Closing Doors 

Manzarek reveals band's dreamy trip

Manzarek reveals band's dreamy trip

In 1967, Jim Morrison had it all—the voice, the face, the hair, the band, and the cultural moment. Two years later, drunk and paunchy, he opened himself to disgrace and ridicule in Miami. Two years after that, he was dead, having roared through a bloated fat-Elvis phase it took the King himself two full decades to achieve.

He was, said Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, “the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet and the worst asshole.” It all depended, of course, on his level of inebriation, which increased dramatically as fame turned all the lights on life’s highway green.

Apocalypse Now helped relaunch The Doors as the first Goth band and turned the Lizard King’s life into rock’s great Passion Play. Now, 30 years and several biographies after the fact, the story is being told by keyboardist and Doors cofounder Ray Manzarek, the man whose loopy hucksterism has been the driving force in a relentless Doors marketing blitz for the last two decades. For Manzarek, it was a dreamy trip on the prow of the era’s most important human-liberation movement, marred only by the fact that the Fates and bad companions conspired to corrupt our trusting and adventuresome hero.

Manzarek’s spacy demeanor does not make for riveting prose, and he almost pulls off the seemingly impossible task of making Morrison’s life boring. For every taut little scene of interest, readers are forced to wade through a miasma of New Age goofiness. There are many compelling vignettes—Jim’s first public performance, singing “Louie Louie” with Ray’s band; smashing a TV during the recording of “Light My Fire” after discovering that engineer Bruce Botnik had the Dodgers game on; Jim bringing L.A. police chief Tom Reddin into a recording studio as producer Paul Rothchild was rolling a joint; and band members confronting Morrison about his drinking at Robby Krieger’s parents’ house. There is, unfortunately, much more of Manzarek’s wispy spirituality—astrology, numerology, chakras, satyrs, Karma, previous lives, and mu.

To be fair, there is much to like. Manzarek turns an occasionally natty phrase, and he is downright eloquent citing the links between boogie-woogie and sex, or enthusing about the magic of making music. Still, at times he sounds just like another ’60s mainstay—George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

Manzarek had his Epiphany on a California beach, when Morrison bumped into him and sang him some songs he’d been working on. They started the band and produced some wonderful music, but Jim began to self-destruct before they ever had a label deal. Manzarek acknowledges the destruction, but he plays up Jim as Dionysus, a generation-saver with a heavy soul and a deft poetic touch.

Good rock lyrics and good poetry are not the same thing, though. Poetry demands more, and Morrison’s lyrics can’t bridge the gap. Jim Morrison failed as a poet for the same reason he failed as a human being—he had no discipline and no editor, internal or otherwise. His poetry collections represent a body of notebook scribblings that a writer might go back to someday to comb for the seeds of real poems. Morrison didn’t live that long. Yes, he produced a few terrific images and lines during his life—“Horse Latitudes” is a very good poem—and yes, he could be a bright, sweet guy, but most of his poetic output involves bland snippets, and we all know how his life turned out.

Let none of this obscure the point that The Doors were a wonderful rock ’n’ roll band. What music of theirs lives, lives honestly. The three surviving Doors were talented musicians, and Robby was a superior rock writer, but Morrison was the meal ticket. Manzarek is still feeding off him, grinding his organ long after the monkey has died. He has every right to peddle the Doors’ music, but he does no one any great service when he peddles a shining Jim Morrison—a man who was, after all, quickly swallowed up in excess and wretchedness.

“I worry about the K-teling of the Doors, what with the incredible postmortem scrambling over very lucrative leftovers,” John Densmore once said. It’s been going on for some time now and, with Ray blathering at the counter, it will continue. Much as he rails about those greedy old capitalists, he spins all his tales with his hand out.

Steve Taylor came closer to the point than most of Morrison’s biographers in his wonderful “Jim Morrison’s Grave.” The song ends with a verse and an image as arresting as anything Morrison ever wrote:

“I get weary/ Lord, I don’t understand/ how does a seed get strangled in the heart of a man/ then the music covers like an evening mist/ like a watch still ticking on a dead man’s wrist/ tick away.”

It’s an apt metaphor for the whole sorry glam-death industry this book so breathlessly embodies.

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