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May 13

The Doors: “Twentieth Century Fox” (In Memoriam: Ray Manzarek)

Ray Manzarek, 1939 - 2013

Ray Manzarek, 1939 – 2013

Well, it has now been longer than ever since my last post, but this time it’s for a particularly good reason: I was off last week for the second annual 5th-Grader Herding Contest, otherwise known in these parts as the Seabeck 5th-grade (4-day/3-night) camp field trip. I was a chaperone on the field trip last year for my older son, and braved it once again this year for my younger son. Oh, it wasn’t really bad at all — in fact, it was pretty fun — and you only get a chance to do these kinds of things once, after all (for each kid, that is, since yes, I’ve now done it twice). Seriously, I recommend not hesitating if you have kids and something similar comes up that you can do for them — it’s completely worth it, and you’ll both remember it always.

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But the day before I left on the trip, Ray Manzarek, keyboardist extraordinaire for the Doors, passed away, following a struggle with cancer, at the age of 74. If Jim Morrison was considered the poetic soul of the Doors, then Ray Manzarek was by all means its heart. His keyboard playing anchored and wove itself into every song, not to mention that he was also de facto bass player — he handled most of the bass parts with his left hand on his Fender keyboard bass. Without Manzarek’s organ and piano parts, the Doors would most certainly not have been as interesting a band as they often were. They gave the songs the heft that was needed to support Morrison’s sometimes heavy-handed poetry — the songs might have collapsed otherwise. Add to this the fact that Manzarek’s later eloquence in interviews placed the band in an intelligent light that they didn’t necessarily get across when they existed, relying instead on Morrison’s brooding sexuality — Manzarek served the band’s legacy very well. There’s no doubt that he was my favorite member of the band.

Although the most keyboard-centric Doors hit is probably “Light My Fire,” with Manzarek’s Bach-inspired keyboard part, I figured that was much too overplayed to use here. Rather, I’m going with “Twentieth Century Fox,” with its sly play on the movie studio’s name, which in addition to being a great, catchy song from their 1967 self-titled debut album is also a good example of Manzarek’s keyboard bass-line playing. (On a side note, why does “Twentieth Century” in a song title so frequently inspire greatness? There’s “…Man,” by the Kinks, “…Boy,” by T. Rex, and this…any others?)

One final claim to greatness for Ray Manzarek: he produced the first four (and best) albums by the punk band X, every one of them a classic. I don’t believe that he produced any other albums for other bands, but these alone are all he needed to achieve producer greatness. In fact, even if he hadn’t already been in the Doors, his passing would still have been noted by many for this fact alone.

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