Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Ray Manzarek

The Doors were one of the first bands I was ever really into.  Sure, I started out like many of you reading this did.  I got Kiss Alive when I was nine, and was convinced they were the greatest band of all time.  I recall a spirited argument with my father at breakfast on a family vacation on the Jersey Shore where he decried the band as “just a gimmick”.  Surely he had never heard the powerful majesty of “100,000 Years” or the call to arms in "Rock and Roll All Nite"…  While a fan of Kiss, I was never a card-carrying member of the Kiss Army.  I did harbor some secret doubts that my father was right, as even at this young age I identified the makeup and costumes might be hiding some deficiencies elsewhere.  I liked Kiss, but was never truly “all in”.  There are no painful photos of me dressed as Peter Criss, thank God.

I then went through a Zeppelin phase, which coincided with the soaring popularity of the JRR Tolkien novels.  What could be better than reading about wizards and shit than listening to songs about wizards and shit while you were doing it?  It was a natural progression from there to fall into Rush and Yes.  When you are an awkward young teen, songs about big themes of Kings and lost swords are a lot better than songs about the yet-to-be discovered mysteries of women.  It’s odd at age 14 you can identify more with The Temples of Syrinx than what it feels like to kiss a girl under moonlight, but there it was.  Women are still mysterious creatures while I am certain that all those Yes lyrics are complete nonsense.

Then it happened.  It was the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now, which I still watch any time I stumble onto it on cable.  The Martin Sheen freakout in the shabby hotel room while this weird guitar played a spooky line unlike anything I had ever heard.  There was no MTV video that could match when those Vietnam era helicopters blew up the jungle while Morrison bellowed, “This is the end…”  I was in.  I was all in.  I bought "The Doors" and was the first kid on my block to have his mind blown.  What the fuck was this guy singing about?  The band looked cool, and made a sound that was totally unlike the bullshit dominating FM radio at the time.  That the Doors were from the o-so-distant past made them even cooler, like I had found an artifact.  Want to feel old?  The Doors record had been out for 15 years when I "discovered" it.  Reverend Horton Heat's first record came out 23 years ago.  Yowza. 

The Doors are a great band for a seventeen year old.  They sound spooky and druggy while still maintaining enough melody to loop you right in.  Morrison’s lyrics are the absolute best at that age.  All that Peace Frog, fragile eggshell mind, horse latitudes bullshit sounds deep if you aren't well read enough yet to realize how flawed and deliberately opaque Morrison’s poetry was/is.  But at 17, you think you just stumbled into a guy with all the answers.  The Doors are fun.  They sound dangerous sometimes.  Sometimes ridiculous.  But they are almost always interesting.  “The Doors”, “Strange Days”, and “LA Woman” are all pretty great records.  Hell, "Waiting For The Sun" and "Morrison Hotel" and "Soft Parade" are all good too.

The Doors became really popular after that movie, and every outcast burnout high school kid had that Doors Greatest Hits album, or even better yet, on cassette. The secret was out.  I remember being in study hall in my senior year and a junior by the name of John Taylor was showing some girls "his poetry" he had written in a notebook, a very gutsy move in our football crazy high school where anyone having any artistic aspirations was most certainly “a fag”.  John was playing the “moody loner” card to get these popular girls interested.  The girls became stunned when I was able to recite “John’s poetry” from memory as he looked up in horror from his notebook.  I had totally busted him and left him picking up the pieces. John, I’d like to apologize now for my actions.  I should have applauded you for your creativity, though I still think of you when that line of The Smith’s “Cemetery Gates” about plagiarism comes around.  Without my interference you may have deflowered one of those two unwitting gals.  It would have been better for everyone if they thought you felt strongly about "petitioning the Lord with prayer".

I read about the death of Ray Manzarek yesterday with mixed feelings.  I had always thought of Ray as talented, but it always seemed like he had coasted a lifetime on being in the right place in 1967-70.  How would you like to be seventy years old and spend 300 days a year talking about how “Jim was a shaman, man.  He had an Indian spirit which leaped inside his soul and he opened doors most of us were afraid to…” Ray really didn’t do too much except talk about Jim Morrison from The Lizard King’s death in 1971 all the way to 2013.  That’s 42 years spent talking about three years.  Whew.  Jim Morrison’s legacy became how Ray made a living, and there was always something a little unsavory about that to me.  I would have liked to have heard more about how he worked with X, but you gotta give the people what they want.

I liked how Ray always took himself and the Doors very seriously.  The guy could definitely play.  Hell, if he didn’t come up with that organ part in “Light My Fire”, the rest of it probably doesn’t happen.  The Doors would have been thought of as a bad version of Love and Jim Morrison would have been playing the oldies circuit trying to stay on key during “The Crystal Ship”.  So here’s to you Ray, and here’s to The Doors.  The Doors meant a lot to you, and they once meant a lot to me.


At May 22, 2013 at 2:36:00 PM EDT , Blogger Brandt Hardin said...

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 Drop by and let me know how The Doors influenced you too.

At May 23, 2013 at 7:37:00 AM EDT , Blogger jaxson corey said...

Thanks for sharing This is a great post, I stumbled across your article while looking for some random stuff. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be sure to return regularly.
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