Sunday, June 9, 2013
ON THE DEATH OF RAY MANZAREK
SO RAY is dead all of a sudden. I saw it in The Age last week, and I didn’t even know it was coming. It hasn’t a big effect on me like the death of John Lennon, occurring whilst I was having fun on a sunny day in a back yard pool. Dying in your 70’s after a life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll isn’t so sudden, or shocking or surprising. Not like murder is. Still, The Doors were my favourite band for a long time, and I was barely cognizant of music when Jim Morrison died.
I never really thought a lot about Ray as I became obsessed with The Doors in the late 70’s and 80’s and even into the 90’s, but I think I have underestimated him. I’ve heard the story about when the Doors first got together- there are photos of it- staying somewhere near Venice Beach, trying to write songs. They set themselves a target to write songs this particular weekend- I’m guessing around mid-1966- and only Robbie Krieger really came back with anything substantial- just a little rock ‘n’ roll number he called ‘Light My Fire.’ Yes it was Robby’s tune, and Robby’s words, but I bet Ray had a big say in the way it was fully constructed, beyond the drafting phase. Think about the swirling organ at the start, and I wouldn’t mind betting he created that sound, just like John Densmore might have thought up the idea of the bang on the snare as the song’s first noise. The Doors, like The Beatles, I gather, all joined together to create their songs, like all good bands do.
I’m sure there is any number of key Ray influences in lots of Doors’ songs. ‘The End’ may shine in particular because of Jim’s words and Robby’s guitar, likewise Robby’s palpable influence on ‘Spanish Caravan’ or ‘Been Down So Long.’ But think about ‘Riders on the Storm’ and Ray’s pretty (for want of a better word) piano/organ comes to mind, likewise ‘Love Street’, the piano beautifully jaunting, the swirling mad organ in ‘Strange Days’, and especially in an underrated song like ‘Not To Touch The Earth’ with its exhilaratingly mad organ swirls.
Beyond the studio, I can see that Ray was an integral part of The Doors line-up. I remember Jim Morrison once saying that whenever he was getting ahead of himself, he would take one look at Ray and realise that he wasn’t Superman (it may not sound like it, but probably a nice compliment). It seems that Ray and Jim were pretty close, more than the others, and certainly more so than Jim and John. It was probably Ray that in some ways held The Doors together, talking Jim out of leaving the group, being a band spokesperson when something went wrong, like in Miami. And Ray was a crazy guy. You only have to read his memoirs about life in The Doors to realise that. Pages and pages about sex, and shamanism, and rituals, and what not. Ray used the (possibly LA) expression ‘man’ all the time, and he was, it seems, excessive in the way he spoke and the things that he said. He went on to create music and manage bands when the Doors ‘died’ but always associated himself proudly with The Doors legacy.
When I saw the obituary of Ray Manzarek in The Age the other day, I thought back to my days of being obsessed with The Doors and driving my friends crazy. It was a lonely time because I remember being, it seemed, not only the only fan in my school in Melbourne, but seemingly the only person who even knew The Doors existed. I would play the first album and ‘LA Woman’ over and over again, and it seemed back then that every album and every song they wrote was genius. It was not until later, from a less involved perspective, that I came to a personal view that albums like ‘Waiting for the Sun’ and ‘Morrison Hotel’ were not quite as good as I thought, and that even songs like ‘Queen of the Highway’ were downright average.
Ray was like a father figure to the group I am imagining. Not just in terms of age- he was the oldest, but not by a great deal, and barely older than Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger- but also in the sense that he may have been the wisest, the most experienced and most level headed, and probably the most settled or secure. This is only an inkling, because I cannot be really sure.
One day, I know, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell will die- and then I will really feel it.