Farewell, Ray Manzarek

Look, I’m not a newsdesk. As badly as I wanted to write about Ray Manzarek’s death the day it was announced, I just didn’t have the time to put something together that I would’ve felt was anything but a rush job to make an arbitrary sort of self-deadline. So I’ve spent the day thinking about it, shelved my review of Star Trek: Into Darkness for another day, and decided to say what I can say about Ray.

An important thing needs to be noted about my feelings on Ray Manzarek. I went from teenage idolator of The Doors to adult scarily-obsessed fan (like Oliver Stone), and finally, to sober adult capable of contextualizing my fandom where it belonged.

Ray, for any flaws he may have had, was the ONLY other voice I believe capable of even getting Morrison to work in a structured setting.

Sadly, when Ray wrote his book, I don’t think he was at that point. He probably changed, or at least mellowed. The documentaries that came out in later years and the books that were less worshipful and more honest certainly allowed Ray to recast himself as less of a cult leader to more of a man with a broken heart who lost his best friend far too soon.

In fact, I dare anyone to listen to Tightrope Ride and not hear the horrible pain that Morrison put Ray—and arguably everyone else in his path—through. It’s a song that Ray wrote and sang on The Doors’ first album released after Morrison’s death, and it still speaks to any of us who might know the anger caused when someone wastes the ultimate gift and shuffles off this mortal coil in totally avoidable ways. Hell, I listen to it and get mad at my past self for wasting years screwing around without purpose or focus.

Go on, listen.

Back now? Great.

At the end of it all, despite my very conflicted feelings about Ray and whether he let go of the Jim Mythos or not, there is a very important fact I cannot overlook.

He was a very, very key player in putting and keeping together the one band that ever spoke to me when my own head was completely gone and I couldn’t hear anyone else. The Doors aren’t everyone’s favorite, but they’re mine, and if it wasn’t for Ray I, and a lot of other people who needed/need someone to speak to that sadness wouldn’t have had them.

In the end, I thank him for at least trying to get the surviving band members back together, and for going on tour and giving two guys an evening to feel young again and get at least a glimpse of the impossibly lost.

Go with God, Ray. I love you for what you gave me and what you gave the world. I thank you for what you helped get me through, even though you never knew me.

Doors Week: Introduction

At the gentle prodding of my conscience, my good standing as a fan(atic), my honored title as pre-eminent James Douglas Morrison Scholar and The Clone’s ability to get under my skin with the occasional tweet pretending Oliver Stone’s movie biopic is anything but insane propagandistic 1960s hippie nonsense, I’ve decided to dedicate this week to blogs about The Doors.

Please be clear about something: when I love something or someone, I love them without reservation. I don’t see a need to dwell on the negative or to critique something harshly; either I love them or I don’t. Simple as that.

Why on earth would I want things to be more complicated?

Perspective

Does it mean I rob myself of the ability to be critical at all? No.

It’s a fair statement to say that The Soft Parade is the hardest album for a non-fan to hear for obvious reasons, but it’s still The Doors, there are more songs on it that I love than I don’t, and even the songs that aren’t all that great or might be incongruous with the album’s flow still have a place because they have a sound that I like.

This is no different than saying that my friend can be an assh***, but I see other qualities that compel me to love him.

That analogy is specifically apt if you’re going to be a Doors fan beyond your teenage years. Let’s be clear about this: despite the giant mountain of mythos, Jim Morrison was a human being. I’ve written about him and his flaws before; I feel like I understand Morrison as well as anyone could who didn’t know him personally. I’ve read nearly as much about him as I’ve read about Star Wars.

You wouldn’t think there would be that much about him, but there is. I suppose it’s waning as the hippie generation dies out and those of us who carried the torch for his mythology have grown up a little wiser and perhaps a little more aware of the dangers of hero worship.

Truthfully, my experiences of being a devoted fan of Morrison are probably why I get the d–chills so bad when people go all gaga for Obama. Setting aside the everyone’s politics, the cult of personality that gets built up around anyone is just a bad idea.

Ironically, I started truly liking Morrison’s work as an artist again once I stopped “worshipping” him. Or maybe that’s not ironic at all. You get the point.

What’s Left to Say?

After writing a few pieces over the years (and discussing the band to the point of nausea with anyone who would listen), including my final take on Morrison and my last shot at Manzarek, you might wonder if I have anything left in the tank.

I definitely have enough left over for a final set of blogs on the topic, I assure you, including my adult (re-)assessment of Stone’s horribly inaccurate biopic that was ostensibly about the band but was really just a tweeny love letter to what he thought Morrison represented (and by the way, got wrong).

So settle in for the first-ever Doors Week at kessel korner.

Reflections of a Life-Long Fan: The Inevitable Ray Manzarek Blog

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.

Even Worse

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.

Really, Ray?

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.

Reflections of a Life-Long Fan: The Inevitable Jim Morrison Blog

Watching the documentary ‘When You’re Strange’ recently spurred on this line of thought. It’s hard to believe how much, and how fundamentally, my ‘fandom’ concerning Jim Morrison has changed through the years and along with it, how much I’ve changed as well. This blog is part review, but that inevitably led to a good number of other musings as well.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more dedicated fan of The Doors than myself. As I’ve grown older, it’s moved from ‘blind hero worship’ to ‘believer in the mythos’ to ‘respect for the artists’ and an understanding of their humanity. I’d also say that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s read more of the available materials on Jim Morrison’s life, because let’s face it, when someone says they’re a fan of The Doors they spend most of their time discussing Morrison.

Or to put it in clearer terms, when I was 16 I thought that Oliver Stone’s movie was a masterpiece. When I was in my 20s I thought it was a great film about the inner soul of a poet with a few inaccuracies. Now I see it as an execrable example of post-hippie bullsh** with a great soundtrack and a nostalgic remembrance of when the world seemed so different. It would be really easy for me to start beating up on Oliver Stone, hippies and biopics in general, but I’ll save that up for another time.

I’ve read everything from the mandatory indoctrination literature (No One Here Gets Out Alive) to the exhaustive and reasonably honest biographical tomes (Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison) to the extremely obscure and well researched labors of love (The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia), to everything in between. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that those heroes I held so dear were men like me, and perhaps more than any other like me was Jim Morrison. The deep inner conflict, the painful search for identity, the desire to be the center of attention and the difficulty with obsession and addiction (only cigarettes for me, nothing more spectacular, thank God) speak to me on a level that will resonate forever.

Some of those demons I overcame with time and effort and a little bit of prayer as well as some profound understanding on the part of a few brave enough to love me through the turbulent years. Some of them I will wrestle with until the day I die. And some of them definitely made Morrison’s lyrics and poetry, and the band’s music, speak to me. I doubt I’m alone on that front.

On the plus side, the new documentary at least attempts to flesh out the lives of the other band members. Sadly, there’s no real new material unearthed here either, though the new photos and use of relatively recent unearthed footage from Manzarek’s college film class days is worthwhile. Still, nothing with a wow factor for the well-read and researched fan.

Perhaps most frustrating is that, like most sources, they pay no attention to Absolutely Live, which is arguably one of the best live albums produced in the annals of rock. Seriously, I understand that talking about Paul Rothchild’s producing skills isn’t the most thrilling, but The Doors owe a whole lot of their success to them. He was basically a silent fifth member, corraling the raw energy which was Morrison long enough to produce some truly brilliant music. Let’s give the man his due, and let’s satisfy the curiosity of fans who want to know what went into the process and how much input the band had in song selection and flow, or whether Rothchild was able to create out of whole cloth a complete masterwork.

And just like every other portrait of Morrison and the band they ignore the fact that his legal woes led to the release of 13, the greatest hits album that time forgot. My strongest memory of it is that a tape copy of it was given to me by my pal Ryan when we were both…wait for it…thirteen.

Also frustrating is that, while the movie retreads the familiar ground that Morrison wasn’t able to read music and the band was particularly adept at moving with his improvisation while keeping him within certain boundaries, they fail to cover the fact that Morrison was attempting to teach himself to play piano and legitimately trying to grow as an artist despite his own shortcomings. There’s actually extant evidence of this, too, released on the old 4-disc boxed set from the 1990s; the song is called Orange County Suite and it’s haunting, mature and a prime example that when Morrison was calm and focused he was all sorts of brilliant.

I would have, as a fan, loved to see more of an examination of what was needed to compose the albums. For example, why include the difficult-to-love ‘Do It’ or anachronistic ‘Easy Ride’ on The Soft Parade and not ‘Who Scared You?’, which was included on the first posthumous Greatest Hits album, Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine, and which was much more in the vein of a Doors classic? As a side note, Weird Scenes… featured some of the best cover artwork for an album I’ve seen from that time period.

It would have been nice as well to see what fan reaction in the modern day was when they released the remasters and restored the original lyrics to Break on Through and The End. Was there any backlash? An insistence to leave things as they were and not change the first album as we had known it for forty years?

As a final criticism, since the documentary was supposedly to deal with the band as a whole, why didn’t they cover the two albums the band released after Morrison’s death to fulfill the Elektra contract? At the very least it would have shown how as much as the band had kept Morrison going through his addictions, his creative drive did serve as the stylistic glue of the band.

Now before you think I hated this film, I didn’t. If anything I appreciate that a more honest look at the life of Jim Morrison and The Doors has been committed to film as sort of a belated apology for the damage that Oliver Stone did. Seeing restored footage of Morrison’s abortive film HWY was a treat as well.

It’s more just the pain of knowing that they still got things wrong despite the flood of information out there that would at least help present a more balanced and hopefully accurate view. But in the world of post-Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock documentaries, at least the following things are true:

    1. The director of the documentary doesn’t appear in it in an attempt to glorify himself;
    2. The narration, while done by Johnny Depp, doesn’t call attention to itself and is instead a really good piece of work;
    3. Acknowledgment is made of the Herculean efforts of the band to keep Morrison’s sh** together for him;
    4. Acknowledgment is made also of the fact that Morrison’s drinking was not the romantic pastime of a poet but the out-of-control addiction of a broken soul who destroyed his friendships because of it;
    5. While there are sins of omission, the filmmaker at least appears to have tried to be even handed and not fallen into hero worship or statement making;
    6. Unlike Stone, no attempt is made to turn Morrison into a posthumous political hero – he was a talented writer with a real gift and some deep problems;
    7. Unlike Stone, it’s not hero worship, it’s an attempt to relate the life of a real man to the people watching;
    8. The whole dead Indians on the highway thing is overlooked because let’s face it, it may have just been a case of Jim Morrison screwing with people for his own amusement.

So yeah, spend the time going into it and seeing it. It’s a fun ride. Just know that if you want the full story…even documentaries aren’t the whole truth.