Back at the Whiskey
by Mary Sands
(Also published in the Keroauc Connection, issue #30)
Wow. A most synergetic performance just happened, and it oughtta go down in history, if for no other reason than it’s the first time the Doors (or 2/3’s of what’s left of them) have been back at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, on Sunset Boulevard, since the Doors got fired (over twenty years ago) by the manager of the club for Jim’s “improvisation” of “The End.”
I missed the first few minutes of the show, but Ray Manzarek is up there, still looking very fine, telling the crowd about the meaning of what it’s all still about–what the Doors was about–and part of that is to go against the destruction of our natural surroundings. Ray goes on to retell the story about an incident in Jim Morrison’s childhood–where his family came across some American Indians, hurt at the side of the road, and how everyone just passed them by. Ray is very enthused about why we have to save what’s left of who we are, and where we are, and everything around us.
Ray’s energy superimposes everything as he tells about their old shows at the Whiskey. It is like walking down memory lane, after having been quite into the Doors for years and knowing their history–to see Ray up there, talking about their beginnings at the club and how they used to play second to the “big” bands back then, like Them, Buffalo Springfield, Love, the Turtles, and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention.
Then he narrows in on a story of the last Thursday night that the Doors played at the club. The band was all there, except for Jim, and it wasn’t their turn to play yet, so the manager Fred was yelling “Where is Jim?,” until finally John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek headed out to find him. They knew he’d been staying at the Tropicana, and so they headed up there. They knocked on Jim’s door, room 114. No answer. They knocked again. Finally, the doorknob turned, and Jim opened the door wearing only underwear and a cowboy hat. “His eyes were like lasers!,” Ray recalls. Jim had tried to share his acid with everyone: a drawer full of vials of purple acid that, as Ray now says, shone with a weird light.
The band finally got Jim back to the Whiskey, and Ray is retelling this story with a lot of humor and “man!” expressions. Jim had been peaking, and into their third song that night at the Whiskey, Jim insisted on doing “The End.” Ray tells this story with a great amount of sentiment and bedazzlement that seems to still get his goat. They began playing the song, and when Jim started in with “The killer awoke before dawn,” halfway through the song, this was something the rest of the band hadn’t heard–but Ray knew that “took a face from the ancient gallery” was parallel to a “Greek drama mask,” so by the time Jim had “walked on down the hall,” the rest of the band knew about the reference to the Greek play Oedipus Rex, and of course what might come next from Jim.
Ray doesn’t hold back in yelling the infamous lines “Father, I want to kill you” and “Mother, I want to fuck you” into the Whiskey-A-Go-Go crowd this night of April 5, 2000. He must have gotten a kick out of this, knowing he wouldn’t be fired. Ray tells how back in the sixties, during that “one” performance of “The End,” the crowd was hypnotized. The go-go dancers stopped dancing. The bartenders and waitresses got quiet. Everyone was mesmerized and didn’t literally move again until after Jim had screamed out those Oedipal lines–whereupon everyone came alive again. By the end of the show, everyone was exhausted. Back stage, the band hugged Jim, telling him that was the most amazing performance ever–until in comes marching their manager Fred, yelling: “Morrison, you filthy motherfucker!” and fires the band. Robby piped up that it was only Thursday night, and so the manager let them play at the Whiskey through the weekend–and what did it matter, anyway, The Doors had signed on with Elektra two days earlier.
Ray tells this story, much to the delight of everyone; they’re all whooping it up and yelling “yeah, yeah, man!”–and then Ray goes on to talk about good energy and synchronicity.
He then breaks into a beautiful and somewhat bittersweet version (piano only) of “Crystal Ship,” which has been one of my Doors’ favorites for years. This rendition of the song just almost made me cry–watching Ray’s head move back and forth, as he pounds on the keys, thinking of the years and years of hearing that song, circumstances surrounding those times, the associations that come rumbling up–only, this time, it’s a wonderful, moving piece that is like, to me, a classic by now, played like a swansong tribute, but still kicking ass at the same time.
Ray then takes a drink, takes off his jacket, and plays another piece that he says is based on Bill Evans, which Ray had wanted to play in the background of Jim’s poetry. This tribute to Jim is certainly there to the biggest degree. Ray ends the smooth (at times), chaotic-jazzy (at times) piece with “That was for Jim.”
Then, as he teases the crowd on and off with some more piano and bits of “Light My Fire” and “Moonlight Drive,” he tells the story of talking with Jim at Venice Beach, when Jim showed him the lyrics to “Moonlight Drive,” and they talked about forming a band–and how Jim thought they oughtta be called “The Doors,” after William Blake’s, and Aldous Huxley’s, “Doors of Perception.” They did form the band, and here they were trying to come up with the music for Robby’s song “Light My Fire” (you see, Ray has a deft way of playing a little of the song and telling everyone about the song’s formation: an inclusion of Robby’s folksy influence, John’s Latin input, Jim’s weird and amazing lyrics like “love becomes a funeral pyre,” and adding Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” but doing it in 4’s, etc.), so that when Ray finally quits teasing and actually plays “Light My Fire,” the crowd erupts.
Next, Ray talks about his and Michael McClure’s collaboration on “The Third Mind” video, and he says that William Tyler Smith, director, is awesome and to watch out for him, because he’s going to do great things. Finally, Michael McClure is introduced and comes up to read part of “Civil Disobedience,” by Henry David Thoreau. This part really moves, with Ray on the piano–but Michael’s next reading, of Rebel Lions, and Ray’s jazzy accompaniment of it (bluesy, too, reminiscent of “Back Door Man”), really rocks the house. “Oh yeah. No. Yes. Oh, yeah!… Bandaids. Feeling so bad…Our bodies in agony for 40 million years…I’m on the beach, watching chipmunks….There’s a bloody war outside…It’s a good life!…Does Mama love you? Does Mama love you? Does Mama love you? Can the salmon drown?”
After Michael steps down, the crowd goes wild again when Robby Krieger comes up to the stage and jams with Ray, while Perry Farrell (of Jane’s Addiction) comes up and does an outstanding tribute to Morrison. It starts off soft, and gets heavy with stuff like “I can make the earth stop in its tracks. I can make the blue cars go away” (Robby’s guitar shrieks in the background.) “I’m the lizard king. I can do anything.” (Crowd yells, “yeah!”) Perry starts to dance around a little and chant, like Morrison used to do, and there’s this American Indian feel about it. “Hey-yay-yay-yay,” without any drums, even. “Stranger. There’s strangers on the edge of town.” Perry’s tribute ends lovingly: “This is for Jim, written by Jim…Jim, Jim, take off your shirt…C’mon down, Jim, to the Whiskey, where you belong. Where you came from…” He chants, sings, and dances. Ray and Robby clash smoothly along, just as they improvised in the Doors. “My conclusion, darling. Let me repeat. Let me repeat…. We miss you and we love you so much…”–a wonderful way to speak that far-out language so that Jim might “hear” it.
Next, Robby and Perry leave the stage, but Ray calls Robby back–and the audience is chanting, “Robby, Robby, Robby.” Robby moseys back up to the stage and says “Guess I’ll stick around,” in his typical humble, nonchalant, soft way. Then, John Doe (of the band X, whose first album “Los Angeles” was produced by Ray back in 1980) joins the musicians in singing “Riders on the Storm.” There’s some great jamming going on here, and John’s voice is similar to Jim’s at times, enough to make you feel like this is the Doors all over again.
After that song, Ray is like “Is Danny [Sugerman] coming up next?” And, “This is how we used to do it in the Doors, huddle up, and decide what to do next.” But then all of a sudden, Robby starts belting out “Love Me Two Times,” and Ray laughs and starts playing the piano. John joins in singing, sounding much more like Jim during the shrieking parts of the song. I constantly realized, while hearing this stuff, that the Doors really never died–and that newer artists, poets, and musicians are right there with them. It’s kind of one of those insights you have that leaves you feeling that everything is as it should be.
John and Robby leave the stage, and I guess by this time, they’re expecting Danny Sugerman to go up and read something. But he doesn’t come up yet, so Ray calls John, Michael, Perry, and Robby back up (and everyone is chanting “Robby, Robby, Robby” again). So, there, they all go back up to the stage–and Ray says they’re going to take pictures–and there’s some hugging and real celebration there. They all start jamming and singing “L.A. Woman,” another of my Doors’ favorites. It’s an amazing scene to see. The crowd joins in singing, too, so it’s all a kindred effort. At the end of the song, I notice that Robby is smiling really big. And no wonder.
Finally, Danny Sugerman, who co-wrote No One Gets Out of Here Alive at age 22 (how many years ago was that?), comes up and reads his new intro to the book–and it’s a good retrospective of 20 years later, and how Jim’s impact is so alive (as is evidenced tonight, for instance). “I think he’d be pleased that you people know his poetry,” Danny says as part of the new intro to the book. And it’s true: Jim Morrison was stretched every which way, and gave so much of himself to his audience–yet, he really wanted people to know his poetry. And now they do.
The final act is Perry coming back up to sing-say forcefully: “When I was back there in seminary school, they put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer…..You CANNOT petition the Lord with prayer,” following with a recording of the Doors’ “Tell All the People.”
I kept expecting an encore of “The End,” but it was not to be. This was truly a kicking show, though–and perhaps we best let “The End” at the “Whiskey” be a Morrison-only moment in history–and the rest of us can go on and continue honoring that, and The Doors and all the poets and words and music that have come “from” The Doors.
*This concert, beyond being a tribute to the Doors and Jim Morrison, was also an effort to promote Ray Manzarek’s book Light My Fire.