LATE KEYBOARDIST FOR THE DOORS RAY MANZAREK ALWAYS RELISHED HIS PROGRESSIVE STANCE ON CANNABIS AND OFTEN WAS A GUEST SPEAKER AT NORML’S ANNUAL CONFERENCE. IN ONE HIS LAST INTERVIEWS BEFORE HE DIED, THE MUSICIAN TALKED MORRISON’S JOINT ROLLING SKILLS, SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT AND CANNABIS LEGALIZATION.
BY HARVEY KUBERNIK
“Cannabis is about consciousness expansion. It makes for a much more tranquil benign society…without people being at each other’s throats all the time.”
Raymond Daniel Manzarek’s fingers laid the brooding, carnivalesque base for The Doors singular sound. On top of his keyboard canvas, guitarist Robby Krieger painted his flamenco and bottleneck chords, drummer John Densmore laid his jazz beats, and singer Jim Morrison sang his heavy yet velvety Southern Gothic poetry. The Doors captured the dark underbelly of the Summer of Love with stark realism, dreamy visions and Morrison’s attention-getting antics.
They also were big proponents of cannabis—lead by Manzarek who, back in the mid-60s, was already calling for full legalization and that cannabis would be the spark that would finally make us humans clean up our planet that we all call home.
In 1963, you were in the U.S. Army stationed at a Southeast Asia military base in Korat, Thailand. It was there where you tried cannabis for the first time, right?
Yes. The first time I smoked pot was [in 1963] back in Thailand. When I was in the Army in a South East military base we lived in these little huts. You would have little house boys from the nearby village in Korat who would shine your shoes, take care of your clothes for you, help clean the barracks and you would pay them a couple a bucks a months and more than happy. One day, I asked one of the boys, maybe 12 or 13, “Can you get me ganja?” And the kid just froze for a second. ‘You smoke ganja?’ ‘Yes. I would like some ganja.’ So I exchanged a carton of American cigarettes that cost me around two dollars on the PX base and he brought me some Thai sticks stuffed into a can of Saltine crackers.
It was a Saturday night and we decided to smoke this stuff. I had a couple of hits and I could not move. I sat there and looked into outer space. It wasn’t a giggling thing. It was a profound awakening like “Oh my God.”
The rumor was that Jim Morrison excelled in the art of rolling a joint with one hand. Is that true?
Morrison could roll a joint in a single sheet of paper like a thin cigarette with one hand. Cowboys could roll with one hand. Watch a cowboy movie and you see these guys pouring out tobacco out of a little pouch. You lick it, you hold it in one hand and you kind of roll it up with one hand. How you do it I have no idea. I could not do it with four hands let alone one. I needed a pipe.
It seems The Doors smoked cannabis and indulged in some THC for spiritual, meditative and medicinal reasons.
The purpose of smoking the green intoxicant is enhanced experience. Usually an aural one. That’s what you would have. I didn’t grow up with reefer madness and paranoia. I was a musician. I initially knew it as guys who smoked it were jazz musicians. Then, all of a sudden, it makes its appearance in the world of the Sixties, you know. ‘Holy cow! It’s like everyone is smoking a joint now.” It’s like no big deal at all. A common occurrence. It’s God’s good green earth that grows on God’s good clean planet. And it’s a mild intoxicant. A slight hallucinogenic. It’s not LSD or peyote or mushrooms. It’s got a little bit of consciousness expansion. And I think it’s virtually harmless. And it makes for a much more tranquil benign society. Without people being at each other’s throats.
Did you guys smoke while you were recording?
By the third album our producer Paul Rothchild was becoming a real Laurel Canyon connoisseur of the Northern California potent cannabis. For recording sessions, Rothchild had two types of marijuana: Work dope and also playback dope, which was a little stronger for listening later. One of the benefits of being a known rock ‘n’ roll band.
Could you comprehend why it was illegal back then?
Marijuana is just a relaxant that enhances reality. Now what on earth is wrong with that? Why is it illegal? I have no idea why it is illegal. To this day I still don’t know. I’m all in favor of a decriminalization. I mean, I’d legalize it. But I think you can go that far all at once. You just decriminalize it. And the pot clubs I think are terrific. A great idea. Medical marijuana is a great idea. I’m all for it.
Jim Morrison’s lyrics in “When the Music’s Over” detail ecological concerns and environmental chaos that are now starkly upon us. You and the band are a new soundtrack to global warming and the continual destruction of our planet. Did cannabis help fuel that awareness?
I knew Jim was a great poet. There’s no doubt about that. See that’s why we put the band together in the first place. It was going to be poetry together with rock ‘n’ roll. Not like poetry and jazz. Or like it, it was poetry and jazz from the ‘50s, except we were doing poetry and rock ‘n’ roll. And our version of rock ‘n’ roll was whatever you could bring to the table.. It all works in rock ‘n’ roll. So Jim was a magnificent poet. I loved his poetry. The fact that he was doing ecological poetry. ‘What have they done to the earth?’ But don’t forget that’s late 1967, and the cannabis-heads were aware. That’s what was so great about marijuana opening the doors of perception along of course with LSD. Cannabis makes you aware that you are on a planet. It’s God’s good green earth and you’ve got to take care of God’s good clean earth. The pot heads were the first mass ecological movement. And I hope they continue on and continue it into future because it’s our obligation to save the planet.
Almost like a new religion.
Yes. Radical cannabis-heads wanted to leave behind the organized religions and start some tribal religion based on American Indian folklore. That’s indeed what we were. We called ourselves
the new tribe. We were working in the future space. The Doors on their third album
were in the future. And many things have come to pass that Jim Morrison.
JIM MORRISON DEFIES MAINSTREAM MEDIA CULTURE BY SINGING THE WORD “HIGHER” ON NATIONAL TV!
In september of 1967, the band with the biggest song in America, “Light my Fire” by The Doors were booked on America’s number 1 rated variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show. There was just one problem: The producers told the band that they couldn’t sing the word “higher” because of its reference to cannabis (the lyric went…”Girl, you know we couldn’t get much higher) and that Morrison needed to sing “Girl, you know we couldn’t get much better.”
It was explained to them that the Rolling Stones and Elvis had been asked to change lyric, too, and that everything went well. And, well, that The Doors were being considered by 4 more appearances on the show—a show that close to 50 million people watched each week. Allegedly they agreed to change the lyric and all looked okay.
However, when Morrison, stuffed inside a skin-tight custom made leather suit, got to the line…he casually closed his eyes and and uttered “Girl…you know we couldn’t get much higher…” The control booth went nuts (as they switched camera angles from Morrison to guitarist Robby Krieger who had a sly smile on his face). After the show one of the producers approached Morrison and said, “You’ll never do The Ed Sullivan Show again!” Morrison calmly replied, “Well, we just did The Ed Sullivan Show.”