Classic Rock Review

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Light My Fire My Life With The Doors by Ray Manzarek (1998)

light-my-fire-ray-manzarek-paperback-cover-artFrom amazon.com

Review Since this book appeared in 1998, The Doors–sans John Densmore, who had an iota of self-respect–have played Las Vegas. Thank God Jim Morrison didn’t live to see his bandmates mutated into an embarassing lounge act, singing his songs in the performance graveyard that is Vegas.

It’s clear Ray Manzarek does not like Densmore. It’s clear now and it’s bitingly clear in this book. Ray Manzarek has a real go at the history of The Doors, rewriting it exactly as he’d like it to sound in his mind. Ray conveniently ignores entire albums, tours, and other events in favor of waxing on about the chi, about how unbelievably incredible The Doors were and still are.

He has a lot of love for Jim Morrison, but even this is tinged with a nasty shade of green. Instead of facing the fact that Morrison had a serious drug and alcohol problem, Manzarek creates an alter ego for Morrison known as ‘Jimbo’. See, it’s all ‘Jimbo’s’ fault. Jimbo is the redneck alcoholic idiot that Morrison would become at random times, not the regular Jim Morrison who was a brilliant poet and all around nice guy.

You can imagine why he hates Densmore. Riders on the Storm, Densmore’s version of the story, clearly shows that the drummer felt guilt over Morrison’s spiral downward. Densmore came off as honest; he didn’t beat the reader over the head with endless babble about Dionysus or the Age of Aquarius and the massive amount of acid Ray appears to have taken.

Meanwhile Manzarek would rather attach some kind of cosmo-spiritual explanation to Morrison’s decline. He claims to have seen the spirit literally leaving Morrison’s head the night of the final Doors performance in New Orleans in 1970. It’s embarassing, it’s manipulative and it speaks volumes about Ray’s character.

Ray always looked like an erudite. He was well-spoken and he loved Morrison, backing his friend up as a serious poet.

However, Ray comes off as vindictive, clouded, and plain silly in this book. He has a serious beef with Oliver Stone, referring to him as a fascist, a term Ray still throws around like it’s 1968. Ray was horrified at another version of The Doors’ story by another artist since Ray wants it told according to hiw own memory. Unfortunately, what Ray remembers is very selective. This book spends eternity to reach the release of the first Doors album in 1967 and the same year follow, Strange Days.

Ray just doesn’t want to get too involved in the REST of The Doors’ days. He hardly makes mention of the fact that after Morrison died the band kept going, releasing two studio albums and touring. Conveniently, those two albums STILL have never been released to CD. As with their impressive resume of doctoring live albums, The Doors are unmatched in selling the same material over and over while keeping the stuff fans really want tucked away (hence the boxset delay and its underwhelming content).

I would recommend this strictly as an offical version of the story from one of the band. However, be very careful in reading Ray’s story. He wants everyone to remember The Doors only as he does…

Review After reading this book I was left with the impression that Manzarek has a very narrow definition of what a poet should be. Thus he attempts to recreate Morrison to fit into this definition. Any of Morrison’s personality traits which don’t fit into Manzarek’s image of a poetic genius (There seems to have been many in Morrison’s case) he lamely dismisses as the bufoonish behavior of an alter ego he creates and calls ‘Jimbo.’

Manzarek often refers to Morrison’s associates, who do not share his own passions in life, as ‘losers’ and ‘degenerates.’ He describes a friendship Morrison had with two such individuals whom he shared an interest with in horseback riding and target shooting. Obviously, in Manzarek’s view, such all-American activities should not be pursued by poets. Thus he forcefully confronts these men and tells them “Jim does not f***ing ride horses.”…Only ‘Jimbo’ would ride horses.

He also describes Morrison as a nonviolent advocate of peace. Thus when he relays such incidents of Morrison getting into a brawl with Chicano low-riders or whacking a woman with a board, he dismisses this as the actions of ‘Jimbo.’…Jim would never do such things.

I also get the feeling that Manzarek was not supportive of any artistic ventures that Morrison undertook independently of the Doors. He makes very brief mention of Morrison’s poetry publication and, oddly I feel, offers no personal insight into this collection of works. When Morrison collaborates with several friends in the filming of a Doors documentary, Manzarek is skeptical of this artistic endeavor because only ‘Jimbo’ would lend his creative vision to a group of ‘degenerates’ who were unimpressive in film school. Manzarek also quickly dismisses Morrison’s independent film project called “Highway” as a silly attempt at art… Only something ‘Jimbo’ would do.

I give this book 3 stars because I feel that Manzarek, unkowingly, provided deep insight into what was a very complex and often combustible relationship between himself and Morrison. It is obvious that Manzarek had great respect for Morrison as a creative genius and lots of love for him as a person. But reading between the lines I get the feeling that this relationship was not unlike that of a responsible individual and his rebellious and wayward kid brother. I also get the feeling, that like most relationships of this sort, along with the mutual love there is also a strong hint of mutual resentment.

Morrison was obviously a very complex person with many facets to his personality. One of which was a two-fisted Celtic boozer with a bit of ‘good old boy’ American South in his blood. And obviously those aspects of Morrison were (and still are) very difficult for Manzarek to accept. Thus he picks and chooses the traits of Morrison that he himself feels an artist should convey and attributes those to a man he loves and respects called ‘Jim.’ But any Morrison traits that do not neatly fit into Manzarek’s own ideals of who a poet should be, he easily dismisses and attributes these to a man whom he resented and could not understand, called ‘Jimbo.’

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May 21, 2013 - Posted by | Book Light My Fire by Ray Manzarek | , ,

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