When the Music’s Over: In Memoriam – Ray Manzarek (1939-2013)

Five to One, baby

One in five

No one here gets out alive, now.

I learned today that Ray Manzarek passed away at the age of 74, after a long battle with cancer. Manzarek’s keyboard was an integral part of the sound of The Doors, and provided some of rock’s most memorable riffs (Exhibit A: Light My Fire).

I was 6 weeks old when Jim Morrison died on July 3rd 1971, so The Doors were always a relic of the past for me. Their brief career (6 studios in 4 years) produced lots of hits and created a mythical frontman but while Morrison never had to prove himself past their peak, the rest of the band were never able to live up to the legend of their early work. The band tried to keep going post Morrison, but eventually disbanded for good in 73.

Over the years, their music became a staple of Vietnam era movies, acting as a quick shorthand to establish the era. The Doors embodied the hippie era better than anyone else. The best example of this is the famous opening to Apocalypse Now.


Manzarek and Robbie Krieger tried putting the band back together in the 00’s, with Ian Astbury on vocals. Despite renaming the band to The Doors of the 21st Century, controversy dogged them, from fans outraged at the thought that they could carry on without Morrison, to legal action from drummer John Densmore who wasn’t invited to the reunion.

I had the chance to see that incarnation of the band twice, in 2004 and 2005. Manzarek, Krieger, Astbury and the rest of the band were a really tight unit that did the old material amazingly well. In fact, the 2004 show stands as one of the ten best concerts I’ve ever attended. That night, each musician was in the zone, and together they were really much more than the sum of their parts. That night they transformed me from a casual Doors fan into a full fledged one. Manzarek was clearly the leader of the band (Astbury barely addressed the crowd) and he seemed to be having the time of his life bringing back all those classic songs. And he played like a man 30 years younger.

I know for some that version of the band is sacrilegious. But Morrison died before my time, and he wasn’t the only member of The Doors. The material deserves to be heard, and Manzarek and Krieger deserved to play. And in the end, what matters is the music. And oh, how glorious it was. Farewell Mr Manzarek. Thank you for the music.

When the music’s over
Turn out the lights

For the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end



Jean-Frederic Vachon
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