supernatural world surrounding our daily existence. We’re a lot cleaner and fresher in California. It’s all new and clean and pure.
KRIEGER: But you went to Hell!
MANZAREK: Oh yeah, that’s true. I was locked out of all the flow of existence. I went to Heaven and Hell.
How were they?
MANZAREK: Heaven is great. Hell is hellish. Hell is individual. You’re stuck in ‘you’. You cannot enter into the flow and energy of existence, you’re all ego, and the ego will not dissolve. And that’s Hell. Heaven is ‘one with all things’. But on the other side is the hellish experience where you’re totally locked out of the energy. And hell isn’t a burning place of fire, it’s a place like Dante’s inferno, where the ninth circle of hell is a devil encased, frozen…the worst thing that you can be is frozen...
KRIEGER: I’d rather be that than burning.
KRIEGER: I once saw angels coming out of the ceiling. Do you know what a cottage cheese ceiling is?
I know what cottage cheese is…
KRIEGER: It’s this stuff that’s sprayed onto the ceiling for acoustics. It looks like cottage cheese. I was on acid, when all of a sudden these angels flew out of the cottage cheese. It was pretty cool. There was a whole bunch of them.
MANZAREK: We had Indian bedspreads on the ceiling and all these little figures started moving around them. LOOK AT THEM GOOOOOO!!! Robbie saw angels, but I went to Heaven and Hell, then I had these little Indian figures running around on the bedspreads up on the ceiling.
Did you write any songs in heaven?
MANZAREK: Oh no, you don’t bother with music. You’re totally transported. All you are is alive. Then you bring all that experience back, that’s what you do. You bring the feeling of infinity back and try to put that in your music.
Your new film When You’re Strange begins with Jim Morrison alive and listening to news of his own death. Do you think he’s really still alive?
MANZAREK: Well he was buried in a sealed coffin in Paris so there are thousands of conspiracy theories. Our manager back then, just a kid who was way out of his depth, went to see if Jim was actually dead, and only saw the sealed coffin in Jim’s apartment. He never asked to see Jim’s body! And that coffin was then buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. So who knows, man! Who knows!
Where do you think his body is?
MANZAREK: Either in Pere Lachaise Cemetery or in the Seychelles. I wrote a book 10 years ago called ‘The Poet In Exile’. It’s about a rockstar who fakes his own death in Paris. If you want to read a conspiracy theory about Jim’s death, read this. It may or may not be fiction…
If Jim hadn’t died, and you’d carried on, what would your 1980s phase have been like?
MANZAREK: Why the 1980s?
Everyone tended to become a little unusual in that decade.
KRIEGER: I think we would’ve gone into visual arts and videos.
MANZAREK: We could’ve been a punk rock band.
KRIEGER: We already were punk rock.
MANZAREK: That’s true.
Are you best mates with Johnny Depp since he narrated When You're Strange?
KRIEGER: We’ve never met him.
Well he bases his characters on rockstars. Do you think he might emulate you guys next?
MANZAREK: Well I’ve heard that he listens to ‘The End’ as he’s preparing to find his character in various roles.
KRIEGER: He reads Jim’s poetry on the soundtrack. He said ‘I’d love to do that’, so he went out on his boat and spent all night recording. It’s just him reading between the songs, no musical accompaniment.
MANZAREK: We did musical backing to Jim’s poetry on an album called ‘American Prayer’. I highly recommend it as The Doors seventh studio album. There are six studio albums and the ‘lost’ seventh studio name is called an ‘American Prayer’.
KRIEGER: It’s one of my favourites.
I’ll check it out. Embarrassingly, I don’t own that album.
MANZAREK: And check out my book. It’s called ‘The Poet In Exile’. Hang on, we’ve done that one. Robbie, tell them about your new album.
KRIEGER: It’s called ‘Singularity’. It’s an instrumental album of jazz, rock and flamenco. It’ll be out here soon.
MANZAREK: And my book’s called ‘The Poet In Exile’.
What’s ‘The Poet’ doing?
MANZAREK: Writing poetry. Hang on, I’m not going to tell you. You’ve got to read my book...
*The superb new The Doors documentary, When You’re Strange, narrated by Johnny Depp and featuring LOTS of new archive footage, is out to own on DVD and Blu-ray now*