Lifestyle: in appreciation of Ray Manzarek and The Doors

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The Doors will forever be Jim Morrison’s band, his writing and baritone voice the hallmarks of one of the most controversial – and greatest bands – to ever exist.

But second to Morrison, one could argue the biggest key to the beauty of The Doors was the playing of keyboardist Ran Manzarek, who died Monday at the age of 74.

There are surely many writers greater than I who can properly eulogize Manzarek and his work with The Doors, so I’m going to keep it in the context of my own experience – that of a 31-year-old who, to put it simply, loves the band even though it’s been 42 years since Morrison’s death and the end of the band.

I found The Doors a few years back when I began to grow tired of the Top 40 and sports talk radio that filled my commutes. For a break, I began listening to a classic rock station on the radio, putting it on as I did household projects on the weekend just for a change of pace.

At night, I would look up the songs that stood out on YouTube, re-listening to the songs I heard and digging deeper into the playbooks of the bands I liked. I’d then turn to iTunes to download the ones I liked the most and that included The Doors, along with bands such as Pink Floyd, The Animals and anything else that stood out.

The Doors, for me, were just cathartic to listen to — the perfect music to listen to while going on a long drive from my home near Quantico (a good 45 minutes into D.C. under the most perfect of conditions) or even to put on during my work hours as Morrison’s lyrics served as stimulation for my own writing on days when the words struggled to come.

To give Morrison all the credit, though, is not particularly fair despite his greatness as a songwriter and singer. He was paired with amazing musicians who helped bring to life his vision, and no one did that better than Manzarek who coupled with guitarist Robby Krieger provided the foundation of the group’s sound.

Jon Densmore, the band’s drummer, said as much.

“There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words,” Densmore wrote following the announcement of Manzarek’s death. “Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.”

The keyboards played strongly in the majority of songs from The Doors, bringing energy in classics including “Light My Fire” – a song I had the DJ play at my wedding – and providing depth in longer songs like “The End” and “When the Music’s Over.”

Manzarek provided an extra element to the band’s sound not regularly heard as keyboards – even in that era – tended to be more of a background accompaniment than a featured player. His musicianship, though, helped bring the band to life for someone nearly a half century after they stopped making music.

There’s a reason the classics are in fact classic. The Doors fit into that category because in some way of Manzarek.

So if you’re not a fan of the band, take 10 minutes today, listen to the YouTube clip above and dig into their library. The rabbit hole is deep, but it’s unlike anything else you’ll find musically.

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