Thursday, May 23, 2013

Enclose Me in Your Gentle Rain

This Monday, Ray Manzarek died. Those who have known me awhile will not be surprised that I was affected by this news, as the music of The Doors was hardwired into me sometime during junior high. I do not remember anymore how I first heard The Doors; it was probably something as simple as songs played on the radio. I know that it was not through the Oliver Stone movie, which I did not see until after my obsession formed. (Not even all the gratuitous naked women in the world could convince my adolescent mind that Stone's film was anything other than an overindulgent mess). I was already listening to some "classic" rock, mostly Led Zeppelin with a smattering of Hendrix tossed in the mix. Icons like The Beatles or Dylan would only strike me later as an adult. No, it was The Doors that truly captured my attention and never let it go.

Yet, why The Doors? What set them apart? The obvious answer would be Jim Morrison with his haunting voice and dark, evocative lyrics. He appealed to both sides of my young self with declarations of idealistic triumph, vision of youth cleansing the world, followed by dire confessions that "no one here gets out alive." And, of course, rather famously, he did not. Even at my most distressed, I had no desire to die young but that did not make myth any less powerful.

There was more to the band than simply Morrison, and, in retrospect I think that is what made the vital difference: they sounded like nothing else I had heard. Musically, they were distinct from the other rock groups of their day, indeed, nearly five decades later, I can think of few artists who directly mimic their style. This distinction is in no small part due to Manzarek. The Kinks might have sprinkled a bit of harpsichord into their songs, but retained a jingle that fit smoothly into the traditional chords of a rock band. Manzarek's organ was something else, something more complex. His playing was more brooding as well as spirited. In such a manner, it matched not only Morrison's voice, but those of Robby Krieger and John Densmore, creating a very strong sense of interplay among all the participants. In fact, the group often interacts more like a jazz combo than a rock band. The most famous example of this is their brilliant extended instrumental bridge in "Light My Fire," but it is also present rhroughout their recordings, such as:

Morrison is quoted as saying that without Manzarek there would have been no Doors, and he was right. After all, it was a chance encounter with Manzarek that resulted in the birth of the group. However, more than that, without Manzarek at his organ, The Doors would not have sounded as they did, they would have been a different band. This is not meant to slight any of his band mates; they all made their own unique contribution. Together they created something firmly rooted in time and place (channeling both the bright euphoria and the bloody tragedy of their day), but also surpassed it.  

Incidentally, as I have been thinking about Manzarek these past days, I have noticed how, over the years, I have developed quite a taste for the electric organ. For example, I have long had a fondness for the jazz organ of Jimmy Smiths. In addition, I wonder if it is any coincidence that, once I did discover Dylan, my favorite album of his would be Blonde on Blonde, and one of my favorite songs, the wonderfully organ-suffused "Stuck in Mobile . . ."? Further legacy of Mr. Manzarek, it would seem.

Rest in Peace, Ray Manzarek.  

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