by Brian Baker
How the late Ray Manzarek guided one writer down the path to Rock obsession
Last Monday, while surfing through the various music sites
I routinely monitor in the course of a day, a brief notation in a
chatbox simultaneously caught my eye and stopped my heart: "Ray Manzarek
A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The
Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking
treatment for bile duct cancer.
By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of
the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible
has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have
fallen, it's difficult to keep track.
My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan
hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently
deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our
immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he
sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and
from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion
that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Fortunately, that was not the case.
Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message
from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it
when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The
Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family.
I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan
Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable
fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I
greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.
My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show.
For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment
reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing
theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first
television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.
Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew
teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began
booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the
'60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years
old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish
those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following
year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real
people in my comic-book-obsessed head.
Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.
The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan
for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners,
magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked
forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares
for Sullivan's audience.
Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the
tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had
been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or
collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the
occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand
on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by
then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose
big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than
most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock
That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to
see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final
segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made
Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic
who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his
At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a
chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room,
there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a
stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of
"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "
The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days
(which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the
television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear
of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized
and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray
Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim
Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.
Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors
forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My
Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard
Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car
radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from
For the first time in my life, I got music.
"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what
seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's
stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my
body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly,
I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.
Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he
writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis
when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it
was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera
to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they
corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's
smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but
Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me.
By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute
single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I
heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan
show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember
thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone
else's song. Just do that to me again."
From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool
radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict
attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and
that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat
Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little
did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to
change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire"
because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do
and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and
reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."
Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew
exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they
attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs
on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic
tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his
mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome,
from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from
recording and touring.
I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.
After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the
soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the
beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I
were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's
death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just
after the release of L.A. Woman.
I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."
After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's
possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a
letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake
of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what
Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with
yourselves, it's not what you want."
I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and
mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar
letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of
Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent).
A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter
from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated
that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they
were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.
Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics
generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo
album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they
pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.
Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged
instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album
on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but
also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and
humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.
After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo
career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a
collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after
that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late
'70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X
albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing).
As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative
situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an
instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably
the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In
recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy
Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in
2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore
when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as
the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as
The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million
worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he
wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued
that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that
gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967.
While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering
success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic
poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock
swagger and Jazz swing.
Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible
musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without
that, there would be no Doors.
I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper.
But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their
singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a
10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of
the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion
and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago.
I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now
would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in
1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.
Social media gets something right, nepotism still easiest way to the top and dead-rapper hologram trend thrives
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Social media said The Doors' Ray Manzarek died, other media said he didn't … and Facebook and Twitter turned out to be right for once! Plus, if you want a job at Rolling Stone, just become the son of its publisher and the dead-rapper hologram craze continues with Eazy-E and (maybe) Ol Dirty Bastard.