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A throwaway threnody for Ray Manzarek

He will always articulate the sound of those briefest of instances before you slip into unconsciousness

Ray Manzarek, baroque bespectacled keyboardist and co-founder of the Doors, died Monday at age 74, thereby living out almost three times the rockstar’s stipulated lifespan. He must not have read the fine print.

But Ray was never a regular rocker. Steeped in the jazz and the classical, his music was slithery and contrapuntal, with frequent Bach-like flights of fancy. And while in practice he played the keys, he was, in essence, the Doors’ bassist — Jim Beckerman, in his Manzarek obituary, calls him “the greatest keyboard player in the history of bass guitar.” Perhaps that’s why the Doors are such a rock anomaly; they weren’t part of the Northern California brotherhood of eternal love like the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane, nor the folk rock explosion of the Los Angeles of the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. They were barely influenced by the British Invasion. They can’t even be categorised with a geographical locator like the Velvet Underground’s “New York sound”.

The Doors are sui generis, making sense only in their own jangling doomsday way. John Densmore was a jazz drummer who more often than not sounds like Elvin Jones playing bossa nova. Robby Krieger will always be a flamenco guitarist. And Jim Morrison, decadent electric baritone, a Bozo Sinatra for the dark night of the soul.

Tying these eclectic chthonic forces together into that mythic swirling Doors sound are Manzarek’s pounding keys, usually the organ, though he dabbled with divers other instruments — the Moog synthesiser on Strange Days, for example, or the Fender Rhodes electric piano that emulates the sound of rain on “Riders on the Storm”. You can even hear him playing the Marxophone, a sort of fretless zither, on “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)”, itself a foxtrotting blues bit from a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill cabaret cantata. That’s how odd the Doors could be.

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