and the press
By Beppe Colli
May 30, 2013
was Tuesday, 21, early in the morning. I decided to have a look at Steve
Hoffman's Forum, just in case there were some news about the new vinyl
re-release of Nick Drake's Bryter Layter. I immediately noticed a thread
title announcing the death of former Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek.
I decided to do a double check, so I had a look at Wikipedia, which told
me all I needed to know about the date and the circumstances of Manzarek's
death. It all looked strange to me. It was then that I realized that the
fact of Jim Morrison being dead at 27, forty-two years ago, had convinced
me that the three former members of the group would never die. Not so.
I had a look at the New York Times, in order
to see if they had an obituary already. There it was, dated 20, by Jon
Pareles, with a "dry" title: "Ray Manzarek, 74, Keyboardist
and a Founder of the Doors, Is Dead". There was a picture of the group,
the photo caption placed below showing the wrong date: "about 1970",
instead of - my guess - "late 1966". Though I was quite sure
others had already sent a message, I did my part, sent mine.
I spent the afternoon silently listening
to the Doors' albums playing in my head. On Wednesday, 22, I wrote my piece.
I uploaded it, then late at night I did a Web search, to see what was out
First thing, I had a look at the New York Times in order to check if
the wrong photo caption now showed the correct date. It did - three mistakes
had been corrected, under the heading: "This article has been revised
to reflect the following correction".
This is an important point, and one which
is practically impossible to overestimate: a source that's reliable presents
few mistakes, sure, but - we're all human, of course - the fact of correcting
one's mistakes in public, clearly stating the fact, alerting readers about
the revised text, is the best safeguard for readers.
Clear as per his usual, Pareles elucidated
a crucial point: "The Doors' songs were generally credited to the
entire group." (...) "The quasi-Baroque introduction Mr. Manzarek
brought to the Doors' 1967 single "Light My Fire" — a song
primarily written by Mr. Krieger — helped make it a million-seller."
I had a look at the Guardian, where I found
a brief text titled "Doors co-founder, Ray Manzarek, dies aged 74" by
"Ben Quinn and agencies". Also three pieces. A "Ray Manzarek
obituary" by Adam Sweeting, which stated: "Co-founder of the Doors
whose keyboard playing shaped the band's trademark style". An article
written by a younger fan, Laura Barton, appearing on the Guardian's Music
Blog with the title (dig this): "Ray Manzarek was the key to the Doors".
Last but not least, a piece on the Music Blog, this time by Alexis Petridis,
under the title "Ray Manzarek: keyboard maestro and custodian of the
These are all pieces of respectable length,
adding more than a few interesting wrinkles to a familiar story. And what
more could one ask of a newspaper article?
unrelated reasons, I decided to have a look at Rock Critics, where I saw
a piece by Scott Woods appear with the title Critics Are Strange. At first,
I was more than a bit surprised - suddenly, it dawned on me I had silently
thought Scott Woods to be a non-fan of the music of the group. As per its
title, Scott's piece talks about critics' attitude when it comes to the
music of The Doors.
A quite conflictual relationship, by the
way, as it's easily proved by what the most celebrated names of the time
wrote back in their day.
From where I sit, it's my opinion that what
most pieces lack is an acceptable degree of
"empirical evidence". Something which is often #1 in the (so-called)
"players' magazines" (which doesn't necessarily entail that all
their readers are actual players, if you know what I mean).
Most critics, then as now, love dealing with
things such as "Those splendid frescos painted by the Dionysian spirit".
Musicians so become colourless figures, while singers become "colourful
Readers are openly invited to measure the
distance which separates "those splendid frescos" from this interview
question: "For me, there have always been two hallmarks of the Ray
Manzarek keyboard style. One is parallel 3rds in minor scales, as in the
'People Are Strange' solo, and the other is the way that you resolve flatted
fifths - in 'Back Door Man,' for example. The latter is a pretty standard
blues move, but you have a certain unique way of doing it. Any thoughts
on the origin of either of those characteristics?".
Here we are in a different dimension, one
that's quite far from "How do you manage to paint those marvelous
frescos?", or "Those frescos by The Doors just leave me cold".
What I quoted above, by the way, is the first
question from an interview with Ray Manzarek by US writer Alan di Perna
which appeared as the cover story for the issue date March 1989 of Modern
Keyboard magazine, under the title Strange Days... Again.
one thing leads to another, I found myself looking for old interviews with
Ray Manzarek. Here I'll quote from an interview by Steven
Rosen which appeared on UK weekly Sounds in the issue dated 22 December,
1973 under the title "The Doors: An Interview with Ray Manzarek".
"Well when I was with Jim I didn't have
that much of an urge to write because I was always so much in love with
what Jim did (...) he fulfilled all that need for creativity on the individual's
members' part by the songs he would write. (...) Before Jim died I really
didn't feel that much of an urge to write. It was just enough to arrange
the songs and get the finished product out."
"The music was a pretty communal thing;
the thing I think I did most in the Doors was to lend atmosphere to each
song. The basic vibration that came off a song like 'Riders On The Storm'.
When we first started doing that it wasn't anything like the finished product;
the first way we did it just didn't happen and I said 'Hey wait a minute
guys, let's try it a completely different way' and that's mostly what I
did in the Doors.".
always comes a time when I have to drink from a bitter cup, which means
I have to have a look at the Italian press. A Google search led me to a
great quantity of pieces which in their title or as their intro defined
Ray Manzarek as being "The Doors' architect". Well, to me it
didn't look like those people had all come up with the same similitude
all at the same time.
I easily found the source that was common
to all: A news agency feature titled "Morto Ray Manzarek, creo' i
'Doors' con Jim Morrison", dated 14:49 21 MAG 2013, as "(AGI)
"(...) he called himself the architect
of The Doors" (...) Thanks to his good technique, he was also The
Doors' ' bass player', playing a Rhodes Piano Bass placed on the flat top
of his organ (a Vox Continental, later a Gibson G101)."
That's not too bad, and it's not the fault
of news agencies if those who read "the Doors didn't have a featured
bass player" took it to mean "The Doors never had a bass player" -
something that listening to the group's six studio albums, including their
first one (where a bass player appears, uncredited, playing on a few tracks),
will easily show to be false.
The news again: "Ray (...) also wrote
many melodies from the most famous compositions of the group (among the
most important, keyboard-wise, are the world-famous Light my Fire, also
Riders on The storm, The Crystal ship, When The Music's Over, L.A. Woman,
But it's widely known that song melodies
were penned by Morrison or Krieger. One thing we know - check the above-mentioned
Pareles piece, or have a look at Wikipedia - is that with the exception
of the organ intro, and the second verse of the lyrics, Light My Fire was
written by Robby Krieger.
to have a look at what I regard as being the Italian equivalent of the
Guardian and the New York Times: la Repubblica newspaper. It wasn't difficult,
since a fresh copy stood on my table, la Repubblica being from time immemorial
my go-to newspaper.
Here it was: on page 32, a piece by Carlo
Moretti, titled: "Addio a Manzarek tastierista di Morrison che inventò
The opening sentence left me puzzled: "With
his piano he was the matrix and the motor of the sound of the Doors and
thanks to his impossible-to-mistake Fender Rhodes he became one of the
giants of rock music of the 20th century."
This is not a matter of having a "different
opinion". The sound of The Doors is an organ sound (let's put aside
the question of what brand for now), not a piano (though this instrument
is often featured). If the Fender Rhodes that's mentioned is the electric
piano, it only appears on two (2) tracks on the group's sixth album. If
it's the Rhodes Piano Bass we are talking about, it only appears on a few
tracks off the first album. If it's the live concerts we are talking about,
it's not what makes Manzarek "one of the giants of rock music of the
My amazement could only grow when I read
that "he penned some of the biggest Doors hits, even though they were
attributed to the whole group, from 'The crystal ship' to 'Light my fire',
from 'The end' to 'Roadhouse blues'.
There's more: "(...) 'Riders on the
storm', a piece which Manzarek composed having his strongest inspirations
as his source: folk, which produced the bass figure, blues, and jazz."
to admit that it's with great sadness that I write this. My first thought
upon reading this was "what the fuck is he talking about?". The
fact of my competence sparing me the consequences of believing this stuff
can only be a meager solace, because if the filters in operation before
the paper goes to the printers are none, and the ex-post correction stage
is non-existent, it's quite likely that a lot of articles about topics
I don't know much about will make me mistake wrong things for true - that's
not a good for a news-paper!
The way I see it, the problem here is an
attitude when it comes to quality - of which the accuracy of one's work
is the first step - which in the course of the last two decades has seen
the "minimum amount" become lower and lower. Something which
the impenetrability of the Italian language has made
"invisible" abroad, but which has lethal effects when the products
of this attitude become visible.
Hoping readers will forgive me for deducing
a dinosaur from a bone fragment, I'll say this is a Country that won't
© Beppe Colli 2013
| May 30, 2013