Led Zeppelin will always be my favorite band, but the real Pagan rock and roll soundtrack was written by The Doors. The Dionysus/Jim Morrison comparisons are obvious (and I even do rituals based on them), but it was always a bit more than that. The Doors always captured that restless spirit that grips so many of us who dedicate our lives to mystery and madness. The Doors may not have been a Pagan band, but their music always encapsulated my own Pagan experience. Break on Through, Riders On the Storm, When the Music’s Over . . . . . . that’s life’s ritual; it’s heavy and it’s exhilarating and it’s screwed up, and sometimes it still makes sense anyways. Today we mourn the passing of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and founder of The Doors.
Jim Morrison will always be looked at as the guy who was The Doors, but the band was always more than just The Lizard King. Robby Krieger (guitar) was their secret weapon, and the guy who actually wrote Light My Fire (lyrics and all). John Densmore (drums) probably won’t be remembered as one of the greats, but his jazz background and light touch was always perfect for the Doors, and credit to him for always keeping it all together live (The Doors had a tendency to improvise). The guy who was the architect of their sound (and a lot of their myth) was Ray Manzarek, and I miss him already.
That whole mooody atmosphere of The Doors has as much to do with Jim’s lyrics as it does with Manzarek’s keyboards. His decision to essentially play the bass on his organ meant that no one would ever duplicate the sound of Los Angeles’s finest band. The Doors were so unique that it’s hard to say they were even influential, you couldn’t clone a Morrison, and now you can’t clone Ray. I’m listening to the band right now and I’m crying. My rock and roll world will never be the same.
The Doors were Ray’s baby. He was the one who put up the money to keep the band together in their early years. He was the one who saw the rock star in Morrison and encouraged its growth. He brought in Kreiger (who in turn brought in Densmore) and it was at Ray and Dorothy’s (Ray’s wife since before the days of The Doors up until just today) house where the band first practiced. No Ray Manzarek no Doors, it’s as simple as that.
Manzarek wasn’t only the architect of the band’s organ-heavy sound, he kept the flame burning when it looked like The Doors might end up relegated to the trash-bin of rock history. It’s hard to believe today, but by the end of the 1970’s The Doors were nearly the Herman’s Hermits of American rock and roll. Much of the danger and brilliance had been forgotten with only the occasional single still spinning on radio. A well timed biography of Jim and the band (No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins) helped to revive interest, but so did Manzarek’s thinly veiled references to Morrison possibly being alive. I can almost still here him saying “No one saw the body man!”
Manzarek never duplicated the success he had with The Doors, but it all wasn’t a total failure. Manzarek’s Golden Scarab solo-album won’t go down in history as one of rock’s forgotten treasures, but it was just as adventurous as it was pretentious. Besides, lyrics to Egyptian gods and pharaohs is cool by me. Manzarek also later produced the seminal punk band X, wrote novels and oversaw much of the band’s legacy.
THE GOLDEN SCARAB-Ray Manzarek
All of life is sunlight
Osiris is the night
Aten of the daylight
Bring your golden life
In Egypt on the Nile in Memphis-Heliopolis
Scarab roll your dung ball
Roll away the night
Push across the sun ball
Golden scarab light
Golden and glowing and spinning and shining
and beaming sublimely you first light of morning
Blazing light high in the sky of your noontime
Red warm and soft light as night fall is soon time
You shine-the Mind-no fear-no time
The Dream-The Sun-The one
All of life is sunlight
Bring your golden light
Bring your golden sunlight
Bring your golden light.
On June 20 2003 (appropriately near the Summer Solstice) I went down to Detroit’s DTE Energy Music Theatre where I got to see Manzarek (touring with Robby Krieger as the “Doors of the 21st Century”) for the first (and last time) in my life. It was a night of The Doors greatest hits with Ian Astbury of The Cult doing a fair impression of Jim Morrison. I could feel Manzarek’s joy from our cheap seats, it was obvious that the dude loved playing his music and celebrating the legacy he created back in the 1960’s. Sure, there were some cornball moments from Manzarek during the show, but I always got the feeling that was just how he rolled. I never got to see The Doors (Morrison passed before I was even born), but I got to see Ray and Robby and it was pretty damn close.
Thanks for the memories Ray and being a big part of my life’s soundtrack. Break on through.
(And if you see me on the road this summer you can bet your ass we’ll be doing a ritual to celebrate Ray.)