Ray Manzarek Remembered

Monday, 27 May 2013

As news of Ray Manzarek's death floated across the internet (including the bizarre, beyond post-modern moment when the story that his death was really an internet hoax turned out to be an internet hoax in itself), I was struck by a couple of recurring threads in my friends' Facebook posts. Of course, there were the inevitable video clips of the Doors, including a few which actually featured Manzarek as much as the other dead Door. There were also, just as inevitable, a number of posts along the lines of "I never liked the Doors, but Ray was okay…" Both of which indicate how much, in the public's eye, The Doors was really synonymous with Jim Morrison, even though Manzarek was as important as Morrison in both the founding and the sound of the Doors.

But there were a couple of other trends which cropped up in the announcements of Ray Manzarek's death that I found much more interesting. The first was the number of posts along the lines of "I met him once. He seemed like a nice guy." (Full disclosure – one of those posts was mine. More on that in a minute.) The second was the number of people who paid tribute to work he did with X, Echo and the Bunnymen and with poets such as Michael McClure and Michael C. Ford. These images are far less common when one thinks of Ray Manzarek, but they are important facet's to the artist's career; sure – he was the keyboardist for The Doors and composer of some of that band's most famous sounds, but the duration of Ray Manzarek's career was far longer than just the eight years when The Doors tried to set the world on fire. Those other images – of producer, collaborator and songwriter are just as important to the fabric and fibre of Ray Manzarek's career and, when you put them all together, you get the picture of a very famous musician who was not swept up in his fame. A musician who pursued the projects which really interested him, instead of desperately trying to cling to the spotlight. And who remained accessible throughout.

After Morrison's death, Manzarek could easily have gone out on the road, continuing to play "Light My Fire," continuing to milk his reputation. Instead, he hung out at the Whiskey and observed another set of young musicians who had the same potential he had seen in Morrison. They were the punk band X, and he was proven correct in his assessment.

He continued to work with poets, both well known such as McClure, and other less familiar talents like Michael C. Ford and Yvonne de la Vega. My own encounter with Manzarek was at the Taos Poetry Circus in 1998, when he was backing up McClure's ethereal  poetry with some very Doors-y, but also fitting, piano work. I got my handshake when they were hanging out in the bar the next day. Here was someone who could have been playing much larger stages, in much larger cities, playing a mid-sized poetry festival in a tiny New Mexico town. And hanging out in the bar later.

What is really key here is that he not only did work which was completely independent of the Doors, but that he was often the supporting player. X were the stars, McClure was the star. He had already had his time in the spotlight, so he was willing to not just share it, but concede it to others.

So if, in later years, when reunions became the standard, he wanted to step back into that spotlight a bit, with a reunited Doors, it is easy to understand. Whether he was trying to cash in on his legacy, preserve it, or present it to another generation, Manzarek had certainly earned the right to do what he wanted.

Manzarek had paid his dues, reaped the rewards, redistributed those rewards back into the musical community, and then paid another round of dues. He certainly deserved any further rewards he could reap.


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