Ray Manzarek

I turned my laptop on just after dawn this morning, as I usually do, and sat down with a cup of strong black coffee to see what was happening in the world. Two stories caught me like punches to the stomach and I woke up without any need for caffeine: a tornado killing scores of people in Oklahoma, and Ray Manzarek of the Doors dying at 74 of bile duct cancer.

Jesus, is there a black cloud hanging over the world right now? Is the Angel of Death hovering somewhere in the high blue yonder? Is Kali the Destroyer on the loose wreaking havoc with our minds, our bodies and our spirits?

Any formulation of words would be an inadequate response for Oklahoma. There are stories of children drowning. Imagine that, in your own hometown. All we can do is pray, if that way inclined, send money if we have any, and remember those we love but don’t look after very well. (No one is more guilty of that than I am.)

Manzarek is another matter. I am a Doors fan. In my twenties they were my favourite band. I bought every lp I could afford. I grew a beard, as much to make me look like Jim as Allen Ginsberg (it didn’t work in either case). I started writing journals because I read Jim did it, at least in the early days, and it sounded terrifically poet-like. I was such a fan of the Doors I even went to visit Jim in Pere Lachaise, although I couldn’t get anywhere near his grave because of other Doors fans and some tv cameras. I’d forgotten it was his birthday that day.

Ray ManzarekThe Doors may have folded, at least in their original form, a decade before I could vote, but their music provided a significant part of the soundtrack of my youth. And although I didn’t realise it at the time, the music was at least as important to the band’s intelligent intensity on tv and record – it was at least as much a part of their scary, sexy, dangerous aura – as Jim’s developing poetical gift and his devil-prophet-snake god stage presence. Manzarek’s musicianship in particular was extremely sophisticated. So much the perfect complement to poetry, in fact, that Ray worked, in later life, with San Francisco/ Beat legend Michael McClure.

When your heroes die the hours and days and weeks and years you spent with them in your imagination also die. If they help to make you who you are, their leaving takes a piece of you along. That’s how it is with Ray Manzarek, and one reason why the news that he has gone sucks as much as it does. The other? Turn on your tv or radio tonight and try to find something as fearless, as weird, as unbounded and frontier-crossing as “The End”. You won’t because those guys took the rock and roll song so far and fast it broke, to paraphrase Hunter Thompson, and rolled right back.

There was something new and free happening when the Doors were on top of their game, a simultaneous liberation of the body and the mind from the straitjacket of consensual reality. The same consensus that circles and traps us today, even when we know it’s bullshit because Morrison and his band, among many others, showed us it was bullshit.

Mourning Ray Manzarek we mourn our freedom too. We see the world closing up just a little bit more, getting further away still from the days when such miracles could come out of a recording studio. But then we go back, as I just did, and put a Doors record on; we hear the ecstatic opening keyboard notes of “Light My Fire”, and once the hairs on our arms have settled back in their place, we remember freedom is always waiting for those who know how to find it.

I set my stinky boots down on the freedom road when I was still in my teens, and I will never stop walking it however tough the road gets. It’s just too sweet a journey. I hope the friends and family of Ray Manzarek take some comfort in the knowledge that he helped put me, and millions of others, right there. We should pay him back by lauding his incredible talent in the places that laud only Hendrix.


  1. Matt J says

    One more thing I ran out of room to mention was the book Denis Jakob wrote called “Summer with Morrison ”
    It is about a short but very important period in Jims life when he slept on Denis JakobsJanine rooftop and has some never before told stories. It’s available through Denis Janine own site,and is excellent.
    By the way,if anyone knows where Ray is buried,I would like to know.
    Thanks for a great site Bruce,I really enjoy it.
    Best wishes,

  2. Matt J says

    That line about ” when your heroes die the hours days weeks and years you spent with them in your imagination also die” ,wow that was beautifully phrased.
    I am only in my early 40’s ,so I didn’t discover them until the mid eighties.
    But when I joined the army in 89 I was lucky enough to get stationed at Fort Ord on the Monterey peninsula ,and it was there that I really started to immerse myself in The Doors music.
    Then I read the classic “No one here gets out alive” and through that excellent book I learned of the hundreds of books that Jim and Ray had been reading as well as the blues influences.
    I devoured as many of the books as I was could get my hands on such as “Journey to the end of the night” which was very hard to find by the way.
    I also found some of Jims poetry in a cool bookstore in San Francisco “The lords and the new creatures, and Wilderness.Then found Aurthur Rimbaud.
    Then through some of Rays highly recommend LSD and standing on the cliffs next to Bixby bridge near Big Sur it all just clicked!
    I had a 68 Dodge and drove up and down the Pacific coast highway with my feast of friends and it truly changed my whole outlook on life.
    I was lucky enough to see Ray and Robby on tour a few years ago,and I brought my son who was 15 then.
    Ray was someone who had a great sense of humor and a wonderful outlook on life.By the way if anyone knows where Ray is buried post it here.

    was beautifully

  3. Graham Scott says

    Lovely tribute, Bruce. The Doors were my main men throughout my teens. I read On the Road and got into the Beats after reading Noone Here Gets Out Alive :-)
    I dunno if you’ve read Danny Sugerman’s autobiography, Wonderland Avenue. If not, get a copy one day. What a read (at least it was when I read it in 1989). Manzarek shines like a diamond through the whole book. He left a lot of good. RIP.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Susan. That’s what it feels like all right, a punch that you had no idea was coming. He had such great energy. He was one of the good ones. A great loss.

  4. says

    Ray’s playing was a staple of The Doors. He’ll certainly be missed after such a long and fruitful career helping to create such haunting music. The Doors’ songs opened my mind to other realms of possibilities and cleansed my perception. I paid tribute to Ray when I heard of his passing by creating a new portrait of him and some melting doors which you can see on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2013/05/in-memoriam-ray-manzarek.html Drop by and let me know how The Doors influenced you too.

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