Open-and-Shut Doors

Ray Manzarek trades pleasantries at the Rock Hall -- then dashes to Jacobs Field.

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Bride of the Wind
In town for the world premiere of Jaz Coleman's Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek arrived at the Rock Hall for soundcheck a couple of hours before the June 8 concert. Dressed casually, he wore an Indians baseball cap and a knit shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a black T-shirt with a psychedelic green pattern.

As Manzarek came onstage, he applauded the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, a group of nearly 100 young musicians from 30 Ohio schools who were assembled to play the classical versions of Doors songs featured on the Riders on the Storm album. "Hi, kids," he said with an affable wave, then proceeded to play a few bars from "Light My Fire," followed by a quick run-through with the entire ensemble playing behind him.

Since the death of Jim Morrison in 1971, Manzarek, who co-founded the Doors with Morrison, hasn't done anything of the same magnitude. He's produced the punk band X, collaborated with avant-garde composer Philip Glass, and performed with poet Michael McClure. He's also done what he can to ensure that the Doors legacy lives on. To that extent, he's penned an autobiography called Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors, directed videos about the Doors, and performed on a VH1 special in conjunction with the Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate. Manzarek, who studied film at UCLA, has also returned to filmmaking and recently finished directing a digital movie called Love Her Madly ("a tale of love, obsession, and murder set on a college campus -- three guys are in love with the same girl"). Despite the flurry of activity, he knows he'll never do anything on his own that compares to what he did with the Doors.

"It's impossible for anything that I ever do to have as much impact as the Doors," he said bluntly during an interview conducted before the concert. "Who had more impact? Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. That's it. For me, I'm still making music, and that's a complete joy. Everything I do, I do to the best of my artistic abilities. The thing of those four people coming together at the time, that will never happen again. It was the psychedelic era. It was a different world. Actually, we thought the 21st century would be an extension of that world, and that obviously hasn't turned out."

Still, Manzarek has continued to work in a semipsychedelic vein and has been drawn to increasingly unusual projects. Riders on the Storm certainly fits that bill. Composed by Coleman, who formerly played in the punk band Killing Joke, it puts a political spin on several of the Doors' best-known songs by recasting them as classical music. In the album's liner notes, which were reprinted in a program guide made by the Rock Hall for the concert, Coleman explains that the song "Riders on the Storm" is dedicated to the survivors of the Vietnam War, "Spanish Caravan" is about the "appalling treatment" of the Gypsies in Central Europe, and "Strange Days" addresses environmental destruction. Adaptations of other songs such as "Love Street," "Hello I Love You," and "Light My Fire" are about more general topics such as mortality and intuition. Violinist Nigel Kennedy plays Morrison's singing parts on the album (in concert, Mark Jackobs of the Cleveland Orchestra had the honor of replacing Morrison). While Manzarek wasn't involved in the recording of the album, he said that he approved -- even welcomed -- it from the start.

He and Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger "got involved with it in the very end, when [Coleman] sent us a rough mix of it," Manzarek said. "We said, 'Go. Run with it. You have our blessing, and we'll help you out in any way.' The Rock Hall called and asked me to come say a few words, but I wanted to play."

As Manzarek explained his enthusiasm for the project, his sound man walked by, and Manzarek ordered us to shut the tape recorder off. Manzarek, who had been bug-eyed, whimsical, and flamboyant up to this point, began speaking in a direct, abrupt manner, apparently unhappy with the electric keyboard onstage, which he claimed had "no fucking juice."

Turned out, he was right. When he climbed onstage to play with the orchestra, his parts were barely audible, and despite his exuberant performance, he wasn't always in sync with the musicians. But the kids' flawless play held the show together.

It's ironic that one of the best-sounding shows we've heard on the main floor of the Rock Hall wasn't rock but classical music, suggesting that perhaps the acoustics are better suited to unamplified music. Whatever the case, Manzarek received a standing ovation, then he was off -- reportedly arriving at the Jake in time to see the end of the Tribe game. Too bad he couldn't have stuck around to play more than one song.

And if you think we're crazy for scouting the audience to see if anyone resembling the late Jim Morrison was in attendance, Manzarek only fed our theory that the singer's still alive. He's even putting the finishing touches on The Poet in Exile: His Journey Into the Mystic, a novel about "a rock star who stages his own death."

"It's a piece of fiction, but you may see some familiarity with some performers living or dead," Manzarek said with an omniscient twinkle in his eye.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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