The Doors has been one of my favorite bands since I was old enough to have favorite bands. I don’t remember the first time I heard them because they were the soundtrack (along with Cream and Creedence) to my early childhood. My memories stream “Light My Fire,” “Break On Through,” and “Soul Kitchen” over the weeks in Lake Powell, inside speedboats fitted with more speakers than life-jackets.
My special connection with The Doors continued through my pubertal awakening. When I was eighteen and in Paris, I ducked out of my class’s day-trip to Versailles and made the pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave inside Père Lachaise, the famous cemetery home to Balzac, Chopin, Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Merleau-Ponty, Proust, and Oscar Wilde, to name just a few. It was truly a religious experience for me. My Blessed Sacrament was performed with Jack Daniels, and my sacred hymn was “When the Music’s Over.”
I am one of those who think that The Doors were a foursome, not just three guys behind the vocals of Jim Morrison. Jim died in 1971 when he was only 27-years-old. His band members, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger, have long outlived him. On Monday, Jim was finally given some company.
Ray Manzarek played organ and piano, among many other instruments, for The Doors, and it was apparently his conception to start a band in the first place. Manzarek’s battle with cancer ended Monday, May 20th. He was 74.
I often play the thought experiment of substituting band members out of my favorite groups to find which are essential and which are disposable. I’ve done this with The Beatles, and I’m sorry to say Ringo is as indispensable as George. I’ve come to realize that most truly great bands are so because of the unique fusion of their members. This is true of The Doors.
Ray Manzarek first recognized the poetic talent of his film school classmate Jim Morrison in Venice, California. Manzarek was a musical genius of extraordinary talents, and when they formed a band with Densmore and Krieger he took on more roles than one. He often used one hand to play bass on a piano and the other hand on his VOX Continental organ. Indeed, sometimes he would have to combine this with lead singing, such as when Morrison accepted a few too many psychedelic offerings before a show in Amsterdam.
The Doors were a band that mastered the solo. This is evident in the poetic incantations of Jim Morrison and the slide guitar of Krieger. But Manzarek’s notes are the ones that I seem to remember best, the ones that define the sound of The Doors. If you know The Doors well, you’ll know exactly when the organ breaks into an orgiastic solo.
Manzarek’s organ is as essential to The Doors as Morrison’s voice. He set the tone for the music of the Doors, something wholly unique and hence immortal. Here’s to a man that still makes me pound my fingers on the dashboard in an ecstatic want of mimicry.