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.
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.
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.