Tuesday: Break On Through To The Other Side

Ray Manzarek with Jim Morrison

Ray Manzarek with Jim Morrison

Good Morning!

Yesterday we lost another influential 1960’s icon. Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the legendary rock group The Doors has died at 74, after a long battle with cancer. From The New York Times:

Ray Manzarek, who as the keyboardist and a songwriter for the Doors helped shape one of the indelible bands of the psychedelic era, died on Monday at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. He was 74.

The cause was bile duct cancer, according to his manager, Tom Vitorino. Mr. Manzarek lived in Napa, Calif.

Mr. Manzarek founded the Doors in 1965 with the singer and lyricist Jim Morrison, whom he would describe decades later as “the personification of the Dionysian impulse each of us has inside.” They would go on to recruit the drummer John Densmore and the guitarist Robby Krieger.

Mr. Manzarek played a crucial role in creating music that was hugely popular and widely imitated, selling tens of millions of albums. It was a lean, transparent sound that could be swinging, haunted, meditative, suspenseful or circuslike. The Doors’ songs were generally credited to the entire group. Long after the death of Mr. Morrison in 1971, the music of the Doors remained synonymous with the darker, more primal impulses unleashed by psychedelia. In his 1998 autobiography, “Light My Fire,” Mr. Manzarek wrote: “We knew what the people wanted: the same thing the Doors wanted. Freedom.”

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It’s difficult to describe how powerfully I was affected by The Doors’ sound back in January 1967. I was 19 years old, a sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana.

I had purchased their first album in the college bookstore on a whim–based simply my intuitive response to the cover art. I had never heard of the group–their music wasn’t being played on AM radio, that’s for sure.

I bought a lot of albums “sound unheard” in those days–a new kind of music was being born and the powers that be in radio didn’t know what to make of it yet.

When I got home, I put the LP on my cheap stereo record player and sat on my bed to listen. As soon as I heard the sound of Manzarek’s “piano bass” on “Break on Through to the Other Side” and his amazing organ intro and solo on “Light My Fire,” I was transfixed. This was really something new and unique. It’s not an exaggeration to say that music changed my life.

Along with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Jack Kerouac, and a few other musical and literary influences, The Doors music helped me begin to realize that I was not alone, despite my sense of being out-of-place in my dull Midwestern town–there were other people out in the world who were like me, who didn’t want to accept the status quo in those days, who didn’t want to settle for the unexamined life. Little did I know as I listed to those songs that I would be living in Boston just a few short months later–a place where so much was happening, where so many other young people were opening up to new ways of being, thinking, and feeling.

I guess that sounds pretty corny now, but it’s the truth. The late 1960s was a time of real change, when “the doors of perception” really did begin to open and a different world began to form.

Back to the Times obituary of Manzarek:

The quasi-Baroque introduction Mr. Manzarek brought to the Doors’ 1967 single “Light My Fire“ — a song primarily written by Mr. Krieger — helped make it a million-seller. Along with classical music, Mr. Manzarek also drew on jazz, R&B, cabaret and ragtime. His main instrument was the Vox Continental electric organ, which he claimed to have chosen, Mr. Vitorino said, because it was “easy to carry.”

The Doors’ four-man lineup did not include a bass player; onstage, Mr. Manzarek supplied the bass lines with his left hand, using a Fender Rhodes piano bass, though the band’s studio recordings often added a bassist.

Mr. Densmore said, via e-mail: “There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words. Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.”

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From the Detroit Free Press: Ray Manzarek’s keyboards opened musical doors

It was the iconoclastic makeup of The Doors that helped make them a success from the monster debut of the group’s self-titled 1967 album.

There was Morrison’s otherworldly howl, Krieger’s Spanish-influenced guitar work, Densmore’s subtle, jazz-infused drumming and perhaps most striking of all, Manzarek’s keyboard, which did triple-duty as lead instrument, accompanying instrument and the band’s lone bass sound. Together, the group recorded numerous multiplatinum albums and had hits with “L.A. Woman,” “Break On Through to the Other Side,” “The End” and the Manzarek showcase, “Light My Fire.”

“You just can’t imagine ‘Light My Fire’ without Manzarek’s organ,” says Andy Greene, associate editor of Rolling Stone. “He was unquestionably one of the best rock keyboardists ever. But more than that, he was proud of the band’s legacy (after Morrison’s 1971 death in Paris). The Doors came back in a big way in the ’80s and Ray was mainly the one carrying the flame.”

Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which Manzarek was an inductee and at whose ceremonies he was a frequent performer, said the organist was “instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the ’60s, (which owes) much to Manzarek’s innovative playing.”

For many fans and musicians alike, The Doors’ brooding and sometimes dark sound crystallized the experimental rock music emanating from Los Angeles, which stood in stark contrast to the lighter, soaring sound coming out of the San Francisco Bay Area that was typified by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

A couple more links–an NPR interview of Manzarek from 2000 and a Billboard interview with Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger from 2006.

In other news,

The death toll from the Oklahoma tornado has been lowered considerably, according to the AP–to 24, including 7 children, as of now. The Chicago Tribune reports:

MOORE, Oklahoma — Officials lowered the death toll to two dozen this morning as emergency crews continued to search feverishly for survivors in the rubble of homes, schools and a hospital in an Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by a powerful Monday afternoon tornado.

Officials in Oklahoma City said on Tuesday that 24 bodies were recovered after a 2-mile wide tornado tore through Moore, a sharp decline from the 51 deaths they previously reported.

“We have got good news. The number right now is 24,” said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer at the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner’s Office. The prior figure of 51 dead may have included some double-reported casualties, Elliott said.

“There was a lot of chaos,” Elliott said.

She cautioned that additional bodies could yet be recovered from the rubble.

At least 60 of the injured are children. Obviously, this story is far from over. I’ll update in the comments thread as I learn more–and please add what you hear as well! But it does sound like good news that there may be more survivors of this incredible storm than authorities originally believed.

More surprising (and disappointing) news breaking… From the BBC: Guatemala annuls Rios Montt’s genocide conviction

Guatemala’s top court has thrown out the conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity of former military leader Efrain Rios Montt.

The constitutional court ruled that the trial should restart from the point where it stood on 19 April.

On 10 May, Gen Rios Montt was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his time in office in 1982-83.

The 86-year-old was sentenced to 80 years in prison. He denies the charges.

The three-to-two ruling by a panel of constitutional judges annuls everything that has happened in the trial since 19 April, when Gen Rios Montt was briefly left without a defence lawyer.

The defence team had walked out of the court on the previous day in protest at what they called “illegal proceedings”.

The New York Times reports:

The decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court was a dramatic legal victory for General Ríos Montt, 86, and a blow to human rights advocates who had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.

General Ríos Montt was sent to prison immediately after the verdict on May 10 when a three-panel tribunal found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison but was soon transferred to a military hospital for medical tests. Monday’s decision means that he will return to house arrest, where he had been held since the case against him began in January 2012.

The additional effects of Monday’s court ruling were unclear. The court did not invalidate the entire trial, which began on March 19. Instead, the court ordered that the proceedings be rolled back and reset to April 19, when a complex decision by another judge sent the trial into disarray, causing a brief suspension….Legal experts said repeating the final days of the trial before the same tribunal would be unlikely because it would amount to a form of double jeopardy for the general. But it was unclear if the rest of the trial would remain in limbo or could be restarted before a new tribunal.

General Ríos Montt was found to be responsible as commander in chief for a series of massacres and rapes and the forced displacement of the Maya-Ixil ethnic group during his 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983. During a month of prosecution testimony, the court heard wrenching descriptions by survivors of the army’s scorched-earth policy through the hamlets of the Mayan highlands.

I’ve long been appalled by the FBI’s use of elaborate sting operations to entrap hapless men in Muslim communities in the U.S. who would never have thought of or have been able to commit a terrorist act on their own. Here’s one recent example. In fact, I suspect that the Boston Marathon bombings may have resulted from the FBI’s targeting of accused bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

I recently read a book on this subject by reporter Trevor Aaronson called The Terror Factory, and I highly recommend it. According to Aaronson, there have been hundreds of convictions of American Muslims for supposedly planning “terrorist attacks,” but only a few of those involved actual attempted terrorist attacks. The rest were operations in which the FBI sought out a vulnerable person, provided the know-how, the plans, an the (fake) weapons. In many cases these men were very reluctant and had to be really pushed by the FBI “informants” who targeted them.

There have also been reports of the NYPD using similar tactics, and yesterday the AP focused on those efforts in one of their “big stories,” a report from an ongoing NYC trial.

A New York Police Department detective told a federal judge that he’s seen no evidence that one of his informants brought up the subject of jihad as a way to bait Muslims into making incriminating remarks. But text messages obtained by The Associated Press show otherwise.

And while the detective, Stephen Hoban, described the activities in a new legal filing in U.S. District Court as narrowly focused on a few people under investigation, text messages show a wide-ranging effort. Eager to make money, Shamiur Rahman, the informant, snapped pictures during prayer sessions, rallies and a parade; recorded the names of people who signed petitions or protested; and reported fellow Muslims who volunteered to feed needy families.

When the detective responded, his text messages nearly always sought more information:

“Did you take pictures?”

“I need pictures from the rally. And I need to know who is there.”

“Get pictures”

Rahman told the AP last year that he made about $9,000 over nine months spying widely on friends and others. He said the NYPD encouraged him to use a tactic called “create and capture.” He said it involved creating conversations about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the responses and sending them to the NYPD.

I wonder how many other large city police departments are emulating the FBI in this way? Could Boston be next? I sure hope not.

I’ll end there, and throw the floor open to your contributions. What stories are you following today?