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Morrison In Miami: The Doors' Manzarek Tells The Story

It will forever remain a pivotal moment in rock 'n' roll history -- but the reality is, it might not have happened.

Florida's clemency board conceded this week that there was inadequate evidence to convict Doors singer Jim Morrison of indecent exposure at a Miami concert in 1969.

The incident and its aftermath sent Morrison and the group into a tailspin that ended with Morrison's death -- though the legend is alive and well.

So what did happen? Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek was onstage that night. In a 1998 interview on Fresh Air, he recounted the events leading up to the incident, which resulted in Morrison's arrest and conviction and the cancellation of many Doors concerts.

"We're in Miami. It's hot and sweaty. It's a swamp and it's a yuck -- a horrible kind of place, a seaplane hangar -- and 14,000 people are packed in there, and they're sweaty," Manzarek said. "And Jim has seen The Living Theater [a theater group that experimented with breaking down the fourth wall and confronting the audience] and he's going to do his version of The Living Theater. He's going to show these Florida people what psychedelic West Coast shamanism and confrontation is all about."

Manzarek described how Morrison took his shirt up in front of the crowd and asked if they wanted to see even more. The crowd did.

"They hallucinated. I swear, the guy never did it," Manzarek said. "He never whipped it out. It was one of those mass hallucinations. I don't want to say the vision of Lourdes, because only Bernadette saw that, but it was one of those religious hallucinations, except it was Dionysus bringing forth, calling forth snakes."

Manzarek described how Morrison then asked the audience to come even closer.

"And they started coming down on a rickety little stage, and the entire stage collapsed," he said.

Ray Manzarek's memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, was published in 1998.

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Transcript

(Soundbite of song, "When the Music's Over")

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Florida's Board of Executive Clemency ruled yesterday on a 41-year-old case -awarding a posthumous pardon to Jim Morrison of The Doors on charges of exposing himself while performing on stage in Miami in 1969.

Outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist had requested the pardon and the clemency board supported it unanimously.

(Soundbite of song, "When the Music's Over")

Mr. JIM MORRISON (Musician): (Singing) Yeah!

BIANCULLI: Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was its rock 'n roll poet, its sex god, its heart and soul. But instrumentally, the distinctive sound of The Doors was based on the keyboard playing of Ray Manzarek, whose classic organ solos have just as much drive and punch as Morrison's screams.

In 1998, Terry Gross spoke with Ray Manzarek. He was seated at the piano. She asked him about the infamous onstage incident in Miami.

TERRY GROSS, host:

One of the really big stories in the lore of The Doors is the concert in Miami where...

Mr. RAY MANZAREK (Musician): Yes it is.

GROSS: ...where many people say that Jim Morrison exposed himself and...

Mr. MANZAREK: Yes, they do.

GROSS: ...and you say he didn't exactly. But he had seen The Living Theatre a few days before and that was like the theater group was experimenting with, you know, breaking down the fourth wall and taking off their clothes in the middle of theater performances.

(Soundbite of piano chords)

GROSS: Confronting the audience and so on.

(Soundbite of piano chords)

GROSS: And he was influenced by that.

(Soundbite of piano chords)

Mr. MANZAREK: Yes, he was. We're in Miami. It's hot and sweaty. It's a Tennessee Williams night. It's a swamp and it's a yuck - a horrible kind of place, a seaplane hangar - and 14,000 people are packed in there, and they're sweaty, and Jim has seen The Living Theatre and he's going to do his version of The Living Theatre in front of - this is the first time he's been home. He's was born in Melbourne, Florida. This is his - virtually his hometown and he's going to show these Florida people what psychedelic West Coast shamanism and confrontation is all about.

He takes his shirt off in the middle of the set and says, you know, you people haven't come to hear a rock 'n' roll - he's drunk as a skunk and he didn't tell any of us what he was going to do. If only he have told somebody. Says, you didn't come to hear a rock 'n' roll band play some pretty good songs. What you came - you came to see something, didn't you? And he, they're all going...

(Soundbite of Mr. Manzarek making roaring noises)

Mr. MANZAREK: He says, what you come to see? You came to see something that you've never seen before, something greater than you've ever seen. What do you want? What can I do for you? And the audience is going like this, you know...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: I'm playing the piano right now inside the strings. That's how the audience, it's just rumbling and rumbling. And he says OK, how about if I show you my C word. And all the audience goes screaming crazy. It was like madness and Jim takes his shirt off, holds it in front of him, reaches behind it and starts fiddling around down there and you wonder what is he doing? And I'm thinking, oh God, he's going to take it off. And the audience is getting crazier and crazier. And then Jim whips the shirt out to the side, he said did you see it, did you see it? Look, I just showed it to you. Watch, I'm going to show it to you. Now keep your eyes on it folks and he whips it out...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: Ooh, off to the side again.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: Off to the side again.

(Soundbite of piano music) Mr. MANZAREK: Off to the side and says, I showed it to you. You saw it, didn't you? You saw it and you loved it and you people loved seeing it. Isn't it what you wanted to see? And sure enough, it's what they wanted to see.

They hallucinated. I swear, the guy never did it. He never whipped it out. It was like, it was like in the West Coast Jesus on a tortilla. It was one of those mass hallucinations. It was I don't want to say the vision of Lourdes, because only Bernadette saw that, but the other people believed and maybe other people said - it was one of those kind of religious hallucinations, except it was Dionysus bringing forth, calling forth snakes.

GROSS: And then you say he said to the audience, come closer, come on down here get with us, man.

Mr. MANZAREK: Oh, yeah, yeah. Come on, yeah, oh, come on. Sure, come on. Join us. Join us on stage. And eventually, the - sure, and they started coming on a rickety little stage, and the entire stage collapsed. Sure.

GROSS: In your memoir you write a little bit, you write a lot, really, about how The Doors developed their sound and how you developed your sound as the keyboard player with the group. Let's take an example...

Mr. MANZAREK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...of one of those songs. Why don't we look at "Light My Fire," which is...

Mr. MANZAREK: Sure.

GROSS: ...probably the most famous or one of the most famous.

Mr. MANZAREK: The most famous Doors song.

GROSS: Sure. Yeah.

Mr. MANZAREK: Yeah, the most famous Doors song. You know, Robby Krieger is actually the writer of "Light My Fire." So Robby came in with a song, he said I got a new song called "Light My Fire." He plays the song for us and it's kind of a Sonny and Cher kind of...

(Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Light my fire.

And it's like, OK. OK. Good chords change - what are the chord changes there? And he shows me an A minor...

(Soundbite of A minor piano chord)

Mr. MANZAREK: ...to an F sharp minor.

(Soundbite of F sharp minor piano chord)

Mr. MANZAREK: And that's like, whoa, that's hip.

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: That's cool.

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: And then...

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: And that's when he went into the Sonny and Cher part.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Then we said, no, no, no, no, no. We're not going to do the Sonny and Cher kind of song here, man. That was popular at the time.

Densmore says look, we've got to do a Latin kind of beat here. Let's do something in kind of a Latin groove.

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: And I'm doing this left-hand line. So John is doing...

(Soundbite of Mr. Manzarek making drum sound)

Mr. MANZAREK: And we set up this Latin groove and then go into a hard rock four...

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: And Robby's only got one verse, he needs a second verse and Morrison says OK, let me think about it for a second. And Jim comes up with the classic line: and our love becomes a funeral pyre. You know, you know that it would be untrue, you know that I would be a liar if I were to say to you girl, we couldn't get much higher, is Robby's.

Then Jim comes, the time to hesitate is through. In other words, seize the moment, seize the spiritual LSD moment. The time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire. Try now, we can only lose. Whoa, that's kind of heavy. Try now, we can only lose - meaning the worst thing that can happen to you is death, and our love becomes a funeral pyre. Our love is consumed in the fires of agnee. It's like, God, Jim. What a great - great verse, man.

So we've got verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and then it's time for solos. So anyway, the verse goes...

(Soundbite of Mr. Manzarek demonstrating on piano)

Mr. MANZAREK: You know how that goes. You've heard it a million times. And then into the chorus...

(Singing) Come on baby light my fire.

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MANZAREK: So it's time, then, for some solos. We've done a verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Now what do we do? We've got to play some solos. We've got to stretch out. Here's where John Coltrane comes in. Here's where The Doors' jazz background - John's a jazz drummer. I'm a jazz piano player. Robby's a flamenco guitar player. And we all said...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: You know, we're in A minor. Let's see. What do we do?

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: (Singing) Da, da, da-da, da.

It ends up on an E, so how about...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: "My Favorite Things," John Coltrane. It's "My Favorite Things," except Coltrane's doing it in D minor.

(Soundbite of song, "My Favorite Things")

Mr. MANZAREK: But the left hand is exactly the same thing. It's in three, one, two, three, one, two, three, A minor. The Doors' "Light My Fire" is in four. We're going from A minor to B minor.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: So it's the same thing as...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: And that's how the solo comes about. And then we just go...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: So it's John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," and Coltrane's "Ole Coltrane." And then...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: That's the chord structure. Then I would solo over it...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: Robby would solo over it, and at the end of our two solos, we'd go into a...

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: ...a three against four.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: And I'm keeping the left hand going exactly as it goes, and that hasn't changed. That's the four. On top of it is three.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: And into the turnaround.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: And we're back at verse one and verse two.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. MANZAREK: And we're back into our Latin groove. So it's basically a jazz structure. It's verse chorus, verse chorus, state the theme, take a long solo, come back to stating the theme again. And that's how "Light My Fire" came about.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. MANZAREK: That's the creation of "Light My Fire."

(Soundbite of song, "Light My Fire")

Mr. MORRISON: (Singing) You know that it would be untrue. You know that I would be a liar if I was to say to you, girl, we couldn't get much higher. Come on baby, light my fire. Come on baby, light my fire. Try to set the night on fire.

The time to hesitate is through.

BIANCULLI: That's "Light My Fire," and Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of The Doors, explaining it all for you, talking to Terry Gross in 1998.

The lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison, was granted a pardon yesterday for an alleged onstage indecency incident in 1969.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "The Fighter."

This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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