Ray Manzarek

I saw Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for the Doors who died today, at a poetry show with Michael McClure at the Bottom Line nightclub in New York City a few years ago. I was awestruck by both legends on that stage: McClure for being a Beat Generation poet and Ray Manzarek for being the most exciting keyboard player in the history of rock, the architect of the “Light My Fire” sound, a key literary/avant-garde scenester of the hippie and post-hippie era, and the enabler of Jim Morrison.

I wasn’t actually blown away by the Bottom Line poetry show, maybe because I like Michael McClure and Ray Manzarek too much individually for the tastes to go together. But, looking for a YouTube video with which to pay tribute to great Brother Ray today, I skipped the obvious Doors selections and settled instead on a McClure/Manzarek performance uploaded in 2008. Manzarek plucks shimmering riffs from “Riders on the Storm” while McClure says stuff like this:

i am my abstract alchemist of flesh made real

The luminescent celestial canvas of “Riders” is a good example of Ray Manzarek at his best. It’s good to see in this late-career video that maturity did not dim Manzarek’s spiritual major key brightness, nor slow his tempo. He died of cancer at the age of 74. As McClure says: O Muse!

8 Responses

  1. I saw the Doors live once.
    I saw the Doors live once. Their musicianship was impeccable, thanks to the brilliant keyboard playing of Manzarek. It was one of the few bands where the keyboard was the focal point, not the guitar. Morrison could perform whatever manic theatre came into his mind, but the band, and those keyboards, kept the whole from just spinning off into the ether.

    Go back and listen to the records: The Crystal Ship – such beautiful playing by Manzarek; The End – so ominious yet thrilling; The Changeling: an awesome soul groove – and that’s just a few that come to mind.

    Without Manzarek there would have been no Doors. Without Morrison there would have been no Doors. The same can be said for Krieger and Dunsmore, but Manzarek’s keyboards set the scene and Morrison’s vocals took the music to places that music had never been to before. Krieger and Dunsmore provided atmosphere and tension.

    RIP Ray.

  2. Michael, first of all, that’s
    Michael, first of all, that’s amazing that you saw the Doors live.

    Second, I totally agree about Ray, but aren’t you minimizing the very original guitar stylings of Robby Krieger, who was nearly his equal in creating the Doors distinctive sound? I can’t think of any other guitar player who sounds like Robby — that twangy, bendy, thin sound, no crunching power chords, no soaring high notes — just twangs and bends, a very unusual way to play rock guitar. I do agree, though, that Ray Manzarek’s keyboards were the most essential part of the Doors sound.

  3. I’m not discounting Kreiger
    I’m not discounting Krieger by any means. He was one of the first guitarists I know of to use slide guitar outside of a blues setting – such as the eerie sounds on the album Strange Days or on the song Waiting for the Sun. And also Densmore – his drum touches really added atmosphere to The End, and I love his drumming on Light My Fire and many others. I’m just saying that Manzarek was sort of the musical rock of the group that the others worked around, much as Pete Townshend was the rock of the Who or Keith Richards the Stones.

    And let’s not downplay Morrison. I think it was Robby Krieger who said having Morrison was like the band with the voice of God in front.

  4. As a kid, whenever I listened
    As a kid, whenever I listened to The Doors, I would twist my fingers into the chords Ray was playing… as opposed to ‘air guitar’. He was always my favorite member of the band. Which was a Hell of a group btw, that could sell its (sometimes) avant garde excesses equally rocking out and cooling off into top notch jazz.

  5. Ray Manzarek will be missed
    Ray Manzarek will be missed more than I myself may know. He was the center of the musical soul of “The Doors”. I appreciated McClure & Manzarek’s blending of poetry & music. The two artists brought inspiration to me for much poetry & song.

    Cancer has claimed another great hero of music: Manzarek. We don’t get out of here alive, as goes the songs; however, what an awful way to go…

  6. I had no idea Ray Manzarek
    I had no idea Ray Manzarek passed away. Another significant era of my youth is gone. I’m feeling a bit old.

  7. Ray was great. Not enough set
    Ray was great. Not enough set up men/women any more. I wish I could’ve gotten on stage with with Ray and recited. Man, that would it.

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