On Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison

I think it’s safe to say that when most people think of The Doors, the image that comes to mind is the wild-haired, deep-voiced Jim Morrison, the lewdly provocative Lizard King. Morrison, no matter what you think of The Doors’ music, is in the upper strata of true rock ‘n’ roll gods, a boozing, philandering sex symbol with a larger than life stage presence who, to paraphrase Kerouac, burned bright like a roman candle and then was suddenly snuffed out, a member of the infamous “27 Club” of rock stars who died at that age.

The average person on the street probably wouldn’t be able to tell you who Ray Manzarek was. But the keyboardist, who died this week from cancer at the age of 74, was no less crucial to The Doors, and by extension the development of psychedelic rock and ’60s counterculture, than Morrison was.

It’s natural that Morrison got the lion’s share of the fame. He was the face of the band, the screaming maniac howling at the end of Break On Through and The End, the American id come to life on stage. But Manzarek was the backbone of the band, the one who defined The Doors musically. When you think of The Doors, you might picture Morrison, but what do you hear? The tinkling rain of the keys on Riders on the Storm, the baroque carnival opera organ on Light My Fire, the echoing intro of When the Music’s Over. What you hear is Manzarek.

Even when magazines and newspapers ran obits for Manzarek (second from right), he's in Morrison's shadow

Even when magazines and newspapers ran obits for Manzarek (second from right), he was in Morrison’s shadow

I’m probably as guilty of overlooking Manzarek as anyone. Hell, my whole first paragraph of this entry is about Morrison. The obits published for Manzarek all over the world last week noted Manzarek’s importance, but he didn’t get the true legend treatment, and he won’t. He lived too long for that. People won’t dress up as Manzarek for Halloween. He won’t be buried in the most famous cemetery in Paris, and the caretakers of wherever he’s laid to rest won’t have to put a fence up around his grave to keep people from defacing it and fucking on it. People won’t be putting pictures of Manzarek’s grave in blogposts.

There's a big fence around this, even though I didn't get it in the shot

There’s a big fence around this, even though I didn’t get it in the shot

As long as The Doors are getting airplay on classic rock radio, Morrison will remain the star. But when those songs come over the airwaves (or through the fiber-optic cables or whatever) it’ll be Manzarek, more than anyone else, that we’ll be hearing.

Update: My good buddy and fellow blogsmith Juan Alvarado Valdivia wrote a great response to this post, adding a few thoughts on not only Manzarek and Morrison, but also on the underrated Robby Krieger. Go check it out.

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4 Responses to On Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison

  1. Matt says:

    I enjoyed reading your article because it is obvious that you are someone who enjoys The Doors music and I really enjoy the same subtle things in their music that you have mentioned.
    Your article is not the typical “Associated Press ” type article referring to Jim as the “Lizard King”
    While reading every book I could find on The Doors from the excellent gateway book “No one here gets out alive “(with an excellent insider prospective from Danny Sugarman) to autobiographies and lesser known but excellent books like “Summer with Morrison ” by Denis Jakob
    I know he had a fascination with reptiles.
    But I doubt he ever checked into the Alto Cienga using the alias “lizard king”
    It always amazed me the amount of books Jim and Ray had read by their age,and some of their song titles and lyrics made me curious to learn what their inspirations and influences where.
    For instance “End of the night ” led me to ” Journey to the end of the night” an excellent book that just drips with the sweat of the jungle.
    And I only just this year learned that “Horse lattitudes” is an actual term for an area 5-10 degrees from the equator where there is often little wind,which is very bad if you’re on a sailboat and therefore neccesitates the need to lighten the ship.
    These are the type of things that keep me facinated by their music,and that spirit of adventure and mystery come through in their music.
    And that is the true spirit of The Doors music.
    These are some of the reasons while Raymond Daniel Manzarek be missed, but not forgotten!

  2. Mojo says:

    Hey, man, The Doors played in Brooklyn once! I forgot where but it was somewhere in downtown around ’68 or 69. I’m from Brooklyn too, it feels great that they came here and played.

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