I’ve spoken before about being a life-long fan of The Doors. The simple fact is, they will always be my favorite band. As a result I’m always game to learn a little more or get more perspective on what made them who they were.
In that vein, I borrowed my best friend’s copy of Light My Fire: My Time with The Doors. I determined that it was finally time to get the recollections of Reverend Ray, the man most responsible for keeping the legend of Jim Morrison alive for the last four decades.
Why It Took Me So Many Years to Get to It
In all honesty, I was reluctant to read Manzarek’s take on everything. While I’ve devoured a number of tomes, from the well-read to the well-researched and brilliantly obscure, I dragged my feet on reading Ray’s book. I resisted because I was primarily afraid that he would purposely distort the truth in an effort to keep the myth alive.
It would be like watching Oliver Stone’s movie again, but as an adult. Trust me, that’s not recommended. I should have just held onto my happy memories of seeing the film when I was sixteen, when it seemed it was super cool. It’s not. It’s typical Oliver Stone bulls*** and there’s hardly a lick of truth anywhere in it (just like JFK, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July!).
The Positive Side of the Book
It took me only a few days to read it while on down-time at a conference. Some of the stories are anecdotally cute.
The Negative Side of the Book
It broke my heart to read such a tome of self-serving, ego-stroking, vindictive and occasionally hateful ramblings from someone who apparently still had yet to come to terms with the fact that James Douglas Morrison was a talented but painfully flawed individual. I don’t know if things have changed since he wrote it, but they may have so I’m willing to use the past tense. But based on what I read, I may be giving him too much potential credit.
The first thing he does out of the gate is blast Oliver Stone. In typical stuck-in-hippie mode ranting style, he calls him a fascist for the creative liberties he took with the film The Doors. Now, I think Oliver Stone is a very talented but seriously screwed up person who lacks the ability to tell fact from fantasy. But that doesn’t make him a fascist, for goodness’ sake, just a f*** up.
He magnifies his own growth in such a way that he looks like some brilliant kid who understood the black man better than any white kid in the country at a time when it wasn’t cool to do so. If you sift through the bull, you can get the truth, which is that he was a talented natural musician from an early age and willing to go to blues joints in Chicago, and lucky enough to do it at a time when the future legends came through town. However, he still spends the time basking in how cool he was for being white and doing so. It’s so blatantly patrician it makes my stomach spasm.
Worse Than That
Amid the nonlinear ramblings about everything from heart chakras to eating hash, Manzarek tries to sell the reader on the thought that he can not only reconstruct the most casual conversations from decades prior, verbatim, but they all have the perfect tone and timber of a movie script. Apparently every single moment worth recounting had no cross-talk, but everyone taking perfect turns to complete each others’ thoughts like the Goonies planning an adventure.
He makes a point, too, to pillory John Densmore at every turn. The problem is that it’s pretty well-documented how Manzarek and Densmore had a mammoth falling-out years ago (over Densmore’s involvement in Stone’s movie, in fact), so the simple fact that he’s portrayed as the virtual devil who was a real drag despite his talent is more than a bit suspect.
Jim wanted John out of the band, Ray? Really? Give me a break. Morrison and Densmore likely clashed a bit, but largely because Morrison had a tendency to be a drunken ass hat on a regular basis. Normal people have a problem with that. It’s documented that even you had a problem with that.
He then creates an encounter wherein Kyle MacLachlan, who played Ray in Stone’s movie, tells Ray how right he was, and the movie was terrible and he regretted being in it. I sure hope that’s 100% true because if not, way to drag an anonymous victim down with you, Ray.
Manzarek goes the extra step of not only excusing Morrison’s actions, but justifying him as a victim of those who fed on his chakras, or his chi or whatever. On just about every page, Manzarek literally portrays Morrison as a god. He didn’t hallucinate a satyr following him home one night, he was on acid and was followed home by a satyr who recognized him as the rebirth of Dionysus or something like that.
He then takes it a step further and exonerates Morrison for his drug-induced insanity by laying the blame on others. Completely. On. Others. Then he constructs a split personality within Morrison’s soul that was unlocked by booze and drugs. But it was all because he was a god or some such and blah blah combat the forces of something or other blah blah heart chakras blah blah blah.
(Interesting side note: he also takes a moment to portray Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as responsible for Brian Jones’ death and swipe at them. Totally unnecessarily, I might add.)
The Lowest Point
He opens the book by exonerating himself in the construction of the “Jim Morrison Faked His Own Death” myth. The man who has been documented as getting Danny Sugerman added to the first biography (No One Here Gets Out Alive – the book responsible for bringing me into contact with Mike, who for more than 20 years has been Spock to my Kirk) so that he could re-write sections of the book and alter Jerry Hopkins’ accurate accounts of things so that the “mystery” of Jim Morrison’s death was still preserved. This book became the Morrison Fan Guidebook for decades and altered the story of the man enough so as to warp some psychologically vulnerable teenagers’ perspectives to believe he may have been a god.
Thanks so much, Ray. As someone caught in that particular blast radius, I’m really grateful. No, really, I am. No apology necessary.
A Personal Note to Ray Manzarek
I don’t know why you can’t even write a memoir about himself without it turning into yet another glorious illumination of the late James Douglas Morrison. It’s infuriating, Ray, because when you get older you’re supposed to get wiser and gain perspective on some of your more foolish thoughts and decisions from youth. You should at least have the wisdom not to try to recast history that’s been factually documented. It makes you as bad as Oliver Stone, whom you detest for distorting history. I suppose it’s true that we hate most in others what we see of ourselves.
Even more infuriating is that I can’t be mad at you for it. I want to give you a big bear hug and try to get you to let go of that pain once and for all. The part of your soul that’s still crying out for forgiveness for enabling a brilliant writer to burn out so completely. That part of your soul wrote Tightrope Ride, a magnificently honest accounting of the betrayal you feel when someone you truly love completely wrecks their own life.
I hope you’ve found that peace somewhere along the way since writing this book, man. You were a key piece of a fantastically talented, typically transcendent rock band. Maybe even the key piece since you were able to keep things moving at times when they were falling apart. As much as I might resent what you did with your memoir, I understand why you did it that way. I just hope that at some point you have too.