Light My Fire: A Belated Eulogy for Ray Manzarek

While it is clear that Jim Morrison was the face (and frontman) of The Doors, the California psychedelic band was nothing without Raymond Daniel Manczarek Jr. He met film student and budding poet Morrison by chance on a beach in Venice Beach, and The Doors were formed somewhat on a whim at that moment. The Doors also probably would not have come to pass without transcendental meditation where the two met Robby Kreiger and John Densmore. As Densmore would say in later years, “There wouldn’t be any Doors without Maharishi.”. But it was on the keyboard that Manzarek really shined.

Given that The Doors lacked a bass player, Manzarek and his Fender Rhodes piano often became the musical backbeat of the group. In addition, he also contributed vocals on the tracks “Close To You” and “You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further)” as well a guitar part on “Been Down So Long”. He was a man that could his musical wings in a variety of different directions. Speaking of which, his post-Doors career is also nothing to sneeze at.

Throughout his life, Manzarek played with a who’s who of awesomeness including Iggy Pop, Philip Glass and Nite City. He even contributed one track on the seminal 1987 album “Echo & The Bunnymen” and produced the debut album of X. He kept up his collaborations with poets by working with Michael McClure, Michael C. Ford, Scott Richardson, and Darryl Read, creating fusions of punk, blues, spoken, jazz and improvisation. He also dabbled in electronica – unsurprising for a keyboardist in the 21st century, especially one who has a history in transcendental meditation – by creating a record with the trumpet player Bal. The result were computer-generated compositions that integrated jazz, classical and ethnic music. But Manzarek didn’t stop there. He and Krieger appeared as guests at Darryl Hall’s monthly series “Live From Darryl’s House”. That same year, he contributed keyboards to “Craigslist”, Weird Al’s style parody of The Doors. He and Krieger also continued making music together in Manzarek-Krieger, which formed in 2001.

He delved into the world of books with his autobiography “Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors”, which was published in 1998. He also wrote two novels, the first of which dealt with the urban legend that Jim Morrison faked his own death. (Who knows, maybe the Lizard Man is hiding out with Elvis and Andy Kaufman, and their return will be the real second coming). He second effort, “Snake Moon” is a civil war ghost story. It is a shame that he didn’t write more songs with Morrison & Co.; it could have only enhanced an already awesome sound.

That being said, Manzarek had a reputation – at least among fans – of being somewhat of a cranky pants. A friend of mine referred to him as a “belligerent old fart” for refusing to sign her CD at one of his shows. Perhaps his was being unfriendly, perhaps his was simply tired of being chased around by ardent fans all these years. Rock stars don’t have to be nice to to be rock stars. (Although I’m sure Manzarek would hardly call himself a rock star, especially when up against his bandmate Morrison). To sum it up, I turn to Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “The world of rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its greats with the passing of Ray Manzarek.” Harris also said that “he was instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the ’60s. Such memorable tracks as ‘Light My Fire’, ‘People are Strange’ and ‘Hello, I Love You’ – to name but a few – owe much to Manzarek’s innovative playing.” Well said Greg. RIP Ray, we’re gonna miss you. You lit our fires, stole our hearts, created something unique and individual and were always will to try new thing. Cheers Ray, the Lizard King will see you now.


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