What comes to mind when the "P"-word (as in, poetry) is preseved for posterity on a recording? Put another way...
...How many albums of pure dross have been unleashed, because the leaden-tongued local wordsmith swore up and down they were recording, say, the spoken word answer to JOHNNY CASH LIVE AT FOLSOM PRISON?
But when the words fall on target...and the accompanist is smart enough to respond correctly...that's a different story, as my friend, Darryl Read, demonstrated on BLEEDING PARADISE...his second spoken word/music collaboration with the Doors' former keyboardist, Ray Manzarek.
This interview with Ray, conducted shortly after BLEEDING PARADISE'S release (4/19/07), never hit print for various boring reasons...not least because of the idiots sporting clipped cigars in their mouths, as they yawn and shrug, "What else ya got, kid?" Suffice to say...I have other ideas.
As Ray notes below, poetry still scares people -- which is all the more reason to do it, and add another notch to the list of happenings, music and projects that occurs without the Clipped Cigar Crowd's permission. Now read the interview highlights below...and proceed accordingly!
THE RAY MANZAREK INTERVIEW
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): What is the main motivation for wanting to do a project like this? Even within the confines of what we recognize as the music business, it doesn't fit very easily, does it?
RAY MANZAREK (RM): No. No poetry does – nobody wants poetry.
CR: You almost get the reaction of “the cross being held to the vampire,” when you tell people you're doing stuff like that...
RM: Yeah, I know, they run away. People are afraid of poetry. Poetry's OK if it's rap, but we're not rappers (laughs), we're “Beat Existentialists.” So the motivation was for the sheer art of poetry and music.
We are continuing the tradition of the Beatniks, putting music and poetry together into a new synthesis. And the reason to do it was because Darryl's poetry was very good: I thought, “This is terrific, man. Let us get together, and I'll play the piano, and you read your poetry, and we'll have some really good stuff.”
CR: Now, on [the pair's previous collaboration] FRESHLY DUG, we had a variety of different keyboard textures. This time around, we just have the acoustic piano. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
RM: Conscious decision to play acoustic piano, and acoustic piano only. It's the purity of an acoustic piano, and a voice: nothing added. What you hear is actually being played back the instant it's recorded, no overdubs, purity of the two instruments themselves – the human voice, and the grand piano.
CR: Exactly. And how does working with Darryl compare to some of the other folks that you've worked with – since you've had the privilege of working with quite a few all-time great lyric writers?
RM: Yeah, Jim Carroll, certainly, Jim Morrison, Michael McClure, and Michael C. Ford, a jazz poet out of Los Angeles, a longtime buddy of mine from the UCLA days. I played with him, too. Working with Darryl, he's right there with all the excellent poets; he's a darn good poet, and he's a very good reader, and he's got a great sense of pacing – because he knows when to read, and when to stop reading, which is an important thing. Let the piano player have some, let the keyboard player take it for a little bit, set the mood, set the pace. He's a rock 'n' roller; he's got a great sense of rhythm, and how to pace within the rhythm.
CR: So where do you think that resistance [to poetry] comes from?
RM: School! It comes from that funny schooling (laughs), it comes from your classes in school – in which they invariably force you to read THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES. You know, once you've had to read that, you're turned off, man, that's it: “I don't wanna read no poetry.” But they never assign Beat poetry in school! You never get to read Jack Kerouac, you never get to read Allen Ginsberg.
Man, there's a book of poetry that I first got, and Jim Morrison read it, called THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY: 1945-1960, which was from Grove Press. That is a great book. I read that book, and just fell in love with those poets – it's poetry of the streets, hard, punching, nasty stuff, and it's got great lines and great meter to it...Jim Morrison had the same poetry book. I suppose that's one of the things that we shared, that book of poetry.
CR: It's one of the first things you had in common...
RM: That really brought us together. So, you know, school never teaches you that kind of poetry: consequently, you think of poetry as – (the) Ernie Kovacs character of Percy Dovetonsils! I mean, who wants to read anything that Percy Dovetonsils wrote?
CR: Sure! Where's the coolness factor there?
RM: Yeah, it's just not hip, man! That's why people turn to rap, because rap is now – it's the street, “here, now, today,” punch you in the face, you know.
CR: Right – “the black CNN,” as Chuck D. once referred to it, I believe.
RM: There you go. So, what we're doing is the same sort of thing, except it doesn't come with a backbeat. You supply the drum machine in your head, and listen to white guys telling you the same stories from a different angle.
CR: So, from your standpoint, how do you approach something like this as an accompanist?
RM: Well, first, you read the words, you see what the poem is about. You think about some beat and chord changes, some rhythm and chord changes that'll work underneath the poetry, and you lay that down. I played what I thought would work well with the poem, and he [Darryl] said, “That's cool with me, man, let's go and do it.”
CR: It's like jazz, in other words, musical conversation...
RM: That's what it is, jazz improvisation. I'm improvising, totally, whereas Darryl's got his words, but he knows what he's going to say – but how he says it is the improvisational part.
CR: Which is certainly 180 degrees from the kind of thing you see in most rock 'n' roll things today, isn't it? Everybody gets does their prepared spiel – your 10 hits, delivered in 45, 60 or 90 minutes. Prepackaged entertainment.
RM: And there's your set! Yeah – I always wonder how people, especially how musicians, do that. You gotta leave some room for improvisation. You've got to stretch out. If you don't stretch out, you don't have the improvisation, you lose the spontaneity of the moment.
I've had people say to myself and [Doors guitarist] Robbie Krieger, “God, don't you get sick and tired of playing 'Light My Fire'?” I said, “How can I get sick and tired of playing 'Light My Fire,' it's got all that improvisational stuff in it!”
Miles Davis, when he used to play “Milestones” – that's a great song, with a huge space for improvisation! So you play, you state the theme, and then, you do variations on the basic theme. How could you get tired of it? You never know from one performance to the next what you're going to play. It's never boring, never tiring.
CR: Just to be the wise guy here, I've had people tell me, “Well, what's the point of getting them (musicians) to wander (for) 15 minutes through the key of Z?” What do you say to something like that?
RM: Well...Charlie Parker, one of the greatest musicians on planet Earth, said: “If you don't make a mistake, you're not trying hard enough.” So you can listen to the parts that they get wrong – if you don't like that, go somewhere else (laughs)! I think there's a Britney Spears concert going on for those people, you know? She'll be back on the road, you can go see those concerts, and they'll be perfect every time!
CR: And you can set your watch to them...
RM: Yes, that's correct – and, if you want that, that's fine. If you think that way, you probably want to stay the course in Iraq, too.
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