Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remembering Ray Manzarek: The Great Orator, Champion of Psychedelic Music & Friend Of The Shaman

Ray Manzarek was a rare breed of rock and roll star. For several decades, he expressed his love for the psychedelic music he created with his band, The Doors, with the utmost self-assurance, satisfaction and pleasure. He celebrated The Doors and their music with fans and fellow musicians. His reverence of the band's illustrious past was still very much a matter of the moment. When asked if The Doors were cognizant of the legacy they would someday have –– in a 2010 interview with MovieWeb for the documentary film 'When You're Strange' –– Manzarek offered some advice: "As a musician... you should only concern yourself about this moment in time. You should never think about legacy. That's only for the press and for hindsight interpretation." But what a great legacy (and journey) Ray Manzarek and his fellow bandmates have had.
Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison were friends before they became rock stars together. They met at UCLA's film school and later reunited at Venice Beach. Manzarek has recalled that while sitting together one day, Morrison sang some of his lyrics for him to songs like 'Moonlight Drive'. "When I heard those songs on the beach, I said we're gonna get a rock band together." Their ambitions were entirely synchronized. As they began to form their band –– named for the doors of perception –– Manzarek also helped Morrison hone in on the 'Lizard King' persona for which he would be revered, then and now. Ray Manzarek cut a striking figure in his own way. With his glasses and more buttoned-up style, he looked like the professor to Jim Morrison's poet. Manzarek also expressed a distinctive, inimitable style with the sound of his keyboards. That eerie, haunting quality to Manzarek's organ playing lifted The Doors to another level, providing a sound unlike any band before them, or since. Manzarek's organ is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in rock history.
Ray Manzarek's contribution to The Doors also allowed the band to project a definitive mood. Manzarek's musicality connected the minds of The Doors, while Morrison's lyrics captured their collective souls. The Doors might have been a Los Angeles band that formed in Venice Beach, but they didn't set out to depict L.A as the land of suntans and surfing. Theirs was a heavier perspective. John Doe from the punk band X (and a close friend of Manzarek's) has said about the mood and style of The Doors: "It has more to do with Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West, and 'Sunset Boulevard' the movie, than it does with 'Beach Blanket Bingo,' right? ... It's a real dark place out in LA."

A statement from John Densmore was posted on The Doors' Facebook page on Monday following Manzarek's passing. It read: "There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison's words. Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother." Ray Manzarek has had to leave behind many friends, fans and loved ones. Manzarek was married to his wife, Dorothy Fujikawa, since 1967; what a sad loss this is for Dorothy, and for their family.
Ray Manzarek was passionate about music, and about being a musician. A great orator, he was analytical about The Doors, often sounding as professorial as his appearance suggested. In an interview (with Racciano Productions) Manzarek said, "Jim's contribution to music was that Jim was real. Jim was real on stage. Jim was real when he wrote his songs, when he sang his songs in the studio. He was not a performer. He was not an entertainer. He was not a showman. He was a shaman." Manzarek might not have believed in planning a musical legacy, but he believed in preserving one. Manzarek was a lively conversationalist about The Doors. Waxing philosophical had never been as charming as when Ray Manzarek would tell a story about his band's psychedelic adventures. His erudite appearance could always mislead; when he spoke, he did so without reservations or hang-ups. No topic seemed off-limits. Ray Manzarek was not only one of the founding members of The Doors as they began, he was also happy to be the historian for The Doors until the end. Ray Manzarek's presence is already missed and he won't be forgotten.

In Oliver Stone's 1991 film 'The Doors', Kyle MacLachlin was perfectly cast as Manzarek. Similarly handsome features aside, Ray Manzarek himself had an organized and highly capable Special Agent Dale Cooper quality about him (Cooper being MacLachlin's iconic Twin Peaks character.) Dale Cooper also believed in spirits –– and shamans. One has to believe them in order to see them. Manzarek didn't just see the shaman, he accompanied him on the journey of a lifetime. Ray and Jim are together again, now, on the other side of the door. Another journey has begun. Rest in peace, Ray Manzarek, and thank you for the music.