Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ray Manzarek

So Ray Manzarek has died, sadly, at age 74. The man probably most responsible for introducing Jim Morrison to the world (for better and for worse) and, even moreso, for stoking Morrison’s legend after his 1971 death to a degree where the Doors and Morrison saw the most startling post-death surge in popularity in rock history, is gone. And that’s sad.

Like most who came of age in the late 70s/early 80s when the Doors meteoric return was captured by this epochal Rolling Stone cover, I became a Doors maniac when I was in the 7th grade. And like a whole great lot of those people I was thoroughly tired of them by the time 10th grade rolled along. That was about the window. They were awesome when I was 13 and then poof! They were irrevelant by 15.

To this day I don’t know exactly how I feel about them. I'm not a fan and haven't been since about 1983, but to paraphrase something Dave Bry very astutely wrote on The Awl, how can I totally discount something that meant so much to me when I was 13 years old?

On the good side, they had a wholly unique sound, dark and mysterious and as forboding as anything of their era. They had a couple exceptional songs and a few good ones. Despite a total lack of training, Morrison’s deep voice lent itself well to their atmospheric sound. And, let’s face it, no one—not even Robert Plant—has ever more looked the part of rock-n-roll god than Jim Morrison did. The danger, the cutie-pie stare, the sexual aura, the cool—he had it all, and the Doors indeed benefited from it.

On the downside, well…let's face it, they really weren’t that good. For the most part Manzarek’s organ—which along with Morrison’s voice was the focal point of most of the band’s music—was way too lite-jazzy for me and seemed to drone on and on. Morrison’s lyrics ranged from merely indulgent (“And our love become a funeral pyre?” Really?) to just horrible (“Warm me up with your inner stove”—UGH!) The man couldn’t help himself—there are too many examples of bad writing mistaken for Faustian depth to really get into it here. But let’s just say this: English teachers rue the day a line like “I’m gonna love you ‘til the stars fall from the sky for you and I” was written, as it surely spawned 1,000 imitators that were even more trite and displayed even poorer grammar.

Also? Jim Morrison was a cad and a creep, by all accounts. Was he the only one in rock-n-roll? Heavens no. But he seemed to enjoy his status more than anyone, to wear it as a badge of honor. It seemed he wanted that to define him even more than his music. And that kinda sucks.

There’s a passage in No One Here Gets Out Alive, the definitive Morrison bio I read when I was 12—and at the time felt like it changed my life (um, it didn’t)—that speaks to what an asshole he was. To paraphrase, he’s just gotten done having sex with a young prostitute/groupie when his long-suffering girlfriend Pamela Courson knocks on the door. Jim shoos Pam away, and then painfully rips several rings off the young girl’s fingers (the book made it clear this hurt like hell), ushers her out the window and gives the rings to Pamela as a gift. Know what that sounds like? A pure sociopath. So, yeah, forget womanizer or reprobate or whatever other labels can be affixed to so many keepers of rock-n-roll decadence. This is more than that—Jim Morrison was a dick.

And it's for that reason (well, that and the bad poetry) that I've spent most of my adult years laughing at the Doors when I think of them (which, honestly, isn't that often), rather than any kind of real reverence.

Yet still, for all of the self-importance and lousy writing and debauchery, there were some songs that made them legit, at least for a short while. And Manzarek often times seemed to be the only adult in the room, driving them towards success. It’s Ray’s rumbling bassline, for example, on “Break on Through,” the very first song on the Doors’ very first album, that still stands today as one of the most audacious and menacing opening shots in rock history. It’s Ray’s moody, controlled chaos that lends “Riders on the Storm” its terrifying seductiveness. And it’s Ray whose restrained yet tasetful work augments Robbie Krieger's guitar and drives along my personal favorite Doors song, “People Are Strange,” lending it a haunting, ghostly feel.

  

Listening to this and I can hear threads leading to R.E.M.’s “Maps and Legends,” or maybe some of the darker tracks by the Pixies and, much later on, even the Decembrists. It’s one of the only songs that seems to successfully make sense of Morrison’s insipid “Lizard King” image—courting the darkness that comes with being an outcast and existing on the fringes. (“Faces come out of the rain when you're strange. No one remembers your name when you’re strange.”) For one of the very few times in the Doors’s five year, six-album career, Jim Morrison actually relies on subtlety and doesn’t overdo it. As a result, “People Are Strange” is a highlight that most anyone would be proud of.

It’d be nice to think that Ray Manzarek, who was more devoted to keeping the Doors music and mystique alive for the past 40 or so years, had something to do with this.

12 comments:

  1. Ray's keyboards were a staple of The Doors. He'll certainly be missed after such a long and fruitful career helping to create such haunting music. The Doors' songs opened my mind to other realms of possibilities and cleansed my perception. I paid tribute to Ray when I heard of his passing by creating a new portrait of him and some melting doors which you can see on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2013/05/in-memoriam-ray-manzarek.html Drop by and let me know how The Doors influenced you too.

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  2. And as has been mentioned in other places, let's not forget Manzarek's role in shaping X through their first few albums.

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  3. You seem a bit extreme in your negativity and dismissal of The Doors and do so as if your opinions are etched in stone to be carried down by Charlton Heston. On that note, I suspect, even just looking at some photos of Jim online, that he was probably somewhat of a dickhead, and I agree that L.A. Woman is hideous. Lol. I think overall that their music has more to recommend it than you let on here though, regardless of how fond you are of the decent but greatly overplayed People are Strange. No mention made of songs like Unknown Soldier, Riders on the Storm, Crystal Ship, or Spanish Caravan. (Play Light my Fire, Jim!)

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  4. You said that you don't like lite-jazz, that begs the question, do you like any kind of jazz? The next question to you, is do you read music? If you don't then how much do you truly know about music? Appreciation of music is enhanced by understanding its structure, and therefore understanding what the artist is trying to say. I think that Morrison did not read music, however his bandmates definitely did. Manzerik, Kreiger, Denismore were all schooled in music, and had the knowlege that led them in the direction of jazz. These guys provided Morrison with his harmonic backdrop and songs. Additionally, it was Kreiger, Not Manzerik who was the writer of many their tunes. You don't seem to acknowledge Kreiger's massive contribution to the Door's music. This would indicate that you like music, but know little of the construction of it. This is kind of the same as a guy who has only eaten at Jack In The Box, writing a reveiw for a French restaurant. That being said, Their music was not overly complex (thus their appeal to the masses.) As far as poetry in general, its appreciation lies with each individual's taste. I agree with you about Morrison's lack of compassion. Of course he was an alcoholic, but his lack of compassion was beyond just an alcohol caused indifference. He appeared to have mental problems, many related to his family and upbringing. It's amazing how many screwed up people there are because of disfunctional families.

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    1. YOU - You said that you don't like lite-jazz, that begs the question,

      ME - It does?

      YOU - ...do you like any kind of jazz?

      ME - Yes.

      YOU - The next question to you, is do you read music?

      ME - Sometimes.

      YOU - If you don't then how much do you truly know about music?

      ME - More than a little. Less than everything.

      YOU - Appreciation of music is enhanced by understanding its structure, and therefore understanding what the artist is trying to say.

      ME - Sure.

      YOU - I think that Morrison did not read music, however his bandmates definitely did. Manzerik, Kreiger, Denismore were all schooled in music, and had the knowlege that led them in the direction of jazz.

      ME - Theoretically maybe. But what the Doors did was not close to approaching jazz.

      YOU - These guys provided Morrison with his harmonic backdrop and songs.

      ME - As it was.

      YOU - Additionally, it was Kreiger, Not Manzerik who was the writer of many their tunes. You don't seem to acknowledge Kreiger's massive contribution to the Door's music.

      ME - In a remembrance about Ray Manzarek?

      YOU - This would indicate that you like music, but know little of the construction of it.

      ME - OK, maybe. Or maybe that I don't care much for the Doors' music.

      YOU - This is kind of the same as a guy who has only eaten at Jack In The Box, writing a reveiw for a French restaurant.

      ME - Um...

      YOU - That being said,

      ME - Yeah, let's just forget that was, in fact, said.

      YOU - Their music was not overly complex (thus their appeal to the masses.)

      ME - OK.

      YOU - As far as poetry in general, its appreciation lies with each individual's taste.

      ME - Yes. I find bad poetry distasteful.

      YOU - I agree with you about Morrison's lack of compassion.

      ME - Great.

      YOU - Of course he was an alcoholic, but his lack of compassion was beyond just an alcohol caused indifference.

      ME - I didn't know the man. He seemed a cad and a creep to me. Whether that was entirely due to alcohol I don't know. But the two are not necessarily partnered.

      YOU - He appeared to have mental problems, many related to his family and upbringing. It's amazing how many screwed up people there are because of disfunctional families.

      ME - Thanks for writing.






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    2. I can't get mad at you all because although I am a dedicated fan of Jim Morrison and the music of the Doors, I once believed some of the awful stuff written about him. I also fell for the stories written in "No One Hear Gets Out Alive." His true friends say that he was a highly intelligent, kind and generous person. If you want to know what Morrison was really like, read Frank Lisciandro's books, "Feast of Friends," "An Hour for Magic" and his latest "Friends Gathered Together." Lisciandro was a close friend of Morrison's and spent quality time with him. According to people that were close to Morrison, he took care of Pamela Courson, including buying her a boutique called Themis. While we're all entitled to our own opinions, I'm disappointed about all the terrible comments about Morrison that are purely based on speculation. He was an alcoholic and he was flawed like the rest of us, but the disparaging comments are unfair and have no merit. He was a poet and a visionary and there is ample proof of it.

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  5. I know lots about music--play lots of guitar, have loved many of women, I have (All Yoda) and I agree,Jim Morrison was a dick . Schtick wears off, check. And the keyboard parts did drone on forever. Nobodie's perfect--and The Doors wasn't the only rock band that ever existed. Neither was Zeppelin. And they were beyond not really all that great--most of it was crap. Sabbath and Motorhead were better. Get over it folks.Rock and Heavy Loud S##t are a living art form--No reason to get all butt hurt because somebody says Jim wasn't a moody god. Nor any other singer, for that matter, from any other band. Nostalgia doesn't make a band any better than they really were. I'm glad someone finally read the nutty s##t that Morrison did, and doesn't excuse the psychopathic stuff-idge. PEACE

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  6. You know Krieger wrote the words for Light My Fire right?

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  7. Krieger was the Hebrew genius behind the Doors, while Morrison was the flashy front man. In so many photos I've seen, Krieger is always right next to Jim. Bi boys?
    Yes, I do believe Jim was psychopathic. In 'Riders' he refers to a hitch hiking serial killer. Watch the video they made for the song. It's all cartoon footage except for a short film segment where Jim enters the picture. He is hitch hiking and steps into a car, just like the killer he sings about. It's eerie.
    Do your homework. He hitched from Florida to L.A. before he was famous.
    During that time period there were unsolved hitch hike murders on the route he took. Why should we be surprised that maybe Jim was a possessed psycho capable of murder?

    Manson wrote music and hobnobbed with the Beach Boys. Manson became a superstar of another genre, did he not?
    Morrison admits to what sounds like an act of possession when he was very young. 'Something' jumped into him when his parents' car passed dying Native Americans. Yes indeed, an entity jumped into Jim. Morrison called himself a reptilian (Lizard King). In the end, he paid the ultimate price for dancing with the devil. He blasphemed 'You cannot petition the Lord with prayer'. Bet where he is now, he's singing a very different set of tunes.

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  8. You a little hipster behind a computer. Take your shots at Jim Morrison, he'll still be around when you're dead.

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  9. Wow.The Morrisonites are blood thirsty. How dare you speak ill of their beloved?!
    I thought this was a great piece. Very well written. My story is pretty much the same, though it took me a little longer for me to realize just how awful most of the Doors music really is. I got caught up in the hype of Jim Morrison, The Lizard King, and essentially worshiped him from the age of 15-18ish. Then,like you, they became irrelevant. I havent listened to them without cringing in over 15 years. They provide a great soundtrack to naive unfocused crude adolescent rebellion we all go through. After that though,listening to Jim wail about the Ancient Ones whilst Ray hammers on an organ and Robby plucks an out-of-tune guitar can get a little tedious. Even embarrassing. Still, When You're Strange is a great song. 5 to 1 isn't bad, either.
    Anyway, thanks for the read.I really enjoyed it. Good work.

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  10. I feel the same way about Jim and the Doors. And Yes Jim's personality definitely showed signs of having sociopathic traits. I remember an incident from "No one gets out alive", (p76) when the doors had just formed, and were completely unknown. It involved Jim threatening to cut a female friend with a knife while twisting her arm behind her back.

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