On May 20, 2013, Ray Manzarek of The Doors died at the age of 74 from bile duct cancer. While Ray is mostly known for the psychedelic jazz techniques he employed on the organ, any Doors fan can attest that Ray Manzarek was more than just an incredible musician. He was a visionary, an innovator, a courageous rebel whose desire to touch the world with his band’s unique blend of spirituality and philosophy changed music forever.
Here at Elite, we are always stressing the value of overcoming even the most intimidating obstacles to fulfill the always admirable goal of changing people’s lives for the better, all while ignoring those who scoff at such a brave quest along the way. We want you guys to have faith in your vision, to believe that you truly have an idea that can really enlighten or stimulate those around you if you could just reach them on a massive scale. You may be called “crazy” by a seemingly endless amount of nay-sayers in the beginning, but there are few more rewarding endeavors on this Earth than proving these haters wrong in the end.
This is exactly the type of life Ray Manzarek embarked on when he came across an odd young poet by the name of Jim Morrison.
Ray Manzarek discovered Jim while they both attended UCLA film school in the early sixties. Jim would create these ultra-trippy, non-linear short films that featured dark, graphic themes conveyed through mind-boggling yet deeply existential poetry. Virtually all of his peers, professors and fellow students told Morrison that his projects were pieces of garbage that were impossible to comprehend.
No one thought Jim Morrison had anything special to say. No one thought he’d be embraced for his controversial views or that the public would find his messages to be interesting and intelligent.
No one except for Ray Manzarek. He told Jim that his poetry and unorthodox methods of entertainment were brilliant, that anyone who could think beyond the surface would appreciate his words and personality. One hot summer day, Manzarek ran into Morrison on Venice Beach and asked him to read some of his poems.
Manzarek was completely blown away by what he heard. When Morrison told him he couldn’t sing, Manzarek said that it didn’t matter if he didn’t sound like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. His voice was provocative and captivating. It put Ray into a trance that he never wanted to escape. Manzarek knew that Morrison would have an effect on humanity that no other rock star has ever touched. Morrison’s poetry confronted what most people preferred to ignore and Manzarek understood that that was the kind of material that is treasured and remembered.
The two bonded over their love of philosophy and poetry, naming their group after a phrase in a poem by William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
Morrison and Manzarek were writing songs before the Beatles began making psychedelic music, so this was still a time where philosophical quandaries were not yet a presence in rock music. But Manzarek didn’t care. The Doors would be the first to spread the word as to what it really means to “break on through to the other side.”
Though they soon recruited the undeniable drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger, Manzarek’s organ quickly became the foundation of the band. There weren’t any rock bands that utilized the organ as the focal point, but Ray believed that his organ was the perfect sound to go along with Morrison’s vocals. Their first full composition was the classic “Light My Fire,” which featured more organ playing than any mainstream rock song in existence. The Doors were creating a type of music that no one had ever heard before, music that most definitely did not incorporate the traditional recipe of a No. 1 hit.
The next step was to test their public appeal on California’s sunset strip.
The musicians played with proficiency and passion, but Jim Morrison was not at all behaving like the typical lead singer. He would often have his back to the audience for a large portion of the show, randomly break into poetic verses in the middle of songs and spin around like a drunken fool while screaming explicit phrases about sex and drugs. Most of the audience was disgusted at what they were seeing and The Doors were even banned from the world-famous Whisky a Go Go after Morrison started rambling about having sex with his mother on stage, mostly due to the acid he had taken before the show.
Morrison was denounced by club owners and spectators alike. Manzarek, however had faith in his friend’s artistic genius and knew it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the world realized it as well. The rest of the band had no idea what to expect, but Manzarek assured them their trust would pay off.
As The Doors were packing up from yet another chaotic show with no future in sight, a producer named Paul Rothchild approached the band and told them that Elektra Records saw potential in their individuality and rebelliousness. The Doors self-titled album was recorded and the rest is history.
If Ray Manzarek rejected Jim Morrison just like so many people did, The Doors would never have existed. If Ray Manzarek hadn’t believed that the organ could be just as fun to listen to as the guitar, whatever music he and his friends came up with wouldn’t be anywhere near as unique and vital to the evolution of rock and roll as The Doors’ signature sound. Ray Manzarek put his faith in an endeavor that had yet to be accomplished, but let his desire to bring the words of Jim Morrison to the public illuminate the uncertainty in front of him.
If you are a fan or admirer of the late Jim Morrison, you have the courage and unbreakable vision of Ray Manzarek to thank. He didn’t care about money or the status quo. He cared about spiritually enlightening the unsuspecting world. His goal was pure and selfless and that’s why his dream came true, even though it seemed that everyone around him told him his secret to success was a talentless, belligerent buffoon.
So if you think you’ve got something the people need to experience for their own good, don’t let the haters halt your progress. Believe in your goal and leave all doubts behind because if other people are your primary objective, your devotion to their thoughts and feelings simply cannot be derailed.
Photo Credit: WENN (PR Photo)