Ray Manzarek remembered with an epic recount of a New York adventure
Like many people, I had a Doors phase.
In particular, I had a Jim Morrison phase that was kicked off when I read Danny Sugarman's "No One Here Gets Out Alive". Morrison's story is about as archetypical a rock and roll story as there is, and Sugarman was a true believer. Over the years, my feelings about them evolved, and now I find that I love what the Doors meant to me more than I actually love The Doors. They had such a brief moment, and at such a key moment in the overall story of rock'n'roll, that it's hard to even apply a critical opinion to them at this point. They are simply The Doors, part of the foundation. My feelings about them now are far less ardent than even when I wrote this piece 11 years ago, but I meant every word at the time.
When I was at Ain't It Cool, one of the strangest overall things that ever fell into my lap was courtesy of Tim Sullivan, who called me one day to ask if I'd like to go visit a rehearsal space in LA where the Doors were warming up for a reunion tour. Because it's a nightmare finding anything on the AICN archives, and I'm not entirely sure the piece is even still online at this point, I thought I'd reprint some of the piece that came out of that encounter.
I'd just like to frame the story by saying that I wrote a piece of criticism near the end of my time dealing with Ray that seemed to offend him greatly, and we never spoke again. That's a shame. No matter what, though, meeting him and getting to know him even a little bit was a genuine honor, and he was a wry, funny, larger than life persona, everything I would have hoped as a young fan.
He will be greatly missed.
(the following story originally appeared on Ain't It Cool News in 2002 in a slightly different form)
There are few things that have happened to me in my life that are more surreal than driving up to the security gate of a rehearsal studio in Hollywood, pressing a buzzer, and telling the woman who answers, “Hi, I’m here to see The Doors.”
Except, possibly, watching the gate swing wide, and hearing her say, “Come right in.”
Wait... let me back up a bit here and explain. I know that your first knee-jerk reaction is the same as mine was. “How can there be a Doors without Jim?” And I’m sure that’s a question that Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger and John Densmore have asked themselves many times over the years. By the time I became aware of the band, Jim was already a distant memory, a place marker by the side of the autobahn of rock that was the ‘70s. I’ve grown up with the presence of Jim as one of rock’s great casualties, right up there with Jimi and Janis and Lennon and Brian Jones and Keith Moon.
My knowledge of The Doors started with me picking up a copy of NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE to read before I’d consciously heard a note of their music. I just read the back of the book and thought it was cool. I was 11 years old. And by the end of that book, I’d been completely seduced by the legend of this band from Venice, these guys who were supposed to provide the soundtrack to a revolution. I fell for the romantic shambling slow-motion wreck that was Morrison’s life, and I was completely smitten by the lyrics in the book. I hadn’t heard a note of music, and I was already convinced that this had to be the greatest band of all time.
And then I heard them.
If you’ve ever heard me talk about how pivotal it was to see STAR WARS in the theater at the age of seven, then you know I consider that event to be a lightning bolt to the forehead, formative.
That first listen to THE DOORS GREATEST HITS was the same thing. Proof that lightning strikes twice. It was a glimpse of something bigger and deeper and darker and crazier than I’d had before. The Doors sounded like the house band at the sleaziest bar in the most dangerous province of the most dangerous country on earth. They always sounded raunchy, like you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to them, no matter what they were singing about. The Doors were a dare. They were just barely in control, it seemed like, controlled chaos. Jim was amazing, sure, but what really won me over and made me a lifelong fan was the virtuosity of the players. Ray Manzarek’s keyboards were smart and fun and absurd and cool all at the same time. Robbie Krieger was one of the most distinct guitar players in rock. John Densmore was a player of class and restraint, and he knew how to turn up the power when he needed to. They didn’t sound like anyone else out there, and their recordings sounded fresh to me when I discovered them over a decade later.
It was love at first listen, and my love affair with the band got me through high school and college. And through my first years in LA. And through a difficult break-up. And through all sorts of down times. In fact, I find I still return to The Doors as my musical comfort food. They are the constant in my personal soundtrack that has always been there, that always gives me the same emotional connection even now, every single time.
Not quite a year ago, a friend of mine named Tim Sullivan mentioned a book to me called THE POET IN EXILE. Told me it was a novel by Ray Manzarek. He mentioned this in a sort of an off-hand way because he didn’t realize what The Doors meant to me. Once he’d said it, though, he realized what he’d done because of my Pavlovian response. I didn’t realize just how hungry I was for something... anything. I didn’t realize how much I missed The Doors as a presence. I didn’t know how much I craved something new. Then he tossed the premise of the book out there, and I was hooked:
What if Jim hadn’t died? What if he took off to save his own life, and spent the time since figuring out what he wants from the world? And what if he came back and got in touch with Ray?
In the hands of anyone except Ray Manzarek, I’d think the idea insufferable, but there was something that drew me to the notion of Ray writing it. I thought that it would be wish fulfillment with Ray as the Ghost of Christmas That Will Never Be. Tim pulled some strings somewhere and got me an advanced copy of the book. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Tim’s like me. He’s got a touch of the Forrest Gump to him. He manages to find himself doing incredible things and sometimes stops to pinch himself to see if it’s all for real. He’s one of those guys who knows everyone, and I figured he had his ways.
Man, I had no idea...