The Doors Die

Today the BBC Radio 4 news announced the death of Ray Manzarek, the keyboard player of the Doors. When his more famous group member died in Paris in 1971 I cannot remember any BBC news programme mentioning the fact, but times change and art changes with them. All art, whether music or writing or painting only shows its intrinsic worth after enough time has elapsed to enable people to decide whether the art is genuinely art, or mere fashion to enjoy in a temporary way. Most of the music created by the Doors in their long playing albums has survived and has grown not just familiar but also in its perception by people, and after all the Doors set themselves out to master perception.

In 1973 I visited Pere Lachaise cemetery on the outskirts of Paris. It was a long metro ride on a hot Sunday afternoon. As I entered the cemetery a one armed attendant accosted me. He asked me to but a map of the cemetery, which showed where famous people were buried. He told me that if I bought the map to would help support the cemetery. I looked around at the acres of graves and tombs, and knew what he meant.
I asked him where Jim Morrison was buried. He said, I think, in the sixth or sixteenth quarter. I found the place, where there was a new grace compared to the tombs and headstones that surrounded it. The place was easy to find, because on the walls of tombs were chalked arrows and the word “Jim”. The grave was covered with shells and letters; a young and very bpretty girl girl was crying by the grave having put a small posy down. There was a simple stone plaque bearing the words

Douglas Morrison

James

I never saw the Doors perform; I think that in any event their best art was in their albums, not in their performance, and that those albums sounded best when played in mono, as much music does.

The Doors were I think the only major group of the sixties that never had a bass guitarist. Mostly the bass was played by Ray Manzarek on a keyboard. Manzarek is famous for composing the opening and closing bars of “Light My Fire” which are instantly recognisable after the first two notes (you don’t have to even listen to bar to recognise it) but I enjoyed his diversion into Chopin’s Polonaise in “the Hyacinth House”.

I have always tried to work to combine words and music in ways that do not depend on singing the words. The Doors suggested that this could be done but ultimately they sang their songs. They did in much of their work put poetry to music, and poetry is compelling when spoken or sung, and probably no other group came closer to achieving a new form of art in rock and roll.

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