“Ray RIP” texted my longtime muso pal Graham at 7am. Since neither of us, to my almost certain knowledge, has ever befriended a Raymond, my reply was instant, if incredulous: “Manzarek?” Still, only when this was confirmed did I allow my heart to sink. Having spent three decades watching him being interviewed on TV, video and DVD, ageing barely a jot and seldom coming across as anything less than the most idealistic and enthusiastic man on the planet, it hardly seemed possible.
If ever a musical collective was an evenly-distributed fusion of different talents, The Doors were, but if I had to decide which brick in that formidable wall could be least easily disposed of, it would be Ray’s keyboard noodlings. Drawing equally on the classics, jazz and r’n’b, always hitting the spot, always knowing exactly when to stretch out or merely embroider, it didn’t hurt that the owner of those creative fingers was blessed with the taste to plagiarise the best. Watch the recent DVD documentary about the making of LA Woman and chuckle at his shamelessness.
Modesty, nevertheless, did not become him. He was the first organ player I’d heard outside the confines of a church. If I had to pick one exhibit it would be Riders On The Storm. I’ve still never heard anything so sheerly atmospheric. Ray framed it with painterly delicacy: the measured trills and light-fingered runs; the singular versatility; the unerring sense of light and shade; the utter command of touch, tone and tempo.
More? There’s always more. The exquisitely doomy textures underpinning The End. The rocksteady pulse of Break On Through. The Bach-infused break on Hyacinth House. The dainty psychedelic flurry on Universal Mind. The Victorian backstreet strains that decorate People Are Strange. The rinky-tinky honky-tonking on LA Woman. Those stately foundations beneath When The Music’s Over, such a rich if unassuming counterfoil to Robbie Krieger’s howling slide guitar and chirpy inflections. The adroit minimalism on Moonlight Drive. The orgasmic organ solo that booked Light My Fire’s berth on the ultimate doper’s soundtrack.
As official cheerleader, semi-official spokesman, standard-bearer-in-chief and most erudite defender of James Douglas Morrison/Jimbo/The Lizard King/Mr Mojo Risin, Ray also did more than anyone, not only to keep The Doors alive in the minds of successive generations, but to fly the withered flag of hippiedom. True, the cringeing occasionally matched the cheers, but how could you stay cynical for long when, as his occasionally otherworldly autobiography suggested, he remained so patently in love with the idea that love really is all you need?
Had he not been so open-minded, had he not been prepared to listen to Jim shyly recite one of his poems on Venice Beach in that long lost summer five decades ago, it is eminently possible that The Doors would never have opened for business. Then again, had Jim not decided to trade in his movie camera for a mike, trade would never have been so brisk, as Ray never shied clear of admitting.
“Adventure was his metier: his reason for being. His main purpose for being here,” he remarked admiringly. “And didn’t he bring that sense of adventure to us? All of us. God, he was fun to be with.”
So were you, Ray, so were you.