Ray Manzarek
and the press

By Beppe Colli
May 30, 2013

It 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 there.

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 Doors' legacy".

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?

For 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 personalities".

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.

Since 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.".

It 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) - Washington".

"(...) 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, Strange Days...)."

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.

I decided 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 i Doors".

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 20th century."

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."

I have 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 go far.

© Beppe Colli 2013

CloudsandClocks.net | May 30, 2013