Back Doors men 

Two former Jim Morrison bandmates revive the franchise

Back in 1987 a rock writer in a major music magazine was discussing how he received so many independent records in the mail that he figured by sheer math sometime in the 21st century everyone in the United States would be in a band making an album and that radio, with its restrictive playlist, would be down to one song: "Touch Me" by the Doors. Young hopefuls would have no outlet, while the Doors would forever monopolize our public airwaves. This, before the Clear Channel homogeneity revolution.

Yet, to suggest there's a random ghost in the machine responsible for the Doors' enduring popularity isn't fair. After all, Grand Funk Railroad sold quite a few records in its day and Iron Butterfly was once a hip flavor. "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is now more often the punchline to a joke than an actual radio presence. It can't all come down to sexy old Jim Morrison, who captivated women with his leather pants and dark, possessing stare, and excited guys who learned to hide their boringness with pretentious poetry and too many beers.

No, there's something else at work that draws legions of fans to stand on their feet today in the 21st century to watch former Cult singer Ian Astbury deliver "Roadhouse Blues" with the original Doors keyboardist and guitarist behind him. It's something that goes beyond the simple enjoyment of hearing songs that radio beat into your head when you were a child. There's something about the music itself. The singular nature of the band's approach captures an elusive x-factor that no amount of modern-day song doctors, executive producers or expert remix engineers can replicate. In other words, the Doors' music is better than it sounds. Or it sounds better than it is.

Speaking with the band's keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, the x-factor comes into view. Manzarek's a man who has never missed a chance to hype Jim Morrison's mystique. He has so successfully cultivated the aura of Jim Morrison, poet/shaman, that even the band's old drummer John Densmore felt the need to address this marketing ploy in his own biography Riders on the Storm. (A book, it should be noted, that would never have seen the publishing light of day if it weren't for the overtime work of Manzarek and his PR flunkies.)

"We thought back in the '60s that rock 'n' roll could be anything," says Manzarek. "By the mid-'70s, rock music had to be guitar, bass and drums. In the '60s, everything was fair game."

Instead of being influenced by other rock bands, musicians were influenced by other genres entirely. In the Doors' case, they brought elements of flamenco, jazz, jugband, folk and even classical to their approach. "We were doing an organ-guitar-drums jazz trio with a lead singer instead of a saxophone player," says Manzarek.

Coming into the new century, Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger decided to roll the ball one more time. Ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland was originally slated for the drum chair, but after legal disagreements, drummer Ty Dennis and bassist Angelo Barbera took up the rhythm section. For Atlanta, audience members can expect to hear a Doors first, the L.A. Woman album in its entirety. Morrison died before the band could tour the record.

But while Manzarek keeps in mind what the people want, he's also curious to see where this new incarnation can take them. After the shows in Atlanta and Houston, and before heading to Europe, the Doors of the 21st Century will hit the recording studio with new material, continuing the Doors' "poetic tradition" with lyrical contributions from Jim Carroll, beatnik poet Michael McClure, John Doe of X and possibly Henry Rollins. Says Manzarek, "It's just a matter of getting it into shape."

Now the question remains: Can these Doors of the 21st Century get played on the radio?


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