Some modern mythologists believe that Jim Morrison is not really dead, that the Doors’ lead singer will one day stage a resurrection. But if Morrison were alive he would have emerged Wednesday night at Los Angeles’ Whisky a GoGo, where his former bandmate Ray Manzarek hosted an evening of verbal and musical reminisces to celebrate the life and art of his fallen comrade.
Throughout the evening, Manzarek was joined onstage by a guest list that included Perry Farrell, John Doe, Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger and poet Michael McClure. Each paid tribute to Morrison in their own way, including Farrell assembling several of Morrison’s poems into a seamless presentation and Doe reading of a pair of the band’s most haunting songs.
The event was carried live online, sponsored by Virtuetv.com — which was behind the recent broadcast of Paul McCartney’s celebratory return to Liverpool’s Cavern Club. There are some similarities: Both Manzarek and McCartney were key members of vital bands that dissolved in the early 1970s and cannot fully reunite because of the death of another key member. And to a certain extent, both are somewhat overshadowed by their late colleagues. There are also differences. Manzarek is best known for his work within the Doors and, unlike McCartney, has not developed a high visibility since the dismantling of the band.
To his credit, Manzarek’s attempt to provide some depth and understanding of the band rather than just rehashing old tunes was a salve for fans that continue to put the Doors’ six year lifespan into a bottle. And Paul didn’t have George on hand to help the celebration along.
Manzarek began the proceedings with a half-hour of stories about the band. While he was a vocal critic of Oliver Stone’s biopic, The Doors, many of his tales differed only slightly from Stone’s film. The exception was an account of the Doors’ last appearance at the Whisky, when the band heard the Oedipal element of “The End” for the first time. Manzarek provided depth where Stone portrayed only chaos, offering reasons as to why all concerned reacted so strongly to the new music.
The ninety-minute presentation could very well have collapsed under its own weight. The retelling of stories that fans have heard and read countless times runs the risk of sounding like a geezer’s canonization of the good old days, and the idea of piano-only versions of signature songs runs dangerously close to cocktail lounge revisionism. And Manzarek’s plugs for his book and video were as distracting as they were annoying. But Manzarek pulled it off, simply because he is so darn likeable — he shares an appreciation of the music with the fans. And while the instrumental version of “The Crystal Ship” underscored Morrison’s absence, Manzarek clearly made the piano speak.
The fans — who provided the missing vocals on their own — came alive when Krieger took the stage. First supplying free form background for Farrell’s interpretation of Morrison’s poetry, the former-Doors kicked into high gear when Doe took the stage for “Riders on the Storm” and a blistering “Love Me Two Times.” The final musical selection found Doe and Farrell trading lines for “L.A. Woman.” The song rocked hard, but the striking absence of a drummer (specifically John Densmore) made clear that this was not intended as a “Doors reunion.”
Doors biographer Danny Sugerman then took the stage, saying, “I don’t know that I can follow that.” He tried anyway, reading a selection from his Doors bio, No One Here Gets Out Alive. But Sugerman’s reading and an impromptu screaming of lines from “The Soft Parade” by a fan who briefly seized the stage were as anticlimactic as they were appropriate.
Nearly thirty years after his death, Jim Morrison is still missed. And his Doors-hungry fans, friends and colleagues are always attempting to squeeze out just a little bit more magic.