So Long, Ray

Ray Manzarek died yesterday.  The Doors’ keyboardist was 74.

It’s a little disorienting to know the ages of my early rock heroes.  Obviously, I’m older, too, so it shouldn’t be so jarring.  The rebels, the ground-breakers, the stars, hang ageless in my mind… until I see video of the Stones on tour.

It’s one thing when they die of an overdose at age 27, as did Manzarek’s bandmate Jim Morrison in 1971.  Morrison would be 70 pretty soon if he’d lived, but, to me, he’s forever the good-looking 24 year old who electrified the Hollywood Bowl in 1968.   It’s quite another thing when they succumb to disease and old age. Then they just seem, well, old.  Like anybody else.  Anybody else with superb talent, that is, anybody who gave me and  my generation vibrant, textured soundtracks for our lives.

The Doors kept me going through the tear-soaked summer of 1984 after my mother died at the age of 53.   The Doors and an awful lot of Heineken got me through it.  “The Alabama Song”, especially poured into my heart, making the grief and pain and emptiness a tad less unbearable.

“Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey, oh, you know why
Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey, oh, you know why”

The jazz-loving Manzarek admired saxophonist John Coltrane.   His keyboards gave The Doors a sound like no other rock band in the late sixties, and after.  He continued to play and release albums when the Doors broke up for good the year after Morrison’s death.  Ray was an innovator, producing the first four studio albums for the punk rock band, X, in the 1980s.  They didn’t sound like The Doors but they certainly were influenced by them.

Ray Manzarek, like all the others, will live as long as we have CDs and MP3 players, and even those old, scratched up vinyl LPs.  Despite the technology that keeps voices and sounds alive for those of us that remain, it still means time for sad reflection when they leave this mortal plane.


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