I was shocked yesterday to hear that Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and founding member of The Doors, passed away at 74 following a long bout with cancer. The importance of his music on me can’t be overstated.
Jim Morrison always gets much of the credit as a member of this band, and he was indeed a powerful influence on me. But he wouldn’t have made it without Manzarek’s influence. He’s the one who encouraged Jim to sing, to put his poetry to music.
As a keyboardist he was a force of shock and awe. His solos were as important as the guitar solos of Robby Krieger. He also played all the bass lines on the keyboard, as The Doors had no bass player. The hypnotic low notes that were a staple of the band’s music came from him.
As a student at North Shore Community College in the early 1990s, I was obsessed with The Doors. My ambition was to be Jim Morrison, though I might have been a better student at the time if I were trying to be more like Manzarek.
Back then, I fancied myself a poet. I joined the Poet’s Society. I grew my hair long and started wearing a pair of leather pants I had borrowed from Sean Marley (back then, I could actually fit into them). I wore a suit jacket and leather boots to complete the look.
I didn’t like who I was, so it made perfect sense to try being someone else. It was a habit I would indulge in many times over.
It was also a side-effect of the fear I used to carry around. The first Gulf War was about to begin and there were a lot of kids worried about getting drafted, including me. So we tried to relive the lives of Baby Boomers from the 1960s as a bizarre comfort ritual.
I started drinking harder alcohol and fasting because that’s what Morrison did. When I would shift from fasting to binge eating I would grow a beard and just carry on like I was the Morrison of later years, when he got bloated from drinking and grew facial hair.
That was the darker side of The Doors’ influence. The more long-term influence — the more positive piece — has been the fuller Doors package. The guitar, keyboards and drums. In more recent years that has calmed my soul and gotten me through many rough patches in life.
It’s not the Heavy Metal most people identify me with, but it’s been hugely important.
For that, I thank you, Ray. May you rest in peace.