|The Village Voice Interview
by Howard Smith - November 1970
Note: To fully appreciate this interview, I recommend first reading Howard Smith Comments on the Village Voice Interview
JM: It's nice of you to come over on a rainy day like this.
HS: I hear it never rains in Los Angeles.
JM: Uh-huh - the rainy season.
HS: I was in New Orleans once and everybody said it never snows and it was snowing.
JM: I was in New Orleans about two months ago and I thought it was a beautiful town, very strange, and I had a lot of fun there. Did you have a good time in New Orleans?
HS: Oh yeah. It's the only place I've ever been that looks exactly like it's supposed to look, you know, from all the photographs.
JM: You know, I was thinking about New Orleans last night. There's a bar called Bonapartes. Did you go there?
JM: They have a fantastic mural, done by a young artist who doesn't live in the city anymore. It's a picture of Napoleon in exile and he's kind of sulking in this field and there's a sword stuck in the ground in front of him and then over to the left is the scenes from the ... some kind of a ... you know, it's a war scene, people in sewers and chaos and all that, you know, ghosts and shades. It's a beautiful mural. I can't get it out of my mind actually.
HS: Have you been traveling around a lot?
No, that, that was just ... A friend [Frank Lisciandro] and I went to Atlanta for a film festival; we had a film aired there and then we drove from Atlanta to New Orleans.
HS: You said you had a film entered there?
HS: What kind of film?
JM: Well, it was a little 40-minute documentary on a rock and roll band, traveling around the States, we shot about a year ago.
HS: What do you mean, on The Doors?
JM: Yeah, it's called Feast of Friends, they showed it in the New York Film Festival too and, so, actually it was just an excuse to go to Atlanta and then we drove to New Orleans from there. I dig the South.
HS: You have any scenes on the road, while travelin', you know?
JM: No, but one thing I do remember. Atlanta has the most amazing hotel you've ever seen. You walk in ... and from the outside it looks like any other large hotel, you know. Then you get in and you look up ... It goes up about 27 floors and the interior is like a Spanish courtyard. I mean, in ... architecturally it's hollow. So all the rooms face each other across this vast garden arena and the elevators are like, kind of Victorian rocketships and they're glass, and so you go up to the, you go up to the restaurant on the penthouse level and it's completely encased by glass.
HS: What, it goes up the outside of the building, that elevator?
JM: No, the inside, see, and so ... you get this strange sensation - you're rising up 27 floors in this glass elevator...
HS: Mmm. When traveling around by car, you didn't have any ...
JM: Oh, somebody jumped, one time from the ... somebody jumped ... and landed in... They have a restaurant in the middle of it, and so he landed in that restaurant and ... I hear it was really horrible.
HS: Did you see Easy Rider?
HS: That's what I meant, did you have any scenes, like that at all.
JM: No, I don't ... I think that's an exaggeration, really.. I don't know why the South has such a reputation like, you know, but maybe these cliches are really true after all. I never really noticed that the South was any worse than any other part of the United States ... Of course, I'm from there, you know, so I might be prejudiced, but I think it's a grotesque caricature. However, it is a strange territory, you bet.
HS: How come you don't have an accent? ...if you're from the South...
JM: [drawling] Why, I doon't knoowww. How come I don't have an accent, bein' from the South, and all. I watch a lot of television, and I just, I try and obey the norm, you know.
JM: That's what they, you know, people in the Midwest, in the South and all, and they, they call it ... like the way people in California talk, they call it 'TV talk'. You know, it's the way people talk on television, newscasters and commercials and actors and all that ... It's 'TV talk'.
HS: Mmm. Are The Doors gonna be performing, going on tour again soon, or what?
JM: Well, the only thing we have planned is a gig in Madison Square Garden for four shows, two days, around January 17th, 18th, something like that.
HS: Mmm. Do you enjoy performing?
HS: More than recording?
JM: Well ... I guess so ... I do. I think it's more fun, you know, with a lot of people around. Recording studios tend to get a little dry and monotonous. Yeah, I guess the real fun is in performing.
[the phone rings]
HS: Wait a minute ... We're gonna have to ...
JM: You can always edit this, you know?
HS: Yeah, but sometimes when it's like right on the line, when it seems to be ringing right from there, it's from there... I put the receiver off.
JM: That's weird, the receiver's off and it still rings.
[Woman's voice]: Maybe you could put all the lines on hold.
HS: Yeah, could you put 'em all on hold? It seems to be ringin' right here.
JM: Get the scissors...
HS: Do you rehearse specially for a performance?
HS: Well, how do you decide what you're gonna do - you just go out?
JM: Well, we have a repertoire of 30 or 40 tunes and so ... We usually plan, like, in the dressing room before we go on. We usually plan, you know, the first 3 or 4 songs and then, after that, we just play it by ear. So we don't really know what we're gonna do when we go out there.
HS: Mmm. How about in the recording studio? How do you work out what you're gonna do?
JM: Usually we rehearse a couple of weeks, a month or ... you know, until we have a considerable amount of material and then we go in and do it. We don't ... well, on this, on this new album it's really strange; it went really quick, you know. We ... we went in and we got like a song a day, which is kind of unusual. It was funny - the first album that we did ... in about ten days and then each succeeding album took longer and longer, til the last one took about nine months to do and this one, we went in and we got a song a day. It was amazing. Partly, because we went back to the original instrumentation: just the four of us and a bass player.
HS: Why did you decide to go that way?
JM: I don't know.
JM: Um ... I think that phrase is the most horrible phrase in the English language - 'I DON'T KNOW' - ... It's terribly embarrassing...
HS: When you're in the recording studio, do you ... are you aware that you're doing a hit single at any point?
JM: No, we joke around about it a lot, but actually, we just do an album and then, you know, every time we make a choice for a single, it usually turns out wrong, it's usually ... and so, what we're gonna do on this one, is just put it out. Put out the album and let the public decide which one they like the best and then we'll release that as a single, seems like the most realistic way to do it.
HS: Who picked the singles before though?
JM: Well, yeah, we pick 'em, but you know. we don't ... I don't think we really have the key to the pulse of the nation, because we've made more mistakes than we've been right.
HS: Mmm. The underground press, I sort of felt, was the big reason why The Doors made it so big at the beginning. I mean, aside from the fact that you're all very good, I mean, you know, if publicity has anything to do with it, it was that. And then, after a while, that seemed to have changed, now generally we read put-downs of The Doors now. Why?
JM: I think ... Oh, by the way, I remember the, the name of that guy... It was Erich Von Stroheim, 'the man you love to hate...' Yeah, that's ... We're ... I think we're the band you love to hate. So I, it's been that way from the beginning, you know. We're universally despised. I kind of, I kind of relish the whole situation.
HS: But how did that start? Why? Why are you the band that everybody loves to hate?
JM: Gee, I don't know! I guess, I don't know, I think it's like ... I was just up in San Francisco for another film festival, this 'Feast of Friends,' this film. It was an audience, it consisted mainly of young people, way under 30. You know, hip, young people, street people, and they booed the film and I think it's ... that ... we're on a monstruous egotrip and people resent it, you know. They hate us because we're so good...
[It is obvious that the tape starts and stops several times during Jim's last spoken segment.]
HS: Does it bother you at all when you read put-downs?
JM: Yeah, it does. I wish they wouldn't do it, but 'freedom of the press' and all that, you know.
HS: Mmm, you say with a nasty glint.
JM: Umm... I think maybe it will change. I think ... I think, what it is, it's a question of longevity. It's like ... you know, it's that old thing like a first novel. You know, they usually give the cat a break, you know, and everybody kinda pats him on the back and then the second one they really chop him up. And then, if he does a few more, you know, and shows he has staying power, then, you know, they say: well, welcome back to the fold, the human family embraces you, and I think it'll be the same way with us. We just have to hold out for a little while and everyone ... one day will realize: wow, they ... they're just like old friends, they've been around for years now, and, you know, they're part of our national psyche. I guess we'll just, you know, accept them, you know, but now it's, a little, you know, we're kind of in an in - between.
HS: Some of the criticism has been about the kind of music ... you know, it seemed to have been ... I don't know ... rougher or maybe more revolutionary at the beginning and then it seemed to have gotten more ... I don't know ... sweeter, you know, more top 40. Were you aware of that happening?
JM: Mmm. I don't agree with that. I ... I just think the music keeps getting better and better. It gets more subtle, more sophisticated, musically and lyrically. Besides, you know, if you keep saying the same old thing over and over... I mean, it's bound to get boring, right? Who wants to hear ... Who wants to hear revolution 24 hours a day?
HS: No, I don't think that was it. I don't think it was just the lyrics or something. It had more to do with ... sort of that overall sound, in the song Hello I love you. That was one of the ones I think you caught a lot of criticism for.
JM: You know, that song, I wrote that very early, about three years ago. If you listen to the lyrics ... you know, maybe ... maybe it's the arrangement... I like it:
Hello I love you
won't you tell me your name
Hello I love you
let me jump in your game...
Aahaha ... aaha,
She's walking down the street
blind to every eye she meets
Do you think you'll be the guy
to make the queen of the angels sigh...
Umm, I forget the rest of it... anyway, ... ohhh...
Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel...
I wou ... you know, I wouldn't say that's such a bad lyric...
HS: Maybe it was the arrangement then, but, you know, it had a ... I don't know... I remember when I first heard it and then, at the end, end of the song, the deejay said, that was The Doors, I said: WHAT?! No, it just didn't sound the same, or even like it. It wasn't just that I wanted to hear more of the same, it ... There was almost no connection...
JM: Yep, we're just full of surprises, Howard! ... Can I have some more coffee, Kathy? You make the best coffee...
HS: What kind of music do you listen to yourself?
JM: Well, the only time I listen to music is in, on car radios, when I'm driving around. You know, top 40 stuff ... I don't listen to music that much. Every now and then I'll catch an act in public somewhere. I saw, when I was in Vegas, I saw Peggy Lee and ... oh, what was that other band, uhh ... I forget, they were ... you know, I'll go to clubs every now and then, but I don't listen to music that much. I'm not what you'd call a music buff.
HS: Do you read a lot?
JM: Nope, I don't read very much either. I used to ... and then I ... Life got so interesting that I didn't need to anymore.
HS: Mmm, Do you write a lot?
JM: Nope. ... I don't. I don't do much of anything, really. But I will, don't worry. I'll get back ... in the saddle, you know. I've just been kind of lazy lately. It's a period, it's cycles of non-productiveness and then intense periods of creativity. So right now I'm just soaking it all in.
HS: Mmm. Doing what though? You know, when you say, you just live, what ... like what?
JM: Oh, I did do one thing. I, I just completed a short feature movie, 35 mm, in color, called HWY, H - W - Y, with a few friends of mine and we got the first (inaudible) print the day before yesterday and it should be, should be ready next week. I think it's quite good too. It's about 60 minutes long.
HS: What's it about?
JM: Essentially, there's no plot, no story in the traditional sense; a person, played by me, comes down out of the mountains and hitchhikes his way through the desert into a modern city, which happened to be L.A., and that's where it ends. It's a very beautiful film.
HS: Mmm. You were just in it, or were you ... What else did you do with it, anything?
JM: There were four guys who made it, me and three other guys and we all just kind of made it together. It started out, I had an idea for a film about a hitchhiker who becomes a mass murderer, you know, the kind of thing that happens every year or so. Kind of like this zodiac character, you know, except, you know, Stark Weather and Billy Cook, in, it happens every couple of years and so, we went out in the desert to start shooting it - while we were out there, the film took over and just went in it's own direction and became something a little different, and the only thing that was ... you know, that was left from the original idea was the idea of a hitchhiker.
HS: Do you like appearing in films?
JM: The only reason I did it, to tell you the truth, is because I couldn't think of anyone else to do it, you know, and it was just as easy for me to do it. I might do some films. I don't know. I'm not that crazy about being an actor, I'd rather be a director or a writer, something like that, but you know, if I had a chance, I'd probably do a few films. Why not? Shakespeare was an actor, when he first came to London, you know...
HS: Are you gonna be writing films though? You have anything in the works?
JM: Mmm, yeah, probably the ... If I do anything in films, it will probably be this script called Saint Nicholas, that Michael McClure and I wrote, based on his novel The Adept, which hasn't been published yet. It's a contemporary story about a couple of dope dealers that go to the desert to make a score and if I, if I do anything, that'll probably be the first project.
HS: Are you gonna appear in it also?
JM: Mm hmm, probably...
HS: It sort of sounds like the beginning of Easy Rider...
JM: Yeah, I know, but there's nothing I can do about it. This, this story was written before Easy Rider was made, you know, and it's just superficial similarities. It's ... I know people are gonna, you know, call attention to that, you know, but I don't know what to do about it, you know. It's, it's very similar to Easy Rider, you know, in its superficial aspects. Do you know, I read in Daily Variety yesterday, you know, Easy Rider was made for about $385,000 dollars and the estimated gross, so far ... '50 to 60 million dollars', he said, in a religious, hushed tone... '50 to 60 million dollars, that's quite a profit margin, m'dear...'
HS: A lot of bad movies have made that much money too.
JM: Yeah, but they, you know, but they usually cost, you know, 10 or 12 million dollars to make; this was, this is like a .. breaks precedents all over the place, because it's the first essentially, you know, independent low-budget feature to really clean up in the old marketplace, it's unusual. It's gonna, it's gonna open the scene up for a lot of people.
HS: Yeah, Dennis Hopper is on another movie already. He's gonna shoot one in Peru, I believe.
JM: Great ... great ...
HS: Umm, about money... Have The Doors become like, wealthy enough?
JM: Uh, oh yes, I can go into any restaurant in town and order anything I want ... and I don't have to go to 50 cent movies anymore either...
HS: No, if you stop now...
JM: I'll never stop!! They can't stop me!!!
HS: No, really though. If you stop now, have you made enough to stop?
JM: Let me think ... uh ... No, I'm, I'm just so greedy, you know, it just ... the more I can get, the better ... you know. Just aah ... I'm ... what, my ambition is to have a whole bunch of gold bullion, is that the proper terminology? Big gold bars, you know, I'd like to have a big gold bar, big chunks of gold, you know, just to have around the house, and ... you know...
HS: No, look, a lot of the groups that I've talked to, they say that they have a lot of trouble holding on to money.
JM: Well, that's their fault! They're probably spendthrifts, you know. It's like giving whiskey to an Indian!
HS: So you don't wanna talk about money?
JM: Well sure, what do you wanna know, man? [laughing]
HS: Have you held on to your money?
JM: Uh, let's put it this way: I think with our, you know, with our economic system, and tax structure and all that, I don't think it's possible, ever, to just retire and never work, you know ... you know, because the economy keeps increasing; if you drop out of the economy, then it just passes you up you know, in a couple of years and you're left high and dry. I don't think you ... I don't think it's possible to retire in a capitalistic society. But I enjoy talking about money, Howard!
JM: But what do you wanna know, you wanna ..., you know...
HS: Oh, come on!
JM: I'll get my accountant down here and show you my bank statement ...
HS: No, but, you know, you read about groups like The Beatles, I interviewed Mick Jagger the other day and he also said, you know, it's almost impossible: you work and you work and where's the money...? The Byrds one time went on a tour for 30 days, made 300,000 dollars, came back, added everything up and they had spend 300,000 dollars in about 30 days.
JM: Yeah, and look where it got 'em... I think, you know, I dig money because ... I've always, I've always said this... money does beat soul everytime. [background laughter] Not only that... It's a form of communication and besides that... If, if you have ... if you run into some good luck and you get some money, right, then I think you should just keep pouring it back into creative ventures ... just as soon as you get it, you know, don't go out and buy a bunch of diamond rings and stuff, you know, but pour it back into creative ventures, you know, that are creating new things and you can't ever go wrong, you know... [tape stops] ...Do you have any more scintillating questions to ask me?
HS: Yeah, I wanna ask you some more things.
JM: ... Of course, you know you can't use any of this. This is just rehearsal... for the real one.
(continued in part two)