light my fire

Ray Manzarek
Putnam
1998

This is the part autobiography, part memoir, part philosophical discourse of the co-founder and keyboardist of the legendary band The Doors.

There’s been many books written on the subject of The Doors, mostly focusing on the great enigma that was Jim Morrison, the man who’s only second to Elvis in posthumous sightings. Ray Manzarek’s take on the whole shebang isn’t that much different, only that he was there since day one. Manzarek may be taken to a bit more rose-colored grandiose than it probably was, but at least it’s an insider’s viewpoint…

In Light My Fire, Ray starts off with the end of The Doors- the final recording sessions on L. A. Woman, Jim’s relocation to Paris, and the day he received the call that his friend and band mate had died. This time for real (there were other rumors, which didn’t help the situation whatsoever). He touches on his life growing up in the south side of Chicago, discovering music and playing at an early age, his college days in the U. C. L. A. film department, and the formation and early salad days of The Doors.

The best way this book works is as a memoir of the band, relaying some rather amusing tales from the early days, the joys and woes of recording and touring, and of course the highly colorful antics of Jim Morrison, all told from the vantage point of an obviously old hippie. Of interest here: An anecdote of an ill-fated confrontation with the Grateful Dead keyboardist that amuses me greatly. Never liked the Grateful Dead, and this just reinforces my distaste. There’s mention of a gig The Doors did in support of the album Strange Days at a University Of Michigan homecoming dance (of all places), where the sheer outrageousness and audacity of Jim Morrison’s antics inspired a young Jim Osterberg, later known as Iggy Pop, to undertake his own path of musical anarchic rebellion. And of course, there’s the now-infamous incidents involving the Florida indecent exposure hearings, the recording of their first album, and musician in-fighting (apparently drummer John Densmore wasn’t exactly popular with the band near the end). Throughout the storytelling and various musings are peppered various pieces of Doors lyrics, writers and a couple of times, quotes from various spiritual writings, including the Bible. Which brings me to this…

As a writer, and especially as a philosopher, Ray’s personal spirituality is displayed prominently on his sleeve throughout Light My Fire. It seems to be an amalgamated hodge-podge of Eastern philosophy, Asian mysticism, ancient Greek and Roman paganism, and just about any ancient religion you can think of, culminating into a stylized Gnosticism. Every topic, it seems, becomes a sounding board, where Ray pulls out his well-worn soap box to sound off about needing to get back to peace, love of your fellow man, getting back to our mystic spiritual roots (whatever those roots are; he never really gets around to pointing that out), creating the “New Eden”, hugging trees, licking toads, blah blah blah. Archaic 60s pap. At times he sounds like a beleaguered Dennis Hopper from the movie Flashback. Sticking his thumb in the pie-in-the-sky empty 60s ideology and pulling out…well, not a plumb.

Paying lip service to the so-called “inner Christ”, and mentioning that he became a “true Christian” after dropping acid for the first time, and being “born again” after emerging from a womb-like experience while on the chemical-educed stupor (pg. 119)- Ray nonetheless brushes off Christianity as part of the “Christian mythology” of the American establishment he so abhors. Instead, he grapples at a stylized Universal spirituality, taking bits and pieces from Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Transcendental Meditation, the Kabala, the I Ching, Astrology, Native American Shamanism- the result, having the trappings of being spiritual without having to commit to any one. A fair-weather mystic of spiritual convenience. Of course, the monotheistic disciplines of Christianity are myths. Not to be taken seriously. You know, it is possible to be so open-minded that your brains leaked out.

Speaking of mysticism, there’s quite a few instances where Ray-Ray gets a little too serious describing the band’s music. Listen, I love the Door’s music. It’s a very well-played mix of jazz, blues, psychedelic, dark poetry and existential art. I just happen to take the music as it is- music. Ray, however, when describing the recording of the song “When The Music’s Over” as shown on pages 264-265:

“No wonder the Establishment was afraid of us. We had gone Dionysian! Pan was with us. The maenads were with us. The muse Euterpe was with us. Her sisters Calliope and Terpsichore and Polyhymnia had joined us. And they were all whirling and dancing in a delirium of ecstasy, of exhilaration, of joy.”

Okay, whatever. I told you to stay away from the brown acid, dude…

To top it all off, apparently Ray’s plans for The Doors- and Jim Morrison in general- went beyond just music. Eventually, Ray planned branching off into film, and going into politics. A handful of times, he mentioned- seriously- envisioning Jim becoming President of the United States. That would have been interesting indeed. Although, considering that the 60s generation are now in politics, one has to wonder if Jim would have remained the same kind of ideology if he lived to grow old that he did in his youth. One will never know.

All said, Light My Fire left me rather torn. I loved the stories involving The Doors, but the unneeded hippie-dippie politicking just turned me off. Especially when he insulted my faith most of the time. Whatever. I still listen to the music, but really…that’s because I like the music, not because I agree with your way of thinking, Ray. Stick to music…

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