Surviving Doors Members Speak on Jim Morrison's Substance Abuse
Photo by Paul Ferrara/copyright DMC
In December we scrambled from the Pacific Palisades to Ojai, interviewing the major players behind The Doors' opus L.A. Woman. The sessions culminated in last month's cover story on the subject, which continues to be widely read. Considering we took some 50 single-spaced pages of notes, there were plenty of interesting details that didn't make the story. Here are the highlights.
On Jim Morrison's substance abuse
Ray Manzarek (organ, keyboard bass): Before L.A. Woman [Jim's self-abuse] hadn't yet affected his literary output or sense of songwriting. It had affected his health. We had a little confrontation at one point and told him he was drinking too much. He was like, 'I know, man. I'm trying to quit.' We were like, "okay, just call us and let us know."
But he didn't quit. Maybe he'd quit for a few days, but by the end of the week, it was like 'geez, I need a drink."
John Densmore (drummer): I was nervous at first when Paul Rothchild dropped out and Bruce Botnick suggested we produce [L.A. Woman] with him. I knew that Paul, God love him, taught us how to make records. But he was rather dictatorial and by the third or fourth album, we were doing way too many takes, getting way past the good ones, because of his perfectionism...And I was nervous because Jim, his self-destruction, was...uh... I would say he was an alcoholic by then. We didn't know that, we didn't have substance abuse clinics... But, he got empowered by directing our own film. Which is what producing a record is. He stepped up. He always did when we were recording or writing. None of his self-destruction got in the way. Well, it did... Forget that. Fourth album or so, he'd pass out in the studio. But you could go home. On stage, passing out, is not so good.
Jac Holzman (Elektra Founder): After the album was done, Jim and I went out, supposedly to dinner. I ate, he drank. We had interest in movies and stuff and Jim would kid me a lot. He'd say, you gotta get more on the edge. And I would say things like, 'I think being on the edge is great. The trick is not being on the bleeding edge.' It was a very satisfying experience. The fact that the boys at that point knew enough at that point to show great self-discipline. Most of the songs came from Robby and Jim on that album. He told any number of ladies, I think, that they were the "L.A. Woman."
On Morrison's lyrics
Robby Krieger (lead guitarist): When Jim wrote lyrics, we were never stupid enough to ask him what that meant. Because we knew he never would have told us a straight answer. There's a couple different ways you could read that. I like the idea of the city, L.A., being a woman. I don't know if you ever kind of noticed, the freeway, when he's talking about driving, the number 405 when it hits the 10, it was actually designed by a woman. That whole intersection. And it kind of opens up, like legs opening. It's kind of cool.
I don't know if that's what Jim had in mind but I think he did accomplish that with those words. The part about Mr. Mojo rising. I don't know if you heard that blues that has those words in it. It's kind of interesting that Jim would use those same words in it. It was just a blues off the cuff kind of thing. And he was able to say, hey that would work in this part of "L.A. Woman." I remember him telling us about the whole anagram thing, and hey, check this out, because I think somebody asked him, what's Mr. Mojo Rising, from the blues thing, and he explained it. I think John had the idea of cutting the beat in half and getting faster and then Jim repeated Mr. Mojo Rising.
On Morrison's potential plans had he survived
Bruce Botnick, (producer, engineer): I think [Morrison] was getting to be at a place where there was peace. He was gonna go off to Paris. He was gonna write, figure out whatever the heck he wanted to do. Maybe he was gonna come back and make another Doors record. And if so, it would have been a growth stage. He wouldn't have gone on stage and performed like he used to. It might have been like acoustic sets that you see artists do to get away from being that image. He would have tried to transcend it. This is what I think he would liked to have done. The only reason I say that is the way he responded through L.A. Woman and when he was going off to Paris and the freedom that he felt. He was in a good space.
On L.A. Woman's legacy
Michael McClure, (poet, friend of Morrison): To me, LA Woman was like someone picked up a Polaroid to shoot a space between the 1960s and the birth of the 1970s -- that moment that was the turn of 1970. It handled it the same way a move like Shampoo with Warren Beatty did.
It was pretty sharp with its vision of the collapse of the idealism of the '50s and '60s through the war and race riots -- particularly, the wars in Asia. [Morrison's] father was an admiral and that can't always be scratched. The year before, I had been in L.A. at the Scam Building at 9000 Sunset Blvd. [Morrison] and I rented an office there and we wrote a screenplay based on my novel, The Adept. He was still in pretty good shape, despite the over the top intoxication.
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