Manzarek, Ray(mond Daniel) 1939-
MANZAREK, Ray(mond Daniel) 1939-
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Thunder's Mouth Press, 161 William Street, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10038.
CAREER: Musician, producer, and writer. The Doors, keyboard player, 1966-73; recorded solo albums and performed with the band Nite City, 1976; performer with poet Michael McClure. Recorded collection of Jim Morrison's poetry, An American Prayer; producer for musical group X.
Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, G. B. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1998.
The Poet in Exile: A Journey into the Mystic, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Sound recordings include Whole Thing Started with Rock'n'Roll, 1974, Nite City, 1977, Carmina Burana, 1983, and The Doors: Myth and Reality, 1997. Song-writer, with others, for the Doors.
SIDELIGHTS: Ray Manzarek was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, where he took piano lessons in his youth, which he disliked until his fourth year of study. That's when he started understanding what music and piano playing were all about. However, the kind of music Manzarek was playing on the piano did not interest him. One day, while playing on a youth baseball team, he found himself mesmerized by the sounds that were coming out of a teammate's small portable radio. He later discovered that what he was hearing was music coming from one of Chicago's African-American stations. For the first time in his life, he had heard the sounds of blues and jazz, music that would continue to influence him for the rest of his life. From then on, the piano took on new meaning for him.
Manzarek attended DePaul University in Chicago, where he earned a degree in economics. When he was twenty-one years old, he left Chicago and headed for Los Angeles, where he planned to attend graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He enrolled in law school there, but after two weeks decided that he was not interested in the legal profession. After meeting with a professor in the philosophy department and being told that it was too late to register for classes in that subject, Manzarek opted for film school. He had always been interested in photography, and the idea of majoring in film excited him.
It was in film school, in 1963, that Manzarek met Jim Morrison. Manzarek was then playing jazz piano at a local coffee shop, and Morrison often came by and listened to the music. Manzarek was playing with the group Rick and the Ravens at that time. Three years later, after Manzarek graduated from UCLA, he and Morrison decided to form the rock and roll band the Doors.
The Doors was a quartet that included Manzarek on keyboards, Morrison as singer and lyricist, John Densmore on drums, and guitarist Robby Krieger, who wrote some of the band's more famous hits, such as "Light My Fire," "Touch Me," and "Love Me Two Times." The combination of Morrison's charismatic looks, the somewhat mystical nature of his lyrics, and the band's ability to extend their music improvisationally led to the popularity of their music and an almost cult-like following.
The group's rise to fame coincided with the height of the drug culture of the late 1960s, an influence that would eventually bring about the demise of the band. During one memorable European tour, Morrison, who had difficulties refraining from drug and alcohol use, ingested so much hashish that he passed out and had to be taken away in an ambulance, leaving the three remaining members on their own to not only play their instruments but to also carry out Morrison's role as vocalist. Manzarek reports that for that particular performance, the Amsterdam audience didn't seem to mind the transition.
In 1971 Morrison took a trip to Paris by himself. After a brief stay there, he was found dead in his room. The Doors had a contract for four more albums, and they were determined to make it without Morrison. However, after producing two of the four contracted albums, they decided to call it quits because the two records had received fairly poor reviews. The band members each went their separate ways, coming together only afterward for special revival celebrations.
After the breakup, Manzarek went on to record a solo album, The Golden Scarab, in 1973, which he describes as a spiritual journey in music. Then in 1976, he recorded the album Golden Days and Diamond Nights, working with the group Nite City.
In the 1970s Manzarek and the other members of the Doors found some old tapes of Morrison's on which he had recorded poems he'd written. The group decided to dub the tape, recording music in the background to accompany Morrison's voice. In 1978 they released American Prayer as a tribute to the famed singer. Critics found little on the album to praise, but in an interview posted on the Web site Rockmine Manzarek said: "Some of the poetry is a little garbled but some of it was absolutely brilliant so we thought, 'Let's do Jim's poetry album for him.' . . . Because that's what The Doors wanted Jim to be known as. . . . A poet. . . . He wanted to be known as a poet."
Manzarek's next big project involved producing albums for the punk rock band X. Manzarek worked on several of their albums, including Los Angeles, the group's most famous recording, as well as White Girl, Wild Gift, and Under the Big Black Sun.
In 1983 Manzarek created a contemporary arrangement of an opera based on the songs of medieval monks and wandering minstrels that had originally been scored by Carl Orff. Manzarek's project attracted the interest of composer and pianist Philip Glass, who collaborated with him on the album, which was eventually produced and called Carmina Burana.
Manzarek joined with poet Michael McClure in the 1990s, and the two artists went on a nationwide tour, offering their audiences a mix of live poetry reading accompanied by music, similar to the jazz and poetry experiments of the late 1950s. They have since performed more than 150 times and produced There's a Word, released in 2001 by Rare Angel Music.
Manzarek next decided to write a book. In 1998 he published the autobiography Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, which offers an insider's view of the brief but spectacular view of Morrison and the other members of the band. Although the book is classified as an autobiography, most of the story Manzarek tells regards Morrison. As Peter Kurth noted in Salon.com, "Manzarek was 'musical leader' and keyboard player for The Doors, but his book, as it must be, is overwhelmingly about crazed, quixotic, muddleheaded Jim."
Morrison and the Doors have been the subjects of many books and movies, but when Manzarek signed his contract with Putnam to publish his book, he stated, according to Entertainment Weekly, that "he wanted to set the record straight." Mike Tribby, writing for Booklist, described Manzarek's book as "Literate, perceptive, and thoughtful," and went on call Light My Fire "the best book yet about the Doors and their legendary singer."
Manzarek wrote a second book, a fictional account, with Morrison once again the focal point. The Poet in Exile: A Journey into the Mystic relates the story of a man named Roy who lives in Los Angeles and one day receives a mysterious letter postmarked from the Seychelles Islands. Roy recognizes the handwriting of his friend and former singer-lyricist of their band, whom everyone had presumed to be dead. The two friends are reunited, and the "Poet", as Manzarek refers to the once-thought-dead friend, fills Roy in with all the details of his new life.
A Kirkus Review critic was not impressed, calling The Poet in Exile "the sort of story that perhaps only Manzarek would have been compelled to write." The book did not fare much better in Publishers Weekly, wherein a reviewer asked: "Could Morrison be alive and living on a remote island after staging his own death? The former keyboard player for the Doors provides a mildly entertaining if rather implausible answer to that question in this earnest, clumsy rock novel."
When asked by David Hyland for the Milwaukee Channel why he wrote The Poet in Exile, Manzarek replied: "This was my chance to collaborate with Jim Morrison on a book. We have long discussions in the book about his past life and his future life." When asked what he wanted readers to take away from this book, Manzarek said, that "the act of spiritual enlightenment is available to all of us." Finally, when asked if writing the book had been a good experience, Manzarek told Hyland, "It was a very good experience and I will write more novels."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 1998, Mike Tribby, review of Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, p. 1562; January 1, 2002, Mike Tribby, review of The Poet in Exile, p. 811.
Entertainment Weekly, April 4, 1997, "Big Deal," p. 77.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of The Poet in Exile, p. 1707.
Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2002, Jonathan Kirsch, "Break on through to the Other Side," p. R2.
People Weekly, July 6, 1998, Victoria Balfour, review of Light My Fire, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, June 1, 1998, review of Light My Fire, p. 44; December 10, 2001, review of The Poet in Exile, p. 52.
Milwaukee Channel,http://www.themilwaukeechannel.com/ (June 14, 2002), David Hyland, "Doors Keyboardist Pens Novel about Morrison Reunion."
Rockmine,http://www.rockmine.music.co.uk/ (May 20, 2002), "The Ray Manzarek Interview."