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Ray Manzarek, 1939-2013

May 21, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
A couple of years ago, my wife, my brother and I did our first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum tour.

The big exhibit in the domed upper room was The Doors, replete with a massive Jim Morrison staring down at us from the domed ceiling, and “Riders on the Storm” blaring from the sound system.

I went nuts. I read every card on every exhibited item, every clipping pasted to the walls. I sang along with the tunes, played air keyboard and delved into the meaning of the lyrics from the mind of Morrison.

No, I’m not a Jim Morrison nut. I kind of think he was nuts. And live today in Minneapolis with Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Sr., where they all work in Jim Croce’s diner.

But I loved the sound of The Doors. I always wanted to be a keyboard player. When asked what I'd have done if I hadn't done this writing and reporting and editing thing, I always kind of hold the thought "rock keyboard player" in the back of my mind.

Thus it was that Ray Manzarek was, to me, the real heart of The Doors, the keyboard notes on the Vox Continental unit that haunt, form mind worms, and are what separated The Doors from being just another run-of-the-mill late 1960s rock band, and Morrison from being just another beatnik poet. As a unit, The Doors needed each other at that time, I think, and it was just one of those brief artful comings together that occur.

Manzarek died at the age of 74 (!) after a battle with cancer. I have spent the morning making the iPod play Doors stuff, and I can’t wait to put on the headphones and listen closely to those keyboards one more time.

Manzarek provided art that draws me in, even 40-plus years later.

And it’s amazing that The Doors really had a short heyday, from about 1966 to 1972, but the music continues to be fresh, and plays to younger audiences.

When the family was out of the house when I was a kid, I tried to play Manzarek riffs on my mom’s Hammond organ, the kind that had a rhythm section and sort of looked like a Lawrence Welk device. Turn off the rhythm section and mess with the key voices and in my young teen-aged head, it sort of approximated Manzarek's sound on every Doors tune ever recorded. There was a time I could sort of play the intro to “Light My Fire” by ear...long ago.

Which brings me back to the dome of the Rock Hall, with Morrison staring down at us. After about a half hour or so, my brother marveled at why his younger sibling, who was only 9 when Morrison died, knew more about The Doors than he, who was a teen during the group's time in the sun. Then, he nudged me and said, “Where’s Kathy?”

We wandered out of the dome to find her seated on a bench in front of the elevator.

“Surely, this must be what hell is like,” she said, indicating a lifelong hatred of The Doors. Seems as a child, The Doors music was played in her head during every nightmare she ever had, like the soundtrack to some bad childhood Hitchcock theater. Odd. In my headphones, I was transported by a haunting, jazzy, mystical electric piano/organ thing at the hands of Mr. Manzarek.

So, I share my thoughts about the loss of Ray Manzarek with you folks. Because I can’t talk about it at home.


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