Ray Manzarek & Roy Rogers: Into and Out of The Mystic
Photo by Domenic A Izzi, Jr.
BF: Is that what keeps it fresh for you after all these years?
RM: It’s always fresh, music is always fresh. Even when you play the same thing, like “Light My Fire”. “Light My Fire” has to go [scats the keyboard intro]- the introduction to “Light My Fire” has got to be the introduction to “Light My Fire”. It’s like Miles Davis playing “Milestones”- it’s got to be ‘what it is’, but after that, it’s gone. And as far as the collaboration, and the two of us working off those principles- artistic comparison with Godard’s Contempt- I think of us as the Braque and Picasso of music, doing “cubist blues”. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were cubists- they invented cubism. We didn’t invent anything here, but we have modified the blues in a cubist sort of way. So- Braque and Picasso of the blues! [laughs]
RR: Pretty high company!
RM: You know- just in comparison
RR: Ray said it very succinctly. I wouldn’t call it ‘reinvention’ either, it’s being open. [Talking to Ray] You’re always open for pursuing something new, and I consider the same for me. I’m more associated with the blues, producing John Lee Hooker and so forth, but I like to take it ‘outside’ also. You don’t know where that’s going to go.
RM: Working with John Lee Hooker- there’s a man who never stayed within the 12-bar blues format. He could, and there may be times he did, but most of the times he did not. So, Roy’s been outside the blues- within the basic framework of the blues, yet outside the blues for a long, long time now.
RR: I did a session one time with John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis, [The] Hot Spot. I tell you- Miles was in there with John; Taj Mahal and I are backing up John Lee, and Miles comes in and riffs- he had smiles on his face the whole time. Why? Because it’s the same thing- it’s what we’re talking about. It’s like a stretch. It’s not like you have to take any sort of substitution chord- you’re just playing your heart and soul and it comes down to the same kind of thing. I’m not comparing our music to that music- it’s how you approach your music- it’s inherent with those cats. It’s inherent, they just automatically do it. Maybe we have more of a thought process about how we’re going to approach this, but once we’re in there playing it, as Ray was stating, you’re not thinking about it at all. You don’t want to think about it, you just want to play it, and that’s what we tried to get here [holding up a copy of the album]. That’s what we tried to go for- that’s what I always try to go for- I don’t want to have to think about it when I’m playing. Otherwise, that thought process can get in the way of what actually comes out. Like Ray says with his fingers, he doesn’t know where they going to go- well, that’s a good thing in my book. It’s always a good thing, otherwise, [the] music is too pat and you don’t progress at all. You’re playing the same thing over and over, like a lot of folks do, and you’re, like, treading water. You’re not swimming anywhere.
BF: I can honestly say I’ve never heard the term “cubist blues” before, and it’s obvious that a lot of thought and reflection was put into this project, which seems indicative of perhaps the biggest problem in modern music- it’s no longer for thinking artists who want to evolve; it’s a matter of marketing, it’s a matter of “what will sell”, even though it’s not selling anymore.
RM: Isn’t that the truth!
RR: That’s the understatement of the year! [all laughing]
RM: It’s a bit ironic- you’re not selling, so you try to make something that’s even more commercial ! You know, the musicians have to be supported- you have to support your local musicians. You’ve got to buy some art from a musician, so that the musician can pay the rent, buy some food, have a little transportation, put some clothes on his back, and then have lots of free time to imagine, and lots of free time to create, and lots of free time to imagine what the world could be, and to bring us messages from the outside, from beyond ordinary reality, and to enter that state of ‘non-ordinary reality’ that a musician should occupy. All artists should bring back messages from that other place, that other side. You’ve to pay the musician to do that, so I feel sorry for today’s young people who are trying to make a living. Being an artist, it’s…
RR: Double tough. It’s double tough. I’m of the same opinion. Technology has downplayed the importance, unfortunately, of music in peoples’ lives because they just take it that it’s there and should be. I don’t agree that you shouldn’t pay for music at all. You have to support the art- if something’s important, there’s a price to it. It has a price. Not just something buy, but something that has worth. If you buy something, that means it has a worth to you. When I think of the value of, as a kid, going out and buying an LP, and now it’s… I don’t think people realize that by not purchasing the music, they’re actually hurting the creative art.
RM: That whole thing about ‘music should be free’- music should be free. A song costs a dollar… but music is free… but a song is going to cost you a buck [all laughing].
BF: It’s interesting to consider- do you think a band like the Velvet Underground or the Doors could come along today in the rock world?
RM: Oh, absolutely man, absolutely. Of course.
BF: Let me ask you this. Do you think it’s possible for a band like that today to get traction the way it happened in the mid-to-late 60’s?
RM: Well, you know, the 60’s were psychedelic. I don’t know that you’d call the times today psychedelic. I don’t know how much opening of the doors of perception [the name of the 1954 Aldous Huxley book which took its name from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, from which the Doors also took their name] goes on with people these days. I don’t know how many young people have ingested certain hallucinogenic psychedelic substances. I would venture to guess precious few. I think it’s a “boozing” time- it’s a time of great booze consumption.
BF: Which is actually kind of what your generation came out of, yes?
RM: Oh god, yes! In the 50’s, there was nothing in the 50’s. There was booze, [which] never much appealed to me.
BF: It was also a post-war time.
RM: Yep, yep. But you know, the Beatniks were there, smoking reefer. And the jazz musicians were smoking reefer, so there was an intrigue to that. But there was no intrigue to the fact that jazz musicians used heroin, post-World War II heroin [users]. [It was like] “Forget it man- no white powder! No heroin, what are you doing- heroin?” I guess they were just waiting for LSD to come along.
RR: But in a larger context, in reference to the 60’s as opposed to an era [now] with a band like [The Doors} coming up, it would be very difficult to come up, because of the club scene and the record business, as we know it, is no longer. In that context, it would be next to impossible. Not impossible, but very improbable for a band like The Doors or the Velvet Underground… you’d have to come up a different way. The music biz, performance-wise, touring-wise, it’s done still, I suppose…
RM: New bands are always coming up.
RR: They’re always coming up, but it’s a different manner.
RM: Kings of Leon all of a sudden came out of wherever the hell- where are they from?
RM: Yes, Tennessee guys, that’s right. And they’re like the biggest band around- they came out of nothing.